Sometimes being vocal about the maternity care crisis means that my words make people uncomfortable. It means that there is the potential for people to react out of their own emotional triggers. Because that’s what we all do. We hold emotional connections to things and when those emotional buttons are set off by an idea, perspective or the person speaking, we can lose the ability to really hear. We go to that place that says, “she’s just trying to hurt me; she’s judging me; she’s invalidating my experience.”
Owning my voice in this movement has been cathartic. I used to sit and stew about whether or not to post something that was strongly worded. I would wring my hands over who might get offended, what they might say, how they’d attack me. In the end I always felt that the brutal truth was too important and that fact beat out my fears. Yes, some people got (get) offended, but I’ve started to feel more confident and more free as I write. I’ve noted that the more powerfully and authentically I speak, the more it resonates with a lot of people who are really ready to have those same feelings honored. Speaking our own truth in our own voices can be radically powerful.
When our triggers are set off we have a couple of options.
We could sit and stew and think awful thoughts about the person who said the words; we could engage in combative argumentation with the end goal of “winning;” or we could be vulnerable and open. I try my damnedest to only engage in the latter.
It’s really hard. Because I have triggers, too. The other day, someone suggested that the way in which I word things challenges my credibility. And I got all kinds of red in the face. I called my partner over and summarized through expletives as he patiently listened, then affirmed me, and then concluded, “I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this in my work.” And I took a deep breath, muddled through my day the way you do when someone has just suggested you are inept in front of a room full of people, and finally rested again with the realization that it doesn’t have to make or break me.
It still hurts. Being called names, being disparaged – no matter how irrational – slices deep, like when you slide your finger too swiftly along the top of a manilla folder. It’s thick and sharp and totally surprising. And it kind of gushes for a while. But then it’s over. You run it under water, you bandage it up and the pressure helps. Every now and then it throbs; when you remove the bandage before bed to let it breathe it reopens a little. But eventually it heals. Pretty soon you can’t even remember which finger was injured or what you were doing when it happened.
Horizontal Violence Obstructs Movement
I’ve written a number of times about issues of horizontal violence – a fancy adult term for “bullying.” I continue to explore it because I think it is as important as the movement at hand. We can not expect to conquer if we continue to act amongst ourselves in divisive ways. When we hold our hands over our ears because our triggers are too deep we close down the opportunity to grow the movement.
I’m grateful that more often than what I’ve just described, are my experiences with more and more of us who are deeply invested in healing the deep wounds of womankind. Those scars and scabs carved deep by other women who have reacted out of their own fears and insecurities begin to fade when we come together – even amongst disagreement or misunderstanding and truly hold space for one another. It takes a lot of courage to open ourselves up, to go to those awkward, exposed spaces, but the results are so intense, so full, so healthy.
The other day, I felt ostracized by a colleague….
It was this conversation about who would take the lead on a project, and after being suggested by one person, this other person’s subsequent comments made me indirectly seem – well, un-nominated. I sat and felt hurt for a day and then made the choice to email her and tell her what I had perceived.
The correspondence that flowed forth from that three sentence email was a fountain of beauty and healing. Her initial reaction?
She thanked me for respecting her enough to give her an opportunity to respond; for not harboring resentful feelings; for not playing head games; for reaching out and being honest. She fully embraced the openness and offered her own vulnerability in return.
Through our conversation, I learned that I was wrong in my perceptions about her intentions. I learned more about her personality and of our shared insecurities. We were able to not only clarify and resolve the conflict quickly, but by being unguarded with one another, we also took some huge steps in reconnecting in our own relationship, and I believe we reconnected some broken links in the chain of sacred sisterhood.
Are you willing to embrace the power of being real?
Can we be bold in speaking our truth and simultaneously compassionate in our response? Can we be fierce in our efforts and still nurture one another?
I feel strongly that the answer is not only that yes, we can; but that yes, we must.