Julie Gillis witnessed the moment where broken hearts begin. She wonders what can we all do to fix them, together.
Here’s how a broken heart begins. I was at the grocery store and I witnessed, about four checkout lanes over, a very brief interaction between a parent and child. The child either did something that seriously displeased the parent, or the parent was just ready to be displeased. I saw a very ugly look of anger, some yelling (loud enough for my aisle to hear) and the kid looked terrified and cowered by the cart.
My checkout clerk said, “You should see the horrible things I see. I can’t do anything cause the store is worried about being sued. I wish I had CPS cards to give the kids that come through this store.”
Shocked at her words, I thought, what would happen if I did race over? Could I save the child from a possibly abusive situation? Might I get screamed at publicly? Was it also possible that the parent was at the end of their rope that day? Mentally ill?
Any of those were within possibility. I simply didn’t know.
I wanted to say to the child, “I see you and this is not ok. What you may be learning as normal is not normal. Do not internalize what you may hear about yourself.” They were rushing out so I gave the child as purposeful a smile as I could and they left, abruptly.
The kid, around 12, still has time to unlearn things. But I worry. Because heck, this happens all around us and worse. We all grow up internalizing stories, language and dynamics that either makes us feel worthless, afraid, angry. Often we then externalize that pain and focus it on to others in isms like racism, sexism, homophobia. The pain is too much to bear.
The story of the child? I don’t know the ending to. But I see the results of other endings, other stories, around me in my daily life, on blogs, in comments every day.
People can be violent. Some people are violent some of the time. Some people are never violent. Be it physical, emotional, strategic or political, we know how to hurt each other.
People can be loving and kind. How do we heal each other? Do we know?
Systems can be toxic. People get stuck in systems designed in the past that don’t catch up to the needs of the present, let alone future. Systems get siloed, afraid of intersectionality. Systems get reliant upon money and funding and patrons and then the people in the systems feel beholden to the system to keep the money flowing in.
How do we heal those systems as well, all while we are doing our own personal work with each other and realizing there are people in the systems with their own issues working on them while they try to make things better for others. It’s like a Moebius Strip.
This moment came on the heels of a comment I wrote in connection with Closing The Gaps In Gender Equality an article by Zek J. Evets about finding, slowly, ways to connect, listen and hear each other.
“This is such a complicated issue. It makes me want to hit my head against a wall repeatedly. There are SO many myths on each side to break down, and so much language to translate.
We have to care about each other first and foremost. We have to find a way to stop looking at men and women as completely foreign species to each other, no matter if it feels that way, no matter if systems have reinforced that, narratives created to second those systems.
We have to quit (or try to quit) hurling words at each other “Misandric!” “Misogynist!” “Privilege!” without any thought to impact, reception or what the words even mean to us or the other.
We have to look at ourselves as individuals, realizing that some of the hurt and anger is purely from an individual issue and address that ourselves. Then we work on the systems stuff when we are healed more from the personal stuff. We can’t fix a broken house with a broken leg or arm. And a group of people with broken bones (or hearts as the case may be) will build a really faulty house if we don’t address both personal and systemic issues. Individuals have to own their stuff. Groups have to stand down a little and listen (while realizing groups are filled with people needing to own their own stuff). Systems need to be more open and willing to change (realizing that systems are filled with groups who are filled with people).
We need translators, bridge builders, medics, and new storytellers.
It’s messy. It’s hard. And we have a lot of work to do.”
There is pain in life. And there are a lot of us left to feel the pain and then somehow figure it out, as if we were just left with a broken arm to set itself while we were still getting on with the business of life. No one would leave someone out in the world with a broken arm. So why are so many broken hearts left to fix themselves?
We have broken hearts. Hearts broken from ugly divorces, lost loves, death, abuse, betrayal, assault.
We need medics to help set and heal broken hearts. We need translators and bridge builders to listen to each side, breakdown the vocabularies, and help mediate conflict. We need new storytellers brave enough to share how they are creating new relationships, new paradigms of gender and relating. We need systems thinkers who are willing to take on monolithic appearing systems realizing that those systems themselves are filled with groups who are filled with people all of whom have been hurt, all of whom are probably doing the best they can.
We have to get our hands and feet dirty in the fertile soil of change.
We need to say “no” to violence. To say to each other “I see you and you shouldn’t be treated this way.” To stand up for each other as humans, not just based on whichever pole we find politically viable. Even if we disagree. Especially if we disagree.
Which is why it will be messy. And difficult. And we’ll wind up with dirt and mud under our nails. For a long time probably.
But won’t it be worth it?
I think so. Yes it’s idealistic. But there are pragmatic answers within the dreams. I see people here at Good Men Project who are doing this work every day. People like Jackie Summers with his piece, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught or Noah Brand on Internalized Racism.
It’s in Tom’s vision, and it’s Lisa’s leadership, and even more importantly, I see it every day in our comment threads, people struggling to work things out without adding to each other’s burden, sometimes failing, but more often these days, building spectacular things together.
We’ve got to do this, this multileveled, complex work of people, groups and systems, together. And I believe we can.
Photo courtesy of Håkan Dahlström