In some ways, it's a bit of a relief. Life feels easier and is less of a burden. I'm happier. I'm probably also more pleasant to be around. (Just the other night I had a dream where all my classmates rated each other from most to least liked. I was somewhere in the bottom ten percent.)
There are reasons in my life to be happy. I've completed my third year of medical school and fourth year has been much less intense; I took a vacation and traveled all over Taiwan; I've been playing more ultimate and I even flew to Seattle to play on my college reunion team and with my sister; I've been cooking more. I've been having so much fun that my usual porcelin complexion has been replaced with one that can actually be accurately described as "of color." In fact, the other day I experienced the distinct pleasure of some old white guy aggressively yelling at me from across the street, "MABUHAY!"
And while I'm sure that there are folks in my life that probably think this is a change for the better, I'm not sure. Without much motivating emotion, I've been less active.
And it's not that this joyful lifestyle means that I've grown and swung over to a more "love, forgiveness, compassion" side of activism. I may not be as angry, but I still struggle with having disgust for fellow human beings. I still have to remind myself not to judge those that I perceive to have privilege too harshly. I'm not as angry as I have been in the past and yet I still lack compassion.
I hear Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger" in my mind and I am reminded of the distinction that she makes between "anger" and "hatred." It occurs to me that much of this is about striking what seem to be impossible balances. One must be angry, but not hateful; compassionate, but not enabling; and critical, yet forgiving. The balance that I'm currently grappling with is one that is associated with privilege: how to emotionally "zen" injustices without turning a blind eye. It's a difficulty that we dare only whisper.
I remember in college we organized a big anti-armament protest against Lockheed Martin and I was astounded to discover that a significant portion of people who worked there not only adamently believed that they were NOT contributing to a destructive force in the world, but also that they were, in fact, a peaceful force. "The best defense is a good offense," they told me with sage nods. Recently, I heard an interview on the radio with the politician who is working to reinstate prop 2 in MI. He solemnly declared that he was fighting for true equality and to end racism. It occurs to me that this is how people do terrible things but still sleep at night -- convince themselves that what they're doing is actually noble.
Somewhere in between rejecting someone because of their flaws and denying the existent of them is the ability to care for someone while being fully conscious of all their shortcomings. I'm flawed. The people around me that I care about the most are flawed. I think about the number of relationships in my life that actually reflect this balance and they are quite few and, in a way, forced to that balance. For example, when it comes to family, it's much harder to break up. Even if there are times when you truly dislike a family member, they don't go away and over time you learn to not just ignore their shortcomings but confront them honestly. While the idea of "unconditional love" always seemed a bit puzzling to me, I finally understand what it means.
But I've been selling myself an even larger untruth: I am not happier because I have learned to emotionally "zen" the injustices of the world. I have been happier because I have been escaping from the injustices of the world through my own privilege. My girlfriend likes to use quote a particular analogy when it comes to anger. It goes, "Anger is like a torch. You want to hold it closely enough to help light the way, but not so close that it burns you." I guess in the past I've always struggled with getting burned so I've been working on holding it further away. These past few months I thought I finally had a balance, but in reality I had just joined the light-bulb powered party in the room next door:
"The first [Kunta] had taken the massa to one of these "high-falutin' to-dos," as Bell called them, [he] had been all but overwhelmed by conflicting emotions: awe, indignation, envy, contempt, fascination, revulsion - but most of all a deep loneliness and melancholy from which it took him almost a week to recover. He couldn't believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they didn't live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it's possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat, and mother's milk made possible the life of privilege they led." --Roots