At 4:16 A.M., I made a note in my phone because I could not get this word out of my head. I then laid in the dark, willing myself to go back to sleep. But 2 hours later, here I am, going against my nature in being silent.
So grab a cup of coffee, and let’s chat for a while.
When I declared that I was not political in this rather stormy political climate, I was prepared for backlash, particularly on my decision not to exercise my right to vote; but I was not prepared for an onslaught on kindness. In the past 48 hours, I’ve read countless Instagram posts on what kindness means to others. For some, it means accountability. For others, it means standing up for injustices. For you, it might mean something else. For me, it means acceptance.
When I asked for more kindness, what I really meant was we needed a little bit more acceptance. Acceptance, in its deeper meaning, is still a new concept for me. I am a bit of a control freak, and it was (and still is) hard for me to just let things and people be. As a new teacher, I was (and still am) passionate about constructivism and new ways of looking at student learning that I tried to impose my will on others. As a girlfriend who shares a 400-square-foot studio apartment with her boyfriend, I am passionate about minimalism, and I tried to impose that on my boyfriend, asking him to go against what was comfortable for him and conform to my way of living. I thought I was doing good by getting them to teach and live better. I let my passion overrun my empathy. I’ve learned that even though my intentions might’ve come from a good place, I was not being kind to my colleagues or to Brandon by imposing my thoughts and beliefs on them. I was rather judging them by thinking that my way of teaching and living were right and theirs was wrong. My actions and words actually might’ve given them more cause to not practice constructivism or live minimally. I’ve since apologized, and have grown to practice a little less judgement, and a little more acceptance.
That is also what I meant by being “silent” and “just” leading by example. Rather than letting conversations start out of curiosity (How did you get your students to learn that? Tell me more about how you are only living with 65 items contently. What is ethical fashion?), I judged their way of being as wrong, and told them what I thought was right. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “right” way to live. In realizing that, I have since tried my best to bite my tongue and stop telling people what they should or should not be doing. It’s not my place to judge or give unsolicited advice. And if I have come off judgmental ever to you, I apologize profusely. I am far from perfect. I still have much to learn. I am trying everyday to be a better me. No matter how badly I want to scream when I see people still with disposable water bottles, I live my life how I want, and I let others live the way they want. That is, after all, our shared right as human.
When my way of thinking is challenged because I find a person, place, thing, or situation different or unsettling from what I think, my equilibrium is disturbed. Of course, it’s uncomfortable; but everyday, I’m trying to see these disturbances as positive occurrences and learning opportunities to reflect and refine my thinking. However, my equilibrium cannot be reset until I’ve accepted that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly what it is supposed to be at this moment in time. Sometimes too, my equilibrium cannot be reset until I’ve accepted myself, my situation, and my life as being exactly who and where I’m supposed to be at this moment in time. And that’s what I was trying to do for 2-4 hours early this morning: Accept myself. And accept others.
There was something in my way: Shame. And while I don’t think it was ever anyone’s intention to make me feel shameful, I did: Shame on me for not being political. Shame on me for not doing my civic duty and voting. Shame on me for being silent. Shame on me for not standing up for injustices. Shame on me for asking for kindness when I really should’ve been asking for justice. Shame on me for not being a better human. Shame on me for being a shitty influencer. Shame on me for not doing enough as a fellow woman of color. Shame on me for thinking that kindness was enough. Shame on me for having privileges that others don’t have.
That last one brought me out of my shame spiral. Why should I feel shame for having privileges? When did privilege become such a dirty word? I feel shame for lots of things, and it usually boils down to feeling not good enough; but I’ve never felt shameful for having the privileges I do until now. When I was growing up in an Asian middle-class household, privileges were what we worked for. As immigrants, my parents wanted nothing more for my brother than I than to succeed, which for them meant for us to be fully integrated into American society (aka to speak English without an accent); for us to be judged on our merits not our skin color; and for us to be productive members of society. When my brother and I would oggle at fancy cars or big houses, my parents would just tell us to work harder so that we could get those someday. Education was the answer to all of our desires. Success would be the best revenge for all of our struggles. If we wanted the privilege of not having to worry about money, then we’d have to work for it. And so we did and still do.
I refuse to feel shame for the life that I have because it was built upon the struggles that my parents and I have overcome. My parents did nothing but work so that my brother and I could get a good education. They bought nothing for themselves for decades so we could attend after-school programs to be ahead of our peers in math and so that our English could be just as good as our American peers, if not better. And while, I didn’t appreciate these acts of services as a child, I do now and I see that those were their way of showing my brother and I love. However, I also had to work too. I had to study, really hard. I had to do three times more homework than my peers. I had to make up lame excuses for not being able to play with friends on the weekends because I didn’t pass my vocabulary test that my parents assigned, or didn’t finish all my math work correctly. The only conversations I had growing up with my parents were those of math (mostly on what I did wrong), and how I wasn’t good enough yet. While these may not have been the best parental practices, it has taken me a long time to accept that childhood, or lack thereof, as the way it was supposed to be. That doing extra work gave me the strong work ethic I have today. That being hit when I got an answer wrong shaped me to be the constructivist, student-centered teacher I am today. That growing up in the way I did made me who I am today. I therefore refuse, downright REFUSE, to feel shame for any of it; because quite honestly, it would be a shame to do so.
Because with all that has come what others see as privilege: the privilege to live in sunny LA; the privilege to say that racism didn’t keep me or my family down; the privilege to have gotten an undergraduate and graduate degree from a good university; the privilege to no longer be discriminated against for my ethnicity; the privilege to shop ethically; the privilege to live minimally; etc. I am aware of all of these privileges. I feel grateful for them each and everyday. But I will not feel shame.
I also refuse to feel shame for my actions, because I didn’t do anything wrong. And perhaps wrong is the incorrect term because my actions, as are everyone else’s, are always up for judgement–and someone, like you, will always disagree with my actions. You might think these feelings of shame came from a guilty conscious, but in order to feel guilt, I would have had to do something wrong. And I don’t think I did. In the end, I am standing up for what I believe in, as are you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I actually think it’s great that we are and that we have differences in opinion. The one thing we do agree on is that diversity is beautiful; but diversity cannot only exist skin-deep. It also needs to include diversity of thought and diversity of social action. Conformity is not the answer.
I’m going to continue to be honest: I don’t know what the answer is to injustice and inequality, but what I do know is that positive change can never come from shame and guilt. Who’s to say that kindness (acceptance) to all won’t bring us closer to ending inequality? And who’s to say that speaking out and letting brands and our politicians know about injustices won’t help either? Neither are more right. We’re all on the same team, and we’re all doing what we can.
There’s a quote that my students and I tend to go back to frequently when we’re in discussion and there’s a disagreement: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” For me, I will keep choosing to be kind. For me, being silent is being kind. It is a form of acceptance: Acceptance that there’s a difference in the way you and I think, feel, and do. Acceptance that we’re all working towards the same goal, in very different ways. Acceptance (and perhaps a little faith) that things are the way they supposed to be at this moment in time, and that things will be better in due time.
Whether you can find acceptance for me and my form of social justice or not, I accept you and yours. Keep fighting the good fight, and I will too.