“Those people are phobic! They hate people like me! It’s all a problem with institutionalized isms!”
When we meet resistance, it’s always nice to believe that the problem is the internalized attitudes of other people, that this resistance is common to all people in our group or class.
If we don’t believe that then we have to start looking at how much they are resisting us as an individual, how much our choices are causing the problem.
A “We” approach moves responsibility onto others, giving us an external rationale for lack of success.
A “Me” approach requires personal responsibility, demanding that we look at our own approach & efforts, look at how we can change them to be more effective, removing or overcoming resistance.
There are certainly biases in the world, people who come with preconceptions and prejudices which add resistance and raise the bar for people they don’t see as like them.
Complaining about those biases, though, will never change them. The only way to change them is to show that they are wrong.
In the women’s movement a joke went “The only way for a woman to succeed is to be twice as good as a man. Fortunately, that’s not hard.” At least it wasn’t when men got jobs on entitlement and not real competence.
That wasn’t enough for Bella Abzug. “We are not fighting for a female Einstein to be recognized as easily as a male. We are fighting for women schlemiels to have as much opportunity as men.”
The way that group identification get destigmatized is for members of that group to become visible as valued, successful and normal members of society.
Individuals have to do the “me” work, getting good, to get the “we” work done, changing opinions and attitudes about the entire class. Whinging about how they need to change only marks us as whingers; participating and making a difference changes the world, one small step at a time.
It may be disquieting and discomforting to have to fall back to “me” space, taking personal responsibility to reshape your choices in order to overcome resistance, but there is no other way to own your own success in the world.
Everyone wants more than they can possibly have. We each have to make trade offs, deciding our priorities and choosing where to focus our efforts. Other people will have things that we would like to have because they put their energy somewhere different than we did.
When we see someone else who can be seen as like us who has something we desire, we have to choose an attitude. Are they the exception that we can dismiss, as we know the problem is really resistance to people like us as a group, or are they the examples that give us hope, proving that with enough work that possibility is open to us too?
One key social justice belief is that injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us, that the failure of the one is the failure of all. I believe, though, that the converse is also true, that affirmation of one of us is affirmation of all of us, that the success of one of us is the success of all of us.
This is not often respected in so called support spaces, where only pain and resistance is valued and the discussion must be kept at the level of the most abject one of us. For me, the only cure for being broken is to become healed, and unless that is always a possibility to be honoured, we never help others take personal responsibility for their own lives.
It’s so easy to fall back on the “we,” to decide that it is the world that has to change, not us. It is so easy to stay in oppression models, seeing the world as us versus them and refusing to change until “they” do. It is so easy to rationalize our own failures as failures of the system and resist doing the personal work as a kind of righteous martyrdom to a failed society.
Those who helped make progress in changing the society, though, came from the “me” space. They stepped up, got focused and responsible, changed their choices to become more effective and made a real difference in the world because of that. They didn’t turn their back on those who were still struggling, rather they offered hope and the possibility that even the schlemiels have dignity and opportunity in the world.
“If it is to be, it is up to me,” as Robert Schuller used to say. We don’t change the world for people like us by complaining, we change it by doing the best we can to affirm and embody possibility, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
As TBB reminds me, the only thing in the world we can really control are our own choices. In the end, we each only play a small part, but we play our part.
Whatever you do in life will be insignificant. but it is very important that you do it .
― Mahatma Gandhi
You count, but only if you boldly do your own work rather than waiting for others, complaining they they haven’t done the work. Individuals taking personal responsibility is the only way we create social responsibility.
Change the world by changing your choices, by seeing possibility and going for it.
They, after all, are us.