It isn’t very often that I sit down in front of the computer with nothing to say. Usually, the opposite problem plagues me: too many interesting topics, too many directions to spin off into, too much to say.
The challenge I usually face is one of paring down, choosing a path, and sticking to it. An abundance of opinions, each one needing research and citation, each one requiring the opposing opinion to be presented and then destroyed. When it’s your job to have an opinion, you don’t usually find yourself lacking them.
I don’t know what the problem is. Do I feel less strongly about the issues affecting the world? No—many of them still preoccupy me. Climate change, justice issues, what happens after we die—these thoughts and many others will still keep me up at night, if I let them.
Is it that all outcomes feel inevitable, so what’s the purpose of putting my thoughts onto paper? That isn’t true either, because I know the impact of words in both directions—what other people’s words mean to me, and what my words can mean to others.
Could it be that I feel anything worth saying has already been said, possibly better than I could ever say it? While that might be so, it doesn’t mean those things don’t bear repeating. I know for myself that I often need to hear information at least three times before it seems to take up permanent residency in my mind. So it’s not that I feel I need to say something new and original every time I write—because this just might be the time that someone reads it and really gets it (whatever ‘it’ is; I’m always surprised by what people take away from writings).
So what’s going on here? I want to talk to you, whoever is reading this. Not at you. I want to be responded to as if I were sitting across the coffee table from you, not like I’m an invisible opinion machine without feelings to be eviscerated in the comment section. I want to hear your actual concerns behind your reactions. I want to know what’s important to you, and what just isn’t.
I don’t want to feel like we aren’t in this together. This is my community, my home—this is where I wake up and choose to be, every day. Any changes I want to make through my activism have very real, very near people benefiting from them. Any comments that are written in response to me, I read, and carefully. So why do we feel so very far apart?
Ah. I think I’ve come to the crux of it. I know I’m far from the only one feeling this way—the world has been like a minefield lately; like no matter where I place my foot, I’m blowing up the very ground I’m trying to walk on. When I meet you in the middle, we both get blasted. When I try to direct, your blood is on my hands. When I follow you, I’ll resent you if I blow up. There’s no pathway here, and very few trustworthy trailblazers.
I’m tired. I’m tired of being deliberately misunderstood, of being strawmanned, of the shifting goalposts in any debate, in the bad, bad, bad, bad faith arguments. I don’t want to live this way. I want us to be able to find common ground, not put barbed wire around it and call it ‘no man’s land’. I want to feel like people are actually looking for solutions instead of looking for salacious headlines, out-of-context quotations, and the brief false-joy of feeling right. I want us to feel better, not righter.
I’ve been wrong a lot in my life. Some of that comes from assuming I know what’s right before I know what’s going on, some of it comes from repeating things I’ve been taught and never challenged, and some of it is because the world is a growing and changing place, where you can be right one day and almost unbelievably wrong the next, simply because we gained new insight. I don’t mind being wrong because it means I’m learning.
I also find that if avoiding being wrong is high on your list, so should be avoiding public speaking. It is easy to be quiet and right, but it doesn’t change the world. Everyone with even a modicum of power needs to get really comfortable with admitting they are wrong when it’s demonstrably true, or else we end up looking stubborn and foolish—and adhering to bad information can cost lives.
I don’t know who I’m speaking to. Is it the people who agree with me, or the ones who don’t? Is it the loud ones, or the quiet ones? Is it those who are right, or those who aren’t?
I fear that we’ve lost the discernment of what needs our attention. Do you fight cancer or do you treat it? We are being asked, as a society, to go against our natural inclination to connection and stay apart to stay safe. We’re being asked this by government, which has very little social trust regardless of who holds office. We have so much proof of wrongdoing by those in power that we are suspicious and skeptical of even the most basic life-saving interventions.
And what I’ve observed, and what is undoubtedly behind my vacillation on writing this, on writing anything, is that the longer we stay apart, the more alien we find each other. We are losing our ability to empathize with people who have different opinions than us because we no longer see each other as community members, merely people who occupy physical proximity but have no face-to-face contact.
The computer screen is the biggest liar I’ve ever met—it tells the story that the internet isn’t real life, that anyone who disagrees is a troll, it makes us categorize people based on the tiny text box they’ve provided. And it absolutely makes us feel like the person we are talking to is just a combo of ones and zeros, not a real person from whom we can learn or whom is worth teaching.
I’m afraid we’ve decided we are done learning—we’ve decided we know it all, and now our job is to hop on the computer and spew what we ‘know’. We can’t be wrong when our friends and followers are watching. We can’t change our minds because we’ll feel stupid. We can’t see each other as people because then we’d know the landmines matter.
And who benefits?
Corporations. Alienated people shop more, impoverished people can’t afford locally made items, lateral violence means we are battling each other and not those who are trying to control us. And governments who are two sides of the same coin by design, both glutted and gutted by capitalism, less interested in representation than compensation.
So where are we?
In this together, still.
And does it even matter?
Really, it’s the only thing that does.
Watch your step.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.