Well, the holidays are upon us, aren’t they? I feel like I’ve been hiding out a little. It got dark and I got into a cave to hunker down. Also my studio has no heat except a wood-burning fireplace that smokes me out. When I’m feeling really stubborn you can see me painting with enough clothes on that I look like the state puff marshmallow man. Then all the windows and doors are flung wide open with wisps of smoke escaping.
The other thing that took the wind out of my sails is the most recent election. I’ve become a girl of action, so my first reaction was to donate to the local charities I knew would be affected. Then I made plans and researched ways to vote with my money (leasing an electric or hybrid car, volunteering for an organization in need, getting more involved with school). After all I could do in immediate future was done, the fear set in. I keep reminding myself I don’t make decisions based on fear. I keep reminding myself all I need to do is double down on my values and be the change I want to see. Oh, and I had to have a strict diet from mainstream media both through TV and online – it’s like fear soup out there!
Regardless of all the action and reminders I am still subject to feeling those pangs of “what-ifs” so, as part of a healthy distraction and another way to commit to my values I vowed to see more art. My first act of artist revelry was to go to a cover show with my husband and band mates to hear some Johnny Cash music.
I don’t go to shows much and I had forgotten why. I’m pretty little and not so aggressive so, most times I can’t see a thing. Then it seems there’s always someone who is grumpy about their space or someone who is oblivious to yours. Well, we walked in late having missed the opener and I made our way to our waving friends only to be met with glares from a group of women in front of us. I tried to let it go but then whispering immediately ensued along with a gesture of sticking out their elbows and spinning as if they were warming up for a workout. Then a sneering voice said, “We’ll just dance like this” as she jabbed an elbow in my direction.
At this point my blood started to boil but there was still a little voice in my head that was like “kill her with kindness” and “only love”. The other side of my brain responded with “Oh, I’ll kill her, alright.” Both sides said, “Say something!” So it came out like this…
“Oh-no! Are you going to elbow me all night?” with a super wide smile, a sarcastic worried look on my face and a saccharine ooze to my voice as I touched the offending elbow. Oops, not quiet the tone I was going for.
Her response was wide eyed and pulled back until she regained her composer after dropping her elbows and defiantly responded, “Well, we danced through the whole first act and we’re going to dance through the next one too. So I might!”
I kept my smile plastered on as I nodded at her and she quickly turned away and got some distance from me. No one else could really hear the exchange but as I looked around I noticed most people were stepping pretty far back from this group of women. I tried to let it go, I really did! I kept the mantra of love running through my head but my heart kept pounding and my feet would not step back to give them more room.
Well the show started and I kept thinking “kill ’em with kindness” and I kept telling the riled up side of me to cool it. I started dancing and singing along and I smiled with my husband and friends. Periodically I would look at them with smiles and notice that I had seen this group before. They would make fun of people right in front of them and then turn back to the group for approval and a laugh. They would dance with each other in a sexy way to see who was watching. And they would huddle up to shut others out as if all the people outside of the group were the enemy. If finally dawned on me midway through the show, I had been a party to a group very much like this. In fact, I had been desperate to be accepted by a group very much like this and immediately I felt full of shock and shame.
Then I got curious. Why do we need to exclude others? Is our desire to feel special or different so strong it feeds an unrealistic fear of the other? Are we afraid we can’t be ourselves if others are welcome into our world? Where does different turn into feared and how much of that are we creating ourselves? Dang, that’s heavy! It’s all a little complicated for me, but it did help me with one conclusion. Part of being the change I want to see in the world is realizing my part in all of the messes I see. My work will be creating a world where belonging to a group doesn’t mean the exclusion of others. Our largest group, the one we’re all a part of is humanity and I know regardless of any of our specifics, we all have a basic need to survive, to be loved and to be heard. That’s where I’ll start.
In the end, this group warmed up to me. Full disclosure, it didn’t hurt that I got to get up on stage and sing with the band. Don’t ask me how that happened – it was my feet again, they just walked me up there. I even got a high five from the woman who might have elbowed me.
So it turns out even half-hearted kindness gets you further. I’ll keep at it because I don’t want to be a party to the excluding group anymore. One day I want it to be automatic – I will be able to take my defensiveness and replace it with inclusion and respect.