The marvelous author Beverly Cleary died this week at the age of 104. Many of us enjoyed her wonderful characters, and I in particular resonated with Ramona the Pest. Although I didn't understand when I was a child why my behaviours were pest-like, I have come to deeply celebrate the attributes that make some people pests. Like Gavroche says, "A worm can roll a stone, a bee can sting a bear, a fly can fly around Verseille cuz flies don't care." Tenacity, commitment to a cause, a willingness to speak up - and speak truth to power ... pest as a child, advocate later on ("be careful as you go, cuz little people grow").
Here is how I phrased my thoughts recently (removing identifying details to leave just the generalities of the sentiment):
"Thank you for extending compassion to me in this difficult situation. I want to underscore that I completely understand the position you are in. I want it to be crystal clear that I am not ****. I have a conscientious objection, consistent with my values and practice and ethos overall. I cannot in good faith *****.
As it happens, this situation is is closely related to the larger issue of integrating concepts of planetary health and justice into ****. I have tried for a long time to do this within social norms. I have tried **; I have proposed **; I have engaged in **; I have woven these ideas into **; I have attempted to advocate for **, I tried to use persuasion and play by the rules, and was the lone voice in the wilderness.
I don't know what else to do, but I feel like I am being told that my approach is too radical or possibly abrasive to be trusted with this. That rather than "bringing people along," I may be alienating others or marginalizing myself - but I would argue the opposite ... that resistance to this logic and this urgent imperatives is continuing to marginalize those not in a position of relative power. I am not aware of many/any revolutions that occurred from within, using the same structures and systems that created or benefit from the root problematic causes. We do not have time for incrementalism. Maybe revolutionary reform, maybe attrition, but not incrementalism. I understand that shaking the structure won't make those at the top comfortable. But from what I can see, it's the most likely way to make meaningful change.
This came up as a required reading in one of my courses; it resonates strongly for me:
"If you act to change the narrative, or simply ignore it and do what you feel is right, the powers that be are very unlikely to reward you for it. This is terribly tricky to get your head around if you are acting with integrity ... When you are not noticed or even chastised for doing what you feel is right, the effect can be insidious, making you feel out of kilter; as if you are somehow bad, unworthy or misguided... If you see problems in a system, and refuse to perpetuate these problems (as best you can), then you will not do as well within that system as those who do what it demands. It is a bit like playing Monopoly without buying strategic properties and being surprised when you don’t win."
To add to this idea are a couple of important words of wisdom from the anti-psychiatry advocate Bonnie Burstow: