Being human is hard. This is the conclusion I’ve come to. I don’t expect that everyone will agree but it’s definitely my truth. As I continue to work in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) the truth of what I see and feel as a challenging experience is magnified.
We are human beings, all entering this world through the bodies of women; helpless, in need of protection, comfort, sustenance and love. Our environment and family culture are diversified by the billions and yet, somehow, we all come to realize a need to connect, bond and live with and among other humans.
This is where the experience of being human, being ourselves and living out our own truth is challenged. Our need to connect is not a weakness. It is a fundamental need, a desire born from within. I would posit that even the most introverted, shy of us harbor a hunger and need for human connection. The cost of human connection is high, requiring each individual to not only see the good reflected in themselves but to see and honor the good reflected in others. The rub comes when our shadow self or the shadow self of others is revealed in that connection. In that moment there is an uncovering of our truth and a choice point for the future of our connection.
I’ve been engaged in the work of DEI for over 18 years. My train arrived at the exhausted station years ago, and yet, I stayed on the train. I found ways to reinvigorate, renew and refresh myself along the way but the underlying exhaustion was ever present. I prayed, meditated, became a vegetarian, exercised regularly, spoke positive affirmations, read self-help books, focused on mindfulness, learned how to transmute negative energy into positive energy and many other activities aimed at bettering one’s self and enhancing my self-care regimen. The underlying exhaustion remained.
After 18 years I finally understand that the exhaustion I speak of, is buried in the daily grind of this work. My experience is that DEI work is strongly relational. That the work of understanding ourselves and the beautiful difference of others is foundational to opening ourselves up to diversity, creating space for inclusion and acknowledging and acting on the equitable distribution of resources required to achieve justice.
It is the relational aspect of being human which causes me grief. I would love to say that I am a compassionate, giving and open person every day, all day long. The truth is that I’m not. I’m learning every day, in each relationship, whether brief or long term, more about myself and more about the people I interact with. Some of it I like, some of it I don’t. Some interactions encourage me and bring light and hope into my life and other interactions drain me of patience and leave me feeling angry and disillusioned.
This work requires me to speak daily to people in powerful positions, across many different industries. I engage with individuals and groups who reflect the diversity of our world and the unique individual experiences we all have. I’ve learned that even when I have a day filled with wonderful, affirming interactions I am still exhausted.
I kept asking myself why? With all the tools at my disposal how could I still be experiencing this exhaustion?
Then I realized, we are living within a field of energy permeated with exhaustion. I have the power to transform the energy field within and around myself, my family and my sphere of work but I do not alone have the power to transmute the field of exhaustion generated by the mass of oppressed, marginalized, and excluded peoples in our country.
The exhaustion is a characteristic of the field of energy saturating our country. It’s been around for centuries, but I believe we are now experiencing its tipping point. We are all tired, for many different reasons but we are tired. Some of us are more exhausted than others but the energy surrounding our country finds a way to seep into the lives of all of us. Like the smoke from the current wildfires sweeping across the west, weaving its path through homes, neighborhoods and communities.
The smoke reminds me of the work. The smoke is blocking the light of the sun which provides nutrients needed for our health and growth. I look out the window each morning hoping the smoke will have disappeared in the night, ushering in a beautiful ray of light, uplifting my spirit and energizing my body and mind. To no avail, each day has remained gray, with an eerie stillness, and when the wind blows, I can hear the dry rustling of fallen, dead leaves and branches in the wetlands next to our home.
The work of DEI is sometimes like working through and despite the smoke. I want all of us as humans to care about one another; honestly give a damn if one of us is hurt, broken and in need. I want the social and political constructions of identities to give way to the inherent beauty and value of all of us. I desire to work with humans who care that our children and women are being trafficked, suffering humiliations and physical degradations beyond the average imagination. I long for humans to recognize and address how the inherent physical power of men is one of the driving forces behind sexism and gender oppression. I pray for the day when humans can simply speak to each other with mutual respect not anchored in the sickening play of status, rank and power.
We are the smoke. Blotting out our own light and health. I am the smoke, maybe not today but possibly tomorrow. Perhaps not in this interaction but maybe in the next one. I am the smoke. I am the captain of my own resistance to change, to the truth of others, my own biases, my own disrespectful comments, my own lack of accountability. I often provide the fuel to my own exhaustion. I want to be a better human and to see the beauty of humanity in every individual, and then my spouse says something that really ticks me off, or hurts my feelings, or my 21 year old loses her key yet again and leaves the front door unlocked, or I find myself face to face with a white woman wearing a MAGA hat, sneering openly in my face. Big sigh. I breathe and move on, it’s just not worth it, but, the anger seethes within me, buries itself in my gut waiting to be transmuted into something else positive. Here we go again; the smoke of my anger has risen and now I have to find my way back to the light. Another big sigh. Being human is hard and I am the smoke which needs clearing.