Inside the Chrysalis, or Experiencing Mess, Mess, and More Mess

It’s not uncommon for me to ride emotional roller-coasters with swings from sweet to sour as I go about my days. More and more, I’ve noticed these swings as I’ve tuned in with my emotions and embodied self through Reiki, yoga, and other contemplative practices. The more I do inner work and the more I embrace mess, the more the messiness of being an always-incomplete, imperfect human inevitability shows up.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, the past few weeks have felt messier than I’d like to admit. I’ve had a piece of a broken ceramic bowl in my foot, a mostly mild but sometimes excruciatingly painful attention-getter. My podiatrist tells me to be patient and let my body release the piece naturally. Yet, I’m impatient and complaining about this regular reminder that I’ve got broken pieces within myself to heal and release before moving forward.

What I’m realizing, as I work the healing process that requires patience with pain, is that I’m in the midst of chrysalis, or the gruesome transformation caterpillars undergo to become butterflies.

In the past year, as I’ve announced career changes, moved cross-country, and continue to reflect on and refashion my identity, I’ve been seeing many caterpillars and butterflies and excited to think of myself as “in transformation.” Now that I’m fully in itin the midst of big changes—I’m remembering that caterpillars essentially digest themselves, dissolving their past bodies while creating new ones. They transform into another being that moves so differently, eats so differently, and experiences life so differently that they aren’t recognized as the same being. How much disintegration, discomfort, and dis-ease must be involved in that transformation?

Screenshot of astrologer Chani Nicholas’s Instagram post reading: “Butterflies are horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis. If we focus on the gruesome stages of our growth we’ll never find our wings.”
I have my friend Briana to thank for first alerting me to the gruesome chrysalis process when I was recovering from a concussion earlier this year. More recently, astrologer Chani Nicholas posted about how butterflies are “horrific creatures when you catch them mid-metamorphosis”—just the reminder I need to be patient with myself.

So, what does chrysalis (this time of mess, mess, and more mess) look like for me?

More days that I’d like to admit …

  • I’m spending many hours in one place, curled on the couch.
  • I’m eating irregularly.
  • I’m waking from vivid and sometimes-scary dreams.
  • I’m crying often and at unexpected times.
  • I’m all over the place, teeter-tottering as I walk, carefully balancing on my injured foot, and yet feeling completely off balance.
  • I’m creating art and climbing and falling and calling friends and seeing a counselor and writing, writing, writing—all toward processing big changes and even bigger legacies of personal, family, and social trauma and wrongdoing and lingering hurts.

I don’t know yet who I’ll be when I emerge from the messy and often-painful chrysalis, but here are two embodied experiences from inside it:

Experience #1: On a day of bingeing sugar and TV, I find myself pulled into a documentary on hooking up via dating apps, which highlights rape culture, sexual violence, and the ways in which systemic racism and intersectional oppression manifest in technological innovation and intimate relations alike. It’s not until a headache gets me to turn off the TV that I recognize that my body is incredibly tense. I’m physically holding onto, remembering, and witnessing anew this violence. I need to hold myself, quiet my mind, and notice my body’s wisdom before I can process my own experiences and reactions to what’s surely shared (collective) tension.

Because I can’t look at another screen when my head is pounding, I walk around the block and meet a postal worker who acts with such gentle kindness that I find myself crying. In the exchange of mailing a package, I feel energetically how the person before me holds hope and good will in the words, “Have a bless day.” I’m lifted by human connection, and I’m blabbering about the beauty of this brief loving interaction, as I’m still releasing through tears the heartache of how much we, as humans, hurt one another.

Experience #2: I find myself fidgeting and biting my cuticles as I struggle to find words to write about complicity within systemic violence. I’m remembering several recently painful interactions in which I see myself contributing to harm (scenes for another blog post), and I’m turning that harm inward while writing. It’s not until I draw blood that I realize that I’m literally making myself bleed from my fingers—the instruments of writing expression.

Again, my body offers such a clear message about the relationship between personal (internal, self) and collective (systemic, shared) harm. My counselor uses language that’s familiar to me after years of writing about the relationship between the micro and macro. She tells me that processing my own lived experiences involves looking at broader family and community dynamics as well as social-cultural-historical conditioning.

What this means is that binge-eating sugar and binge-watching TV, as two examples, aren’t only about my actions. These “bingeing” experiences are also about cultural scripts that make “sweets” and “favorite TV shows” soothing salves for a harsh world. Sweets and shows stand in for or serve as reminders of good memories, loving relationships, special occasions, self-care, and much more. Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix start next episodes before previous ones have finished. The examples go on and on, pointing to the need for personal healing in the context of larger collective healing. For changing personal habits in the context of changing current conditions and cultural scripts.

Within the chrysalis—when experiencing headaches and bleeding fingers—I am lifted by human connection and the possibilities for personal, ancestral, and collective healing. And being lifted, inspired, and guided matters.

Grounding matters, too, which is why I suspect my foot has manifested the consistent, not-easily-forgotten reminder to keep releasing broken pieces. Pieces internalized and unseen. Pieces under the surface and buried deep. Pieces asking to be released if I’m to be transformed.

I suspect I’m not alone in facing the gruesome reality of the chrysalis, as there’s so much work to be done in reckoning with broken-and-brutal injustice and envisioning a more just world. May I brave the chrysalis, readying myself for this work. May we brave the chrysalis together, readying ourselves for transformations to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Welcoming Winter by Looking Within,” “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” and “Today Healing Looks Like …” and Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Beyond Self-Care: How Hiking Invites Self-Work

Time outdoors and along hiking trails is especially important time to me. As I’ve written previously, it’s time to consider the steps involved in making change, including learning to tread alternative paths. It’s time to slow down, notice beauty, and appreciate life, even in the roughest of conditions. It’s also time to do important intrapersonal work toward disrupting biases and internalized inferiority + superiority.

It’s possible to consider activities like hiking purely as self-care. And refueling is important.

More than self-care, however, hiking—and perhaps any meaningful time outdoors, with the self—invites contemplation, which is so greatly needed for more mindful communication, for more emotional resilience, and for more equitable relations. Slowing down to reflect on ourselves, our responsibilities, and our response-abilities is needed regularly.

Photo taken near Sedona, Arizona, showing a green prickly pear cactus in the foreground, red soil and rock, a shrub in dark shadow, and mountain peaks and blue sky in the background.

As recent hiking experiences have reminded me, time outdoors invites contemplation and communion with the self, with other humans, with non-human animals, and with the natural world. It strengthens, for me, the commitment to ecofeminism and the need to intervene into brutally enacted hierarchies (represented as a pyramid pointing upward) that place god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth.

Though not typically articulated in explicit terms, hierarchical belief systems provide justification for so much oppression: not only sexism, ageism, and speciesism, but also racism and other -isms. Such hierarchies justify dehumanization and devaluation of the earth, as the lives and voices of powerful men (those ranked as closest to god) are expected to take priority. Hence, the “mythical norm” is reinforced in multiplying subtle, socialized, and systematized ways.

Triangular visualization of the hierarchy of oppression (motivation for ecofeminism) showing god over men, men over women, women over children, children over animals, and animals over the earth.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to learn from the natural world (along hiking trails) how all life is related, of value, and part of the whole. Though I’m small within the desert landscape, I still take up space, neither shrinking nor puffing up.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to see the historical-cultural-social construction of this and other oppressive hierarchies (e.g., hierarchies that rank people according to race, nationality, and other constructed identities). While I understand how I’m (expected to) function within such hierarchies, I can push back and create other understandings, much as I choose to walk differently.

Rather than seeing this hierarchy as natural, I’m able to see myself as deeply embodied: not only experiencing life in my body but also having a body that carries historical meaning and present privileges. As an embodied woman (white, middle/upper-class, cisgender, adult, able-bodied, U.S.-born woman), I feel the anger flush through my body at sexism I experience and perpetuate. And at the related racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, nationalism, and other sorts of -isms I’m conditioned into, take into my body, inevitably perpetuate, and yet want so desperately to undo.

To put this more simply, hiking helps me dive deeply into systems of oppression that I’m striving to understand and intervene into. It helps me see myself not only as I self-identify, but also as I’m identified and constructed within the collective (within social hierarchies that do injustice to people, animals, and the earth). And it helps me linger over everyday interactions and actions, with time along trails to think and talk and turn over possibilities.

Coming off the trail, I am renewed in commitments to racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice. Contemplation and communion lead me back to these aspirations:

  • Unlearning what’s wrong, no matter how deeply socialized and internalized.
  • Affirming, holding up, sharing out, and amplifying work that helps with envisioning more just futures.
  • Studying and teaching histories that are largely suppressed, yet hanging over us as specters shaping life (e.g., histories of enslavement, genocide, colonization, and forced/blocked immigration in the United States).
  • Learning about, leveraging, and working to deconstruct my socially constructed whiteness (part of white supremacy) toward truer ways of showing up in the world.
  • Bringing joy in the midst of struggle (pure delight in the midst of physical pain) off the trail and into everyday living/striving for justice—holding onto and creating more intense love and possibility.
  • Making more explicit the connections between everyday actions—like eating, moving, and speaking—and structural hierarchies (systems of oppression and injustice) that limit that love and possibility.

As an everyday action, hiking invites intrapersonal self-work that’s so needed alongside interpersonal work-with-others and institutional work-within-institutions. To engage in intrapersonal work is not to turn away from other responsibilities and interventions needed in pursuing justice. It is to do this work more mindfully with attention to one’s own positionality and to what learning and unlearning are needed.

May I continue to engage in self-work through hiking and other means.
May this self-work allow me to show up more fully and fiercely for myself and others.
May I show up ready to work within families, communities, workplaces, and other spaces.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Mantras to Stand TALL for Justice,” “Choosing to Tread Another Path,” and “Do It Scared.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

“Pedagogical Too-Muchness,” Or a Call for Shaking up Schooling

This year I turned 39, and it’s my first in which I won’t be returning to school. I’ve spent my life in academic settings—as a child and adult, as a student and teacher, as a researcher and writer. Many of my friends are teachers, too, so I understand how August brings both angst and anticipation for the upcoming school year.

Recently, I’ve been having conversations with friends about syllabi and course designs. I’ve been reading social media posts about the start of school. And I’ve received emails from several people asking me to share my experience teaching “Writing for Social Justice.”

The combination of these conversations, posts, and emails has reminded me of the importance of rethinking what we know and have typically experienced as education. So much of schooling needs to be shaken up/off, as traditional schooling perpetuates social inequities, damaging discourses, and injustice. What we’re typically conditioned into—conditioned to accept and expect from schooling—does harm by contributing to the status quo. (I’m thinking here of scholarship by bell hooks and Paulo Freire, in Rethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance, and in research journals like Feminist Teacher and Equity & Excellence, among many other sources.)

Given the recognized harms of schooling, August seems like the perfect time to question what we know about teaching and learning.

  • How might we intervene into and rewrite the scripts of schooling?
  • How might we rethink not only curriculum and content but also assignments, assessment, and activities that structure relations in and out school?
  • How might we change our approaches to education, even if/when those changes are considered “too much”?

I raise these questions and share my own attempts at trying to teach differently—perhaps “too much” differently—through a newly published chapter, “Pedagogical Too-Muchness: A Feminist Approach to Community-Based Learning, Multimodal Composition, Social Justice Education, and More.”

As part of the collection Composing Feminist Interventions: Activism, Engagement, Praxis edited by Kristine L. Blair and Lee Nickoson, this chapter describes my approach to “Writing for Social Justice” and situates feminist, critical education as “instead of” rather than “on top of” more traditional approaches.

Throughout the chapter, I share several guiding principles:

1. engage our full selves—not only our minds, but also our bodies, emotions, and spirits;

2. prioritize relations, or put the time and effort into building and sustaining meaningful (and often cross-status) connections among people and organizations;

3. understand power as related to (in)justice so that efforts against sexism and for gender-and-sexuality-justice are linked with other justice-oriented work, since identities and issues are intersectional and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere;

4. cultivate agency so that students and other actors see themselves as having the responsibility to act, as well as the questions and insights to ask who is responsible to act, when, where, why, and how (troubling savior and victim narratives);

5. seek interconnectedness among ways of seeing, thinking, doing, and being in the world so that we work toward coherence across spheres of activity and recognize that our work occurs within complex socio-cultural, historical, and rhetorical systems.
(pages 337-338)

I share this chapter and these principles as part of ongoing conversations about how to do education differently—toward making commitments to justice actionable. My hope is that the more we think of social justice education as the core or center of schooling, the more we shift away from schooling that leads educators to dismiss critical approaches as additional, extra, or “too much” to take on.

Truly, we all—students and teachers alike—need courses that are complex, critical, and transformative. We need educational practices that humanize people and develop relational responsibilities. We need concerted effort to disrupt the status quo, foster commitments to justice, and build agency beyond the classroom.

Though I won’t be returning to the classroom this fall, I’ll be reading, writing, and engaging as someone with much to shake up/off about my own educational history. May we share in this ongoing work and lifelong learning. May this new school year invite new ways of approaching education and learning to take action in this time of urgency.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “What Is Justice?” and others posts on teaching. Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Against the Tyranny of Positivity

On this day of the lunar eclipse in Aquarius, may we allow ourselves to feel.

To feel whatever comes up.
To feel deeply, expansively, expressively.
To feel a fuller range of emotions than we’re typically taught is appropriate or agreeable or allowable to feel.

To grieve for Nia Wilson, for Markeis McGlockton, and for many people whose lives are deemed expendable.
To rage against white supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression.
To push past easy, ready, and first emotions.
To resist “the tyranny of positivity” that limits the ability to name violence, wrongdoing, and injustice.

The question

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what psychologist Susan David calls “the tyranny of positivity,” or the over-valuing of positive emotions to the point of blocking the ability to feel sadness, anger, fear, regret, guilt, and other “negative” emotions. These emotions are needed to reckon with—to remember, resist, redress, reconcile—harms done in the world. Harms done to and also by us.

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity” when a colleague expressed concern about me writing on the trauma of graduate education, cautioning me against being “too negative” and suggesting that “writing needs to stay positive to attract readers.”

I’ve felt this “tyranny of positivity,” too, when responses to my writing on trauma included statements like these:

  • “Career counselors are some of the most positive people you’ll meet.”
  • “If you look for the good in graduate education, then you won’t feel the bad so much.”
  • “It’s better to invest in building one’s career than to linger over the challenges.”
  • “You did a great job with that piece: you kept it positive.”

Certainly I understand the power of “positive thinking” for leveraging potential, and I believe that a focus entirely on the wrong (the critique against) interrupts our ability to envision more just futures (the critique for). I even wrote “When Everything Is Horrible, Try Slowing Down and Noticing”—a piece about noticing beauty in rough conditions—in the same week as writing about trauma. So, truly, I’m trying to learn and live out a both/and approach that invites attention to pain and pleasure.

Yet, what I see happening here and through broader social expectations for positive emotion is a sort of spiritual bypassing tied to white supremacy. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and other interlocking forms of oppression need denial to operate. White supremacy, patriarchy, colonization, and oppression rely on the policing of emotion, the forgetting of and failure to address deep harms that nevertheless live in the body.

Moreover, policing and blocking of emotions limit healing, creative response, and humanity.

Policing and blocking of emotions contribute to the epistemic injustice of being told you don’t even know what you know, and you don’t even feel what you feel, and you don’t even have the right to know and feel what you truly know and feel. And it’s epistemic injustice that undergirds trauma in graduate education and in so many facets of life.

In contrast, it takes the strength of working with trauma, sitting with vulnerability, and feeling what comes up to counter the tyranny of positivity. It takes love, and it takes anger. It takes a much fuller spectrum of emotions that those deemed “respectable” or “civil.”

So, today, when the astrology is inviting us to break down and break through (as eclipses invite “shadow work”), may we allow ourselves to feel.

  • What emotional work is waiting to be done?
  • When and how are denial functioning?
  • What emotions are asking to be acknowledged and named?
  • How can being truer about our emotions allow us to be truer about harms—those done to us and by us?
  • What emotional realness is needed for the long haul toward justice?
  • How do we break from the tyranny of positivity?


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice,” and “Naming Trauma as Trauma.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

The Pain and Pleasure of Moving

My cross-country move from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Washington, D.C. has stretched over weeks turned into months. From traveling to find an apartment to now unpacking boxes, I’ve upturned almost every aspect of life. In the past weeks, I’ve sold my furniture, driven hundreds of miles, lost and found items shipped through Amtrak, lived out of suitcases in a temporary residence, and now moved into the apartment-to-be-home (hopefully for some time to come).

This moving process has offered numerous life lessons. Among them are the importance of qualities like humility and humor and the beauty of loving relations that keep me laughing even when crying.

In the midst of these lessons, I’ve been noticing again the function of both/and thinking for preventing a single story or flat understanding of lived experience. The more I hold onto the framework of “yes … and …,” the more I am able to think creatively beyond the lies of internalized superiority and inferiority. Both/and thinking helps to prevent the traps of either-or, this-or-that, divide-and-conquer, and conquer-to-divide, which enable injustice.

In the case of my move, the traps are too clear: I readily focus on pain without noticing pleasure. Likewise, I share stories of pleasure without noting the pain. Truly, life is richly textured in dialectical tensions (seeming contractions) that, together, get closer to truth. Toward truth-telling, here are some of these tensions I’m recognizing now, while moving:

1. Stuff brings both pain and pleasure.
Despite downsizing significantly in recent years, I’m still amazed by the bulk of my possessions. I’ve found myself complaining: “How can we have this much stuff? I can’t possible carry another box.” Moments later, I’m unpacking and hugging Larry, the teddy bear who accompanied me to summer camp in my youth, and I’m delighted and grateful for keeping at least some impractical stuff. The speed with which I’m complaining and delighting over “stuff” is a sure sign that it’s both: both painful and pleasurable.

A grey teddy bear sits next to a cardboard box, which is full of books.

2. Habits are both hurtful and helpful.
Moving creates the conditions for reviewing routines and patterns of living. While it’s easy to abandon all habits (the good and the bad), it’s also possible to assess which work and which don’t. When something as simple as taking daily vitamins falls away, I’m noticing how my body responds. On the one hand, my belly begins churning, reminding me not to forget the heating pad and probiotics. On the other hand, adding back in vitamins one at a time allows me to figure out which hasn’t been sitting quite right and to create a new nutritional plan.

Similarly, a new neighborhood leads to discovering new foods, activities, relations, and embodied experiences. The move has me asking: Which habits are serving me now, and which are asking to be released? What do I want my days to be like? What habits are (mis)aligned with my commitments?

3. Emotional swings are both flattening and fun.
Dialectic tensions like pain and pleasure, hurting and helping also lead to emotional swings: from downtrodden to upbeat—from falling on the floor in exhaustion to frantically cleaning in bursts of energy. Such emotional swings remind me of the presence of sadness alongside joy, disgust alongside delight, effort alongside excitement. They remind me why emotional literacies help with valuing the full spectrum of emotions, which convey important information.

The move has me experiencing a wide range of emotions and really trying to recognize them as messengers: not blocking any emotions, but asking what each has to teach me. This process, I hope, will funnel back into decisions about which “stuff” and habits to keep and which to release.

As I continue unpacking, I hope these reflections highlight again the value of a both/and approach to life, activism, and more. And if you’re in or near or visiting DC, please know that I’d love to connect and build community, as I make a new home.

View from inside my new apartment of a window seat: two windows are framed with rose-colored curtains, a long grey cushion seat, two decorative pillows with prints of birds, and a green palm tree (indoor plant).


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach,” “In the Midst of Big Changes,” and “5 TED Talks for Developing Emotional Literacies for Racial Justice.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Naming Trauma as Trauma

As part of my research on epistemic injustice, I’ve been thinking about the power of naming: the power of having the linguistic resources to identify, describe, and call out varied experiences, especially experiences of injustice.

Systemic oppression works in a way that denies the ability to name experiences of wrongdoing. When experiences are named, they can be acknowledged and addressed. To me, this is part of the power of the word microaggressions: the word allows for acknowledgement of what too often goes unacknowledged. Similarly, phrases like sexual violence, rape culture, and #metoo do important work in raising awareness, mobilizing response, allowing for healing, and calling attention to what’s typically hidden.

This week Inside Higher Ed published my article on why it’s important to acknowledge and address the trauma of graduate education as part of career conversations:

Screenshot of “The Trauma of Graduate Education,” showing the orange Inside Higher Ed page logo and navigation toolbar at the top followed the title, by-line, and first three paragraphs of the article.

The Trauma of Graduate Education” shares insights from this research on epistemic injustice, relating how graduate writers (participants in my dissertation research from several years ago) described the need for therapy, counseling, and self-help. In interview after interview, I heard writers (many of whom were white women and women of color) describe harms inflicted through graduate school. Moreover, participants’ stories echoed my own experiences with graduate education, which tore down my confidence, contributed to internalized pain, and kicked off a healing process that’s now taking me away from higher education.

In the article, I describe why it’s important to name these experiences as trauma:

“Often conversations with career advisers are similar to those among graduate writers: it is common to share, receive and even exchange stories of trauma while often not naming it as such. An important part of career conversations, therefore, may be recognizing trauma as trauma. There is power in naming experiences: acknowledging and giving language to describe trauma can lead to other actions, such as seeking trauma-informed care or, in Grollman’s words, “rewriting the trauma narrative.” Similarly, it’s important to name microaggressions as microaggressions, epistemic injustice as epistemic injustice and violence as violence. Doing so validates the reality of the experience (essentially saying, yes, this experience really did happen and really is wrong), countering the many invalidations that cumulate into trauma. Further, giving language to experience helps with developing the linguistic resources to understand, process and describe trauma and other injustice.”

My call to name trauma must have struck a chord with readers. On the one hand, I’m experiencing a new round of graduate students (especially white women and folks of color) reaching out and saying, “Yes, me too!” On the other hand, I’m seeing comment after comment (from what I can tell, all by white men) complaining about my “over-sensitivity,” exaggeration, and misuse of the word trauma.

Alongside these various forms of gaslighting (another powerful word for naming injustice) is a familiar rhetorical move of saying that if the experience of graduate education is too traumatic, then folks should just leave. Here again, as in my dissertation research and my own lived experience, I see readers (folks engaged in academia) making the moves that feed into trauma: those of denial, dismissal, and disengagement.

Such interactional moves point to why we need an “unrestrained” definition of trauma. What registers as trauma to one person may not to another, but to deny the experience is to deny the person. Writing off the reality of trauma is linked literally to writing off the people who experience it. Hence, we see the perpetuation of violence—perpetuation of oppression, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and epistemic injustice—within and beyond higher education.

Though this violence is all-too-familiar, I am encouraged again by the power of speaking and writing UP. I am encouraged that together we can build the linguistic resources to name experiences of injustice, and together we can use the act of naming to mobilize.

Today, tomorrow, and going forward, I’m naming trauma as trauma. And I hope you’ll join me in naming experiences of injustice to acknowledge and address them. We’ll need a lot of creativity and visioning to keep building the words for naming what’s intended not to be named. But build together, we must.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “A Love Letter to Students Surviving Sexual Violence,” “A Barrage of Microaggressions,” and “Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach

In the past few days, I’ve seen countless posts detailing “the horrors of this administration,” the latest of which include separating families and imprisoning immigrants. I’ve seen friends describing their embodied physical and emotional pain, including pain from complicity and always too-small actions. I’ve seen friends accounting their own family stories of separation, as the history of state-sponsored violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) is long and unrelenting. I’ve seen trauma and responses via trauma-informed care. I’ve also seen requests for folks to share how they’re showing up, standing TALL, and caring for themselves and their communities at this time.

As I engage in interactions around these posts and similarly experience rage and heartache, I find grounding, inspiration, and re-orientation in what I’ve learned from feminists and womanists of color: that we need not only active resistance but also sustained investment in envisioning and building more just communities. We need both critique against injustice and critique for justice. We need a both/and approach to thinking, organizing, and relating with each other.

At this time, I feel it’s important to emphasize that both/and matters because it’s too easy to fall into the trap of either/or. It’s too easy to focus on a single action or single problem and let it consume all of our energy. It’s too easy to prioritize self-care over other responsibilities or, alternatively, to prioritize others at one’s own expense.

Photo from a crowded protest with a poster in the center reading: "Human Rights are Women's Rights are LGBTQ+ Rights are Native Rights are Black Rights are Latinx Rights are Immigrant Rights are Refugee Rights are Muslim Rights are All Religion Rights are Homeless Rights are Disability Rights are Survivor Rights are Veteran Rights are Elder Rights are Child Rights are Student Rights are American Rights." The poster includes blue and red letters against a white background. Photo credit to Lauren Fitzgerald.
Photo credit and thanks to Lauren Fitzgerald.

Let me explain further through two examples.

Example #1: Toward Dismantling Dehumanizing Systems

Yes, it’s important to make donations and call representatives and learn more and post/tweet/share widely. And it’s not enough to stop there.

The problems are much, much bigger than this moment, than this instantiation of violence.

What more can each of us to do invest in emotional literacies, resilience, and long-term staying power? What more do we each need to learn about transformative justice and alternative ways of organizing ourselves as people? What visioning can get us out of the ongoing violence associated with the nation-state? How we can learn “to survive the apocalypse with grace, rigor, and curiosity” (in the words of Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown in their podcast How to Survive the End of the World)?

Questions such as these call our attention to the need for both small, immediate actions and large-scale, long-term change. We need both direct, imperfect response and expansive, imaginative visioning. Let us not settle for the first without commitment to the second. We must not ignore the immediate nor the long-term.

Example #2: Toward Recognizing Relational Responsibilities

Yes, it’s important to empathize with families torn apart by naming this wrong as wrong. And it’s not enough to see only the most explicit manifestations of violence. 

One of the many lies of living in oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism) is that our imagined families include only those who share blood or those within close physical proximity. This lie allows for separation and division of people. It plays into scarcity logic, which goes like this: there are a limited number of resources, so I better get mine and make sure my people have all they need. So long as my people are protected and provided for, I am safe and good.

This lie undercuts our humanity, and it also mobilizes the conditions that allow for people to be separated and imprisoned.

To repair the larger damage of separation (related to individualism and social stratification), we need to learn again from feminists and womanists of color who study, name, and teach relational literacies. To see ourselves as truly in relation with—as family to all humans—we need to expand our circle of relations. Such work can begin by studying “abuelit@ wisdoms” (Licona and Chávez), “kinship” (e.g., Collins; Richardson), and the Indigenous values of relationality and “all my relations” (e.g., Powell; Riley-Mukavetz). Such work involves seeing one’s “family” (or familial circles) as expanding outward to include more and more relatives.

What work is needed to shift worldviews toward communal kinship and relational responsibilities? What needs to change in order to see ourselves as responsible not just to immediate family groups but to all humans and beings? Are we ready to let go of national and other dividing lines?

Again, these questions call our attention to the both/and. We need both inward-oriented healing and outward-oriented building. We need both self-care and community care. We need to engage in the work of looking both backward (reckoning with the colonial past and present) and forward (imaginatively creating a relational future).

My hope in sharing these examples is that we might use this moment of mobilized political engagement to engage in bigger dreaming and scheming. To move beyond resistance fatigue, we’ll need to leverage both this moment and all the moments to come.

Recently, I shared with my Reiki teacher that I’ve been “burning up” with anger, and we reflected on the contrast of fire as warming versus fire as all-consuming. Instead of allowing the fire to rage out of control (and to burn down the house), how could I tend to my anger (my fire) as I would tend to a fireplace that provides light and warmth?

At least in part, the answer involves ongoing attention. Whereas an either/or approach alternates between a raging fire and burned-out embers, a both/and approach invites continued maintenance and planning: from preparing materials and adding wood to fanning the flame and keeping it alight. May we embrace the both/and approach and keep the fire burning—to brighten our path into the darkness that surrounds us and is still to come.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “What I’ve Learned in the Week Since Charlottesville: Five Lessons for White Folks Who Care about Racism and Racial Justice,” “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!