I started a blog series, “In Troubled Times” after the 2016 presidential election. Folks I trust said that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. That’s true now, too, so here’s the first in a renewed series.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone I love dearly who, like so many of us, belongs to overlapping groups that have been targeted by the current crop of hate-mongers. So many of the people and causes I support are at risk, it’s easy to feel battered by prejudice, overwhelmed, infuriated, and hopeless. But, in a moment of spontaneity, I found myself saying, “We can be good allies for one another.”
Let me break this down a bit. There is more than enough hatred to go around. There will never be a lack of worthy causes and people in need. No one of us can save everyone.
Thankfully, we are not all crazy (or desperate, or paralyzed by events) on the same day. Progress happens when we are actively pursuing it, but also when we allow ourselves to take a break, tend to our inner lives, and allow others to carry the load. The world does not rise or fall solely based on any one of us. This is why solidarity is essential. Insisting on being on the front lines all the time is an engraved invitation to exhaustion. If we look, we will always find those who, for this moment anyway, have energy and determination.
I think the secret to being a good ally is to realize that we can be that person for someone else.
This requires paying attention.
It is not helpful to do for someone what they can and should do for themselves. How then are we to discern when “helping” is arrogant interference? When is it a genuine offer and when does it result in telling the other person that they are inadequate and helpless to achieve their goal?
We ask. We listen. We give ourselves permission to appear clumsy and we forgive ourselves when we make mistakes.
Sometimes, the best thing we can ask is “How can I help?” and sometimes it is the worst, laying yet another burden on a person bowed down under them (“Oh god, I’ve got to think of something for her to do!”) Sometimes, saying, “Would you like me to help with that?” is the best, and sometimes it is the worst. Sometimes, “You are not alone” is a sanity-saver. Sometimes, it is a reminder of looming disaster. Sometimes, “I’m here and I care” is all the other person needs to hear, and sometimes it is worse than silence.
We listen. We ask. We pay attention.
The one thing we do not do is walk away. When I think of being an ally, I envision someone with whom I can be depressed, angry, volatile, and just plain wrong—and know that I will be held up by their unrelenting care for me. I can vent my frustration and they won’t abandon me. They will hear the pain and despair behind my words.
I want to be that ally for others. I want to be that safe person. I’m far from perfect at it, though. My feelings get hurt. I sop up the other person’s despair when I know better. I do my best to not walk away.
Listen. Forgive yourself. Take a break. Do what you can, when you can. Then pick yourself up and get back into the fight.
Up soon… “This too shall pass…”