A friend of mine told me recently that it’s really hard to find love later in life because we all accumulate so much baggage. Well, yeah, if you choose to look at it that way.
Personally, I’ve always hated the term “baggage”. It implies that as we go through life, we take on an ever-increasing amount of emotional burden that we can never shed, and it eventually weighs us down to a debilitating degree. Why not call it “life experience” or “lessons learned”? That reframes the whole concept.
Instead of being crushed under an unbearable weight, you are instead strengthened. As opposed to being less than desirable, you come with skills. Rather than being someone to avoid, you become someone with a lot of interesting stories to tell.
I genuinely believe that we increase in value over time. Remember, whatever coping skills you’ve acquired, even if they’re not ideal, have gotten you here. You’ve survived. And that is a fantastic achievement. High five!
The article describes how the women of Kenya, who historically have been subjected to female genital mutilation, are becoming empowered to effect change for themselves and their children. Because they are at ground zero, they’re better able to come up with solutions that culturally work for them. Brilliant!
A great quote from that article: “When people portray us as victims, they don’t want to ask about solutions. Because people don’t ask victims for solutions.”
That’s a pretty profound realization. I think it applies in a lot of situations. Unfortunately.
I always get frustrated when I see people in shelters or refugee camps, sitting around looking shell shocked with nothing to do. This is not helping them. This is victimizing them.
Just by dint of sheer numbers, these “victims” can be a great resource. For example, there was much talk about women getting raped when they went to use the bathrooms in the Houston Astrodome post Hurricane Katrina, because there simply wasn’t enough security. I bet that wouldn’t have happened if about 50 women formed a committee and all of them had gone to the bathroom together. Try raping us now, buddy. We’ll tear you limb from limb.
And when it becomes obvious that a refugee camp is going to be around for a long, long, long time, why not give these people the tools to plant crops, even if it’s a tiny garden, and allow them to maintain sanitation and security, rather than make them stand around knee deep in their own feces, waiting for your sparse handouts and indifferent protection?
People don’t want to be victims. They don’t want to sit around, wallowing in their own despair. They want to have some feeling of agency. They want to be able to make decisions about the quality of their lives.
When you are faced with an entire community that is suffering some sort of tragedy, rather than looking at them as a burden to be dealt with, perhaps look at them as an enormous font of human knowledge, experience, and ability. Allow them to attempt solutions. Let them take the lead, and then, if necessary, provide them with what they need to blaze their own trail.
Without power, it’s impossible to have dignity. Without dignity, you start to lose what it means to be human. That’s the real tragedy.
I have a friend who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and she has a successful counseling practice. I can’t imagine a more satisfying job. You’re helping people cope who are carrying heavy emotional burdens. You are, essentially, lightening their load. How amazing. What a gift.
It sort of reminds me of the story of Sisyphus. He is doomed to push a heavy rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again, causing him to start back over. That, to me, is sort of what people who need counseling are like. (Granted, Sisyphus was punished in this way for his deceitfulness and deserved what he got, but hey, don’t mess with my analogy, here.)
People try so hard. They heft that weight. They shoulder that load. But until they deal with it, they’ll be rolling that rock forever. My friend may not be able to take that rock away, but she can teach you how to balance it. That is a most valuable skill indeed.
When you have a skill like that, when your work produces such positive results, but those outcomes are so intangible to the outside world, it must be easily overlooked. So I decided to make her something tangible as a thank you for the many people she has helped over the years. It’s not much. Just something I made in pottery class while thinking of Sisyphus.