I was thinking about the expression “All Lives Matter.” It’s often been used as a way of spiritually bypassing the Black Lives Matter movement. People who use this phrase say it as if anyone was objecting to the fact that all lives matter. I recently saw a post where someone was applying a similar statement to the recent women’s movement. It got me thinking.
People say that all lives matter, but they don’t really act like it. I guess sometimes I don’t either. Because if all lives matter, why do I sometimes step on a bug, often without even thinking about it? Did that life not matter? I eat meat. Does that one not count? I use paper products. Did the tree not matter either? Is it only human life, or do we include pets as well? Why do some lives seem to matter so much less than our own?
I thought about the little bug, squished beneath my shoe, and I wondered why I did it. I actually came up with an entire list of reasons. It occurred to me that the same reasons could be applied to why we do any of the other actions that devalue life.
The bug I stepped on scared me. I’m so much bigger than it was, and yet it caused a feeling of fear in me. My reaction to that fear was to make sure it couldn’t scare me again. How much of our choices are dictated because of fear of something that’s just not familiar to us? Or something we’ve come to believe is a threat, for whatever reason?
The bug repelled me, and that alone drove an impulse that I didn’t even attempt to control and only felt bad about once I felt safe again. So often, we are repelled by the things we stand against because we don’t see it (that thing, idea, concept, person) as being anything like us. But until I stepped on it, we were sharing the same air and the same sky. What would our lives look like if we put our revulsion aside to try to find common ground?
Ignorance/Lack of Understanding
This one is huge. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of bug it was, only that it was unknown to me. I don’t know about its life cycle on this earth or how it lives or naturally dies. I don’t know where it lives or what it eats. I didn’t try to know it before I did what I did. I often wonder if our ignorance is our ultimate downfall.
I’m seeing it right now with the women’s movement. White women are ignoring the voices of women of color. Politicians ignore survivors, unless it’s politically advantageous for them to do otherwise. Men, even some who claim to be allies, aren’t listening to and learning from women but proclaiming that they know best. When we don’t do independent research and are informed only by our own experiences, we often act in ignorance.
Stepping on bugs is just what you do, right? Only, why is that? Some things we do out of force of habit, and we don’t ask ourselves if it’s right or if it makes sense or if there just might be a better way.
Learned (socialized) behaviors
Sometimes our habits are learned, stemming from childhood or our environment. No one else we know cares if a bug is killed or another tree dies. Why should we, right? Wrong. I’m not saying that we have to immediately go vegan, stop using paper products, and save all bugs from death-by-shoe, but I do think we should question what we’ve learned to see if it aligns with our own values.
So much of what we do is influenced by what is accepted within our culture. If no one else has a problem with it, sometimes we don’t think twice about it. But maybe we should start to examine our lives. Why do we do the things we do, and can we say all lives matter or that any do if we don’t act in a way that’s in accordance with this?
There are so many areas of social justice and the environment that beg us to consider these factors. If we want to dismantle oppressive systems and protect the environment, we need to stop falling into harmful patterns without questioning them. Instead, we may need to question everything until our true core values start to align with our actions.
People who advocate for equality need to consider all the aspects. This means actively dismantling patriarchal systems. It means addressing pervasive white supremacy, including white feminism. It means confronting toxic and fragile masculinity. It means addressing cis-gendered, heteronormative, and transphobic language and behaviors. It means discussing ageism and ableism. It means evaluating religious discrimination, and how some religions perpetuate bigotry against other religions and many marginalized groups. It’s advocating for people across the lifespan.
But if we want to say all lives matter, then we also have to address environmental factors. It’s more than just working toward clean air and water and slowing the effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions. It’s looking at our reaction to insects. It’s considering the food we eat. It’s evaluating our lifestyles and finding ways to make our lives more sustainable. It’s considering how animals are treated and making reduce/reuse/recycle a part of our everyday life. It’s composting and growing our own food.
It’s trying—even if we can’t do everything. It’s familiarizing ourselves with the ideas of fair trade, organic, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and sustainable. It’s understanding why any of it matters and then looking to align our lives and values.
Unfortunately, social justice work and environmental activists often encounter roadblocks along the way.
There are those who would police our tone, as if they get to tell us how to communicate about these issues. It’s men telling women to calm down or approach feminism differently. It’s white people telling people of color how to protest, or white women silencing the voices of women of color. It’s anyone trying to spell out for the oppressed how to deal with that oppression in the way that is most convenient and palatable for everyone else.
There are others who use spiritual bypassing—saying that all lives should matter, and we should all work together while dismissing very real and very specific concerns. Obviously, I’m considering the idea of all life mattering. Plants, animals, bugs, humans. I’m trying to be a better human by thinking about these issues.
But when someone is telling us about Black Lives Matter, it’s not the time to redirect to some other issue because it makes us uncomfortable that race-related police brutality exists. We all know that officers with integrity exist, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the problems. Those officers and the people who support them need to understand that confronting wrong-doing should be something we all do and not get offended or take it personally if it doesn’t apply to them.
It’s the same with the women’s movement. We don’t need to be told that both men and women need to work together for change, or that women are often the problem, too. Focusing on “everyone needs to get along” and “everyone has work to do on themselves” simply invalidates the specific oppression being discussed. It’s not appropriate, and it doesn’t help.
When someone discusses a problem, there’s no need to jump into a defensive stance, no matter how the problem is being addressed. Instead of reacting with deflections, we can face the topic—no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us personally. When a POC talks to me about white feminism and supremacy, I try to listen and understand. I try to learn what I can so that I’m not doing or saying something ignorant. For example, I have used the phrase “my spirit animal” without realizing how disrespectful it is to indigenous people. Now that I know, I’m changing my language accordingly.
It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about not being ignorant. It’s about not knowingly doing harm to someone else. It’s about growing as an individual and being a better neighbor and citizen of the planet.
It’s very similar to tone policing. The etiquette camp wants to say that they don’t discuss controversial topics because it’s not polite. They don’t wade into politics, religion, or activism—or pick and choose which ones to champion. But they aren’t really saying that they don’t do this; often, they are criticizing those that do and holding themselves up as a shining example of how to live. We’re not all in the same place, from a growth and awakening perspective. But people like this often offer subtle rebukes rather than lending their support to a cause that makes them feel uncomfortable, exposed, or ignorant.
I know that people want to speak up and say that all lives matter when they feel they are in some way being left out. But the point is that there are times to focus on one particular area, one specific oppression, and that time is not the time to bring up everyone else. It’s not the time to distract or argue or do anything but listen and learn. “Let’s all just work together” is just another way of silencing and invalidating others.
But more than that, it’s strange to me that the very people who often put forward that all lives matter and that we should all be equally working together on our problems are often the ones who are living in ways that don’t seem to align with these values. They speak to life being important, but then they take political stances that don’t seem to be in harmony with that idea. Or they may advocate for human rights but not for animals or the environment.
We’re not perfect. Not even me. I’m probably not going to stop eating bacon. I may even step on a spider or other bug every now and then. But I’m thinking a lot more about what constitutes life and why I’ve so often assumed that mine matters more than something smaller or more vulnerable. Or why life only seems to include people when so many things are alive, and the environment we’ve damaged is harming all life. I’m going to think more about how my values align with my actions, and if I’m just paying lip service to some ideas with nothing more to back that up. I’m going to be thinking, learning, and growing, and I hope you will, too.
If we really believed that all life matters, we would be taking a knee with Colin and standing in solidarity with Dr. Ford. We would join all movements that fight oppression without trying to make it about our own. Maybe all life matters, but we would do better to show that through how we treat all life rather than throwing it in the faces of those who are motivated by their conscience and convictions to passionately advocate for change.
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