Finding a positive outlet for outrage and pain
Update, 2022: I wrote this piece in response to a specific incident that happened several years ago. We’ve certainly had more than enough “outrage and pain” since this post appeared. I have left the original reference in for historical purposes and context. I believe that the content of this text is as relevant now as it was then.
It’s the day after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and I’m seeing pain, heartbreak, and outrage in post after post on social media. I can appreciate each one of these comments, and frankly think they say a great deal about my social-media friends.
Of course I’m also sitting with my own feelings of powerlessness and disbelief, fighting disappointment in the system and despair for our history, knowing full well how things would likely have turned out had the roles in this case been reversed.
I find myself wanting to quote a particular friend who routinely responds to incidents of injustice, hypocrisy, and violence, saying, “This planet is too stupid for me to live on.” I can appreciate that one as well.
When I am overwhelmed with feelings, especially anger, fear, and sadness, my weapon of choice has always been the keyboard on my laptop. (Before computers gave me a vehicle for processing my thoughts and feelings, before pain in my hands made journaling on paper a feasible option, before my blog gave me a place to share this process with the two or three people who might find their way there, there were always, always my notebooks, a lifetime of expression that I suspect no one will ever see—or need to.)
But regardless of the tools and resources at my disposal, I feel like I have to create words for this emotional experience or I will be of no use to anyone, including myself, today. Because I keep thinking that there has to be an opportunity for some good to come out of this experience.
I’ve seen several posts commenting on the degree to which so many people from different backgrounds came together in support for this family. For justice. For sanity. Sharing this struggle to understand. For those who followed every detail of this trial, as well as those who could not bear to watch it unfold to what many have called an inevitable conclusion. What now? What do we do with this range of feelings?
Above all, if I sit with this long enough to hear the guidance of my heart, I feel moved not only to write, but to act. To deliberately go out and just be NICE to someone today. To hold a door for someone. To pass on as many smiles and friendly greetings as I can. To pick up a piece of trash on the trail by my house. To click even more “Likes” than usual, just to validate someone else’s experience. I need to turn this pain to kindness, to good. To love. Because if I don’t, the cynicism and despair will consume me.
Will these actions make a difference? Maybe. Will they end violence and hatred and stupidity? Not likely. But that’s hardly the point.
I’m flashing on a conversation many years ago with an old 12-step buddy who said that our words and actions are up to us. The ultimate outcomes, should we ever get to see them, are not. (As an educator who rarely sees the longterm impact of my work, this one comment may be the strongest thread anchoring whatever shred of sanity I’ve managed to retain.) We don’t do this stuff for the results. We do it because it helps us, perhaps at the very least, to unburden our potential to harm.
So I’m writing this because frankly when I’m flooded with as many feelings as I’m processing right now—many perhaps an empathic response to those expressed by people I care about—my impulse is to simply numb out in any way I can. And I don’t want to do that right now. (Yes, if writing is an addiction, and I’d hardly be the best person to argue that it’s not, I suppose I’ll just have to live with that.)
And I’m writing because I want to encourage my friends and colleagues, some of whom I only barely know (and many of them, only through Facebook), to come together as a caring community, to use this child’s life and legacy as an excuse to do some powerful good, even in the smallest of kindnesses. Be naive enough to think that opening your heart, just for today, will make this planet a better place.
© 2013, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein
Looking for a source for these photos. Thank you.
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