by Mia McKenzie
I think I’m a pretty self-reflective person. I think I try really hard to listen and learn and grow. I like the idea of evolving. Some days I evolve more than other days. Some days I do the opposite of evolving. Which, I guess, is still evolving, but in less desirable ways.
The hard work of self-reflection and emotional evolution are everyday practices. Every day, there are things I can do to grow, even if just a little bit. Doing these things won’t make me perfect. Nothing will ever make me perfect. But I can grow to be better at this human being thing. Here are some ways I know that may be helpful to you:
1. Stop hiding behind your intellect. Or your philosophy of life. Or your spiritual practice. Okay, so you’re smart enough to win arguments with carefully constructed points. Okay, so you learned a long time ago that you have to put yourself first. Okay, so you’re a Buddhist. So what? You want a cookie? Nah. You fucked up, and you need to own it. When you gossip about people and call it speaking your truth, when you exhibit the same behaviors as people you claim to despise but somehow find ways to justify that behavior in yourself using skilled debate and footnotes, when you are adamant about showing love to the earth but terrible at showing it to other human beings, something aint right. You need to get on that.
2. Accept that racism/sexism/heterosexism/transphobia/ableism and all sorts of other really effed up stuff exists in the world. That we’re not making it up. And then accept that you are either part of the solution, or part of the problem. If you can’t list any concrete ways in which you are part of the solution (and, for the record, “Some of my best friends are black,” is not going to cut it), accept that you are part of the problem. And get on changing that.
3. Embrace your wrongness. Being wrong, knowing it, and holding that knowledge can be really powerful. Once you know you’re wrong, you can give up trying to win that argument and actually put your energy into listening, and maybe even learning something. Only dickheads and Republicans put energy into winning arguments when they know they’re wrong. Are you a dickhead? Are you a Republican?? What the fuck are you doing on this blog?!
4. Which leads me to…Give up being right. I have a friend who I kicked it with a lot a several years ago who would have an argument with someone (sometimes me) and get so wrapped up in how right she was that the friendship would suffer, and sometimes even end, because she couldn’t bear not having her rightness be acknowledged. She lost a lot of friends this way. The truth is, sometimes, you can be right or you can be friends. If you have to choose between the two, and your friendship means enough to you to be worth keeping, then there’s only one choice that makes sense. So get over yourself. K?
5. Take an emotional risk. I have known people who, in all the time I have spent with them, have never once taken an emotional risk. You know, people who only ask questions whose answers they already know so they don’t run the risk of being hurt by truths they can’t handle. Or people who never say I love you first. Or people who never say the thing that is at the back of their tongues, the thing that they are afraid will make them more vulnerable than they have ever been. I have been this person myself at times. Honestly, I have been this person many, many times. But I work on it every day.
6. Hold hands with someone. I think holding hands is one of the most vulnerable and connected things you can do with another person. Sometimes, if you lace your fingers with theirs, you can feel someone’s pulse in their hands. Go ahead. Feel someone’s pulse. Let them feel yours. It can be seriously liberating.
7. Create a boundary/respect a boundary. Creating boundaries is one way to let people know what you need. Respecting other people’s boundaries is one way to meet another person’s needs. The two go hand in hand. If you’re dynamite about setting boundaries and lax about respecting the boundaries of others, or vice versa, something’s off. I will admit that I have never been terrific at either of these things. But I’m much better than I used to be, and I’m working hard on both. What I’m working hardest on is understanding for myself the boundaries I’m setting and why I am setting them, where those needs are coming from, if they are real or just a way of controlling relationships and having the upper hand. If I’m just trying to get my way, without any regard for the needs of the people I claim to care about, that’s not real boundary-setting. That’s douchebaggery.
8. Separate what happened from your story about what happened. When I was six, I had the lead in my 2nd-grade class play and my mother didn’t come to the show. I was devastated and, as a six-year-old, I thought it meant that my mother didn’t love me enough. I grew up believing that. It became my story about my mother. Every time my mother did anything to disappoint me, every time she failed to show up in any way, it added truth to my story. Only it wasn’t truth. It was never truth. It was a story created by a wounded six-year-old. It took me 25 years to realize that. When I did, my life, my way of thinking about my mother and myself, my way of relating to everyone in my life changed. It didn’t make me perfect. I still behave sometimes in response to that story, with my mother and with everyone, but A LOT less than I used to. And when I do, I know what’s actually happening, I know it’s that story and not something real.
9. Check your ego. My ego is enormous, and I come ego-first into most difficult interactions. I used to think that my ego was there to protect me from things like rejection. But at some point I realized that it’s really there to protect itselffrom rejection. If in protecting itself it also happens to protect me, cool. But if what I need is different from what my ego needs, I’m fucked. Because my ego doesn’t really give a shit about what I need. That’s why it’s so necessary for me to put that bitch (my ego) in check. If we are constantly being protected from rejection, we miss out on a lot of life’s really important lessons.
10. Say you’re sorry. There’s someone out there who you wronged. You know it. You did effed up things, said really mean shit, lied, cheated, whatever. And you never apologized. At some point, you started regretting it. But you felt so much guilt, or so much time had passed, that you weren’t sure if you should go there, if you should bring it up again. Well, you should. If you want people to say they’re sorry when they hurt you, you better damn well be someone who says you’re sorry when you hurt other people. It’s not really that complicated.
(Yes, I realize the grammatically correct phrasing is we queers. I’m doing a thing here, okay?)
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Mia McKenzie is an award-winning writer and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous. She’s a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of fake fur collars and people of color. She’s a black feminist and a freaking queer. She studied writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the winner of the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award (’09) and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award (’12). You can find her short stories in The Kenyon Review andmake/shift. Her debut novel, The Summer We Got Free, is a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award and has been described by author and critic Jewelle Gomez as “a brilliant tapestry filled with exuberance and anxiety.” Her recent live performances includeQueer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance,Mangos With Chili Presents: WHIPPED! QTPOC Recipes For Love, Sex & Disaster, and Black Girl Dangerous: Mia McKenzie on Being A Queer Black Femme Nerd In A Ridiculous World, the last of those being a signature reading of her diverse works, performed at universities across the country. Her work has been published in The Guardian, quoted onThe Melissa Harris Perry Show and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective,among others.