One of the major things that struck me during my time at the Jewcology Leadership Training in Public Narrative, that felt powerful and resonant, was the fact that several trainers and participants cried (heck, maybe we all did!) at different points in either listening to others’ stories or telling their own story, and that it felt completely natural and unsurprising. I felt like everyone who attended the training was feeling the catharsis of telling about our frustration and our emotional discomfort with mainstream acceptance of environmental degradation. Many of us shared the feelings that were being relayed in these stories- the moments in our lives when we had been exposed to or confronted with the atrocities being committed in our names against ecosystems, animals, peoples. We could feel ourselves reminded of the disappointment we experienced when we realized that other people around us were not as horrified as we were, and of the alienation that frustration can bring. For many of us, these experiences began in our childhood and young adulthood and our emotions were classified as immature, unrealistic, and my favorite, idealistic (what’s so wrong with having ideals?!).
As a frustrated young adult, I personally felt confused. I felt I had been raised to have these ideals. It was the adults around me who talked about peace and justice, who taught me to recycle, who bought me “rainforest” coloring books. My mother was even fairly radical, and she brought me to rallies at Planned Parenthood and we boycotted Nestle and Dominos Pizza. They wanted me to be concerned, to be a moral person, and to live by an ethical code that involved caring for and caretaking of the people and earth around me. But as I grew more radicalized in my environmental and social politics, I was met by backlash and disinterest. Mercy towards animals was a lovely concept, and having a Save the Manatees Club was wonderful but becoming vegan was not. Recycling was a given but asking people not to use paper, plastic, and Styrofoam dishes was too much of an imposition. Maintaining a rosy “colorblind” multiculturalism was important, but challenging family members to explore deeper racial and ethnic prejudices was rude. I began to feel as if I was surrounded by hypocrisy.
Listening to the stories of my workshop compatriots, I felt some of these old emotions arise, and this time I did not feel alone. They had also been mocked and teased for some of their ideals. They had also felt confusion about what the adult world around them was trying to teach. They had also shed tears when they realized that the people they cared about the most did not share the principles that so deeply resonated with them.
I am not sure what draws people to become activists. All I know is that oftentimes we just can’t imagine any other way of being. The injustices that we see glaring at us when we look out at the world show us that we are not free to be otherwise. We do it not because we imagine ourselves to be better than others, or in a position to criticize, but because the pain we see in the world feels personal. It is OUR pain. We are sensitive to environmental degradation and it feels sometimes literally painful to us. We cry for the earth because we empathize with her. We have a spark within us that connects us to the world outside of our immediate selves, and we feel the call to transcendent action. It is the way that the energy of G-d manifests within us. HaShem demands that we act as stewards and that we attempt to inspire those around us to do the same.
And so, lucky for us, Jewcology has hooked up with amazing trainers to create a Leadership Training to give us greater tools to be witnesses and beacons. Creating a personal narrative, exploring the things that connect me to my greater communities, and brainstorming my vision for manifesting an actualized society is helping me to become a more effective leader and a more complete person. This training is half therapy, asking you to get clear for yourself in why you think your ideals are important and where in your personal life those inspirations came from, and half learning a new tool to use in actualizing those ideals. Activist culture can often encourage us to be harsh in judgment of ourselves and others, but this training asks us to be gentle. It asks us to recognize that being vulnerable and sharing of ourselves is actually the first step towards the healing we want to create.
I highly encourage everyone to attend when the opportunity arises!