I brought the topic of the God Graveyard to the attention of some of my more intellectually inclined friends elseweb. The people I was talking with were fellow magic practitioners of various stripes, and we had, in the past, had countless discussions of privilege wherein such privileges were unpacked and critiqued. I realize in retrospect that I was assuming they would agree with me, and was seeking them out in order to receive the emotional and social support that would lend.
I did get the validation I was seeking, eventually. But at first, I was met by a few people who, in the first case being an Atheist himself, and thus coming at the question from a very different angle, and in the second case simply not feeling affected by the display to the same degree I was, expressed the view that my reaction was disproportionate, and that my interpretation of the display was unfounded, because the exact words of the display did not express the implications that I was extracting.
It took me a long time to unpack what was bothering me so much about this display, and to find a way to succinctly articulate the history of religion and culture that was the basis for my interpretation. Meanwhile I felt backed into a corner, and found myself questioning why – these people are my friends, and I had come to them, knowing we debate such things, looking for input. They were giving me input – calm, intellectual, logical input. Was this not what I wanted? They weren’t calling me names or anything. Why was I reacting internally as though they were attacking me?
Only after another friend joined the conversation in support of my arguments was I able to get some clarity about what was underlying my interpretation of the God Graveyard, and to finally unpack my interpretation enough to feel like I was really a peer in the discussion that I had started.
And then I realized something:
While I was the only one arguing my point against two friends who disagreed in a way that made me feel like they couldn’t even see what I was talking about in the first place, much less support my perspective, I felt like I was crazy. I started to wonder what the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t get my point across coherently enough to have it really acknowledged. I wondered if was seeing something other people couldn’t see, and if so, did that mean what I was seeing wasn’t real?
Now that others have joined the conversation who DO apparently see my point, and support it, I find myself feeling more empowered.
It’s not that I’m angry with my friends – they’re still people I consider intelligent peers who I wish to engage in an exchange of ideas because I know it will both push me to greater clarity on my own ideas, and often teach me things I didn’t know when I began. Granted, I still feel a little bruised for not having recieved the support I was instinctively seeking from the moment I brought it up, but I don’t feel as though I am being personally maligned. These people are still my friends.
No, I’m really angry about the topic, and about being in a position where I felt like my perspective is so alien to others that it couldn’t even be addressed, much less validated.
It’s an object lesson on the experience of marginalization, no?
On the one hand, I’ve been marginalized all my life in some ways, so I’ve had plenty of time to analyze the experience. I’m (for most socio-political and all fertility purposes) female. I’m a redhead, which is blessedly less of an issue in my area than it is in some places. These days I’m also fat, which is its own pile of social issues. By far the most significant in my direct experience, is that I have sensory integration problems that make me hypersensitive, hyperfocused, and socially awkward.
But I’m not alone in this – I was brought up by hippie geeks who taught me to trust my own perception and perspective enough that I am not easily gaslighted if the basis for the argument is one of memory, logic, or direct perception. I’m very used to sensing things that are below other people’s sensory thresholds, and have little trouble detecting rhetorical fallacies.
On the other hand, it took me a very long time to develop adequate social skills, and it still takes me more concentration than average to navigate highly social situations. People are like electrons – I can either observe them or interact with them, but not both at once. I can watch the social rules being followed, but I find them difficult to track when I’m trying to actively interact. As a result, when it comes to social implications, I can sometimes be all too easily confused – especially when the argument involves differing premises.
So to have this shift in position come so clearly and succinctly gives me a sudden tremendous insight into the other areas in my life where I am more often put in these positions – confronting sexism, ableism, and such.
To see how the crazymaking is a function of the context more than any individual’s participation in it. To see how I doubt myself into brainfog and inarticulation when confronted with people who disagree and are calmer or “more rational” than me at the time. To see how I move from that fog to clarity, and then anger when the fog clears. I’ve seen before how anger can clear the fog for me, but I’ve rejected it as a bad tool, even while respecting its necessity in others for the same purpose.
My brain fogs over when I am afraid I’m upsetting people. I get dumber – less able to talk, less able to think. I have known from past experience – particularly a very sharp experience of Loki possession – that if I get angry enough to stop caring if they like me, that fog goes away.
But if I get angry enough to stop caring, I may hurt people with whatever I do next, because I don’t care about avoiding hurting them, and I’m plenty smart enough to hurt most people with words alone.
It is a basic tenet of my faith in my gods that caring is important, and not to be abandoned. That give-a-shit is extremely important. I must never let go of caring about others, of caring about the person in front of me.
And yet… I just articulated to a friend elseweb earlier today that Anger isn’t about not caring, it’s about caring tremendously. But it’s about caring tremendously about something other than whether I’m making the person in front of me comfortable. It’s about caring about something other than whether they are hurt by the truth I am telling them.
Anger prompts me to prioritize things that are important to me – my own well being, ideals, or the well-being of someone I’m defending – over the needs of the person I’m interacting with.
That can indeed be harmful. Their needs are still needs, and their needs may well actually have been more fundamental than whatever needs my anger is defending. We may both have entirely legitimate needs (needs generally ARE legitimate – but sometimes we confuse wants for needs, or fail to recognize when a legitimate need is attached to an illegitimate assumption) but our needs conflict in such a way that we can’t both get what we need in that moment, from each other. Anger is what lets me put my need ahead of theirs, which hurts them whether it’s justified or not.
I tend to clamp down very tightly on anger, unless I am positive that putting whatever I believe is necessary above whatever anyone else may believe is necessary is justified.
And that’s a problem for me, for two reasons, one of which Freyja brought to my attention last August during my Ordination Mysteries, the other of which was brought to my attention by today’s revelation.
1: Anger is an emotion. Emotions ARE. Having an emotion is not something I am supposed to avoid. It is my ACTIONS that I am responsible for. Being angry doesn’t require me to behave in hurtful ways for exactly the same reason it neither justifies nor excuses any hurt I may cause while angry.
2: Anger does indeed clarify, and I may well need that clarity in order to see whether or not something is justified. As long as I resist anger, and let myself be fogged under, I can not truly see whether I am placing other people’s potential discomfort over someone’s actual needs – especially my own.
One of my Mom’s favorite quotes says that “Religion should comfort the afflicted – and afflict the comfortable.” I have always understood that it is part of a calling to clergy not only to help people in need, but to speak truth to power, and draw attention to unpopular truths.
I don’t usually shy away from being the kid who observes too loudly that the emperor is naked.
Sometimes I may have to let myself be angry in order to do that.