Save Yourself the Stress and Keep People at the Center of Their Stories

People responding to structural and systemic designs with personal opinions, or worse, prescriptive "solutions" that do not hold systems accountable, are exhausting. We are trying to design a new world order here. Fix up!

I mean, I get it. It is humbling? frustrating? depressing? to realize that your personal experiences are part of many, many systems designed to move power in the specific ways, and that your personal efforts to subvert those systems is not enough. In the same way that only power moves power, only systems change systems. Our physical bodies, for example, are intricate systems of systems moving other systems to act on behalf of the whole. No one thing happens in isolation.

Similarly, when people use social media platforms to let out their grievances of a seemingly individual interaction, you need to understand that there are systems of power conspiring to deliver that experience to that human, and equally as important, justice for them requires a systemic formation as well as an empathetic one. More specifically, keeping people at the center of their narratives is critical to recognizing intersections of power moving through their lives.

A lot of us fail at the first part: keeping people at the center of their narratives. We are so keen to take their pain and bring it (and them) to our centers when, more often than not, a simple word of endearment is more than enough. I'll explain how this relates to systems of power in a moment, but it is easy (and important!) to keep people at the center of their narratives. Since people are often lamenting lapses of justice, your affirmation of that and a simple, "I'm sorry X happened to you," is enough.

When we take people out of their centers we require them to do the labor of consoling us at our centers. I see it happen when someone is tweeting through it and folx respond with their personal stories. There's nothing wrong with that, but let the person have their centers first! It's important that we let people keep their centers because it's a human thing to do. The systems of power in which we live first and foremost strip humanity from us in order to enact their violence.

These systems count us forgetting and denying other humanities. They require the collective denial of humanity to continue with their inhumane agendas. And we all fall for it when we're not intentional about seeing those structures and the humans they fail. Keeping people at their centers also helps you see yourself as more human. It's hard to see systemic injustice when your physical and communal bodies are the ones being harmed. You are in the moment, often overwhelmed by the human emotions injustice evokes. You want fix it, again, a human thing to do, which is why I think a lot of us unintentionally move people from their centers. We want to regain some control of the narrative.

But the hard and frustrating truth is that the personal is political.

We're a tangle of systems that require a tangle of systemic solutions. No one single person exists as a system of their own. As Staceyann Chin puts it, "All oppression is connected," and so are all solutions. Keeping people at their centers allows you to see how their injustice is connected to yours without necessarily being overwhelmed by the emotions of the story. It allows you to see need for structural solutions while reminding you that we are all humans living on this planet.

I write this about a lot of things, but most recently in response to the many comments on the article about the toxic work culture saying that the CEO should have asked more politely for the employees to work even longer hours. Capitalism drives the most dehumanizing responses to inhumane situations, but because everyone as signed the invisible corporate contract that they're going to work themselves sick for the culture AND EVERYONE WHO DOESN'T IS AN ANOMALY, we allow it to continue.

Keep people at the center of their narratives also saves you a lot of stress because sometimes people be straight on their own bull. It's most likely not about you, beloved. Get free.

Image by Ketut Subiyanto on