Today’s post is written by my friend, Daniel, focusing on… well – our focal points in life and how we relate in our current world and environments. Daniel is an amazing writer and thinker, and I highly encourage you to read his blog: http://didwell.wordpress.com/
I hope you will read and ponder on his reflections.
Philosopher Leon Kass makes an argument in his work, The Hungry Soul, that the human body is our guide to understanding what it means to be human. A part of his exploration deals with our orientation beyond ourselves and, (among the sighted) through our eyes, toward the horizon. The ability to point at something distant–to draw the attention of another to something abstract and beyond the scope of our bodies–is the essence of our language.
In short, he suggests that our communication of ideas, sophisticated use of technology, and long-term planning is rooted in the shape of our bodies.
Because of our upright spines, our line of sight is oriented on a different axis than our digestive track–a distinction from most other mammals. Philosophically, Kass suggests that we are driven to give attention not only to what is immediately satiating us, but to the whole system of the world that is within our sight–we care about what we are aware of.
As I think about the horizons that hem us in; hold us; contain us, I begin to wonder about what all this says about our capacity to care in a “global” society.
Through the technologies of a tall building or an airplane, I can move my wingless body higher than the ground and literally broaden the horizon that surrounds me. There is a reason that mountains and bodies of water have always, across cultures, been associated with thin places. Both mountains and water expand our horizon and the extension of our horizon induces awe, changes how we perceive the world, and offers us new imagination.
Similarly, technologies of transit allow me to physically move across the land, shifting my horizon and telecommunications allow me to virtually glimpse horizons of other places beyond where I am physically located. By logging onto Facebook or watching the news, I am invited to care about the systems of life in other places–victims of Tsunamis across the globe; civil rights in neighboring states; the health of my family in the Southeastern US, the antics of a cat, dressed as a shark, riding a rumba.
But my body quickly begins to be overloaded. While I believe it is crucial to cultivate compassion for those beyond my immediate community (particularly when we are economically linked around the world), global compassion feels bigger, more pressing, and also more comfortable (because of distance and abstraction) than compassion for the people next door.
I believe that we are indeed designed to care about what we are aware of. As a species, we tend to grow more compassionate about any social issue when we are in relationship with people that are impacted.
But we are embodied people. We need to sleep, to eat fresh foods, to drink clean water, to breathe clear air. Our lack of transcendence tells us we are not gods–we are not capable of caring well for a world with limitless horizons.
This is all well and good for a conversation about sustainability and self-care, but what does this matter of connection between our bodies and the horizon have to tell those of us who are called to work for justice in the world? And isn’t that all of us?
It is a call to let ourselves be small and fragile. We must eat food, sleep, be held and comforted within the safety of a horizon we can trust–a horizon of our neighborhood, our families (of origin and choice), our communities of solidarity. Our capacity to care is limited and our ability to sustain our work for justice depends on our ability to say yes to compassion and no to a scope that dishonors our humanity.
This is a difficult lesson. It does not mean lowering our concern for national and global issues of injustice, but it means trusting that the vast majority of our work should be focused within our own horizons. How many travesties are committed by well meaning activists attempting to solve problems outside our own horizons?
I believe that there is a genius within the local–that indigenous problems need indigenous solutions, faithfully created and played out by the people who know and love a place and community best (to be sure, in a world marked by human migration, we must work to include immigrants as full members of local communities and include their voices as fully members working toward these solutions). This applies to the problems in my community and in communities around the world.
Yes we should collaborate to fight HIV globally, but each African nation and neighborhood must offer the best application for compassion in their own neighborhood, and I must get to know the people living with HIV in my neighborhood of West Seattle.
The limit of the horizon is about scope and allocation of energy, but it is also about turning toward interdependence and solidarity within my local community. I need care and support to do my work for justice and I need to grow awareness about other types of injustice–particularly ones where my privilege is oppressing my neighbors.
A wise mentor offered this advice to me: for those of us who grow tired fighting oppression directed against us (for me that fight is for dignity and equality for LGBTIQ people in society and the church), we need to give ourselves space to rest and heal from those fights–and the way we do that is by building support through ally-work across communities of oppression.
Because I am not oppressed because of my skin color, citizenship status, or physical abilities, I don’t have to deal with the drain of energy around these issues that I feel after anti-gay micro-aggressions in the workplace.
By locally working to address these oppressions in my own community, I offer a bit of support to those who do deal with these oppressions daily. When we do this reciprocally, these folks also offer me space to not have to address every injustice directed against me.
This kind of intersecting anti-oppression work takes us out of the dramatic cycle between self-advocacy and self-care. Instead, we all begin to fight on behalf of each other and our community advocacy becomes community care that allows us all to participate in a more sustainable rhythm and system–we all grow to need and provide for the community within our own horizon.
This is why my fight against homophobia, while deeply personal and costly, is not where I am called to devote the greatest amount of my energy. In fact it is the place where I most deeply need the care of my community–both my LGBTIQ community and more, my straight family and community who don’t personally experience this oppression.
The place I am most called to focus my energy is along my line of sight– the oppression within my own horizon that lies outside of my own bodily experience–this is the very nature of compassion. I am called to care for my community by fighting misogyny, racism, ableism, nationalism, ageism, and other oppressions of which I may be unaware until I allow a neighbor’s pointing finger to guide my sight and awareness of the impact of my privilege in my own world.
I am aware that all of this sounds heady, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably someone inclined to sit at your computer and play with ideas. So am I. That’s why I am writing this–this is for us.
We are bodied people. We experience the stress of oppression in our bodies. Our bodies have limits (horizons). We also experience care in our bodies.
And we are not alone–even if you are the only person in your community experiencing a particular kind of oppression, you exist within the horizon of a community where you can work on your own privilege and ask others to show you care by working on theirs.
This isn’t to minimize the importance of connection–particularly through the internet–to others who share an experience of our own type of oppression. God knows, online communities have saved the lives of many small-town LGBTIQ folks, people who cannot leave their own homes, and many others. But that can’t be everything.
As helpful as these technologies are, they can also serve to distance us from our own bodies–or abstract our bodies out of the developmental growth rooted in the context of our lives. Whatever can be said about bars, bathhouses, and bookstores in the history of the Gay male community, I’m convinced that solidarity, community, and growth are more likely to occur in physical spaces than via online hookup apps.
This isn’t a call for something simpler; a nostalgia for times when the world felt more manageable. When we are present with each other–and I don’t mean this as touchy-feely psycho babble, I mean having our bodies on the same turf–we are invited to notice the complexity within our own community.
Focusing on the world and community within our own horizon pushes us to look deeper and notice the differences between us that we gloss over in our attempts to feel comfortable. We start to build real community by seeing and honoring space for all the actual members in our community.
My hope is that we will care for each other by holding to our horizons and growing in a healthy, secure attachment so that we all begin to trust that the wildly complex community within our horizons is reciprocally holding us.
We don’t always have to put on our own oxygen mask before helping our neighbor; sometimes (within the limitations of our ability) our work is to fight on behalf of those with whom we make our community in order to make sure we all have some air to breathe