Conversation vs. Retaliation: Passion, Advocacy, and ‘Fairness’ by Joel Worford

We live in an age where it’s difficult to lobby for restraint, and in many respects, this is a good thing.

Last weekend’s March For Our Lives serves as an excellent example of the beautiful showing of humanity that can come as a result of some groups’ (in this case, young students’), uninhibited exhibition of passion in working towards a goal. It was the students’ and marchers’ uncompromising position towards what they believed in that made last weekend’s event so powerful.

The March For Our Lives campaign shows one of the many positives that strong, peaceful resistance to compromise can result in.

In other words, passion is not the enemy. One can be passionate and have a respectful conversation with someone who holds an opposing view. Passion is necessary for change—without passion, nobody would show up to get things done.

Passion is the difference between one and one million.

There is no change without the presence of strong-willed, bold individuals who refuse to compromise, and so—join together in lobbying for their beliefs. Passion, advocacy, and outspokenness are qualities we should celebrate in this time where listening to and learning about the opinions of others is essential in building a better society. Passion is not to be stifled.

What we need to come to distinguish, however, is passion, advocacy and frankness from meanness, superiority, and revenge.

Regardless of how it may seem, there is no universal moral high ground. Believing that one’s opinion is the “right belief” is no justification for telling someone that their view is completely invalid and that they are stupid for believing it. The reality is that oftentimes when we seek change, we don’t know for certain that the result will be better; we just hope it will be. While this may be a bleak view, it is useful in discussing the dialogue on today’s controversial events, which often seem polarizing, antagonistic, and useless.

Social media is a blessing and a curse when it comes to progressive movements. On the one hand, social media provides a voice to those individuals who, otherwise, might go unheard. However, social media also becomes somewhat of an opinion cesspool—a place where everyone and anyone can express themselves anyway they want, and have an audience.

Expression is great, but the way one goes about expressing oneself can sometimes do more harm than good. Starting conversations is the best way to make progress on controversial issues, but it’s difficult to reach a level of understanding with someone when the discourse started with disrespect or condescension.

People often justify inflammatory and instigating social media posts with oppressed group’s past hardships. Lines that go something like, “How could you ask [oppressed group or individual speaking on their behalf] to be calm after all they’ve been through? How is that fair?”

Calmness isn’t so much what we’re asking for, but let’s be honest—when has anything been fair for these groups, and why do we choose to believe that there’s a necessity for fairness now that there’s actually a chance to change things? There is a time for anger, and there is a time for expressing those negative feelings, but taking them out on others is conducive to nothing but more hatred.

This might sound idealistic, and it might be disappointing, but the reality is that showing compassion and patience towards someone different than you is the best way to get them to listen.

Now is not the time for anger and retaliation. With society listening to oppressed groups and asking “How can we change for the better?” now is not the time to spit in the face of those engaging in conversation for the sake of avenging past mistreatment.

Is the anger justified? Perhaps, but regardless, accepting the aggressive, rude, and harmful acts of those who’ve been oppressed because they’ve been oppressed sets a nasty precedent. Granting this kind of invincibility ends up placing individuals in a sort of competition to see who’s been the most oppressed—a sort of battle for superiority and power based on past hardships. We need to treat aggression based on past mistreatment with understanding, but not acceptance.

The idea that oppressed groups need to restrain their anger to move society further away from the hatred that causes their anger is unfair. However, as earlier stated, the situation has never been fair for these groups, and when it comes to making sacrifices, the right to retaliate must be one of them.

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Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia, and a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

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Oh, Empathy: The Language of Exhaustion: Second in a Series by SarahGrace Gomez

It is hard to find a new way to write about a popular topic, and I struggled with piecing together this blog because my research on empathy exhaustion made my work feel like a drop of rain in an ocean of psychological study. A quick “empathy exhaustion” Google search yields 441,000 results. People also ask, what is emotional exhaustion? What are the symptoms of compassion fatigue? Psychology Today, Mental Floss, even the Harvard Business Review, have all taken on the subject. We are all attempting to define the concept and list its effects in the hopes that we can overcome the consequences, where the consequences are our inability to provide care for others, to produce content, to return to work. We’ve all determined that empathy exhaustion, compassion fatigue, burnout, whatever term we use to capture that gut feeling, is a bad thing.

We have all come to the same conclusion, using different terminology to do so. These words are different, but they mean the same thing. Counseling Today defines empathy fatigue as “a state of psychological, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and occupational exhaustion that occurs as [a] counselors’ own wounds are continually revisited by their clients’ life stories of chronic illness, disability, trauma, grief and loss.” The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project says the symptoms of this fatigue “are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do.”

The discourse on empathy and compassion is expansive, but it is not varied. It seems that empathy exhaustion is such a popular topic, we’ve managed to conform all discussions on it. The “solution” to the problem is the same on every single website I visited: self-care, awareness, and education.

I am probably not alone in this response, but:

I KNOW that.

I know because I’ve read the blogs. I know because I’ve done this research, scouring The Compassion Fatigue Project’s website, taking their Stress Self-Test that puts my life somewhere in the 500 score area. My self-care falls short in a post-graduate world where loans must be repaid every month, and the literary field is both small and competitive. My awareness only takes me so far when my self-care is suspect. And my education? How many times can I read the same advice, done up in such objective, emotionally distant language before the void starts to fill? Whoever decided that was the language we needed to communicate our emotional landscapes never took a creative writing course, because they’ve let our words fail us.

Now is not the time for objectivity and clinical dialogue. That is not the direct action we should take when it is time for activists to advocate for themselves. “Take positive action to change your environment” is a hollow suggestion for folks who organize to get clean water to inmates living in unsanitary conditions. “Be kind to yourself” is a silly thing to say to workers uniting for equitable pay and proper healthcare. “Accept where you are on your path at all times” feels vapid for teenagers marching forward to D.C to save their own lives.

The language of exhaustion should not be timid, because our empathy is full of sound and fury, and it is dying to speak. We should take care to let it.

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