I just got back from vacation a few days ago and I wanted to share two non-fiction books that I’m currently reading.
(Okay, let’s be real, I’m currently reading three books, one of which is a paperback thriller--but I’m only gonna share about one in this email. I’ll share about non-fiction number two next week.)
This was recommended months and months ago, but I must admit I’m finicky about my books. I don’t like to read what other people say I should read. (This might be a deeper problem.) I also don’t like to read non-fiction solo. Maybe it’s a grad school thing. Maybe it’s too much extrovertism, but I like to read books about serious topics such as racial justice and societal change with other folks so that I don’t feel too bad. These other people also help me to keep reading btw. Anyhoo--I finally got started on this book when I heard about it for the 3rd or 4th time and also heard about a facebook group of activists who were also reading it.
Too bad I waited so long! This book has lots of pearls, nuggets, and pithy ah-ha’s about making change. And it’s written in the “I” voice so that I feel like I’m getting to know the young Black woman who wrote it. Adrienne maree brown speaks from her lived experience as an organizer, facilitator and avid reader of Octavia Butler. Okay, what else do we have in common? And, she says thing that I’ve held as true and stuff that I need to seriously test out in my own life.
For example, brown asks “Is it possible we will call each other out until there’s no one left beside us?” This question refers to the the rush to take each other down; to call out folks who are change making imperfectly and maybe hypocritically--in such a way that we destroy them. Instead she advocates for transformative justice which happens in real time rather than the super urgency of social media time. She asks us to consider talking to those we have access to rather than public shaming.
This resonates with me deeply. I’ve never felt comfortable with the massive attack waves on social media, and I even declined to speak at a rally when I felt like I didn’t have enough information on an injustice. I’ve seen organizations where the “gotcha” culture has everybody tense and afraid to make a mistake. Like brown, I think there’s a time when calling out is the only option, but I want us to slow down enough to consider the question rather than just react.
Here’s another real life example. About a year ago I met with a non-profit leaders whose mission included racial justice. I held them to account about several actions their organization had taken that struck me as out of alignment with their stated mission. It was not a warm and fuzzy conversation. I did a lot of holding space for transformation and pausing as I spoke and as I listened. The leader did a lot of defending. Some superficial apologizing. And she made one concrete commitment to change something. After I hung up, I didn’t feel super successful, but I felt I had done my job to hold them to account. Recently, we spoke again and I found out that the conversation led to some major shifts in the leader and in the organization. I could have posted on social media and ridden that wave, but I actually have two principles that stopped me:
Resolve conflicts with allies, e.g. the 99%, with care. Just like me, they are evolving and ultimately, we need each other. Mao called this “contradictions among the people.”
Plant the seeds that I want to see flower. Hatred creates a powerful field that I’m not interested in living in.
So, I was right there with brown. But then she said a few things that I don’t already practice, and about which I have core beliefs that are exact opposite. For example, “What is easy is sustainable. Birds coast when they can.” I’ve lived five decades working hard. Okay maybe only four, but still, what is easy to me feels suspect. Some part of my mind believes that I might die if I don’t work hard or at least think hard about what to do next.
Yet, I’m willing to give this a shot because I know that this system thrives on people believing that should be doing more. Maybe it’s the Protestant Work Ethic which condemned joy and linked hard work to godliness. Maybe it’s that I was trained by some hard working Black Women.
I have to admit I felt uncomfortable writing the word vacation. It’s such a class privilege to stop working and leave town. It feels “easy.” But if I want to sustain my being and increase my capacity to impact the planet, rest is required.
Birds coast when they can. Hold others to account directly not on social media — and check your intentions.
There’s sooooo much more in this book— which I’m still reading! However, I know that we will explore these ideas experientially in my upcoming retreat.
So this week I’m on the look out for ways to coast, to get there with ease rather than effort. (Wow, that sounds sacrilegious! Y’all pray for me. I’ve got a lot to learn!
Peace and love,