A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
To be an advocate for a community that is not your own is to be a warrior for universal human rights. It is to recognize the common humanity that binds self and other, and to seek justice, equality and liberty for brothers and sisters of all shapes and sizes within this expansive human family of ours.
Yet sometimes, it is a tricky thing to fight for the rights of a marginalized “other”. Sometimes, the walls rise up, the air thickens, and the boundary becomes impermeable. You suddenly feel that you are nothing but an outsider, and that from your privileged stance you cannot possibly understand what this other before you has experienced. Your words sound bad and wrong, your reflection seems insulting. An eyebrow raises, a whisper runs amuck. All nonverbal feedback points to the shameful awareness that you have overstepped your boundary. Fear and sorrow begin to spin rapidly in your mind. Who are you to have the right to speak for the experiences of others? Who are you to think you have the right to say anything at all? So you duck your head and zip your mouth shut, afraid to offend members of a community to which you believe you do not belong, not even a little, not even at all.
Silence is the wrong move. Silence maintains the status quo of a dichotomy between “self” and “other,” keeping boundaries firmly in their place and allowing no room for shared humanity to flourish. Silence forecloses the possibility to reach understanding, compassion, and empathy, not just from yourself towards the marginalized other—but from the marginalized other back unto you. Silence brings the conversation to a screeching halt, diminishing the ability to forgive, learn, and mature. Silence does nothing to shape a safer, more intimate world for selves and others to coexist.
Perhaps when ruptures occur, it might help to think of advocacy as an intimate relationship. To be an advocate is to feel a profound well of passion, love, and support for a community of others. To be an advocate is to feel a deep commitment and responsibility to caring for another’s well-being, just as we might a lover, friend or child. Yet to be an advocate, like any other intimate relationship, also involves risking misunderstanding, anger, and conflict. Assumptions are erroneous, words really do offend, communication breaks down, and resentment catches fire. But conflict does not mean that the relationship should cease to exist. Intimacy can withstand misunderstandings. Ruptures can be repaired. If advocacy is thought of as an intimate relationship, then like any other relationship that is deeply important to us, we must always strive to heal the fractured bond between self and other, and to converse, learn, and evolve in the service of selfless love.
By Nisha Gupta