8 Practices for Overcoming Oppression

by | May 9, 2022 | Power Dynamics

As I sit down to write to you this week, I don’t even know where to begin.

Every time I try to get my thoughts together to write something cohesive, practical, or useful about how current events intersect with our personal growth and collective evolution, I’m flooded with overwhelm, despair, and helplessness.

I believe very deeply in the revolutionary power of nonviolence, the healing power of compassion, and the transformative power of love.

Even so, people who are invested in supporting domination systems continue to wield power and increase suffering on our planet.

Systems of oppression dehumanize and traumatize human beings.

Violently imposing our beliefs and preferred strategies (no matter how “good” we think they are) upon other human beings against their will and without their consent is narcissistic and abusive. It simply generates suffering.

I was reminded recently, however, that my personal commitment to the alleviation of suffering on our planet is not shared by all people.

I heard a white Christian woman recently explain why she personally believed in banning all abortions, even when a woman’s life is at stake.

She stated that she believed that any woman having sex outside of marriage deserved to be punished by being forced to have that baby. Furthermore, she wanted the sinful woman to suffer further by placing her child for adoption with a nice, infertile, god-fearing woman who would “raise it right.” When asked about the possibility of the woman dying due to an ectopic pregnancy, for example, her reply was simply, “If God wants to take her home, who are we to intervene?”

While not all people who take an anti-abortion stance share this extreme view, I’m still deeply disturbed by people who derive satisfaction and a false sense of superiority and safety from blaming people for the suffering they experience.

The psychologist in me understands that people feel comfort when they blame the victim, because they desperately want to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Therefore, if a bad thing happened to you, you must be bad. You must have done something wrong.

However, bad things happen to good people all the time, and seeing human suffering as a deserved punishment for being a bad person is dangerous thinking because it blocks empathy and closes people’s hearts to one another.

If we want to live lives based on compassion, nonviolence, and in service to the health or well-being of the human race, we simply cannot continue to show up in ways that oppress, shame, blame, and dominate one another.

We cannot keep investing in systems – internal or external – that promote and legitimize inequity and grandiosity and run on punishment, violence, and control.

So what’s the alternative? What does it look like when we pursue the most nonviolent, compassion-based and nuanced solutions?

  • We take into account the needs and rights of all people affected by a decision, not just one of them.
  • We honor multiple needs at the same time, not simply privileging certain identities and experiences over others.
  • We honor the freedom of all people to choose their own adventure.
  • We acknowledge and protect our personal sovereignty over our own bodies.
  • We support people in opening their hearts to one another as they make the best decisions possible in tragic situations.
  • We offer both the space and capacity for wholeness, including anger, for discomfort, challenge, shock, and, ultimately, for life-affirming change.

Any government legislation that reduces human beings to consumers, voters, livestock, organ donors, second class citizens, or objects to be used and abused by other people is dehumanizing, dangerous, and violent.

This fight for people’s rights to their bodily autonomy (remembering enslaved and sex-trafficked people) is symptomatic of systems of rapacious capitalism and colonialism. When those with power want to exploit and use those with less power to further their personal, political, and economic agendas, we’re all in trouble.

We need to continue to work to dismantle systems of oppression and domination.

How do we do that?

For white people like me, this involves actively unlearning the colonial mentality that those of us raised in white-culture inherited from our own ancestry. For white, heterosexual men, it also means unlearning misogyny and patriarchy. For those with economic stability and wealth, it also means unlearning classism and entitlement.

A world that works for all people recognizes that none of us are free until all of us are free.

When you inhabit a position of privilege, here are a few things to practice:

  1. Work on becoming comfortable with being wrong about something.
  2. Receive constructive criticism with grace and curiosity.
  3. Think about and take in alternative points of view.
  4. Don’t invalidate points of view that don’t represent your personal experience.
  5. Sit with discomfort.
  6. Accept that not every conversation is about winning and losing; seek to understand and connect.
  7. Stop infantilizing people who are different from you.

And when you inhabit a minority position, or an identity with less social power in the current systems, I offer one main practice:

8. Stop turning on each other.

Systems of domination rely on people turning on other disenfranchised people.

Women, stop turning on other women.
Immigrants, stop turning on other immigrant groups.
Whatever racial group you’re in, stop turning on other racial groups.
No matter how much money you make, stop turning on people in a different socioeconomic situation: by turning on each other, we remain distracted from changing the system that perpetuates competitiveness and inequity to begin with.

As long as people with less power are fighting with one another, no one has energy to see through the system and insist on the changes that really matter.

If these kinds of conversations and topics interest you, you might want to sign up for the 12-week deep dive we’re doing in the Full Membership this summer, focused on compassion-based conversations that support us in moving beyond us-versus-them thinking by undoing the internalized domination systems inside of us.

We’ll be moving through helpful frameworks for understanding “where we are” in any given conversation, diving into the inner consciousness work of internalized oppression, and working on practical scripts to use in any dialogue.

What are some ways you work to dismantle systems of oppression?
Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

1 Comment

  1. Suzann Long

    Thank you for applying the very words you are writing by imparting these profound words/ideas to us; as you have been doing for many years. You are right there with Julia Ward Howe inspiring and calling for women to rise up and “make our voices heard.” We all can benefit from your offering and practice these actions with a view to realizing relationships that embody love

    Reply

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