We mean well. I know that. When we bring our message of ‘breath’ and ‘love’, it comes from a genuine desire for people to all get along. When we talk about ‘compassion’, we do so because we care, deeply. Seeing the violence going around worries us, and we do what we always do: ask people to breathe, feel into their body, find that place of love.
Sadly, that message of compassion, love and breath is often violent in itself. Asking people who have been systematically discriminated against for centuries to just breathe when they rise up against this injustice is violent (not to mention tone-deaf). When we say we wish everyone would just be loving towards each other, we deny that the playing field has never been even. When we ask people who are rightfully angry, to show more compassion, we use our beautiful, beloved work as a tool to shut those people up.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: what is compassion in this context? What is love? What is the function of breath? ‘Compassion’ is not a blanket we can draw over anything that triggers us. ‘Love’ is not a spell to make ugly things pretty. And ‘breath’ is not a potion against injustice.
‘Compassion’ in this context is not looking away while people of colour are systematically attacked. It is listening to their stories, their needs, and their demands. It is amplifying their voices, prioritising their leadership. It is recognising systemic racism and challening it.
‘Love’ is educating ourselves, and growing our capacity to recognise and challenge racism wherever we meet it. In ourselves, our communities, our families, and our societies. It is recognising that ‘love’ in this context is not pretty, neat or cute. When confronted with so much injustice, love roars.
‘Breath‘ should be a source of power that allows us to continue this fight. Our invitation to ‘breathe’ should empower the fight against racism. By breathing we can create a space where we can momentarily rest, and find the strength we need to persevere.
‘Love’ and ‘compassion’ and ‘breath’ should lead us to solidarity. It should lead us to protest, sign petitions, donate money, educate ourselves, talk to our racist family and friends. It should lead us to commit to this fight for change.
It is painful, awkward, and we will make mistakes. I have probably made a ton in this piece alone. But we must resist the urge to make this about us and our difficult feelings. We must deal with those emotions ourselves, do our own inner work, without encouragement or pats on the back. We must accept and learn from our mistakes.
We mean well, I know that. But if we truly believe our own message of love, compassion and breath, we have no choice but to do this work. No choice to but to do better.
Some resources to get started:
- Watch the video that inspired me to write this by @inheritblooms
- Wit Huiswerk (for people who read Dutch)