Thursday, December 11, 2014

Actively Reject Complicity: On Radical Compassion

Our chancellor recently sent out a message about injustice, student protests, change, and caring.  One of the parts of the message that touched me the most was the phrase, "we must actively reject complicity." She also stated "we must and will hold one another accountable for instances of ignorance and cruelty."  Hearing these words from positions of power is meaningful. Leaders saying the right things doesn't always mean that things happen, but it does mean something.

Let's talk about actively rejecting complicity.  What does this mean for us in our lives and in our work?  I know I write about this a lot, and it is because it needs to be talked about over and over. So I'm not going to apologize about talking about the same stuff again.

Last week, Erin talked about radical hospitality, about "standing up and meeting the needs of your community" and how that will mean "putting the needs of your users ahead of your own comfort." You need to know, and be a part of, your community to be able to offer this radical kind of hospitality, and they need to know you so that you can build the kind of trust that creates change.  We shouldn't be afraid of taking the steps we need to take to be the kind of libraries we want to be. In fact, doing anything other than more and more meaningful interactions our communities results in increased isolation and obsolescence.

Actively rejecting complicity means, at first, realizing where there is complicity with injustice through what we do or think. Step one is hardly enough (although hard enough), what we need to do to get to an active rejection of complicity is to stand up and negate that complicity, to fight against assumptions, unthinking actions, and against injustice.

I do believe that fear is a huge barrier to actively rejecting complicity, because complicity isn't doing something, it is letting an injust system stand, which doesn't take any effort at all. We can confront that fear by reminding ourselves of the damage we do when we do nothing.

Above all, I think that actively rejecting complicity engages radical compassion and empathy. We need to step outside of ourselves and understand other stories (which is why I shared one of mine), we need to allow for nuance and diversity within all groups. We have to step back from ourselves.

It is so enticing to stand on what professional knowledge we've developed through education and experience. When we are working for change against systematic injustices, that knowledge is only one small part of the solution. It is definitely not the first step: the first step is listening, hearing, understanding. It is stepping back from all you know professionally, all you know personally, everything you know, to try to deeply understand the experiences of another. To understand their needs on their terms. Listen. Hear. Understand.

Stepping back and practicing compassion works on all scales. It helps us provide the best reference service to a student who, in the midst of finals weeks, doesn't need you to teach them how the scanner works, just needs you to scan the thing because one more thing is the last thing. It helps us develop the best instruction programs that are responsive to curricula and student experiences, centered in the life of the researcher instead of being centered in the library. It helps us notice where we fail to meet the needs of minorities in our community and see why that hurts our entire community. It helps us speak authoritatively on issues that are important to us and to our communities. It helps us sit down when we need to sit down and stand up when we need to stand up.

Any practitioner of meditation will tell you that this takes practice. So I encourage you to practice. A practice that is centered around a difficult problem, a difficult solution, and slow moving change also needs support: share your successes, your stories. Let us practice together.

I want us to be leaders. And leadership isn't about us

Work Hard, & Keep Rockin'.

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