This morning I read Sheila Kennedy’s blog post, “Wisdom from RuPaul”, that talks about an issue that has also been bothering me. I would ask your indulgence here, because the discussion runs the risk of offending the very people who are working very hard to address issues of injustice.
Time Magazine recently published an interview with RuPaul, the celebrated drag star, and one exchange in that interview struck me as particularly perceptive and politically relevant.
The interviewer had noted that millennials “take a harder line on issues of identity” and are “a bit more affronted by the sort of wordplay and free-associative identity play central to drag.” RuPaul’s response wasn’t only wise and adult, it also put into words the proper approach to an issue that has been increasingly nagging at me.
I think the Trump era will wipe that out. To be that particular about words, you have to be in a place where you’re not under attack. I believe that those same people, right now, are so under attack that ain’t nobody got time to be dealing with “Did you call me a he or a she?” That is going to change real fast. When it gets down to survival, you have to pick your battles, and you don’t pick battles with your allies. And I think, as the Trump era moves on, your allies and your enemies will become more and more evident. The people who are mulling over certain words will have to ask themselves, “Is that word coming from a place of love, or coming from a place of hate?” That’s how you differentiate. That’s the real thing.
Pick your battles. When you fight everything, you win nothing.
If I had failed to differentiate between behaviors and attitudes that were a result of ignorance or insensitivity and those motivated by misogyny or prejudice, I wouldn’t have been a very effective lawyer–or member of society. More importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to educate people who inadvertently gave offense–to explain, nicely, just why that phrase or that stereotype might be sending a message that I knew they really didn’t intend.
We need to listen to RuPaul: When you’re under attack, when it gets down to survival, you have to pick your battles, and you don’t pick battles with your allies.
This is something I’ve often thought about over the years related to environmental concerns. I realized early on (40 years ago) that I was offending people I respect very much when I would talk and write about giving up personal automobiles. This was especially problematic in rural settings, where there are very few transportation alternatives. And it was mainly Quakers in my Yearly Meeting, many of whom live in rural settings, that I was saying this to. I am grateful for the many, many times Friends would patiently engage with me regarding their situation. And, after many, many years, I came to accept this.
I wish I had begun to think of different approaches earlier. Now I think about how farming practices can help with greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil, for example.
I also hope to raise awareness that it is possible to travel long distances by bicycle when I return to Iowa soon.
So I think we do have to pick our battles. My battle continues to be related to getting off fossil fuels immediately–that is the one I was led to work on. Fortunately, the renewable energy sector is growing much more rapidly than anticipated, and many, many people are turning their attention to creative ways to address this.
Indeed, Jeff, we do have to pick our battles. During our tenure at S’good there were several battles waging (NOT raging) that we had to address with the Yearly Meeting. One was homosexuality ad whether we had the right to hire people who were openly homosexual, and the answer, I am sad to say, was a resound NO! We could not have disagreed more. And I will never forget the day Leanore told me that Scattergood was a breeding ground for homosexuals. Something to talk about at the reunion, if people feel led to.
Then there was the environmental battle–and whether Pioneer Seed corn and the green revolution was the correct environmental direction to go in. Charles and I felt strongly that it was not and how could we be in dialog with the family who clearly held out the possibility of creating a situation where financial difficulties would no longer plague the school. Charles a radical stand with the school Committee and the Yearly Meeting in terms of bringing to their attention that companies who had endowed the school were involved diamond mining in South Africa, a pharmaceutical company that was clearly not behaving in the best health interests of people, and of course the companies supporting damaging killing of our soils with nitrogen fertilizers, etc. You can imagine the lively discussions which we had with your father !!?
Conrad Heins, Charles, and many others launched a massive campaign to use solar energy and we became a national example. We have continued throughout our lives to try and reduced our environmental footprint and to educate others that alternative energy is the right to stimulate employment. I look forward to telling you about my new eco house which my son Steven is helping me with. Also the monumental task of starting a business building a co-op eco community in our area–the first for Nova Scotia.
I am sure you are aware by now of the shocking and wrongful dismissal of my nephew, Ken Hinshaw, from Olney Friends School. Ken was leading the school, and the reason he was hired, to become a school of alternative agriculture, energy, of reaching out to the wider community with social/political activism in social justice and non violent problem solving. But very conservative elements in the school and in the Yearly Meeting were finally able to pull a coup and force him out. Not that he minds (after getting over the initial shock!), he. brother Cris and sister in law, have moved to Maine to continue their long term dream of creating an eco village with a learning component–so parallel to what my family are involved in here.
Your active mind and social conscience are taxing my energies, dear friend, for I simply do not have time to keep responding to you–but how can I not when so many of your concerns mirror my own?? I think back to your teens when all I saw was a brooding and distant teen who I never really got to know. Lastima for that. I will try to make up for lost time…….
Thanks for this interesting response, Eleanor.