During this Thanksgiving, I realize that I am about the old ways. Old ways that are tried and true. In case you think I return to nostalgia concerning the ways things were, let me be clear. The more I stay the same in my convictions, beliefs, and values, the more I yearn for change. But change isn’t about toppling regimes, proposing the opposite of what has gone before, or forging a new path or proposing a radically different vision for the world from a place of privilege. Change cannot happen from a place of privilege.
I have seen into the abyss and I don’t like what I see: racism, violence, homage to greed, colonialism, and power, a dying earth, people, whose hearts, minds and bodies are broken due to judgements, terrible and widesweeping (think Trump, the neighbour on your own street, and even family members). Furthermore, I am saddened by the preoccupation of new reports about the awful things that are happening in North America. Why are we thinking about ourselves so much? What about the devastations that are happening to poor and vulnerable people in other areas of the world.
What are the old ways? In my mind, it is love, concern and solidarity with the most vulnerable, the unattractive, and the poor. Somehow, I remain convinced that if we put these people first, many of our societal problems would be solved. Instead of the rush to be beautiful and to associate with beautiful people because that might get us closer to the top of the pyramid, we would learn to identify what is poor within ourselves, what is the most vulnerable, unattractive part of ourselves and embrace it all.
Solidarity with special interest groups such as people of color. First Nations, gay and lesbian people have become first and foremost in our social fabric. This is wonderful and very hopeful. But it is only a starting point. We are still approaching these issues from a place of privilege within ourselves and each other. Certain causes become popular and sexy. Certain groups are easier to align with than with other groups. Even advanced capitalism has figured out how to profit from our protests against racism, exploitation and homophobia. Lawyers, victims, celebrities are often awarded monetary gains. Protesting has become a profitable business enterprise if the leaders are sexy enough. What if we turned away from the cult of beauty, power and riches altogether and began to confront what is poor, unattractive and vulnerable within ourselves? We’d become more grateful, compassionate, and kind. We would work steadily for the liberation of all people who are oppressed, colonized, and exploited.
But we would not do this from a place of privilege. We would do this from a place of poverty within ourselves. We would know what it is to be vulnerable, unattractive and poor. If we don’t know, we’d better start by aligning ourselves with the most vulnerable and living their ways without judgement, “fixing” them, or outlining utopian futures for them.
These are the old ways. This business of looking into one’s self. “The climbing down of a thousand ladders to reach the clod of earth that I really am (Jung)”. We will be climbing downwards soon enough. Becoming old is an unattractive business, watching family and friends fall away from you because you become the unwanted question as to why the mad rush toward beauty, fame, riches and everlasting youth. When no one wants to talk to you anymore out of the fear that you might say something to make him or her feel uncomfortable.
The poor and the most vulnerable are tucked into the folds of our lives. The people with disabilities, sick people, dying people still continue to be voiceless. If my work with language deprived youth tells me anything, I learn the most about myself from them. In standing in solidarity with their own vulnerability, I see the greed, the need for power and control, the lust for attention and praise all within myself. What do I do now? Go lower, down another ladder, and strangely, enough, rejoice in the ridicule, the judgements and the rejections being heaped upon my own head. I am getting closer in these old ways, to my own liberation from the things that society has taught me to reject about myself: being weak, voiceless, poor and vulnerable to other people’s judgements. All of this propels me toward death while becoming more and more alive to what is within me and others.
These are the old ways. I am grateful, this Thanksgiving, as I gather with my family, always cognizant of my own privilege, and the bounty within my own life. My parents have taught me the old ways and continue to support me and my siblings in addressing the unwanted within ourselves and in our society. Today, I honor them in the old way.