Truth - There is a time to usher in peace and a time to wage war. Knowing when those times is an imperfect process of trial and error. The art of war truly is one that requires a specific finesse just as the notion of peace is not so easily accepted. It's a delicate balance between raising hell and bringing heaven to Earth. Learning how to pick your battles and knowing when to bite your tongue is complicated. It never gets any easier either. Sometimes you really just have to be a firestarter.
"I think of myself as a catalyst of action and a messenger of hope, turning people onto themselves and turning people onto their dreams." Les Brown
One of the few things I miss about my college years was the implicit self-determination and autonomy I had. At a moment's notice I could go from class to a meeting with administrators or to a protest. There were times where I could placate and dialogue to an understanding. On other occasions I had to be nothing more than incendiary using shock tactics, guerilla marketing, and raw emotional truth to get people to stop, look, and listen. My arsenal was seemingly limitless and I worked to figure out how to best use my abilities to not only my own advantage but for all those I was tasked with serving (officially and unofficially). I could act in seemingly unrestricted ways in responding to the underlying discrepancies between people and the campus as a whole. Stunt tabling, shock value postering, facilitating thoughtful conversations, and challenging stereotypes, stigmas, and prejudices whenever I had the chance was the narrative of my college years. Now I serve in a different capacity, and yet still am plagued by the same hardships and witness other students going through the same things I did when I was in their place.
When you're in the "real world" it doesn't get any clearer. You just kind of know when you have to use your sword and when words will suffice. You choose what is best for you not only right there and then but for the longevity/tenure of a relationship. Sometimes you might have to swallow your pride and refrain from a rebuttal. Other times you have have to take a charge and follow through. That discernment comes with time and experience. How do you ever know if you're making that right decision ? Your heart, brains, and body will always let you know how you're doing. What ever you feel, go with it. Let your heart take the lead and be bold with conviction, whichever way you decide to go.
Being a voice of dissent in a chorus of chaos can be overwhelming. Going against the grain is going to cause some friction. What matters most is the end goal. What are trying to do? Why are you doing it? Who are you doing it for? As of late I've been more and more worked up over the college environment and the ways in which students, faculty, and staff with marginalized identities are made to be invisible, silenced, or unheard. The outcries of injustice and inequality have rung out but it begs the question of what you are you dying to light a fire under people's asses. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. For me, that has meant getting involved in student conversations; that's more than just sitting in listening to their harrowing stories but contributing my own. It's building community, trust, and offering myself as a resource. It's talking to my co-workers, and coming up with new ways to infuse social justice in my interactions with students. Most of all it is just pushing, slowly but surely, until what remains unsaid is said. You set the tinder and light the match, and the revolution proceeds from there.
Tips for Navigating Difficult Spaces/People:
- Take Care of Yourself - you matter above all else; do what you need to stay safe, feel valued, and keep your energy up.
- Find Allies - you might be at the forefront subverting some sort of system but you'll always need people you can count on to back you up; going it alone can be done but having other voices to support you and amplify yours is invaluable
- Speak Your Truth - be candid but strategic; say what you need to say and be precise with your words. Skip dancing around the issues and uses the process of calling out (disruptive behaviors/attitudes) and calling in (new voices/perspectives to conversation)
- Use Silence as You Need To - sometimes a sustained silence says it all; the absence of a voice is a message in and of itself. Listen to understand before responding
- Go With Kindness - just because you're facing a challenging situation does not mean you have to do the same; being genuine in your intentions and conversations goes a long way
There is something to be said about trailblazers. They are the ones that cut down the path for others to follow. They serve as a light to show others the way. They set a precedent and have the ability to change everything. To that end, they are catalysts in human form. They are a crucial part of any dynamic for their courage and gumption makes them not only memorable but dynamic. Distinguishing when you need to be a firestarter and when you should be the peace bringer depends on who you are and who you're working with/up against. You matter above all else but sometimes the oxymoron of selfless selfishness if what you need. X