What would feel like to take heart just a little bit more today?
To remind yourself that people are indeed working for good in the world, even in the midst of pain?
To remind yourself that you’ve been surprised at other times, so why not be surprised by goodness again?
To remind yourself that taking heart, while vulnerable, is really giving heart by allowing yourself to have hope and trust, and that this can actually lean into the creation of goodness in the world? Especially it takes to imagination? Especially when it takes to action?
I pulled a whole heckuva lot of weeds over the weekend. If I may be honest, I found this to be fun. Perhaps there was something cathartic and soothing about it.
The most satisfying weed to pull was a particularly long and windy kind. It has a system of stems and leaves connected to a shared vine. It’s the kind pictured above, spilling out of the compost bin. This plant — I don’t know its name — wove its way effectively and adeptly around my day lily plants. And most of it was hidden and out of view.
I’d find one piece and begin to pull on it. Then I’d discover much more, a system all connected.
I reflected on the beliefs we carry…
… about ourselves, … about our relationships, … about our neighbors, … about the ways we structure our society,
and this plant seemed to convey a lot.
Sometimes, within ourselves, there are whole, connected systems of beliefs, fears, and emotional triggers that need to be explored and healed. Sometimes, within our communities, there are large, connected systems of harm intended to bolster some and disadvantage others.
We have to start somewhere — pulling, uncovering connections, examining, and uprooting.
Last summer, I had the privilege to attend the second in a series of webinars of the Virtual Summer Camp from Crip Camp. If you haven’t seen the new film Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution on Netflix, I highly recommend it. Did you know that a large number of the central leaders who fought for the formation of the signature Americans With Disabilities Act legislation met each other at a summer camp? I did not know that. Their years in relationship and community empowered them in transformative ways as they built a disability culture of inclusion. Their work has created substantive changes in the lives of disabled people.
The webinar I watched last summer was about shifting internalized ableism. I offer some of the insights in this post today, because ableism has been internalized inside all of us. Most significantly, it has devastating impacts upon disabled people. But whether you have a disability or not, you have likely internalized some of these messages. I hope it is freeing to you to question these internalized messages.
I’ll share some of those in a moment, but first, let’s talk about ableism. Internalized ableism exists because of a culture of externalized ableism. TL Lewis offers a powerful definition of ableism:
[Image of a black square with white writing in it that says: ABLEISM a·ble·ism \ ˈābə-ˌli-zəm \ noun A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence and excellence. These constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence and excellence are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable or worthy based on people’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily produce, excel & “behave.” Importantly, you do not have to be disabled to experience ableism. a working definition by Talila “TL” Lewis]
We see here that in many ways, ableism and racism are linked, as are other forms of oppression.
Here are some messages of internalized ableism, offered by the leaders of that Crip Camp webinar. How might we feel if we shift these inside ourselves? How might we feel if we help dismantle the relational and systematic impacts of these messages?
Some messages of Internalized Ableism:
1) I feel like I need to work to be worthwhile.
2) I am a “burden” due to my needs.
3) I can “cure” my illness or disability by trying hard enough/eating a specific diet/working out.
4) I need to make other people feel comfortable with my disabilities by being extra nice/funny/accommodating.
5) I should not ask my household members to take precautions in pandemic, even though I am at risk and feel frightened.
6) Sometimes I feel like my life is less valued than able-bodied or able-minded people.
Questions for reflection
— Do any of these resonate? What else might you add?
— How can we love our body-minds precisely as they are? How can we shift messages of internalized ableism into messages of greater hope and empowerment?
— How do these messages impact our wider communities? How do they do harm to disabled people, Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, people who are LGBTQIA+, and others?
— How can intersectional movements uproot oppression in powerful ways?
We can become so task-oriented that we neglect being relationship-oriented.
We can become so busy with work that we neglect time for care, tending, and growing.
We can become so convinced our worth is wrapped up in productivity that we (temporarily) forget our worth is intrinsic to who we are and unmeasurable.
Our worth is not measured by our productivity.
That has simply never been the case. But we’ve internalized this somewhere.
capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, ableism, scarcity-thinking, urgency-thinking, greed, school culture, family culture, workplace culture, any kind of competition culture.
But I’m convinced of this: When we seek — however imperfectly — to ground ourselves in the truth of our own intrinsic worth, and when we seek to view our neighbors in the same ways, we make space for people to do the same. After all, aren’t so many of us longing to hear this? That our lives were never meant solely for productivity or measured by productivity? That there is much more to who we are? And that who we are matters in and of itself?
Productivity has never been the full measure of our lives, nor what it means to be human. But I think it’s quite possible to internalize the opposite.
Our culture conveys that productivity is the highest good, yet if we chase after it — I don’t merely mean working well in a meaningful way, but if we chase after it– we are rarely satisfied.
When it becomes the totality of our time or our self-understanding, we soon find that it is chasing us. In this mindset, no matter how much time we put into our labor, it is never enough.
It’s easy to internalize cultural beliefs around productivity. Yet truly, productivity is not synonymous with worth.
We do not need to reach a certain benchmark to be worthy of love, care, and belonging. We do not need an enormous salary to convey that we matter.
Yet as human beings, we need wholeness and fullness. Sometimes, this means that we need different experiences — rest, renewal, rejuvenation. Sometimes, this means that we need different parts of our brain to be active — the creative, the playful, the intuitive. These add to our own lives, and they also add to our communities.
Sometimes, we have to do the tasks we don’t particularly enjoy doing.
Sometimes we have to be present to aspects of life that are difficult or unjust, particularly in community.
Both of these, though very different, take certain forms of resolve and commitment. They take resolve and commitment to be present, and they take resolve and commitment to participate in moving the larger picture toward creativity, restoration, wholeness, and vitality.
To do this, it’s helpful to keep a sense of purpose at the core of our reflection and action.
And what gives us joy?
How do we bring it to the center… of our thinking? of our acting?
It’s helpful to keep these at the center, so that when we come to the moments of
… needing to do the tasks we don’t particularly enjoy doing, and
… needing to be present to aspects of life that are difficult or unjust, particularly in community,
we are energized for them — or at least, energized enough — because we are connected to the center of what gives us joy. We are connected to the larger picture and the why-we’re-doing-this of it all.
These give me joy:
-Hearing stories from students and young adults — large stories of formation and calling, and tiny, silly, wonderful stories from the daily-ness of life,
-Cultivating spaces where people feel a sense of belonging through connection, relationship, community, place, safety, a sense of return, and a sense of investing oneself,
-Connecting people to people in a myriad of ways — (have you met this person? do you know this group?) working on shared ideas, endeavors, and belonging in community groups; helping people feel connected to a larger sense of being rooted and related to one another (sometimes with wonderful surprise) thinking expansively about care and connecting people toward care of one another (also sometimes with wonderful surprise; belonging is healing and life-giving)
Bees bumble from flower to flower, using the navigation of bright colors to bring them to life-giving nectar. They collect it and covert it to honey to care for their young, and by extension, the whole hive.
But they have no idea they are pollinating the world’s food supply.
It helps me to remember that. The lives of bees are already so intricate and complex even in what they do intend, but beyond that, their work yields more life and complexity than they know.
Maybe this can remind us:
Individually, and especially collectively, our best intentions, our best connections, our best work, our best loves, and our best visions may yield more life and complexity than we know too.