To quote my own question to myself from an earlier blog: “Isn’t saying I’m voiceless another way of saying I’m afraid?”
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, probably because I grew up in a war, I tend to have an air-raid siren going off in my head. Sometimes it’s in the distance, other times not. Sometimes it fixates on the most trivial of things. We don’t always get to choose what’s in our heads. Maybe we don’t choose what we’re afraid of either.
I also grew up overseas. Like most people who grew up in widely diverse environments, I tend to see difference and individuality as energizing and reassuring, extraordinary and beautiful. So it baffles me how many Americans, who grew up in astonishing safety and security, seem to be coping with their own personal air-raid siren about “foreigners." Some (mostly on TV) seem genuinely terrified, as though for their personal safety, about a caravan of Central Americans. For me it makes no sense. By population, the US hosts a minuscule portion of the world’s refugees: less than 1 in a thousand. Lebanon hosts 200 in a thousand—more than 1/5th of their total population. Refugees make up about 1/10th of Jordan’s population. What can we possibly be so afraid of? With about 1% of the world now displaced, why wouldn't our great rich secure built-by-immigrants nation strive to welcome at least one refugee for every 1000 of us. If only as a simple way to understand what rest of the world is going through. Then we have a place at the table to discuss solutions to what our world needs. It might help keep our hearts soft. Not to mention that extraordinary gifts refugees bring culturally. Why should we even consider this a burden?
I blame Fox News for the fear-mongering. I know they’re not the only ones but they’ve mastered the formula and I can feel my heart-rate go up when I watch. I also blame the so-called “safety” we live in that is not really safety but isolation. How is it possible that so many Americans have never even gotten to know someone from Central America. Maybe that’s why we’re afraid of a Honduran mother. We’re happy enough to watch a Netflix show that gives us some sense of human connection to someone on the other side of the world or in a different space or time, yet way too few make a personal connection with the refugee or immigrant who lives around the corner.
I suppose one thing many of us have in common is the fear itself, whether it silences us or turns us into trolls.
Here was my thought sitting down to write this: I'll finish a previous blog by attempting an internet-friendly top ten list on the subject: What am I afraid of in using my voice?
Ten seems like a lot. A top however-many-I-reach list then, with a little reflection on each: I’ll see how far I get.
I’m afraid of the the ugly back-and-forth that might suck me in. I know we need dialogue. I also know that I’m expected to have strong opinions about refugee resettlement. But sometimes the troll-voices following news articles stun me: everyone with their mind made up, using words as weapons. I have to remind myself that some of these voices are probably bots. I have a friend in resettlement work who was hit by a Russian-bot-storm because of something he wrote. It’s also been campaign season when our politicians have been bludgeoning each other. So how do I speak up without becoming part of the problem? What does healthy dialogue look and feel like in our new political climate? With this blog I’ve been committed to leaving the dialogue box on, but when do we hide the angry comment? How will we handle the trolls?
Of beating a dead horse. Of droning. When I look back over my blog posts the last couple years I feel like I keep saying the same things: our president, policies devastating refugees, white Evangelicals trading their values and sacred responsibilities for power. There’s a soapbox drone. And a sense of preaching to the choir. For my own sake, I probably need a mix it up and talk about some other things from time to time. We have plenty of options under our umbrella of concerns: our products, the people we work with, the things that make our work so fun. The discipline we are trying to learn of celebrating from the heart. Does anyone even know we are releasing a new product this month? It’s true. This should be my next blog post.
Of needing to say everything at once. I’ve actually done a lot of writing the last couple years. I worked on an op-ed. I just didn’t finish or publish or send it in. I can see this impulse right here in this post: the single thread leads right into the whole Gordion knot of issues in our country. Sure they’re all related, but once it gets too big, it contributes to that impassioned, droning. I’ll have to find my way around that. A thread that stays a thread. Short and simple. I can try.
Of poorly representing our brand by expressing failure or weakness. Or fear. The obvious thing that I’m learning the last few years is that I am running a business. I know it’s a different kind of business than many. But especially as we grow towards becoming a million-dollar organization I can hear the creed of business and politics in my own head: avoid the appearance of failure or weakness. Why? Presumably because wealthy investors would never give money to an organization or leader that is struggling. Yet we work with people who have been traumatized; people who can’t get jobs. Which puts us in the business of welcoming weakness and failure. I know my inner air-raid siren has some benefits. How would I ever be any good at this work if I couldn’t embrace some weakness and failure? Plus, who are we kidding—as a non-profit social-venture making a consumer packaged good, we didn’t survive this far on naive optimism. So I’ll need to trust that our readers can put up with some exploration of weakness and failure. It doesn’t mean we have any intention of being lazy, or giving up or rolling over.
Of writing badly. The fear of the flop. Of not being great. (How I am learning to dislike that word “great.”) This in all its many versions: long winded, too formal, too casual, with too many adjectives or too many explanation points, or typos or oversights; or just not having much time to edit. I tend to write the way I make granola—wanting to get the most out of every ingredient. But that takes time I don’t always have. I think the only solution is just take the time I’ve got and do my best. Sometimes that will be half-baked. My writing friends might grimace, but that’s okay. Most readers are skimming anyway.
Of being too religious—or too secular for that matter. I grew up an evangelical child of missionaries, so nobody should be too surprised that my personal voice and the questions that interest me are often theological. Yet, from the beginning I believed that Beautiful Day should be a secular organization that works with people of all and no faith and appreciates a wide spectrum of voices and perspectives. These days this feels like an increasingly tenuous intersection. Historically it’s been people of faith like Evangelicals who have cared about refugees. Now it is white Evangelicals who are have succumbed to the fear-mongering about them. Something seems to be going terribly wrong in some religious communities. If people like me don’t speak up, then who else will? But it’s hard place to have an authentic voice.
Of the future. I can easily cram 7-10 (or 100) into that one word and be done. Of what kind of world my kids are going to live in, of what things will be like for those who have little and don’t feel like they belong, of what will happen to those who identify with the world’s most vulnerable. Of climate change. Technology. The way democracy is working in America. I wonder if this is sort of the difference between progressives and conservatives these days. Progressives hear a siren going off—that something is wrong, and a hardness is setting in, and things are not going to end well. Just when some conservatives seem to feel like we’re finally getting back on track with what they liked about the past. I suspect part of the solution is for all of us to get way better at actually living in the present. Of noticing and finding joy and celebrating this moment. Maybe that would give us a bit more in common.
Okay. I must stop. I know this is scattered, but if you made it all the way through this post and have a couple minutes to participate, I’m interested in your thoughts. What about you? Are you afraid? Is your fear silencing you or giving you a voice?