I like the class I’m in this morning, it’s full of information about all aspects of health and wellness, and though the focus seems to be on alternative methodologies, it’s a science based course. Today the professor tells us we are going to spend the next several classes discussing psychology and mental health. I’m excited. These, of course, are my favorite topics. My pencil is ready, face to front.
I watch the professor curiously. She seems ill at ease. Shifting through notes that I don’t remember her needing to use previously. Her words are faltering, though she’s barely said anything at all yet. My guess is this has not always been a fun section of the syllabus for her in the past.
Still, I feel relaxed and calm. I’m comfortable enough to discuss whatever needs to be. The brain is fascinating, so are it’s diseases. I’m looking forward to talking about these things from a whole person perspective.
Around me, however, as class goes on, I realize the air is charged. People here and there stiffen. It would be imperceptible to most, I think, but I’ve spent awhile studying the dynamics of this particular conversation and the way in which people engage.
I know, of course, the thoughts of my silent tribe. They are here, waiting for their offense. They sit, as we always do when these conversations begin, wondering, what people will say? What generalized misbelief about me will I be forced to share space with today? Will it be allowed to take root or will I be defended? Will I have to out myself to defend myself or will there be a champion amongst us?
These conversations are hard. We have yet to teach the world that there are some things that are not okay to say. That some opinions aren’t okay to have and shouldn’t be voiced in public anymore. That some ideas have actually been ruled out by science. That others are too stigmatizing to allow in an institutionalized setting such as this or any other. That still others fall directly into the category of discriminatory thinking and need to be challenged and permanently done away with.
And yet some people have learned just enough to feel awkward trying to voice their opinion; there’s that strange two step of ‘I have something to say but I’m not sure how to do so in a way that may not offend anyone.’
So people in the room stiffen, some waiting to be offended, some worrying that they will cause offense. The professor takes a deep breath and I imagine hopes she will do her best.
Still, I feel relaxed and calm. I remind myself to be brave when stigma is perpetuated, but kind. We are building new roads in this wilderness and we can only do it together. If I am offended by the misspoken words of one who didn’t know better but meant no harm than I am accomplishing nothing but division.
Speak up, listen up, and be kind.