Sometimes there is an extremely wrong thing to say in a situation. For example, you probably shouldn’t say “When are you expecting?” to someone unless you were absolutely there when they peed on a stick.
You should also never say, “maybe Trump has some good points” to anyone at any time, any where because lying makes baby Jesus cry.
Similarly you shouldn’t ever respond in discussions around “Me Too” with phrases, “yeah, but not all men” or when you hear someone lament the road that Evangelical Christians have taken with their support of Trump, there is no need to quip that, “not all Christians are into egomaniacal, narcissistic, lying leaders”.
Most likely the people that you are responding to already know that it is not the entirety of the group in question who are like this or that. The only purpose in stating “not all ______” is to make ourselves feel better.
As a white male Christian, I tick most of the boxes for someone who may respond this way. But I’m not off the hook just because I’ve never sexually assaulted someone or voted for Trump. And I’m growing increasingly alright with that. Because when all is said and done, I am a Christian just like someone who voted for Trump and I am a man just like Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein or any number of the ever increasing list of men who have been revealed to be something we didn’t know they were. And these are just celebrities. We know about them because they’re in the public eye. There are many more who aren’t.
When I use “not all _____” as a retort, my main goal is to not have someone think bad about me, rather than really caring about the pain that the person I’m speaking with is experiencing. My own comfort is my priority. What I’m saying is, “no doubt a group of Christians have contributed to a hatred and fear of the LGBTQ community and immigrants but please for the Love of God, do not assume I am one of them.”
But this diminishes and in many ways rejects the other person’s pain. It is like a mirror where I am faced with not just the pain that my group has caused but my own participation in it. Simply by being associated with the group. It has become about me.
For example, when considering how men have treated women, when I look at some of the decisions made by powerful men in relation to women’s bodies or to the explicit assault that men have perpetrated on women, it makes me angry, sad and often hopeless. So then when I claim that not all men are like this, it may be under the guise of letting that person know that they can trust me but really it’s a way of attempting to comfort myself.
I’m persuading them but also reassuring myself in some way, that I am different.
Which is fine, but in this case, ultimately selfish.
So what can we do instead?
Well like most problems, the biggest first step is in realizing there is a problem in the first place. If not, we’ll continue to carry on oblivious or dare I say it, willfully ignorant. But if we can manage to get past this and realise that these caveats are deeply unhelpful the next step is to stop and listen without getting defensive. Yes I know this is hard for us men, but honestly that’s tough shit. We have a responsibility to listen and when we reeeeallly want to chime in with “this or that person is not representative of all men” to remember that the person we are talking with probably already knows this.
Actually, maybe I need to back up a bit. (Typical man, trying to quickly solve a problem). Before we get to the part where we listen to the stories of the groups of people who have been hurt by electing people like Trump or from being the victim of sexual abuse, we need to prepare ourselves to hear these stories.
The key to this I believe is to start becoming aware of ourselves and our own bodies. When we hear these stories that remind me of my own pain, it’s important we stop and ask “where do I feel that pain?” The urge to chime and in and make sure the person telling me their story understands not all of us are like this, isn’t just some mental exercise in preserving our masculinity or manhood but comes from something deep within our bodies.
When I’m frustrated and want to act out that comes from something I feel inside me. Often for me, it’s an underlying feeling of tension in my gut or an unconscious holding of my own breathe. For others, it may be a pain in their chest or in their neck. The key here really isn’t where it is but becoming aware of it.
Anger for example, is not an intellectual exercise, it is an emotional one. And that emotion resides somewhere in our body. So before we engage others’ pain, perhaps we need to learn to breathe deeply, notice where in the body we are feeling something and to learn to make it our friend.
Because when we are confronted with enemies, perceived or real, we have the urge to defend ourselves and then attack. Which is the whole problem in the first place.
So now in cliched blogging fashion, take sometime to stop reading and practice this for yourself. If you don’t think you need to and don’t know where to start, that’s exactly where you start.
Find somewhere quiet without distraction, sit comfortably with your back straight and just being to slowly notice your breathe. That’s where it always starts and is the key to breaking free from all of this.
If this is difficult for you, which it most likely will be, that’s alright. Don’t judge yourself negatively, don’t worry about any unwanted thoughts. Just notice them and come back to your breathing.
Then begin to notice your body. Scan through every part of your body from head to toe and become aware of where there is tension or pain or any type of physical sensation. Don’t try and fix it for now, just be aware. If you want to avoid it, note that. If you don’t feel anything, note that too. The absence of feeling is still feeling.
This short daily practice can then become something you can use anytime and anywhere.
When we start becoming conscious of those feelings inside our body we start to become comfortable with underlying emotions that are driving our need to become defensive. We stop desiring comfort and control and start to give ourselves over to something deeper which you can call Spirit or consciousness or whatever you want. Ultimately, it is being present without the need for our ego to be bolstered.
It is a letting go of ego. It is freedom.
From here we are then properly able to engage with the stories of people who have suffered at the hands of others in the group we belong.
Whether that’s other Christians, men or any other sub group and community you may find yourself belonging to, it really doesn’t matter.
It’s not even that these stories don’t have to be a threat to our group. Maybe in fact, we need a part of our group to die. We need the control that groups such as men and Evangelical Christians have become accustomed to weaken. Because the goal of being able to calmly hear the stories of others’ pain inflicted by our group, as important a first step as that is, must also lead to a desire for healing and a new way of doing things for everyone. The inflictors and the inflicted included.
But it most definitely needs to begin with those who have the power like Evangelical Christians and men to stop and take responsibility of our own pain and learn to not react to the pain of others. Which in many ways, is our pain also.
If we all did this there would no longer be any need to get defensive and go on the attack. Our egos would begin to dissolve and we would be able to live in a way that is open to everyone and everything that is different to us. We wouldn’t need to rationalise our existence by becoming violent or full of hatred because no longer is our existence based on a perceived threat from others.
For this way of being, time should truly be up.
This is political correctness gone mad. Does no one else see how privileged these campaigns are? And difficult people are if they assume they can take offense at every challenge?
The comments are attempts to relate to people or open up discussion about an opinion.
Would you mind clarifying your comment, Jo?
I see these interlocutors using “Not all…” and “it is possible that someone has some good points”, as ways of opening up discussion. I don’t see them as offensive. I don’t think that we can say certain ways of speaking are automatically offensive. To have an exchange is after all the point of speaking.
I get the sense that perhaps we are having an introvert versus extroverted misunderstanding here, though.
I am pro everyone taking responsibility for their pain. I see that you have written a fully explained description here of the mindfulness technique as a way of accepting and internalising what you are experiencing in moments of disagreement.
I think sometimes silence is the dignified response on the part of the group identified as the ‘victim’. Sometimes grace requires that pain is not transmitted as a way of preventing more pain occurring in general.
Thanks for this Jo.
I think the idea of silence is a really important one because most of us have a really difficult time with this. Mostly but not entirely because silence allows those things that are buried to come up. We medicate with Social media, music, alcohol, porn. Anything and everything can be a medication but I like your idea of being silent because I can see a lot of healing and freedom can come out of that.
And you’re absolutely right that we all have a responsibility to deal with our own pain. Which definitely includes the ‘victim’ too.
No matter who we are, when someone says something to us it’s really important that we learn to be still and feel on a physical level what it is we feel and then ask what it is without judging ourselves and the other person.
When we all learn to do that well something powerful happens.