“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ~ Harriet Tubman
“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” ~ Malala Yousafzai
This was going to be a very different post until I watched Brené Brown’s Live Facebook video from August 15th with her thoughts about what happened in Charlottesville. I’ve read a number of her books which are distillations of her research about shame and vulnerability. I think she’s a great teacher. In the video she said some things that were hard to acknowledge, but she was right. And I want to strip away some of the inner barriers I put up when writing these posts. I want to become as vulnerable as I can be about what I feel about events happening in this country and around the world.
Brené said that this country’s history is based on white supremacy. That was difficult to acknowledge, but she’s right. White men have been in power since our country’s inception. That’s starting to change now but it’s been a very slow process to get here. The fact is, we wouldn’t have a nation if it weren’t for a group of white men pushing for independence. And sometimes I think that we whites think that gives us extra privilege. I’m both grateful and ashamed that this is the case. I’m grateful to live in this country. On the other hand I feel ashamed to be part of the race that pushed the Original peoples off their lands. I’m ashamed that we almost annihilated them, took away their culture and languages. I feel shame that we built this country on the backs of slaves kidnapped from their homes to serve us, and I’m ashamed at how we have treated immigrants, from all over the world, with derision. We’ve even done this with some white groups. The illusion has been that this country was built on the principle that all men are created equal, but we’ve never lived that principle. We do have a class system. Thankfully it’s getting exposed.
So, here we are at this crossroads. What do we do now? Brené talked extensively about the need for those of us who are white to be willing to acknowledge the way things really are, and to be willing to enter into difficult discussions. Part of those discussions need to be about privilege, checking our perceptions, and power. Those of us who are white need to listen more than talk, and we need to believe that when anyone tells us their story, they are telling us their truth. It will be different than our truth, but it’s no less valid. Our discussions will be messy. We’ll make mistakes and wrong assumptions from time to time, but we need to be willing to enter into those discussions with as much respect as possible with our eye on coming to new understandings and forming new partnerships.
Brené always inspires me, which prompts me to tell you a story about the novel I’m about to publish in its print-on-demand version. In The Space Between Time, I attempted to create a multi-cultural community in the timeline in the past. When I had my book club group read one version of the manuscript, a woman who happens to be Jewish, was offended by my portrayal of the Jewish characters. Some of them travel on the same wagon train West with Morgan. She questioned whether Jews moved to Oregon in the late 1850s. She also resented the fact that late in the book I have a Jewish banker go to Jacksonville to put the bank back on a sound footing. She thought his character offensive. I’m sad to say I wasn’t very sympathetic to her objections. However, I did go home and do extra research about the Jews in Oregon before doing my revisions. I discovered that there were Jewish groups who traveled to the Oregon territory as early as the mid 1840s and that they were extremely instrumental in helping Oregon become a state and then in helping its growth. When I read that, I felt justified in keeping the Jewish characters, while making some adjustments to accommodate some of her objections.
Even though I made adjustments, it’s difficult to admit that I did not honor my friend’s objections, or point of view about my portrayal of the Jews in my book. Today, Brené Brown reminded me that I can’t possibly know what it’s like to be Jewish. I should have listened to my friend and considered her point of view more carefully. In my attempts to honor and include characters of other races in my book, I may have made similar faux pas with them as well. I won’t know until I have a chance to process the comments on my book. If I get lots of negative feedback, that’s okay. I intend to learn from my mistakes and grow as a writer. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Finished is better than perfection.”
I think it’s true that we learn more from our mistakes and from the difficult situations in our lives than from the easy times. I want to become someone who is willing to be open to the perspectives of others even when they are sharing truths that I might not want to hear, or that I don’t fully understand.
Brené’s video helped me in another way. Today I begin a new semester teaching acting class. I always attempt to create a safe environment for my students to be vulnerable when creating and performing their characters. This semester I’m going to make an even greater effort in that regard. It’s impossible to have true and honest discussions if we don’t feel safe to share our particular point of view. I’m grateful for the work Brené does and her willingness to help us become more honest with ourselves and others.
To see Brené Brown’s video click here. The link is to her Facebook page. She recorded the video on August 15, 2017 at 7:50 a.m.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.