I turn 40 today, and since I haven’t written a blog in over a year, I thought why not? I keep thinking of Kierkegaard’s phrase…which I think he mentions in his book “Sickness Unto Death” (written under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus)..
“The process of becoming…”
There are at least two ways to understand this. In one sense, it emphasizes the inherent potential of the future, that it is not only unwritten, but also teleological. The process of becoming towards something better. Another way to understand it is retroactively, that is, to understand it as an emphasis on the past, a focus on the wake of this process. It is the wake of this process that I keep thinking about, and my efforts to ensure that the wake doesn’t settle; that the wake is not forgotten, because a forgotten wake will hinder the process of becoming — the process of moving forward.
In making efforts to remember my past, I am making efforts to sustain an awareness of short comings – both in terms of my behavior towards those I care about (friends, exes, my current partner, my family) and others, but also in terms of the structures that were imposed upon me, which in turn contextualized my framework of justice and understanding of society. By structures, I mean cis-gendered patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, Christianity. This involves both accountability, but also the conditions that inform the parameters of accountability, that is, those factors that inform what I understand as accountability. This is not to performatively self-flagellate, but to understand what I’m capable of (both in terms of what I can achieve, but also the damage I can do – despite how understand, rationalize, or conceptualize my self, my identity, and my behavior). I think it is important to explore the dynamic between one’s behavior, and the environment which informs that behavior, in order to proceed into a future emphasized by justice, sensitivity, and self-understanding; a future that doesn’t prevent grace, forgiveness, and understanding towards oneself (as that would prevent the ability to love of others), but one that keeps my failings in close proximity as established parameters of an evolving identity. Indeed, I am not the person I was 5 years ago, 10 years, ago or 15 years ago – and through those years I’ve certainly behaved unacceptably, participated in sexism, racism, transphobia; certainly I have been unfair, I’ve weaponized situations selfishly, I’ve hurt people. We all have, and we should all maintain the fact that forgiveness and accountability are not mutually exclusive, but that they function together in order to allow not only growth but progress.
I do not mean to dramatize what may have amounted to nothing and have it serve as some impotent mea culpa, but rather, to emphasize how it is often those passed over events, or those comments, exchanges, and retorts that are so common as to be considered banal, or chalked up as emotional fits, “passion,” or some other rationalization — can function as the trojan horse through which toxic habits are sustained, and through which they can mutate.
I regret that I’ve wasted so many years not learning, but I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to learn, to read, and to listen to my peers whose different experiences give life to what I have read, teachers, peers in university, friends I’ve met in the music community, Black, Brown, gay, queer, non-binary folks, cis-folks, women, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Catholic, spiritual, atheist, agnostic — my involvement in these important discussions that over recent years have taught me so much and brought into relief the ways I inadvertently participated in oppressive structures while believing I was informed. To be sure, this is simply a part of growing up, of growth – a process of accruing knowledge and then applying that knowledge. I guess though, speaking subjectively, I simply wish this process began earlier. But these structures are not easy to recognize at first, nor are they easy to dismantle.
This excerpt from John Stoltenberg’s “Refusing To Be a Man” is illustrative in how it recognizes the ways that cultural norms are reinforced even while we think we are engaging in healthy interactions —
“…many people cherish a delusion that their ethical judgments are really gender-neutral. In popular psychobabble, for instance, one hears the words ‘give and take’ in countless conversations about interpersonal relationships between men and women.
The catchphrase evokes both the ideal and the practical possibility of a perfectly reciprocal dyadic relationship, in harmony and equilibrium, exchanging back and forth, like a blissfully unbiased teeter-totter. Men and women alike will swear by it, extolling giving and taking as if it were a first principle of socio-sexual interaction. The actual reality beneath ‘give and take’ may be quite different: for her, swallowed pride and self-effacing forgiveness; from him, punishing emotional withdrawal and egomaniacal defensiveness.
Or perhaps they will trade off tears for temporary reforms, capitulation for a moment’s tranquillity, her subordination in exchange for an end to his threats of force.
They may grieve over their failed communication, yet they will defend to the teeth their tacit sex-specific ethics—by which men and women are held accountable to two different systems of valuing conduct—and they will not, ever, comprehend what has gone wrong.”pg 5-6
While Stoltenberg is specifically addressing gender norms, it can easily be applied to any relational dynamic to show how oppressive structures impact our relationships, and how they inadvertently are reinforced through our relationships. This is what I often think back on, and try to recognize moments in my life where I’ve played a part in this process. My ignorance of doing so is important to consider – both in order to allow myself forgiveness, but also to remember how ignorance plays its role. Is ignorance an excuse – yes, but only to an extent. After all, I am interested in both the future and past implications that impact my own process of becoming. A process that is all more consequential now that I am a parent and a partner.
My emphasis on injustice is NOT recreational, but I have made it part of my identity with intention. My emphasis on injustice is most certainly an emphasis on my subjectivity. With or without schooling, I want to stay involved in this process. My social media presence, most certainly, is obnoxious. I’ve been called ignorant, just recently I was implicated as being anti-Semitic, I’ve been called out for being too negative and not emphasizing the positive, my reading has been called out for being white male centric, I’ve been a hypocrite..and to be sure — these accusations, some more serious than others of course, should be taken seriously and then applied. My process of becoming is one that continuously attempts to locate myself within my environment, within society, and critically assess it.
Soren Kierkegaard also said that the free heart has no history, meaning that in being truly free, one is not beholden or constrained by their history – their history of guilt, hurt, or happiness, or love, or pain. For me, it would be preferred that my heart never becomes free – rather that my heart is continuously reset through new experiences, but always in relation to the past. If an attention to history is required for the healthy evolution of a culture or society, then an attention to history is also required for the healthy process of becoming of an individual.
My life has been privileged – I do not feel guilty for that, I am thankful for it – but I don’t want to waste it. I do not want to forget my own past and the ways my privilege (its various forms and manifestations) have most certainly obscured pain I’ve cause, stupidity I’ve expressed without understanding, but also without apology. We should most certainly allow for grace towards ourselves and others, but not at the expensive of growth and understanding. As such, I reiterate – forgiveness and accountability are not mutually exclusive.
“I guess it all comes down to what kind of world you want to live in.”Propagandhi