As resistance and revolution have become integrated with our political lexicon, I have been thinking, like all Democrats, about pathways for sustainable change. How do you build a society that bends towards justice, is founded on integrity, and embodies civility?
Our generation needs to be prepared not simply to envision a different world, but also to inherit the existing systems. We cannot simply protest capitalism or energy development on principle. We cannot simply shame others into submission. We must understand how the systems function in order to rewire them for the greater good.
Six months ago, I participated in the Women’s March in New York. The sense of camaraderie and community that day were palpable and powerful. The women in my life: my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my closest friends are each forces for good in their families and communities. Their souls brim at surface of their beings. That clear light spills out and warms everyone they meet. I was heartened and fortified at the sight of fellowship between women at the March, claiming physical space in cities all over the world. I thought to myself: We need more of this light in leadership. We need to bring wisdom and presence into our public spaces.
Progressive churches call political marching praying with your feet. We can pray with our feet in business, in law, or as a leader of any kind. We need purveyors of wisdom in every field, not just in psychology and education, but in business, law, politics, and diplomacy as well. We cannot engender social transformation if we are not present in the spaces that make change possible.
Our government sorely lacks wisdom and virtue, which is destroying the integrity of our institutions, traditions, history, as well as the path towards justice, liberty, and truth. A more compassionate nation is certainly the goal, but we need to be much more calculated in our steps to building a nation that respects the dignity of all people.
The women I know are up to the task intellectually and prepared to affect change. However, women are under-represented in the public spheres that determine whether systems operate justly or not, whether or not qualitative progress is made. I often hear many young women say they are afraid of being strategic, do not care about making money, and that they never get angry. They seem to respond adversely to ideas of gaining power or making a profit. They would rather be accommodating than be assertive.
This scares me, but I also understand the impulse. I received the same gendered messaging that inspired an elusive desire to be agreeable first, successful second. Aggression and dominance are not only coded as male attributes in our culture, but those attributes in men are perceived by most of my female friends as harmful, especially when manifested as hyper-masculinity. Women, in our culture, are taught to be nice, small, delicate, demure, polite, and selfless.
Selflessness, though, is not equal to compassion. Selflessness asks a woman to literally exist without self: without needs, without desires, without ambitions, without the qualities required of leadership. If you want to grow and lead, if you want to fulfill your desires, you must have a sense of self. Having, desiring, growing, or aspiring does not mean that you cannot give to others. In fact, fulfillment often allows for more sustainable generosity.
The tasks ahead of our generation are as heavy as they are urgent. We’re contending with the rapid deterioration of the climate, the global rise of fascism, and ongoing violence, poverty, and disease. We will not create a better world without better representation, without people in positions of authority who can live in the ambiguity, who respect something greater than they, who understand justice through the bones of lived experience.
I often see women become entangled in the either/or trap. You’re either making money or being of service. You’re either becoming a successful, independent woman or doing good work. These are limiting beliefs. They not only hold us back from flourishing into the people we are meant to become. They also deprive our communities of innovation and life-giving transformation.
The women in my life always come to mind when I think of the Greater Good. Women carry the world on their backs. They take care of their people. And together women are a stunning force in the world. We cannot be afraid of that strength. We cannot be afraid of extending our light. We must not be afraid to claim space on this earth to create, to advocate, and to lead.