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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Art in the Age of Understanding by Joel Worford

Art shifts with culture while culture shifts with art—making it difficult for us to determine which one needs to change first when we decide something needs to change.

The popular idea that the artistic community holds the progressive mentalities while everybody else lags behind is largely a misconception.

Consider this: the lead single from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic contains the clearly misogynistic line “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends,” among others, yet that didn’t stop the song from winning Record of the Year or from selling over one million units in less than 12 months. Some would argue that the success of Mars’ music, along with the success of a number of popular Hip-Hop, Country, RnB and Rock artists who play large stadiums and sell millions of records every year, regardless of the antiquated stance their music may take towards women, or the problematic ways they may represent race and/or sexuality comes down to the difference between popular music circles and underground music circles. This idea falls apart, however, when one considers that, even within the independent music scene, artists tend to separate themselves by genre—genres built around cultures whose make-up often reflects the prejudices and racial distinctions of the United States’ socio-economic situation.

As art shifts and shapes with culture, its communities grapple with the cultural climate of the time, just like any other group.

So how are movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo affecting artists? Surely the same musicians who perform at The Women’s March and speak out against bigotry and hate on social media are taking such ideas into account while they’re producing and presenting their art?

I believe the difference is small, yet substantial in the way that it manifests. I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album and enjoy the 90s throwback style quite a bit, yet as a working musician and singer-songwriter myself, I would never cover the song 24K Magic, because that one line about “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends” makes me uncomfortable. The reason it makes me uncomfortable is because I understand that it makes some of my friends who are women uncomfortable. This understanding is crucial, and represents the moment where the conversations brought to the forefront by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo begin to influence culture. As people begin to understand one another differently, culture will shift to accommodate, and so will art. When I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album, I skip that song, because the moments of misogyny take me out of the album’s groovaliciousness and remind me of the stories that my roommate tells about her negative experiences with men—some of whom surely mistreat women because they hold mentalities similar to the ones Mars glorifies in his song.

Skipping that song is my choice, just like it was Bruno Mars’ choice to write that line, record ’24K Magic,’ and include it on his album.

Both choices are valid—to regulate art and creation would be to regulate conversation, and such artistic stifling isn’t conducive to understanding. Our choices are just different, and reflect different ideas. I wouldn’t say that my choice is so much an act of protest as it is an act of necessity. Why should I listen to a song if it makes me uncomfortable? With that, you could ask—why should Bruno Mars change his song if he feels comfortable with it? Plenty of people, both men and women, love the song, and that line.

As society shifts in response to conversations on human rights and morality, the way we interact with each other will change, and the way we interact with art will change. Lyrics deemed bigoted or misogynistic will cause songs to fall out of the mainstream, and at that point, it will be the artist’s choice on whether to change with society, or to try and change it back.

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Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. 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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Good Read! "Why we need to move empathy from personal emotion to collective moral concern" by Roman Krznaric (from Aeon)

from Aeon

"Empathy comes in two distinct forms: affective empathy is our instinct for mirroring the emotions of others, while cognitive empathy is our conscious ability to understand someone else’s perspective.

In this installment of Aeon In Sight, the British writer Roman Krznaric argues that empathy is a uniquely powerful – if often overlooked – tool for transforming and improving societies on a mass scale. Using it effectively, however, requires much more than affective empathy’s rush of emotions and reflexive reactions, to which the culture today seems particularly inclined.

Rather, to get the most out of empathy, we must focus on widening our moral concern through cognitive empathy, finding ways to move from the personal to the collective....."

Read The Rest Here

Oh, Empathy: First in a Series by SarahGrace Gomez

Let’s be honest. 2017 was hard.

When I finished my Master’s thesis, I submitted the document and then I curled up in a ball on my bed and I cried for an hour. Researching racism and using zombies to communicate the totality of death and violence that characterizes racist action left me feeling broken. While I wrote about premature death and the dehumanization of marginalized peoples, cops kept shooting unarmed black men in the streets. Donald Trump was finishing his first 100 days in office.

I cried because I felt like my thesis was a warning of what would come. The future toward which we hurtled felt more apocalyptic than utopic, and fighting for peace was becoming too much. By August, a neo-Nazi had murdered an anti-racist activist in the streets of Charlottesville. By November, they had gathered on the Boston Common twice. By December, I was tired, and supremely over the year as a capsule of America unraveling. I did what the self-help blogs on Buzzfeed and Huffington Post told me to do; I bought some face masks. I got my hair cut. I ate a kale salad. True to the narrative of self-care that has become so popular in these uncertain days, I excavated time for myself. It did not help.

2017 wasn’t just hard. It hurt. When the stakes were so high, and there was still so much work to be done, I was burning out fast, and I wasn’t alone. My entire network of change-makers and justice warriors ached under the pressure of our work, and we were all searching for respite. My friend who works with Crisis Text Line showed me her notes on compassion fatigue, and they sounded exactly like the tips my friend who works in an animal shelter said she and her colleagues discuss. My friend who used to work at a needle exchange suggested we bring in 2018 by doing face masks, putting on makeup, painting our nails, and practicing the kind of self-care we think will work. In comparison to the work we do, the methods we have for self-care feel commodified, one-dimensional, and insufficient.

This leads me to a few questions:

Why is it so exhausting to practice empathy? And how has the language of self-care ultimately failed us? More importantly, how do we make it work for us?

I decided to write this post because I wanted to put to practice the vision we have for Writing For Peace regional chapters. This content was supposed to be a way to not just discuss empathy exhaustion as a huge problem in activist communities, but to also try to find my own peace in the face of my fatigue. When I told my friends, many of whom are involved with Aids Action Committee, Crisis Text Line, Food Not Bombs and addiction harm reduction, that I was going to write about empathy exhaustion, the resounding response was, “Oh my GOD, I so know what you mean.” It no longer was that selfish project of blogging about exactly how tired I was, it became an ethnography of activists who are at risk of losing hope despite all efforts to avoid that fate.

This will be a series of blog posts dedicated to giving activists the space to contend with their empathy, their exhaustion, their forms of self-care, and where they fit taking care of themselves into their mission of saving others. In the new year, I will continue to explore how the rhetoric of self-care has become insufficient in the face of the work we do and the exhaustion we face, and how we can all fight back so we can all keep fighting.

Happy New Year. Let’s learn how to take care of you.

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