No box for me!

Another march this week. Another round of demonstrations, and people holding signs with angry words to get their message across.

What if we held people in our arms, instead of signs in our hands?

We’re a divided culture, in so many ways. Identity politics are everywhere, and personally, I’m just weary of it all.

We’re so flooded with messaging to stand up for this group, stand with that group, to self-identify by race, gender, nationality, cultural heritage, faith, political party, etc., etc., etc.

Can I just be human?

I’m a woman, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, an employee, a writer, a Christian, a voter.

I’m all of these things, and more. I’m subtle. I’m nuanced.

I don’t like being pigeonholed, put neatly into any box.

Because I don’t fit neatly into any box.

I don’t want to compete with any group, or feel myself in opposition to anyone. I don’t see myself in a woman vs man world, in an “I win, you lose” life model. I hope we all win. The reality is, though the ideal is to make everyone equal, the words and attitudes displayed by militants in movements reflect more hate than hope. I hear angry demands and harsh rhetoric.

There was a time in this country, and in the western world, when marching for rights was important. Raising awareness was important. Workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, children’s rights…there was an era when all those groups had to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be represented at the table of democracy, citizenship, and human rights.

And there are still many countries and cultures throughout the world that need to change, need to see all humans as people of value, of worth, and show that care of the most vulnerable in society is a mark of the strongest society. Because when we care for the weakest among us, we show how brave we really are. We show our integrity, as a whole, as a society, as a culture.

I don’t believe we in the United States of America, or in any western country, have it all figured out. We’ll never get it all right; we’re human, and we’re flawed. But can I just say, rather than encouraging people to march, can we encourage people to work?

If you want to make a difference for any group, do something more powerful than taking a day to march for your cause. Show up at a school that needs volunteers, show up at a retirement home that needs people to sit with residents, at a homeless shelter that needs help cleaning or doing of anything useful, at a park that needs cleaning up…you pick your place, choose your gift.

But show up to work.

Every time I see a group marching, I wonder what all that energy and those hours could do if the time was given to productive work? Volunteer work that didn’t charge for service?

What couldn’t we do? What couldn’t we change?

Or better than a one-day commitment, what about showing up every week?

You know, I never valued teachers more than when I subbed in school systems during our early years in Alaska. I saw for myself, first-hand, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on the teaching community. I saw their world in a whole new way.

I never understood the world of health care, until I began to work in primary care clinics, and got to see, up close, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on health care professionals. I saw their world in a whole new way.

What I’ve learned is this…you don’t march your way to understanding injustice and need.

You work your way to understanding.

You have to see to understand. You have to show up, get involved. You can read about all sorts of issues and problems, you can watch documentaries on TV. But until you see for yourself, you won’t really get it.

Want to understand the plight of immigrants? Find a way to work with immigrants. Want to understand the impact of illegal drugs on our society? Work with people struggling to overcome their addiction, and with families trying to survive the blows to their homes, to the children of addicts.

Want to understand the nightmare of the sex slave industry? Connect with organizations who are working to free people caught in that trap.

The point is, awareness grows when you get out in the community and see, for yourself, the hurts, the losses, the weak, and the vulnerable, the gaps in community and government.

Want to understand how building healthy families strengthens the whole society? Work with children bounced from foster home to foster home. Want to understand the health care crisis? Spend some time in under-funded, under-staffed clinics.

When statistics become faces and names, you’re beginning to understand.

I wish we were color-blind, gender-blind, status-blind, and kind.

I wish we were all just willing to be kind: to give a cup of cold water, to lend a hand; to understand that life is hard, and we’re here to make it easier. If we do that much, we’ve done so much.

Know what I love to see in my FB feed? I love to see positive, to see people doing good, to see people being the change. I love to see people sharing their time, their faith, their talents, their money, their energy.

I challenge you to work rather than to march; to act rather than falling back on mere words; to contribute, rather than criticize.

There’s a story I love. Maybe you’ve heard it?

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer and called out ‘Good morning! May I ask what you’re doing?’

The young man looked up and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean.’

‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled man.

The young man replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

The wise man was stunned. ‘But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said, ‘It made a difference to that one.’

Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

The other thing you can do? Look for root causes. See what you can do that gets to the source of the problem. It’s great to throw star fish back into the ocean, or to help people with their most basic needs. But what if you took the time to understand cause and effect, to look for ways to make a lasting impact? That’s how you create real change.

I don’t do heroic things…I’m not saving lives, or teaching children who’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. I bloom where I’m planted, and for me, that means making a difference in small rural communities by helping with health care staffing, helping with loan applications, helping with grants, helping new people transition into the community. I encourage, I feed, I build up. And I write. I try to make a difference by planting seeds, and ideas, and by saying: I will not be put into a box, be made to feel guilty that I don’t embrace identity politics or focus on pieces of myself, as though I can be neatly sectioned.

I beg you, celebrate your life, and the lives around you, by working, not marching. By doing, not just speaking out. By seeing for yourself, first-hand, the issues and causes, before you judge what should be, or should not be. Open your eyes to the needs around you. They’re everywhere, and you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference. You don’t even have to risk much. You just have to be willing to work, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

And please, don’t put yourself, or anyone else, in an identity box. That’s not who we are. We’re all so much more than “just” gender, race, ideology, profession, economic status, nationality.

We’re human. And humans don’t belong in boxes.

 

 

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