The Art of Respectful Disagreement

If we’ve lost the ability to listen or question,

what have we really lost?

Hanging out with Beedibaba at Hard Core in Sebastopol, while taking life on the road last week.

I just lost my first friend because I am choosing to question.

While I don’t want there be more than one, I write “first,” because I sense this isn’t going be the last and I want to prepare myself. This has been a shocking experience. And, to further clarify, I did not question her, she questioned me — about whether or not I was getting…you know. This is not the first time I’ve been point-blank asked that question, this year as if it is the person asking’s right to know. I’ve been caught off guard and not answered the way I wanted to. I’ve tried to prepare myself better, to be more articulate, explain my own medical conditions better — as if it’s anyone’s business. Yet, this was the first time I felt interrogated. It was the first time I felt afraid.

Raised by parents inoculated by the culture of free speech against the infectious thinking of tyranny (the biggest threat of their day), I was raised to keep certain things very sacred. Personal freedoms are high on the list. So, when I found myself sitting in my Vallejo apartment last year pondering whether this — I don’t want to use the word for my own fear of censorship, but you know….was an extenuating circumstance, I recognized that I might be going down a slippery slope. Nonetheless, I want to be a good person. I want to do the right thing. So, I stayed with the main stream narrative. And, I also began seeking out ways to stay informed of all other opinions — especially when I began seeing censorship. Albeit, what was being censored in the beginning, was justify-able. And, my education has taught me…that’s how it always begins. We cannot have free speech and have censorship at the same time. It’s virtually impossible. 

During my own exploration of sitting with the question: Would I actually concede to believe forcing others would be for the greater good? I found myself frightened by my own willingness to justify. Bearing witness to that inner process of inquiry was a trip. But, people were dying. Fear can be a powerful motivator. Maybe it was my own training I just laid out, but hearing that question reverberate in my own mind was enough to scare me into beginning my own grueling (and ongoing) process of investigation. If I was even going to consider those thoughts, I decided I needed to do a thorough investigation. Was this a situation that could over-ride individuals rights? Would this be a moment to where we would collectively weight out the cost of individual freedom and right to privacy over such a “greater good? “

History teaches us how this goes though. Something terrifying happens that challenges our beliefs enough to create an exception. We voluntarily hand over our rights, our liberties  — and even the way we treat each-other. Feeling myself on the receiving end of such “othering,” recently through my “friend,” was painful. I experienced someone who previously prioritized my opinion and valued our shared time with a sense of mutual respect, shift her tone of voice and her etiquette instantly upon hearing I had a different belief from her. After a couple of days of uncomfortable radio silence, she informed me she could no longer even know me…All because I shared that I have questions. To me, normalizing that type of behavior is far scarier than the topic of whether or not I have or will put certain things into my body. 

Such questioning is not new to me, as I shared early on values that were instilled within me during my upbringing. In my family of mostly working-class of mixed ethnicities and creed, healthy debate and privacy were sacred. In fact, it is those ideals that led me to challenge notions of things like “race,” as I got older. I began refusing ‘to check a box,’ — since there’s only one  the human one (this has since been empirically proven; Check out Race: the Power of an Illusion) in high school and instead offered a short paragraph about how I didn’t believe in “race.” (It’s always been my belief that act was apart of what led to my acceptance to UC Berkeley, the Mothership of free speech). Over the past 20 years, since then I’ve watched notions of healthy debate, the right to privacy — and now even the right to question become taboo.

It was actually at that institution, I learned about the concept of “othering.” That once we’ve entered into the dangerous territory of separating our humanity from others in a way that justifies treating them less than human, that is often “the beginning,” of how it happens. If you want to know what it is I would suggest you research the propaganda posters portraying the Japanese as evil that began circulating in America during WWII that led to internment camps. I encourage you to open your heart to the way that Jewish people were required to identify themselves with yellow stars in the beginning. It always begins with a justification. Or consider the notions that led people to trap and sell people from Africa like cattle. It’s almost too much to bear that at various points in history, our own ancestors may have even agreed that some of these horrific acts were “logical,” or for the “greater good.” Yet, anytime one group becomes less deserving of basic human decency, we have slipped into dangerous territory.

Read that again.  

For some of us the generational trauma is on the other side — I can still remember hearing stories my grandma would share about my own Native American ancestor, who was hidden. It took me many years to fully grasp and understand the reason was because there was genocide going on. I’ve often wondered how deep that need to hide goes in our genetics, when I’ve faced my own fear of speaking up.

In her later years, my grandma used to to love lengthy philosophical conversations and healthy political debate. We never engaged in character assassination or accusation — it was simply “off the table.” This was an important point she would express many times. She would also say, “once we’ve lost our free press, we’ve lost our democracy.” She lived through the Great Depression, the invention of personal televisions, WWII, microwave meals, the Cold War, the Women’s Movement + Vietnam. Sometimes I wonder what she would think of what’s happened to our world. Then, I wince because I’m pretty sure she’s rolling over in her grave. Though, lately I have felt her with me more than ever. She was intelligent + outspoken — but only after my grandpa died. It’s crazy how much a bright woman dims her light to conform to a patriarchal culture. (and, my grandpa was relatively good). When I feel my grandma these days, I see her with tears and hear her say, “I had no voice!” As, she nudges me to use mine. 

While I used to believe I was more outspoken, it’s been struggle for me recently, I admit. Not only am I juggling my own stuff — these past two pictures were taken while I spent a week on the road recently to get a break from the fires + smoke — a reprieve from the extreme heat, which I believe is from climate change as I hear person after person in the Mt. Shasta area testify that this is so “unusual,” to have this intense of heat for so long. I’ve been struggling with my own health issues, which flared up because of the stress of the first evacuation combined with some family challenges I was navigating at the same time. I don’t share about it, but I manage two autoimmune disorders. And, usually I do pretty well. 

But, this has been a lot.

I feel shame I haven’t been able to speak out more. But, I’ve been trying to prioritize myself and that has required me to pull back and go more inward. I’ve been inquiring if the voice I’ve spoken from in the past was truly coming from me — my essence. I’ve been trying to get more deeply in touch with what it is I want to say….What is it I am here to do. Yet, as I have been feeling the anger well up, lodged in my own throat with the overwhelm of what I am watching happen “in the meantime,” I think of my grandma. I think of her bottled up, choosing compliance over her own authentic voice. I think of the regrets she shared with me from her younger years — like certain medical procedures she allowed to happen to my own mother without speaking up more. I felt her pain and saw her tears, as she admitted the choices she made caused harm she struggled to accept, she could not undo. 

I may not say it “right,” but I’m going to begin speaking up, because I have to. For me the intersection of the issues that have been coming to a head the past couple of years is glaringly obvious — BLM didn’t happen over-night. It is a long history in this country that includes awful compliances and shunning from painful generational truths such as the Tuskegee experiment. The state of our health didn’t happen over night — or the fact that we care less about truly living truly healthful lives and more about having access to “healthcare,” that aims to keep us profitable. (and, we’ve stopped carrying so much about those who don’t have access) The loss of our privacy didn’t happen over night, it has been happening in many ways ever since the assassination of our great leaders in the 1960s, who were moving civil liberties and a culture of true unconditional love forward. We can see milestone moments however along the way, whereby we have compromised ourselves through justifications and reasonable responses to outrageous acts. 

Things I can share with you from my “ivy league” education coupled with being raised by those who lived through persecution and shared their wisdom are this: Whenever we’ve lost the ability to “question,” we’ve lost. Whenever there is censorship, we’ve lost our free press. When we’ve lost our free press, we’ve lost our democracy.

So I guess I’ve come to see “loss,” as relative. These past few years have been excruciating for so many. There’s been a tremendous amount of suffering and death, which is important to feel and grieve. And, at the end of the day…I am reminded of lessons I gleaned on my own spritual journey through India: We’re all going to die. It’s apart of the deal. I actually came to see that my own Americanism sheilded me from accepting this on some level. With the advent of so many advancements in medicine — alternative and alopathic, I think many of us feel entitled to live long, healthy, and happy lives. Yet, there are no guarantees. And, I’ve further witnessed myself in the several moments when I’ve come face to face with my own mortality, one of them even recently as I watched fire pour down the mountain towards my house…Or when, my doctor thought I might have a third autoimmune disorder, I’m just as afraid as the rest of us. I do not feel ready to die yet. Though, if/when I do, I’d rather die — whenever that time comes — knowing I had the courage to speak, rather than allow myself to wrangle my own regrets from fear of being judged, abandoned or persecuted. 

I don’t have any answers right now. But, I will continue to ask questions. 

And, I hope you do too. Because like it or not, we are in this together. 

Things I’m currently questioning: 

— Who are the money interests behind each news source I consume?

— What does it look like to actively listen?

— What does basic human decency look and feel like? Do I offer that to others? Do those I engage in dialogue with offer that, in return to me? 

— What does actual “health,” look like? 

Published by Jennifer Heminger

With over a decade working professionally in the alternative wellness field, I hold space to continually ask the question, "what does it mean to come home to ourselves?" Sharing practices in inquiry, meditation, energy work, chanting, + yoga, I invite other curious souls to join me on on their path.

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