Literacies Circle: Big Feelings

Twice during the uproar about critical theory, I received commentary that equity training, book studies, or social justice work seems too often focused on feelings.

Big feelings.

On one extreme end of the opinion, conversations about inequity bring up that “they” are just pitying themselves, are spoiled, won’t work when there is a labor shortage, and other judgment of meritocracy and color, or other identity, blindness. All this talk is just about “their” difficult feelings and “they” just need to buck up and get to work.      

On the other end of the opinion, conversations are all about feelings, listening, and building empathy, but still very little equity or justice…or joy.

Of course, attending to our feelings is exactly where we start.

But it is also true that just attending to feelings alone without really hearing and taking action is where  

we get stuck.

While listening to feelings is crucial, it is also equally crucial to fully hear and respond thoughtfully to the underlying source of oppression. And then to step up so that the difficult feelings don’t keep coming back unaddressed, again and again. This is where action for equity and social justice come in. It’s not about pity and virtue but about leveling the playing field.  

For example, I, with deafness, may make a request for real-time captioning at a gathering and upon being heard, my playing field is leveled at that one event to participate and contribute as a viable member of my community. But if I have to make a request at every single event and even get questioned about whether my request is reasonable every single time, that’s where my feelings of oppression start to set in. It gets frustrating, tiresome, and demoralizing. I start to sound like a broken record and suddenly, it’s about my feelings. The vicious cycle continues to the point where I’m told that I simply need to buck up and get back to work. But then I’m back to a place where my playing field is not fair and I find myself lost again…with difficult feelings.   

Whose perspective of a story is being told? People with a need? Or people in power?

How do we stop interrogation and pushback? Who gets to decide what is “reasonable?”

How do we make a direct connection from feelings to action?

In what ways can we reduce high conflict, high anxiety, and extreme concepts of binaries?

How do we change our deficit language and labels, such as suffering, struggling, or impoverished to pursuing, striving, desiring, or caring?

How do we embrace the difficult feelings as a temporary reaction to a difficult situation? And then work toward bringing love, joy, strength, and vitality?

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