The Subtle Bodies of Coercion

Last night, at my first SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting, I noticed some things.

One: In the past, I’ve allowed myself to get swept up in tasks I wasn’t ready for, under the influence of activists more seasoned and extroverted than I (this was how I found myself acting as a marshal for Occupy Broadway, despite my abhorrence of raising my voice at masses of strangers). Now, I’m aware that my contribution to a cause could take many forms, and that if I allow myself room to find what feels right, I’ll be both more useful and less anxious. I’m also aware that I don’t wish to oppress myself for the sake of any cause; I’ve been there, done that (cult researchers call this pattern “dispensing of persons”). So, last night, I felt confident in my ability to check for willingness before responding to any request – or demand – for action.

Two: I recoil from the idea of “educating” the “less aware.” It’s true that in everyday life I’m just as likely as anyone to deliver a pet diatribe, fueled by righteous anger and/or the assumption that my latest flash of insight kicks the butt of any conventional take on a subject. At the same time, I sense a great dissonance between wanting to world-heal and claiming enlightenment – shaking our heads at “those people” who “just don’t get it.” As a cultist, I was absolutely certain that all humanity – minus a few dozen Zendiks – just didn’t get it, and spent countless hours on the street telling them so. Later, I realized I’d adopted a fantasy; for six years, I’d been trapped in a story. Nowadays, when I’m present in my moment, I tend to be more interested in learning the stories informing others’ beliefs than trying to force-feed them my latest draft.

Three: The verb “change” implies coercion, when it’s transitive and its object is a person.

Four: I am so not interested in joining another email list meant to help people coordinate action. I feel fatigued just thinking about it. The Asheville SURJ group simply meets at the same coffee shop every Tuesday at 10 A.M. Again I sing the praise of patterns obviating the need for making appointments. That’s a path to world-healing, right there.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.

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