When I was little, one of my favorite stories was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I enjoyed all of the creatures in it—humans and forest animals and mythical beasts—and of course I had my favorites.
I loved Lucy, the character most like me at the time—a little girl who launched the whole adventure and showed that being small and female didn’t stop a person from being powerful and effective. I actually spent many summer days in the basement of our house, searching for entrances to Narnia. I was convinced one was just behind the water heater, but I never quite found my way in.
So Lucy yes. And Aslan. I especially loved Aslan, a creature I didn’t see as like me, but one who held me rapt in awe. I still get goosebumps recalling the words “Aslan’s on the move,” or Lucy riding on Aslan’s back, and I still shudder at the thought of Aslan tortured and killed, fallen on the stone table.
I’m certain I’m not the only human who thought of Aslan this week.
I’m not the only human whose Facebook feed or various screens were filled with links to sad articles and horrifying pictures of other fallen majestic creatures next to proud, smiling humans.
And I’ll be honest, I found myself equally horrified to see people suggesting a retaliatory kill of the human hunter.
Still, I understand the inclination to lash out.
And more, and more. And. More.
All of it makes me want to unleash a roar so deafening and forceful that it drops every being in the world to the ground, that it makes them hold on to something sturdy for dear life, that it makes us all pay attention.
What do we do with all the rage and horror and grief that rises up like poison in our throats, that makes us twitchy with pain and desperate to expel it?
Retaliation is not the answer. Although the work of Restorative Justice speaks to this on a widely researched level, I also know in the short history of my bones that every time I’ve been hurt and lash back in equal measure, it has never helped, and it has usually made things worse.
Shaming is also not the answer. Rene Denfeld shared this wisdom on her Facebook page: “Shaming people doesn’t work. Shaming makes people who are hurting hide. They don’t get help. They don’t learn. Shaming others shames us.”
Once when I worked for a company not my own, I sent out an email to a group of people involved in a project. I was frustrated with disorganization and probably with doing something that ultimately didn’t inspire me, and I wanted to move the project forward. So in my message, I called out a particular person in the group, who was also on the email thread, with our other colleagues and supervisors, as responsible for the delay. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I do know that my words damaged the person I singled out. He was deeply hurt, and I was deeply embarrassed. Because in that scenario, I had been a self-centered jerk.
Shaming didn’t help him or anyone else, and it didn’t help the project move forward. Instead, I had shame from within for my carelessness, and that was actually helpful, because I knew I’d commit to having greater integrity and not making that choice again.
Actively feeling and addressing shame from within is part of the way forward. In her insightful study of shame, Karla McLaren writes that “shame is a vital and irreplaceable emotion that helps you mature into a conscious and well-regulated person.” When shame arises from within, McLaren suggests that the questions to ask are “Who (or what) has been hurt?” and “What must be made right?”
Right now, I believe it’s impossible to be a human and not regularly feel shame. And I say good, let’s take a look at where we’ve been self-centered jerks in word or deed or in neglecting to offer either word or deed when we could have. Let’s listen to that shame, take the questions from McLaren, and let the answers guide us forward. Let’s pay attention to who is being hurt and discern what action we can take.
The list of hurt beings is long. As for what right action to take, we must first surface the why.
As in why are we so set on ravaging other beautiful wild creatures roaming the world? And please note that I used the word “other” deliberately.
I find the answer in Mother Teresa’s words: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We’ve forgotten the truth that we are all beautiful wild creatures, who belong to each other.
When we forget that we belong to each other, we lose our bearings and our ability to hold complexity, and we take sides. We declare Us and Them and we dig in our heels. Men against women. White people against Black people. Religion #1 against Religion #2.
Alert: Taking Sides is the stop just before Making Violence.
And we are naïve if we think we can take sides out in the world without setting up camps inside ourselves. Emotion vs. logic. Feminine vs. masculine. Practical vs. spiritual. Civilized vs. wild. That last one especially, for our purposes here. When we set up those internal camps, we also do violence to ourselves. In our forgetful state, we ravage the wild within.
Our violent defaults when the wild surfaces? Contain, restrain, control, shame, deny.
Those defaults aren’t working; they’re causing more damage. We need to update our settings. We can’t get rid of our wild selves. We must befriend, defend, and revere them.
We’ve forgotten that we are all wild creatures, who belong to each other.
And, right now, we happen to be in dire need of our wild voices. We need the roars and the wails and the cries that send roots up through the sidewalks of polite civilization to remind us to stop destroying each other.
This week, I happen to be in the often uncomfortable days that precede my monthly woman bleeding. I was tempted to avoid this article because of it. I heard some old refrains in my head—you’re overly emotional. You’re trying to tackle too many things at once. I overrode those refrains and kept writing, but even now, I’m tempted to write that because I’m PMSing, maybe I’m just babbling in overwhelm and taking everything that’s happening in the world too personally.
But the whole point of this piece taps me on the shoulder and says, “Hello! What are you writing about again?” And I realize that I’m doing violence to a part of my own wild nature.
Sure, I could say it’s just a harmless thought. But it’s not. Thinking that I have less to offer because of my natural cycles, playing into the idea that emotions, particularly strong ones, have less value than, say, logic; accepting that reflections that aren’t fully formed with footnotes aren’t useful; buying into the notion that women should be regularly silenced because who knows what those wild bloody creatures will do if we let them loose, especially at that time of the month.
Not harmless thoughts. Violent thoughts. Contain. Restrain. Control. Me against myself.
Instead, I know need to befriend, defend, and revere.
Instead, I need to say that because I’m PMSing, I’m actually taking it all personally enough.
That because I’m actively engaged with and tuned into a cycle of purging and renewal happening in my body, I might actually have greater insight into the complexity of human experience.
Instead I need to say that right now, I’m actually closer to my emotions and closer to my own wild self, which means there are gifts to be had.
So I return to the question, “What must be made right?”
And I say the answer is our relationship with our own wild selves as well as all of the other wild selves we share this planet with.
Usually, I offer a For Here, Please activity with this column, something simple to do to connect with the here and now, and here it is, if you choose to participate:
For starters, go outside, with nothing to do but tune in to yourself and what’s around you. No screens. Hands free. Ears free. Eyes free. Mouth free. Nose free. And say these words out loud: I remember that we belong to each other.
Why do I dare to pair paltry counsel to go outside with the largeness of loss we witness, with the largeness of all of the violence we do to each other?
When such violence is so ubiquitous and insidious that it walks among us as in the guise of an ordinary “harmless” thought, we have to address it on levels small and large.
I think of Lucy with her bottle of healing cordial, the gift she receives from Father Christmas in chapter twelve of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the gift that at first glance seemed meager next to swords and bows and arrows, and I remember that a few small drops of change have more power and effectiveness than we expect.
So we must dare to take all the steps we can, small and large. Sign petitions. Use our wild voices. Speak out. Make art. Make different choices. Make safe space within ourselves and around ourselves for all of the wild creatures.
I think of Aslan. The difference between my little girl self looking at that character and my adult woman self doing the same is that I no longer see Aslan as other, that is, as a character I admire but don’t relate to. It might be safer if Aslan is other. It might be easier. But it’s not true. Now I relate. I see the beautiful wild creature in me, and I salute it.
We must not forget that we belong to each other.
And if you’re somewhere where you do not have a voice, where you cannot, where you’ve been silenced, know that we with space for our voices will speak on your behalf, as loud as we can, until you too can join the chorus.