Digesting a chewing out…
by Ashley Bean Thornton
I got chewed out this week over something I wrote in an Act Locally Waco blog post. I don’t like being chewed out – who does? The chewing out wasn’t by someone who disagreed with me. In fact, I think my chewer-outer and I, when all is said and done, want the same thing. It wasn’t personal. I don’t even know my chewer-outer. His comments were delivered over the internet, and when I tried to respond through email, the email bounced. Also, it wasn’t something I could easily dismiss – it was a very well-written, articulate (though biting) chewing out that made several important points. So, I’m left to ruminate over this chewing out. I keep finding my way back to it in my mind and picking at it. I feel bad, but I don’t know how to fix it. I’m having trouble letting it go.
As it happens, the chewing out was triggered by one of the recent blog posts about the need for more public transit in Waco, but the particular subject is not important. I don’t think I got chewed out because I’ve been advocating for buses to come around more frequently. I think I got chewed out because I wrote something that to my White, privileged ears sounded fine, but that felt demeaning and dismissive to someone else. Now, looking back over the words I wrote with the fresh insight provided by the chewing out, I can see why they felt demeaning. That was certainly not my intention. I am sorry I was not more sensitive to how my words would come across to someone who lives with the day to day stresses of a life much less convenient and comfortable than my own.
I wish I could promise I would not make the same mistake again, but I can’t. I have learned in the last few years that community work, for me at least, is emotionally dangerous work. This is not the first time that – with all good intentions — I have said or done something insensitive. It’s not the first time I’ve been chewed out. I hurt someone else’s feelings; they hurt my feelings; we all end up feeling mad or discouraged or both. I don’t like it, but I don’t know how to fix it. Maybe you are better at this than I am, but sometimes – even when I feel like I have gone to great lengths to be careful — I still end up making someone mad. I could just keep quiet I guess, but that doesn’t always feel like a good option either.
To accomplish anything great in our community, we have to work together, and to do that we have to communicate. But, communication is hard. It can be especially hard between people with difficult lives and people with comfortable lives, between people with little money and people with plenty of money, between People of Color and White people. Sometimes it feels like every word is loaded with guilt and anger and frustration and impatience. Sometimes it feels like –rather than looking for ways to help each other – we are just waiting for chances to pounce on each other. Sometimes we are running mighty low on the “oil” required to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And, like in a car engine that is running low on oil, sometimes our surfaces grind and get overheated when they touch.
Yesterday, I ran across this ancient comment from Aristotle that seems to apply: “There is only one way to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Gee thanks, Aristotle. I still feel lousy, but at least now I know I can look forward to more of the same. Because, crummy as it feels sometimes… and bad as I am at it sometimes… doing something is still better than doing nothing.
This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, the Manager of the www.www.actlocallywaco.org website and the editor of the Friday Update newsletter. The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email email@example.com for more information.