Daring? Do!

by Florence Ondré

When Thomas Paine said, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest,” you could be shot for opening your mouth and laying your truth on the line.

Today, you can just be shot down by people who either don’t get what you’re saying or can’t hear and go selectively deaf when you describe your experience.

Different still gets a whack on the head and sometimes by your nearest and dearest.

In world war II, (Notice I do not capitalize the w’s in the words world and war. I know it was a huge planetary event and I choose not to give murder/war of any kind the dignity of capitalization…call it my little quirky act of peace.) individual voice was squelched to almost annihilation. Millions of people; living, breathing stories on two feet, were snuffed out to sate the rapacity of those who would not hear or abide near anyone who smacked of what is still called the spice of life.

It wasn’t enough that an entire country, and then world, followed madmen bent on power and control into participation, via action or inaction, to descend into a hell which is again happening today in the Middle East and on the continent of Africa.

Slaying for having the guts to say and be who you are is still most shamefully in style.

Even in our own good old U S of A, with all the strides we’ve made in human rights, there is a backward movement afoot to strip citizens of their civil liberties and carom us rearward in time to McCarthism and color barrier days; when speaking your mind, writing or making films about your experiences or feelings and being who you were was judged and categorized in narrow confines.

Today, we’re perilously close to a shhh-don’t-talk-don’t-tell resurgence being urged and sometimes forced on us as a populace by a Christian right wing, my-way-or-the-highway mentality of those in places of power which has no room for differences.

When you can’t stand quietly on the side of the highway with a picket sign whose words question our president without being manhandled off anywhere but where that supposed leader might see you or to the clink; when you get carted off to parts unknown for indefinite periods of time without benefit of trial before judge and jury for having swarthy skin or a last name that sounds Eastern, it is time to gather up your ravelled hem of courage and speak out; to say out loud, “The emperor has no clothes on.”

It is in these moments where the opportunity for individual stories come together to write the chapters in the book of growth and honor.

This is where listening with compassion turns the key in locks marked ‘closed minds’ on doors marked ‘consciousness and opportunity for peaceful coexistance and Highest Good for all.’

Whether you get cut dead, literally or figuratively, for sharing any part of your story the world library of experience is diminished.

It seems to me that we are a bunch of deaf people on this planet. Desensitized by our own inability to listen, we go off in our cement boots, stuck behind our own plastered on masks, down roads rutted with our every day familiar traipsings.

Do we think we’re safer for not allowing ourselves to peek out from behind our heavily constructed barriers against anything new or unfamiliar? Do we think those who are huddled there with us, hunkering down in the haven of common repetition will never turn on us?

Well, I’m here to tell you they can and do. The minute you tell an at odds part of your story, thinking you are with friends who understand and accept you; even those close compatriots in commonality may whiplash you with astonishing, eye-blink judgement and shunning.

Someone I have called friend for years recently went beyond shock when I shared the history of a personal event I’d had where I had to speak up for one person and take an action to stop abusive behavior of another.

My friend who is, shall we say conservative -sometimes to the point of uncomfortability for me- took umbrage against my sharing and could only see me as an agressor against the very perpetrators I was describing. When I asked why he was so upset with my chronicle, he replied, “It’s a matter of perspective.”

Perspective? What perspective? I had just described in detail my real live experience, not a hunch I had or a perception.

I held back my immediate gut reaction of a knee jerk, “What the Hell are you smoking that you didn’t hear what I just told you?” and morphed into basically feeling like I was being judged as one who was making up a fable drawn from imagination instead of sharing a difficult, first person occurance which actually happened to me; which became the flashpoint of my evolution from shy, non-speaking mouse to full height of unafraid, honest verbalizer lioness.

Watching the dropped jaw and pinched, angry face turning away in disgust; spurning me, like I’d just committed some heinous crime right there and then with the opening of my mouth, sent a cold knife through my heart.

There was no expression of compassion for me or the situation I had experienced nor for the child I’d saved. No, “Oh, I’m so sorry you had that experience.” No support for the bravery it took for me to stand up to lies, injustice and tyranny was forthcoming. The shock of what felt like betrayal of our friendship in the lack of listening and really hearing was like an ice berg rising from the gaping, dark North Sea now flooding between us.

My not fitting in with this person’s ideas of right and wrong trumped heart in this house of cards tumbling down around us. I was looked at like a pariah because what I shared triggered cracks in this one’s fear walls.

I got lumped into some pot of awful people who he disapproved of and those in this world who should keep their mouths shut.

It was clear, by his refusal to even look me in the face, that I was now someone who should be walled off in some ghetto of get-in-line-you-big-mouthed-yenta. You don’t act or look like I think you should so I’m lumping you in with those others I don’t like. Get behind shut-up and never open your mouth again until you can act and speak like the rest of us good behavors.

I was told that I did an awful thing and was contemptible for crowing about it and that was insufferable.

I found myself so incensed that I bit my tongue in self control, nearly gagging on the ideal of giving this other person the same right of free expression as I deserved; then tripped over it, justifying a thousand times over why I did or said what I’d done; hoping some understanding and a light of compassion might just break through so he’d remember who I was; who I’d been for years…truth teller, generous spirit, open hearted, fair minded…friend.

That light did not dawn. Entrenchment, close mindedness, fear and anger solidified and sadly, I accepted that friendship wasn’t docked at our table. That ship had sailed.

I took home my hurt and ire at the injustice dealt me by one I’d called friend and while in the shower an hour later, I realized that when our other dinner companion had shared a particularly nasty experience being the victim of the same kind of crime I stood up against, he got a near tears response of sympathy from the very friend who now looked at me like a leper.

It’s hard to imagine how one’s hair can go on fire while under pouring water but I’m here to tell you it happens.

As remembrance of that small piece of the evening’s words hit me, I thought Roman candles were shooting out of my head. I felt so angry that WTF fireworks flew out of the roots of each hair folicle on my cranium.

God! I hate when that happens! Bushwacked. Sideswiped. Run over. Responses delayed. What good are my pithy comebacks if they are all in retrospect?
What good indeed…when the receiver doesn’t want to hear.

I accepted today’s reality in that this is not someone who really wants to hear me and so closeness is not possible. I will allow and bless the space between us.
That leaves room for possible growth for both of us as individuals.

I will continue to be and share who I am, where I’ve been, what I experience and I will continue to disturb dark waters and ‘dare to offend.’

I encourage you to dare in your own way.

You might as well pull up your Thomas Paine grit, be honest and let your narratives fly out into the world. Scatter those around you with the brilliance of shining your light into cobwebbed corners. Air those ghost stories so that they can touch other courageous souls such as yourself. Don’t wait until you’re gone and your ancestors have to dig up clues as to who you were, what you believed, said and did. Hesitate not to heave your heart out in the expressing.

You have plenty of time to try on the cloaks of circumspect and courage and make your own choices which honor the heights of honesty and depth of daring.

It’s your life and you don’t have to tippy toe around your words; hemming and hawing for political correctness or remain caught in fear based conformity. Go on, get messy with feelings and be willing to speak with passion imbued in the paragraphs of you.

Others may identify with the feelings and still have their own uniqueness in their narratives. No one has to agree with you or have your exact encounters, nor do they have the right to judge you, put you down or harm you with words or deeds against you because you speak up.

Your life is a series of the acccounts of your experiences. Tell your stories.
The library of life has shelves waiting for the books of you.

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