“It all feels too big to solve. I don’t even know where to begin.” A twenty-something man stood before me at the tea station. His eyes were sad and pleading. “How do you manage without drowning in the enormity of it all?” We were at the Dharmakaya Center for Wellbeing, where he was a volunteer, and I, was an attendee in a class for peace education.
During the morning session, we were asked to share a time when we experienced violence in our lives. Previously, the instructor had reviewed different types of violence: direct, structural/indirect, and cultural. I shared about a recent interaction with a medical practice involving my daughter. I shook and cried as I expelled the words from my body. I was depicting the structural violence of the medical community in our lives and explaining that I do all I can to shield her from the dehumanization and othering. In short, I will not be able to shield her forever. And this terrifies me.
In the moment before I answered, I breathed in his youth. I appreciated his approaching me and sharing his feelings. Placing my hand on his arm, I thanked him and shared that I, too, get overwhelmed sometimes. We all feel like we are drowning in the enormity of it, but we must continue to put one foot in front of the other and make changes in our communities. Above all, every time we are open to listening to another’s lived experience, we are making a difference. When we respect another person’s dignity: bodily integrity, spiritual integrity, safety, the right to identify, and freedom from fear, when we do those things, we are making a difference.
This is not performative allyship. Though my answer might seem passive, think with me for a moment. If you are a teacher and you hear a child use the word “gay” in a derogatory manner, do you say something? If you are the coach and your team isn’t performing, do you use a homophobic slur to belittle your players? You go to a bar with friends and one of them makes a transphobic remark about a nearby person, do you say something? A new patient comes to your practice. The mother calls to make the appointment, thinking it is relevant for this doctor’s appointment, the mother shares that the child is transgender. How has your staff been trained to react? The mother writes a letter; do you respond?
In conclusion, change begins one breath at a time. Do what you can in your sphere of influence. One of my favorite responses from my fourth-grade teacher is, “that’s not appropriate, and I don’t like it.” Done. Shut it down. Make a difference every day.