Category Archives: Communication

Resistance

I read a post on resistance lately from one of my favorite writers, Sharon Blackie, and was deeply comforted. She reminded me that we all have something to offer the world. Ever since reading it, I’ve been thinking about what resistance means to me, and the different forms it takes in my life.

Then, last week, Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the Senate floor (but not elsewhere!), and Mitch McConnell made history with his justification.  “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.“

A violated rule. Heaven help us. Disobedience. Failure to comply.

Resistance and persistence. What an unholy pair.

This morning I sat down to write this blog, as is my habit on Wednesday morning before I go swimming, but I couldn’t get anywhere with it. All I could think about was this quote, and how it makes me feel, and how absolutely persistent resistance is! After a few minutes the words stopped making any sense at all.

So, I went swimming. In the pool, I began the rhythm of stroke and breath, felt myself held by the water as though it loved me, and entered into the ebb and flow of my thoughts and feelings, not struggling for wisdom, focus or creativity, not trying to problem solve, just being.

“She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.“

I thought about how hard I’ve tried to earn love all my life with my silence, and how it hasn’t worked, and how now, in my fifties, I feel overwhelmed with grief because I wanted my family to be proud of me. I wanted to be allowed to love them and to feel loved and supported in return. I wanted to get held and reassured. I never wanted to be the boat-rocker, the problem child, the difficult one, the dramatic one, the disappointment. I never wanted to drain any resource, need anything, be a financial burden or cause any harm. I wanted to be a joyful thing, not an embarrassment and a failure.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.“

I thought of the persistence of things. Life, women, children, longing, desire, dreams, cycles and seasons, death, black flies, weeds. The persistence of grief. The persistence of loss. The persistence of love, in spite of everything, even if never returned or expressed.

I cried in the pool, as I swam one lap after another. For all you non swimmers out there, having a good cry while wearing swim goggles makes the goggles fog up, in addition to filling with salt water. On the plus side, you can make as much noise as you like underwater, and no one will ever hear you. Also, having a wet face and red eyes at the swimming pool isn’t remarkable.

I needed to cry. I needed to swim. I paused every two laps and cleaned out my goggles.

It came to me then that this is my resistance.

This. My tearful swim and fogged-up goggles. My blog. This messy, painful, not-pulled-together, nonheroic experience I call my life is my resistance, and I persist in it. I cannot beat, starve or mutilate myself into someone else, not even to get loved. Believe me, I’ve tried. In the end, though, the half-wild thing I am still looks out of my eyes and lurks in my heart. Perhaps not attractive or worthy of love, but there. Wanting. Alive. Persistent.

Some people think that power is the ability to shut someone up, but power and force aren’t the same thing at all. The ability to throw acid on someone, to fire someone from his/her job, to rape, to behead, to kill someone’s family, to detain someone, to torture, to murder—that’s not strength. That’s not real power. Silencing others doesn’t mean we’ve won, or that anything has changed. All it means is, for the moment, we’re not forced to hear something we’re afraid of, but the words and resistance are still there. They’ll be spoken again, in music, in writing, in action, on YouTube. Someone else will pick them up and say them, and someone after that, and someone after that.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

At the end of the day, the only power we have in life is to do what we can with what we have, and the one thing we all have is ourselves. The self is a persistent thing.

So much is needed in the world. So much love, so much healing, so much courage and forgiveness. We need heroes and leaders, activists and rebels. We need organizers and people to march, hold placards, make phone calls and show up in front of the cameras with hard questions.

My gifts and abilities are not these.

But we also need people who nourish roots. We need people who whisper to trees. We need people who gather bones and seeds. We need storytellers and lovers, dancers and shamans, intuitives and creatives. We need people who can collaborate, share power and shape self-sustaining community that’s not based on capitalism. We need people who can include, connect, learn and grow. We need people who can hold another human being in their arms while they weep.

We need persistent people who know how to resist a diseased overculture and endure tribal shaming, abuse, tyranny, injustice, poverty and loss. We need people who think for themselves, who are persistently curious, who aren’t afraid to break someone else’s rules. We need passionate people who know how to feel deeply.

These are things I do.

These are things I am.

So, today, my resistance consists of tears and laps, this week’s blog, and being persistently present in my quiet, unimportant, ordinary life. My resistance is my persistent longings and desires, my refusal to give up and be silent. I don’t resist because anybody cares or notices, or because I think I can make a damn bit of difference.

I do it because that’s what I do and this is how it looks.

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Yes, indeed.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Self-Defense

I went to a self-defense class last weekend, and it changed everything.

I’ve been thinking about self-defense a lot lately.  In the past month or two I came across a book by Kelly McCann titled Combatives For Street Survival, illustrated throughout with photographs. That book opened up a whole new world to me. Not only is McCann direct and clear, he has a no-bullshit approach to the techniques and skills of self-defense. He knows what he’s talking about, as he’s an ex-Marine and has a wide variety of experience all over the world. He’s not interested in ideology. The only thing he’s interested in is what works to discourage or disable (note I did NOT say kill) an attacker, and he makes the point, over and over again, that if you’re forced into a fight in spite of good situational awareness and avoidance tactics (preferably running like a rabbit), you’re more likely to live if you learn a small set of flexible techniques and practice them.

What struck me most forcibly about McCann’s book was that it represents permission to defend oneself. No one ever gave me that before. On the contrary, it seems to me all I’ve ever learned is that self-defense is not allowed. Self-defense is disloyal, a betrayal, dramatic, hysterical, disobedient, shameful, embarrassing, disruptive and makes others uncomfortable. For God’s sake, don’t make a scene!

I wrote about boundaries a few weeks ago (Boundaries 1: Strawberry Jam was the first of a series), and I think a lot about them. Self-defense is maintenance of boundaries. So, according to what I’ve learned in the world, maintaining boundaries is inappropriate. In fact, self-defense is violence, an act of aggression.

This is complete nonsense. Self-defense is not offense. Self-defense doesn’t come first. Self-defense is a response to threat or violence. Self-defense is not entering a building with guns blazing. It’s not swaggering down the street picking fights. It’s not bullying, machismo, unprovoked hostility or aggression. Self-defense is not a power grab.

Self-defense is a willingness to protect a boundary. It’s the right to say yes or no. The point of it is not whether others respond or respect our boundaries (although that would be nice). The point is not whether others come to our assistance when we’re under attack. The point is we have a right to protect ourselves.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

So, with all these thoughts jostling around in my head, I went to a free self-defense class at the local community center.

The class consisted of about fifteen women, age range high school to 50s. The instructor was a local martial arts teacher and he had female and male students with him to assist. It was a three-hour class.

Two things happened there that I’ll never forget.

The first was learning how to punch. This is not a thing I’ve ever wanted to learn. I don’t have much upper body strength, I know it’s easy to break your hand punching people or things, and I’ve no desire to punch anyone, ever. However, it was part of the class, so I learned. Then the instructor and male assistants filtered through the class, coming to each of us and asking us to punch them in the abdomen.

A large young man, over six feet tall, solid, strong, with hair dyed strawberry red, came and stood toe to toe with me, grinned, and said, “Hit me.”

I looked up into his face. “I don’t want to do this.” (Variations of this statement could be heard all over the room.)

“Go ahead. You won’t hurt me.”

This, I reflected, was probably true. Even if I’d known how to punch, I doubt I could have really hurt him. That wasn’t the thing holding me back.

I was being asked to deliberately, in cold blood, hit a nice young man who might have been my sons’ age or even younger, a stranger, in the stomach with my fist.

In that moment, I began to see the enormity of the disempowerment of women around self-defense and boundaries.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

I said to him, “I’ve been hit before, but I’ve never hit anyone else.”

His face darkened. “Then here’s your chance.”

“But it wasn’t you!” I said, on the edge of tears.

He stood there, waiting. I doubled up my fist and hit him.

“Again,” he said.

I did it again.

“Harder! Put your shoulder into it!”

I did it harder. Not as hard as I could, but harder.

“Good.” He stepped in front of the woman next to me.

This was happening all over the room. I saw women in tears. I saw women “hitting” with force that wouldn’t have knocked over a kitten and then apologizing abjectly. Eventually, with a lot of coaxing, most of us tried with at least moderate strength at least once. This single exercise took a large chunk of the total class time and was the hardest part of the whole class for me.

We knew, at the end of the class, there would be an opportunity to role play with one of the assistants or the instructor and demonstrate some of the techniques we’d learned. The instructor spent a lot of time talking to us about situational awareness, body language and the psychology of violent attack, and emphasized making noise in order to create an audience and discourage an attacker. He gave us language to use (WHAT DO YOU WANT?), and demonstrated. It was very clear, and the easiest part of the training—no new moves needed.

When it came time to role play, the instructor asked for volunteers. The nervousness in the room was palpable. Nobody wanted to do it, though there was an agreed upon safe word that would immediately end the role play and the situation was completely contained and controlled.

This is not the sort of thing that intimidates me, so I volunteered first and chose as my attacker the strawberry-haired gentlemen who so kindly encouraged me to hit him! Everyone laughed at this, because he was the biggest assailant I could have chosen. He was very pleased. He’d thought no one would pick him for this part of the class.

I strolled along in the middle of the classroom and he came up behind me and grabbed my shoulder. I turned around and asked him, loudly and aggressively, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

He grinned and transferred his grip to my upper arm.

I faced him, got my hands up and yelled into his face, “BACK OFF!”

It wasn’t him I was yelling at, though. It was a whole crowd of other faces, both male and female, people who have hurt me with fists and words, people who have shut me down, shut me up and taught me to be small and silent. I felt like a snarling wolf, a cornered tiger. With those two words, I reclaimed my willingness to self-protect and the power to do so.

I surprised him. He flinched back a little and his grip loosened. The instructor wanted the role play to continue until he felt that each woman had done something that gave her a chance to run. In less than a minute I was back against the wall with the rest of the audience.

One by one, with a lot of encouragement, every woman got up and tried the role play.

Not a single woman was able to use more than a moderately loud voice or any kind of an aggressive tone. They sounded terrified. They sounded weak. Their tone of voice was begging and pleading.  The ones who did manage a puny blow or an evasive maneuver apologized to their pseudo attacker even as the attack continued. The instructor prompted, over and over again, “Louder! Shout out! Let us hear you!”

They couldn’t do it. Some even said, “I can’t!”

This assortment of ordinary women with a wide span of ages couldn’t be verbally aggressive with an attacker, even though they had full permission, were encouraged, supported, totally safe, and had my example paving the way.

Are you understanding this? These women couldn’t defend themselves, even verbally. All the guns and knives and skills in the world wouldn’t have helped them.

It boggled my mind.

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about the power I felt when I yelled, “Back off!”

Ever since that day I’ve been thinking about a culture that silences, shames and disempowers women to the point that so many are unable to protect themselves.

Self-defense. Another daily crime. Count on it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted