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The Personal as Political (+ context)

August 19, 2017

Have you heard the phrase "the personal is political"?  It's a slogan of 1960s second-wave feminism to link private, personal experiences to larger social and political systems.  How women experience life has ramifications for how families, neighborhoods, cities, economies, governments, and societies are organized - for good or bad.

 

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45517423

 

The phrase has also expanded in more recent times to talk about personal life experiences as being un-shareable in the visceral sense.  I can understand how losing a child to tragedy must be difficult and emotionally shattering - but unless that happens to me, I won't understand just what that feels like, the emotions one experiences, the coping behaviors that arise, the sleeplessness, the desire to shut oneself away.  And even were I to experience that, I will not have experienced it in the same way.  We are all shut behind Huxley's Doors of Perception.

 

We at Youth Heartline work with kids.  And a thing we know about kids is that while they are not mini-adults, they are genuine, emotional, and complex.  Their feelings are real feelings and they experience them in a strength and vibrancy that often overwhelms their ability to manage that.  We have names for some of these emotions that hint that they aren't real -- names like puppy love.  And the funny thing is that these emotions are both very real but also very unreal because of their intensity and lack of context.

 

It's a fine balance to strike -- treating big emotions as genuine things while also acknowledging that context often makes a bigger difference than we sometimes think.  Like that puppy love.  It's strong, real, and powerful.  It can result in some rather rash decisions (cf. Romeo and Juliet, hello) and it's usually missing a huge piece of context: building a life together with a romantic partner (or heck, a non-romantic partner) depends more on skills, commitment, and hard work than it depends on feelings.

 

"Losing some of your privilege as we move to equality can feel like oppression.  It's not, but it can feel like it."

So much so obvious, so why is this blog post dithering along about this?  Well, it's because I've been struggling with how to parse the stated feelings of white supremacists who are characterizing themselves as victims.  I can't argue with that feeling -- people feel what they feel and I'm not in the omniscient position of being able to determine what's in someone's heart of hearts.  But I'm also pretty convinced that these folks are among the least systemically victimized groups in the world.  What's missing?  Context.

 

In the wake of Charlottesville, I read a quote that goes something like this: "Losing some of your privilege as we move to equality can feel like oppression.  It's not, but it can feel like it."  That's some context.  

 

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe it when people tell me they feel harmed, victimized, and oppressed.  But depending on the context, I guess I'm gonna react the same way as when a young teen tells me they're madly in love.  Yes, you feel that way, but that's hardly the whole story.

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