I am invisible.
I am insignificant.
My feelings are inconsequential.
These are phrases that I was supposed to own as my label.
The conversation began with “My wife doesn’t like you.” Then the conversation continued to list all the things that were wrong with me. If I wanted people to like me then there was a list of things I needed to do to win the respect of everyone and continue to be part of the group.
If you know me or even spend 10 minutes with me, then you can probably figure out what my reaction was. I walked away.
What I didn’t expect was everyone else walked away from me. A line was drawn and I watch everyone from the outside. I see them continue to meet yearly and participate in the hurtful hate rhetoric that is fundamental to their persona. I see others become pawns and are used or victims of hate speech or inappropriate actions that are meant to be ‘fun’.
I thought I was done.
I am confronted once again with a cast ‘mean girls’ (obviously a metaphor because no one is a girl). Not allowing people to sit with you at a party. Sacrificing teamwork for process to force people into a box. Accusing a disabled man of unspeakable crimes so they can maintain money and power. Using words in a passive-aggressive manner as an effort to manipulate. Casting out people who have always worked hard to support you because a charlatan told you a story and you believed him. Lying about your situation so you can gain sympathy. This weighs heavy on me and my instinct is to walk away because high school was a long time ago.
When I look at this repetitive scenario I think why am I doomed to repeat this endless cycle of hate speech and abusive patterns? Because self, you haven’t finished learning the lesson that stems from this. I asked myself through a series of reflections and meditations, “What do I need to learn from this?”
It came to me on Saturday morning, 3:00 am to be exact. I need to show leadership and stand up for the underdog. I need to facilitate teamwork. I need to role model kindness. I need to be the change I wish to see. It won’t change the world but it will change my corner. This isn’t a Us vs Them scenario. This is an opportunity to raise everyone up to the same level. Fight the good fight.
It reminded me of my dad.
When I was twelve, my family was eating at McDonald’s. A woman was standing in line screaming at her young daughter. The girl was sobbing on the floor and clinging to the leg of her mother begging her to stop. The women kicked her repeatedly. The restaurant was silently looking on in horror. My father stood up and walked over to the woman and demanded she stop. He said, “You don’t kick children, children are helpless. What is wrong with you?” The woman told my dad to F*** himself and mind his own business. He said no. He wasn’t going to let her kick the child. It was like a switch went off in her. She stopped but continued to hurl abusive insults at my dad. He stood there like a shield absorbing the hate to protect that girl. He eventually joined us again for and finished his dinner. My brother asked why he did it. My dad replied, “Because it was the right thing.”
Since that day I have always made an effort to do the right thing. To protect children and animals because they are fragile. I made a career out of advocacy and non-profit organizations. Recently I have expanded it to warning women of predatory behaviour from men I know. I advocate where I can for indigenous rights because as a white person, I have the power to get other white people to understand. I remind people to say women instead of girls when referring to adults. All of these are superficial things that are easy to do. I ask questions that get people to think about standing in someone else’s shoes. But now I am back in the thick of it and am the recipient of hurtful actions and language. I know I am not alone. I think I am one of the helpers Mr. Rogers tells you to look for. I need to roll my sleeves and help for real. Stop taking the easy way out. Put words into actions because, words matter.
Journalist Joshua McKerrow explains it better than I can. Give this a read because, words matter.