Maybe many of us feel the need to get involved with causes and speak out loudly just to pad our own self-importance. Is it possible that even with good intentions we step on others’ toes? What if doing what I think is the right thing causes the silence of others in the midst of their own struggle?
The best intentions some of us have come out of feelings of guilt. These feelings of guilt sometimes have to do with our association by necessity with a group of people who has a history of oppressing and abusing other people. As a white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian male I have a lot of associations that have by default handed me privileges that others have never had and that some never will have. This is true even if I do my best not to take any direct actions to hurt another person.
What may happen is that an overzealous intention to help others who are struggling may actually have the opposite effect. I may hurt the very ones I am trying to help. If I take my privilege seriously enough I will also understand that it is easy for me to speak and be heard. My chances of being taken seriously are much higher in most social and cultural spaces than those of minorities in both population and power. I need to understand that there is an inherent power that I have by default and I need to practice the virtue of temperance in how I act in the world – especially in the worlds of other people.
I meet regularly with a group of friends and the core of how we help each other is to share our experiences, where we have found strength, and how we have hope. This experience, strength, and hope comes out of our own unique sets of problems from which we are all working to overcome and simply be better people on a daily basis. In like manner I have experience, strength, and hope among other white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian males.
I no longer see myself having a unique role with those in the LGBT community, people of color, the economically disadvantaged, women, and others. I used to think that I had a unique role because I had something to say. Much of what I had to say was out of pure self-centeredness. I wanted attention. I had the arrogance to believe that I was entitled to be heard among those who our society has done its best to silence mainly from direct actions taken by men who share much of my own social standing. Some of my friends call this “terminal uniqueness.”
The net result is that the more I speak, the less of a voice those have who are struggling to be heard. The more I speak into their worlds the less legitimate voices they have to fight for systemic social change to achieve fair balance in society. I need to be cognizant that I don’t step on the toes of the very friends I want to see happy in the world as it is.
So what can this white, privileged male do? I can be a friend to those who are my friends and seek to be a friend of anyone who crosses my path. I can try to be helpful and kind to everyone. I can question why others especially among white, middle class, educated, heterosexual, Christian males are not acting with compassion. I can question why people are being judgmental and cruel as I try to be non-judgmental and kind.
Today I know I can do those things. I don’t know how I will be tomorrow. But I do know that for the next 24 hours I can be helpful to others rather than step on their toes just to pad my own fragile ego.