Practicing my Shut Ups: A spiritual discipline for being an ally.

When you begin to tell me about your experience as the other. What I really want to do is interrupt you. To tell you how I get it. How when I picked up my daughter from her mostly black school, they tried to put a fourth grader, the only other white kid in the carpool line, into my car, despite the fact we were both telling them that we did not in fact go together.

I want to tell you this story for a number of reasons. I need you to know that I am the right kind of white lady. That I have not just chosen a minority neighborhood, I have also chosen the neighborhood school. I want to tell you this story so that you will know that I understand your pain. But I also want to tell you this story so I won’t feel so bad about your pain, to remind myself that I have done enough, that I am a good ally.

When you tell me about how exhausting it is to be repeatedly asked how your sexuality intersects with your faith, to have your faith questioned and qualified by people who do not want to have a conversation with you, I want to tell you that my best friend is gay. I want to tell you that I have an ally sticker on my door. I want to tell you that I get it that I have heard this story and I know people, and love people who are leading it. I want to tell you about my wrestling on this issue and what it has cost me. I want to let you know that I love well.

When you tell me about how you felt, when your wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the door, when your dietary restrictions were met with an eye roll, when you were not believed. I want to tell you that I have been there, that I totally get it because I too was once sick, that I am sorry, and that I know. I will likely tell you about the person I know who has your disease, or what I know about it. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe I want you to know you don’t have to explain.

I’ve heard it called the cookie syndrome, and I can identify it most easily in men who are feminists, but that isn’t good enough. They somehow want credit for being a feminist because they are a man and they don’t really have to be. I first noticed it on Twitter.

Those last sentences aren’t exactly true. I can identify this thinking most easily in myself, when I want credit for loving someone who is most often the other, especially the kind of other that I am not. And I found it first in my own heart, before I even knew Twitter was a thing, let alone a thing that would inform my politics.

My friend (my best gay friend, see paragraph two) calls it practicing your shut ups. She sometimes tells her students that they need to do a better job of practicing their shut ups. It is a little bit nicer than just saying shut up, but more serious than “please be quiet.” I am interested in the idea that shut ups are something you practice, that shutting up is something my students could get better at.

I am interested in the idea that practicing my shut ups is something I could get better at too. Because what I am really saying when I want to tell you about my experience as a minority, or with a gay person, or with an illness, is that I am interested in your story only on the level of how it applies to me. I know about that. I have experienced that. I am relevant to this conversation.

I need to practice my shut ups.

Because maybe, just maybe, your story isn’t about me. Maybe you experience the world in a way that I never will. Maybe you have experienced pain that I do not, nor will I ever, fully understand. Maybe your story isn’t supposed to be about me, about how I relate to it, about how I can make it better. Maybe you are not asking me to rescue you from it, because I am not the savior. Maybe your story isn’t about me at all.

Maybe all your asking me to do is listen, to try to understand, to bear witness to your story. But I can’t do that if I am thinking about me, if I am interrupting you to tell you how what you are saying has to do with my own experiences. I can’t hear you if I am busy talking, and I can’t totally understand if I am only thinking about how you perceive me.

I need to practice my shut ups.

Because your story isn’t about me, but it is about a person who was made in the image of God. And if I get better at practicing my shut ups, maybe I can hear Him when you speak.

I am linking up with SheLoves magazine. I love them every month, but this month has been Holy ground. Don’t miss it. 

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14 thoughts on “Practicing my Shut Ups: A spiritual discipline for being an ally.

  1. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
    For what? For the reminder for me. For saying this in a way that hopefully others will understand and inspire them to remember to shut up at times. And for just being honest. Thank you.

  2. Well said, Abby. I do the same thing, thinking that I need to let them know that I understand. But in reality, even if I do understand I need to be willing to listen to their whole story and not just try to make it be about what I do or don’t understand. Thanks for writing this 🙂

  3. It’s time to practice our shut-ups. So so good, Abby! I love that you frame it as spiritual practice … yes and amen.

    O, and this: “Because what I am really saying when I want to tell you about my experience as a minority, or with a gay person, or with an illness, is that I am interested in your story only on the level of how it applies to me.” #ouchhallelujah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. I love that phrase! It’s perfect. That impulse to have someone know that you *know* is so strong, and starts so early – I insert it into the reminders of how we behave while we are listening to the story in children’s worship. “And we try to be quiet especially when we know the story, because not everybody knows it.”

    • YES! I had never thought of it like that before, but my high school students also want to ruin it for everyone else if they know the ending. I have to threaten threaten threaten if a kid knows the ending to Lord of the Flies. And it isn’t mean, they are just excited!

  5. So good! [and I had more to say, but it’s about how this post relates to me, and while you’re probably totally ok with that, I’m going to take the chance to practice my shut-ups, though offering that disclaimer probably means i didn’t practice it well. I’m just gonna laugh at how learning listen is hard and hit ‘post comment’ now.]

  6. Pingback: The Long Weekend, Guest Post by Cara Strickland | Accidental Devotional

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