If you are like me, "normal" is hard to now define. In the past 6 months, we have had a pandemic, civil unrest, high unemployment, extreme political polarization, and if you are on the West coast or in the path of hurricanes and flooding, extreme weather events. In Portland, Oregon, we have consistently had the worst weather IN THE WORLD for the last week. My heart goes out to the community of humans, animals and trees that have lost their lives and loved ones as well as their homes and livelihoods. The animal kingdom has also changed as we have seen flocks (yes, flocks) of the downy woodpecker and the state bird, Meadowlarks, in our neighborhood. This comes as the squirrels, birds and even crickets have all but disappeared from the neighborhood. It is eerily quiet (and I'm 50 miles from any fire!). "Normal" for the creatures has changed and they are trying to adapt.
Humans are also trying to adapt but it is hard. What was "normal" 6 months ago is no longer appropriate today. A new normal desired by many, especially those impacted by fire, wind, rain, and especially, discrimination. All of these events have gone on continually in our lives but many of us have been spared the pain, loss and unjust treatment. We no longer can. But what do we do about it? How can we be part of creating the new "normal"?
First, don't beat yourself up and don't make excuses. I recently had the opportunity to be part of a white affinity group. It was a safe space to talk about my own experiences with race; to just share and listen to others like me. I appreciated this space as my prior experience was in a dialog about race that was a mixed group and it was incredibly uncomfortable and difficult to navigate. At the same time, I appreciated the opportunity to sit with discomfort and just listen to the voices and life experiences of my brothers and sisters who had darker skin than me. Feeling discomfort is something all white people should be experiencing right now. Discomfort about what we are seeing on the news, discomfort about a lack of awareness, discomfort with the privilege we are granted simply because of the color of our skin, discomfort with wanting to be part of the change but not knowing how to create change. I try to listen more, question my own assumptions more, challenge language and perceptions of others, and being not only an ally but also an accomplice to people of color by standing up and questioning systemic processes and individual beliefs.
Second, this is an election year. Voting is an American value and right. We need to get out and vote as well as support those who have been marginalized in their voices to make sure their ballots are accessible and counted. Systemic change starts at the top. We can make choices with our wallets and with our ballots. We can change the political rhetoric of everything being politically oriented. I don't know about you, but my top 20 self-identity traits doesn't even include a political identity! My self-identity includes human, mom, partner, mediator, dog lover, fine wine connoisseur, traveler, reader, creative, small business owner, hiker, tree hugger, leader, writer... you get the idea. Before I cast my ballot, I research, read, see what organizations that hold similar values to me endorse on the ballot, and critically contemplate my choices. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don't. I vote how I want to vote based on my own choice, not what someone else or a political party tells me to do. Sometimes left. Sometimes right. Sometimes down the middle. Sometimes slightly off-center. Sometimes "yes". Sometimes "no".
As we navigate a "new normal" and adapt to the changes, I hope that we let go of many old "normal's", remember who we are at our best, create space for humans of all colors, ages, and orientations, act out of love and compassion, put the needs of our forests, waterways and all living creatures that depend on a healthy ecosystem in the front of our decision making, and work together towards a future that builds an inclusive and sustainable world for everyone.
#vote2020 #blm #nonracist #compassion #smallcreatures #planetearth
Near the border of Oregon and California. That is the sun obscured by wildfire smoke. 9-6-20
T.J. Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, California 8-28-20
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant