Thursday, January 30, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 10 - If Part of It's Broken, It All Could Be Broken)

I have a lot of strong opinions about a lot of things, particularly around racism, sexuality, inequality, and marginalization. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about systems and how they affect our collective existence. While no issue can be (or should be) condensed into a sound bite, I have learned something that applies across the board:

If part of a system is broken, it's probable that all of the system is broken - even the parts that currently work in your favor.

Systems are never perfect: something or someone is always overlooked, trapped, crushed, or dismissed by them. There are things that you as a person are taking for granted at this very moment. The ability to read this puts you in a privileged position on a variety of levels. And there are also plenty of times when the system does not work in your favor.

When the system works for you, take stock of all of the pieces that had to converge for that to happen. When it doesn't work, consider what you can contribute to fix it, change or, or discard it.

Ultimately, this is a lesson on empathy and recognizing that there are structures in place that reward some behaviors and punish others. This isn't necessarily because some behaviors and experiences are objectively better, it is because those behaviors and experiences are favored. Just because the system rewards you, it doesn't mean that you are better. Remembering that allows us all to be more aware of our place in this world.

"Better" doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rewards are distributed to benefit the system, not necessarily the recipient. Any system always works in its favor.

Racism rewards behaviors and experiences that are White-centered; sexism rewards behaviors and experiences that are male-centered; capitalism rewards behaviors and experiences that are money-centered; consumerism rewards behaviors and experiences that are consumption-centered...the list continues. When you are rewarded by these systems, ask yourself - what system did I contribute to? And if someone else was not rewarded, why not? Not "what did they do wrong?" Rather, "what did the system see in me that protects itself? What did it not see in someone else?" 

Every moment is an opportunity to question our assumptions. When the veneer is cracked, don't jump to repair it. Take a moment to lift it up, and see what you're actually working with.


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