Casual Social Violence
A week ago, a friend posted a note on social media about her abandonment by ‘friends’ while she dealt with crisis and depression. She spoke of their flurry of comments about depression in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, and their lack of empathy in reality. It was brilliant. Mostly because it reminded me of a post she had put up more than a decade ago about her troubles with depression. At that point in my life, I had the very stupid notion that people with depression just needed to ‘snap out of it’. Still, her post touched me for its honesty, her courage to be so vulnerable, and the authenticity of it all. I sent her a short email response telling her what I thought about the post. I did this not because she and I were best or even close friends. (We had gone to high school together but were in different circles) I sent it because what she said made me feel something. Something I understood was too important to ignore.
I have been trying to write a piece on casual social violence for over a year now. Tonight, I realized what I was missing. The violence I am talking about is not the one perpetrated by the aggressive. It is much more nuanced and subtle. Slippery even. This violence is perpetuated by silent bystanders. Silence in the face of evil is violent. It leaves scars, and it can be deadly. Choosing to not stand up for what you believe in; is choosing to not believe it is worth standing up for. It is that simple.
Today, I know what depression is. I know it takes hold of your mind and challenges everything you knew about yourself. Over a decade after my friend’s initial post, I have been through illness and depression. It’s thinned out my friends, the medications I needed left me 40lbs overweight, but I have been taught priceless lessons. The most important of them being: Life is shorter than you think it is going to be; spend it being genuine (express your anger as well as your joy). Most importantly, ‘friendship’ does not always equate loyalty. Friendship is cheap drunken talk over feasts and dancing. Loyalty is that, and hard uncomfortable conversations about our unbearable vulnerabilities in a harsh world.
I began making tiny drawings of clusters when I was recovering from illness. It happened while being driven through farmland. In my austere mental state, I looked out unto a wide-open field at several cattle clustered next to each other. Farm after farm offered the same image. All the space in the world, but they chose to stand right next to each other. It calmed me. I’m still working on figuring out why, but the electricity of the feeling is very clear. Somewhere in my lizard brain lives the knowledge that in life, you stand with yours and brace the storm together.
I get that same electric feeling through me when someone says or does something violent to someone else in public. It can be scary, and I didn’t always speak up, but now I always speak up. Because I do not believe in misogyny, homophobia, child-abuse, animal abuse, racist remarks, body shaming, slut shaming, and littering. (God help you if I catch you throwing cigarette butts or gum on the ground!) So when it is forced on me, I will stand up against it. If only to defend my right to not be exposed to it, I will speak up.
My friend is doing better today, I am too. There is so much value in pushing through pain. Most of the time, it makes you stronger. True, it can also break you. But so can the sitting still. But, I urge you to think of your golden years if you should be lucky enough to have them. When you sit with your protégés and talk about your life, what will the conversation be like? Will you say you stood up for the oppressed? Raised your voice, gnashed your teeth and persevered with them? Or will your face peek out from a faded postcard, mouth numb, eyes staring dumbly up poplar trees?