Someone recently reminded me to be gentle with myself.
I was with two lovely people I had just met, and I was sharing some about my experiences in South Sudan. I was catching them up to speed on the situation in the country and mentioned how famine was recently declared and how the war has caused catastrophe.
One of them brought up one of the local, political issues here in San Clemente and held it up in comparison to the issues in South Sudan. I responded that I understood the point he was making. This was a glaring issue for me when I first returned to San Clemente, and southern California and the United States in general. Yes, there were times I wanted to scream to people here,
“STOP COMPLAINING! FIND SOMETHING WORTHY TO BE UPSET ABOUT, LIKE ETHNIC CLEANSING OR FAMINE!”
And there is still a piece of me that wants to do this. But when he said that, I responded with the idea that it’s not helpful to compare. And despite the moments when I want to scream at people, I truly believe there’s no point in comparing when it comes to ideas of suffering and pain and problems.
Something I find myself saying a lot recently is this: “We only know what we know, until we know more.”
I’ve been learning, over the years since a wise grad school professor first brought it to light, that there’s no point in using this approach. If I’m talking with someone in Orange County who has never left Orange County in their life, for example, comparing something they perceive to be a problem with something I witnessed as a problem in South Sudan, is not productive. It’s not helpful, and it’s not kind either.
As I responded to the man I was talking to, his wife piped up and said I had a point but to also remember to be gentle with myself. She reminded me that any anger I might feel may be justified and worth sharing. What she was getting at, I think, is that there is very real injustice in the world and it’s ok to be angry about it and want to shed light on it.
I’m not sure if either one of them was aware of how perfectly they had captured my current struggle when it comes to communicating about what I witnessed in South Sudan.
Since I returned to the United States, it has been a constant balancing act between wanting to scream at the top of my lungs: “DO YOU PEOPLE REALIZE WHAT’S HAPPENING IN SOUTH SUDAN?! PEOPLE ARE STARVING TO DEATH AND BEING MURDERED AND OPPRESSED AND RAPED AND NOW THERE’S OFFICIALLY A FAMINE AND THAT’S NOT BECAUSE OF GEOGRAPHY!” and remembering that the people I’m surrounded by are worthy of the same respect and love, and to not be so harsh when I hear about their problems.
We only know what we know until we know more. And then, it seems, we know even less.
About being gentle with myself: I’m currently trying to figure out what that looks like.