As I have become increasingly focused on issues of equality over the past several months and years, I have also found it increasingly easy to become angry and upset. The amount of unfairness in this world is so monumental, that beginning to confront it can be overwhelming. Once you begin to see it, you see it everywhere. So how can I learn to deal with that?
I believe that it is important to make space for the anger and frustration – ignoring or shutting down emotions is never healthy. Channeling it into productive endeavors – such as this blog – can be very positive. I am also learning, however, that allowing this anger to overtake me as I see the injustice around me is also not productive, and can be harmful to myself and those around me. If I become so hypersensitive to inequality and begin to see everything through that single lens, I end up completely losing perspective. I think there’s a balance to be had here, and to be honest, I have no idea what that kind of balance looks like. I do, however, have a link that I’d like to share.
I encourage everyone to stop reading this post for a couple minutes, and to read the commencement speech that Ursela K. Le Guin gave in 1983 at Mills College (a women’s college). I tried to pick out one good block quotation, but found myself wanting to post more than half of it, so please, just go read the whole thing. It’s not that long.
In this commencement address, Ursela K. Le Guin speaks of success, and of what success really means: Success means someone else’s failure. She also says the following:
“Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.”
Le Guin urges her audience to be able to live there, in that dark place “that our rationalizing culture of success” rejects. She then points out that women are already excluded from the male-norms of society, already living in this dark place.*
I would like to think that we have come a long way in the nearly 30 years since Le Guin gave this commencement address. I would like to be able to say “but that was 30 years ago, everything is different now!” But I cannot. I know that there have been many accomplishments along the way in the journey toward equality, but I also know that women’s contraception and abortion rights are once again on the forefront of the still male-dominated legislature’s agenda, and that equal pay remains an issue. It may be a bit easier for me to pursue a career in science today than it was 30 years ago, but we still have a long way to go, and we are still living in a society that is geared toward men and their continued power.
What Le Guin goes on to point out is something I find to be both helpful to me in my quest for a balanced viewpoint, and also quite vague. She first asks, why should woman have to either fight or serve this male-dominated society, always on his terms? And then she invites us to live in this world: “So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but as natives.”
How can I live in this world, not passively accepting the injustice around me and imposed upon me, but also not constantly fighting and tearing at it, living on its terms either way? How can I live in this society as a native? What does that mean? Specifically, what does this mean for me in my daily life, for you in yours? I don’t have any answers on this yet, but it is something I will continue to digest as the forces within me continue to clash – the inequality alarm bells always ringing, angry, frustrated vs. the rational, calm, let’s-try-not-to-alienate-everyone, eager to listen, empathetic self.
Finally, I will leave you with one last quotation from this speech. Having learned the most from my darkest times, it touches a deep chord for me:
“I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country.”
Until next time,
*This post and the quoted speech focus on women’s equality, but I would like to point out that this same reasoning can be applied to a whole slew of other inequalities – gay rights, classism, and racism, among many, many others.