I have yet to hear anyone disagree with the line, "You learn from your mistakes." It appears to be a universally accepted truth, we learn when we fail. When I fail and someone tells me, "you will learn from this!" it is hardly a consolation. You see, failure and mistakes for me are devastating. My personality and well-being depend on my ability to keep the people in my life happy with me. When I find out that something I did or said hurt someone's feelings I am crushed. When I discover that I failed to meet someone's expectations I question EVERYTHING about myself.
I wish I could take a photo of my brain during moments like this. I am usually incapable of completing one thought before another one rushes in. My heart rate increases. I often get light headed. I become very quiet. I often need to lay down.
Again, when I screw up, I fall apart.
In a recent blog post I talked about "the tension of voice." In that blog post I talked about the struggle of speaking out, "I am fully aware of the place of privilege I am in to choose to speak or not to speak. After all, I am not the one experiencing the injustice...I can choose to be silent one. And at the same time I am left wondering what good a 29 year old, white, Christian, male living in Portland, OR can actually do by speaking out on FB."
I guess this blog post is a continuation of the first. The tension of speaking out is enhanced when I know that I am putting myself in an environment where the possibility of messing up is very high.
This morning I was listening to a radio program on OPB. Jim Wallis, the Christian writer and activist was speaking about his new book on racism and white privilege. Joining him on stage were a couple of black pastors here in Portland, OR. During the question and answer time an audience member asked one of those pastors, "white people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing during conversations about race, what would you say to them?" One of the pastors responded that we need to create space on either side of the dominant and non-dominat cultures to be clumsy around these conversations. He also said that he needs to create space for white people to trip over their own racial biases.
Creating spaces to trip. Creating spaces where we are clumsy. By now you know that I tend to avoid those spaces.
Over the last year I have gained some tools for handling my own fear of failure. I have been met with grace and forgiveness when I've hurt someone or when I've failed to meet someones expectations. I have learned that even when I let people down that I don't become a monster in their eyes. Without knowing it, I've been in spaces where I am allowed to trip up. I have been in spaces that with grace, I can be clumsy. I've been in those spaces all along because I've been in spaces where people care about me more than my mistakes.
I am also realizing that as a white, cis, straight person learning is uncomfortable. I am going to be faced with the hard reality that I (and people like me throughout history) have messed up. Big time. I am also realizing that in order for me to be in conversations about race and white privilege I will need to be in spaces that may be uncomfortable, but also spaces that allow me to make mistakes and to learn from them.
I hope that we, as a country, can collectively move into a place of learning from our mistakes without falling apart. That we can find the spaces that challenge us and meet us with grace when we say or do (or don't do) the right things.