April 2022 Update – Starting With and Moving Past Guilt
Spring is in full swing in my life right now. The loneliness and isolation of another COVID winter have made way into frantic busyness. In addition to travel plans and gatherings with loved ones, I’m also noticing the dust around my house more than before and I’m taking stock of all that needs mending, or sorting, or to be gotten rid of.
Preparing to write this blog post, I met with Jeannie, our fabulous new-ish Communications Organizer, and asked her what’s been on people’s minds. Because she manages our social media, she has unique insights into what our widest community is talking and thinking about. “Guilt seems to be a topic that keeps coming up,” she told me. To which I said, “Oh really? I think I could write a thing or two about guilt.” Organizing people around their privilege for the last seven years, guilt has been one of the ever-recurring feelings I’ve thought about. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.
Guilt is an important emotion because it can tell us that we’ve fallen out of alignment with something we value, or that we’ve caused harm to someone or something we care about. Like the browning of a leaf or the wilting of a stem, guilt can let us know tending is needed. At its most helpful, it can prompt questions like “What is it I value? What does repair look like? What do I want from this situation?” From there, we can build our personal values framework and the practices and actions that will allow us to be integrity with those values. But it’s worth noting that guilt is also a feeling that can quickly overstay its usefulness. When we stay with guilt, we can get stuck in inaction, distraction, or even self-destruction.
So in the spirit of spring, I invite you to notice where there might be guilt, whether it’s living at the bottom of a stack of papers, in that reminder you keep snoozing, the wilting of a plant, dead center in your sternum and heavy, or hot on your cheeks masquerading as its alter-ego shame. And if you’re up for it, I’ll invite you to thank it. Yes, thank your feeling of guilt.
I was thinking about my relationship with guilt just the other day. I was at the pharmacy being asked to round up my change to donate it to some cause or another. Years ago, that would’ve been a moment of guilt. My thought process at the time went something like: “I want to be a good person. Whether or not I think I’m a good person is based on other people’s perceptions of me. I want this clerk to think I’m a good person, so I will donate.” (Okay, it probably wasn’t that articulate…) But the other day I said, “No, I’m alright, thank you.” And I didn’t feel guilty, in part because I am more in touch with my inherent goodness, and in part, because I have a redistribution strategy that I am grounded in and proud of.
Trying to understand the relationship between our feelings, motivations, and action or power has helped me tremendously as an organizer. Especially at RG, where one of our stated values is believing that inner and outer change are deeply connected.
I’ve come to think of organizing as the collective alchemizing of deeply personal experiences, into the stuff that changes the world for everyone and for generations to come.
Guilt can be a useful indicator and I think that it’s most powerful when it can point us to our desires. There we can find our personal stake and start to take sustained action.
Because from that place of desire and action, we can connect with other people with similar desires and take action together to achieve so much more than we could alone. And along the way we can build community, connection, and belonging; strengthening our power, by connecting our collective project to yet another desire of ours.
Organizing is a cyclical path of connecting our individual desires (or self-interests) into a collective goal, taking action, and then having our individual desires transformed which in turn changes the collective goal and so on along the arc of justice towards liberation.
Guilt isn’t the only way to figure out what it is we want, but it can be and is one starting place among many for those of us wrestling with privilege and benefitting from unjust systems.
I invite you to consider what it is you really long for and what you can do towards achieving that. It’s the spring drive so it’s easy to ask you to commit to movements, and to RG, but more than anything I want you to commit to your hopes and dreams. If they are anything like mine – an interdependent world, where our lives are richer for the abundance we feel through meeting our needs in community – I think we can accomplish a lot together.
In my role leading RG staff, I’ve been trying to frame the seasons of our work, share organizational priorities, and ground us in the tone and timbre of the work right ahead of us. This spring, planting seeds was the overused but incredibly apt metaphor. This is the time for us to put love and intention into what we hope comes to fruition later this year. If we don’t plant now, or put some momentum behind our hopes, the year can quickly pass us by. What do you hope to harvest this fall?