Engaged yet not..my break from Facebook.

It’s been a month since I actively sought to engage with facebook.  A month in which I have been less intense, less distracted and less caught in the complex relationships, in my head anyway, that evolve with friends as a consequence of watching their online engagement around issues.

According to my husband, there is more peace in me.

My personality seeks, strives and yearns for intensity; for intense engagement.  It drives me. Facebook offers multiple ways to feed this.

It also makes me less available in moments.  It creates stress in me when not channeled appropriately.

I have had to ask myself some hard questions this last month.  I am grateful for friends who have navigated this ahead of me.

Do I like who I become as a result of my facebook engagement?

Am I able to separate the way I perceive people responding to issues & comments on facebook from the way I engage with them off facebook?

Does my perception of people result in me making judgements about them? Do I want to engage with people whose interactions on facebook leave me not liking what I am seeing in them – not necessarily only their responses, but also their terms of engagement?

What is my role as advocate, as professional person and as personal person in social media spaces?

Does my family have a responsibility to respond or share our processes around navigating things & issues that impact us or are those sacred spaces that need other questions around them?

There is much that I love about social media and facebook specifically.

I love celebrating with people.  I love the opportunities facebook gives for generosity and engagement.  I love that it does connect me to people who if we are honest, we would lose touch with in the crazy seasons of life we are all in.  I love that we get to offer support in the hard seasons too. I love that some of the people who I engage with regularly IRL – IN REAL LIFE – are people I met through social media.

I appreciate the groups, spaces and posts that challenge me to refine my own thinking and positions on things.

I have realized though that, for me, there is a cost that comes with the above.  The cost being not seeing the underlying anxiety that it was creating for me until it was no longer part of my day to day life.  The cost of the time I spent saving things to read or watch later until that list has exceeded 40 saves and to be honest, I am not sure I am ever going to read or watch them, not while I am working part time and parenting a exuberant joyful 2 year old, while helping and supporting my husband in growing his business.  Not because the topics don’t matter to me, but the previous 3 mentions are significant and matter to me.  If I don’t honour these parts of my world, then all the knowledge gained through those 40 something saves isn’t going to matter very much at all.

I have realized that I spent a huge amount of emotional energy, even if not on facebook itself, in managing my own responses to things.  I have realized I started becoming wary of posting in case it was misinterpreted, or triggering, or deemed too radical or not radical enough or not PC enough or too PC – in which case I had people publicly and privately explain why I was wrong & not always in a honouring, respectful way.  Which led to my own wrestling with how to respond.  Should I respond?  Should I leave it?

Sometimes posts that weren’t aimed at anyone in particular were taken personally by people and while that is not my responsibility, if relationships matter to me, I need to think about how this matters too in terms of impact of what we are saying, regardless of my intent.

I realized that the echo chamber of facebook was exclusionary and that people who were on journeys around some justice issues were encouraged on their journeys of discovery but others were shut down as they explored things.

Some people who were repeatedly asked not to engage in certain ways around certain topics persisted and it all became too much.  Topics regarding adoption, race, justice and regarding whether or not my son was critically ill as consequence of being vaccinated (while we were in hospital with doctors exploring every avenue & being informed that his vaccinations prevented things from being far worse than what they were a year ago).  Too much for me.  Some of my friends thrive in this space. I am not one of them.  An inability to each see our own biases in stories makes online engagement as a catalyst for communication a hotbox for judgement, self-righteousness and mess really.

So for now I am wrestling with the above questions.  Our family is a conspicuous one, formed through adoption, needing to ask questions about race, diversity, raising our children to know who they are, were they come from and how much their own stories are valued, but this is a sacred space which only needs sharing in public spaces when there is an overwhelming conviction that to do so honour’s both my family and the bigger picture.  Else my family’s story ends up being a case study in itself and that’s not what we want.

I stand by public statements already made re: adoption and the racial things we have had to address regarding our language use.  Things like not calling our children ‘monkey’ or using adoption of pets as metaphors. Things like the fact that I am raising a man who is racially different to me which means I need to ensure that we have mirrors, mentors and many moments in which we reflect and normalize what this means for our children in a South African context, so that as they grow, they grow into the fullness of themselves and can stand their ground as South Africans with their own story – the present, the past and their origins.

I am standing down though from sharing too much of our own story in this as we navigate this all. In my personal capacity.

And here the challenge is – how do I share and navigate spaces that are professional spaces for me but have a personal impact to and do this in a way that honours and protects the integrity of both.

For this next season this means, far less active engagement on facebook (twitter and Instagram have been populating my facebook for now); a decision to continue figuring our how facebook serves me, us as a family, rather than me being a slave to serving it.

Over this past month, I have read books, been less tired & tied up, written reflections, gone for long walks, played games and been a lot less irritable about being interrupted when trying to read or follow something on a screen… not that the content wasn’t important but the relationships that are around me are & I need to be honouring those.

I have started dreaming again about reading more than candy floss for my brain and asking questions about professional growth spaces.

I know that often we engage with social media and feel like we have tackled issues.

I am asking myself what tackling those issues mean within my family space. What does it look like to live a life of justice, with Jesus as my teacher, without needing facebook to be a part of it? I still want the issues I have engaged with in the past so publicly addressed and will respond when appropriate, but I am doing this while being Alexa, being a wife and a mother.  While making sure that we keep wrestling with the tension of who and what we have in terms of our privilege without becoming a social justice experiment.  My children need a mother who can mentor and be present with them in lots of areas of life.  They also need to know that not all lives are as privileged as ours.  They are one day going to be the people who wrestle hopefully with other issues – but for now, WE get to hold the tension of both spaces.

So ‘still on a break with “facebook” & checking in every so often.  For now anyway.

What does a freedom fighter look like?

This morning this went through my head after I received a message from a woman that she was furious at people’s attitudes and the stuck narrative that things were better pre-94. That she had “lost it” with someone who wouldn’t respect or listen to another man (of darker colour) doing his job because “it was better before”.

Under apartheid.

You know the days when there was a blanket quota system in place: white, preferably male and um – ja….that was about it.

What kind of freedom are we talking about when we talk about freedom fighters?
– Freedom to vote?
– Freedom to speak our minds?
– Education & health care for all?
– Freedom politically?
– Freedom to be safe?
– Freedom to love who we want to?
– Freedom to worship?
– Freedom to be who we are – male/female/ pink/ purple/ worshipers/ non-worshipers?
– Freedom to know that we matter, that people matter?

I teach a course on contemporary society and all my foreign students (whether from the rest of Africa or elsewhere in the world) comment on the fact that South Africans are obsessed with certain social interactions and dynamics (like race) that aren’t a part of the general narrative in their countries of origin – this doesn’t mean the dynamic isn’t there. It just isn’t as apparent. Day to day, people in different contexts compare what was and what is and question what will be in terms of our contemporary society’s future.

Politically and economically as a broader community we are trying to work out what economic, social and political freedom really means. People like Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyer, political parties and others are all touting what they believe needs to be, needs to happen for us to be free as a nation. Freedom fighters stereotypically are the icons that have been part of revolutions, to see broader social change come about so that we can have discussions about our leaders, about Steve and Julius on the same social media forums without fear of reprisal – other than people disagreeing or deleting you if they disagree with you.

Yet, when I think about this woman, I see a freedom fighter too. Someone who won’t be on coffee table coasters or t-shirts; someone whose name you probably won’t have heard of.

I see a woman who found ways of helping people know that they matter despite a political system that said otherwise.

I see a woman who stood up in front of a community of displaced, formerly homeless people in a refuge in the 80’s where everyone was scared of HIV/AIDS, who shared a cup with someone living with HIV to make the point that HIV wasn’t something you could catch by simply doing life with people – doing lots of other things yes, but not through sharing life things.

I see a woman who was raised and is a part of the cultural grouping associated with the oppressor – the Afrikaaner – who rants and raves and challenges people yearning back to the days of oppression. Not out of a naive space, but out of a bigger picture space of recognisning that things aren’t all great BUT….

I see a woman who has been impacted by crime directly, overseen health care for political prisoners and gangsters, who with her husband, exposed their family to racial reconciliation weekends in coloured communities pre-94 while there was an awareness that this wasn’t the norm amongst most of their peer group.

I see a woman who has watched her husband’s retirement be impacted by the change of management, whose husband exposed things in his place of work that weren’t ethical and was then “moved out” of his place of work and left with a greatly reduced income because of it and who isn’t bitter.

I see a woman in her 60’s still advocating for fair wages, for good conditions, for people to be seen and for justice for all.

I am humbled by this woman.

I am proud to call her mother.

(Today my mom lived for me Micah 6:8… I am forever grateful for the gift of my mom and dad – we are blessed)

Social Justice in my Kitchen…a South African trying to figure things out

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what does “Social Justice” look like when I am not being a social worker or community worker or an educator?

What does it look like in my personal space?

What does it look like in my home and how do I live intentionally into this space with the people immediately in my world?

Recently I had a conversation that felt like a values clash with someone who I know genuinely does value people and yet we clashed horribly on expectations of a house helper. Their philosophy was very much if it is someone’s job to clean then regardless of the dirty “mess” in the kitchen that is what they need to do. My stance was that there is mess and then there is disrespectful mess – things like a difference between leaving food scraps on the stove to be cleaned by the helper the next day vs simply ask her to wash the dinner dishes.

My reaction to this was “clash” was shock knowing this person’s stance on other issues of PEOPLE MATTER – all people. My mom raised me to believe that the unspoken messages we give to people we work with, who work for us and the way we engage with them is as important as the spoken messages, thank you’s and requests.
I spent some time last night thinking, again, what would I think or feel towards people who felt it was okay to leave dirty mess for my mom to clean; what would it be like seeing my mom walk to a taxi rank in the rain, wait for transport in the dark and always seem vulnerable to being pickpocketed or mugged.

This week I had a conversation with a friend (of colour) who should be the head cheer leader for the Eastern Cape – she can’t stop raving about how much she loves her home. I also know that this same person has been mugged & pickpocketed more than once while walking or on taxi routes; I know someone else in this area whose mom was brutally raped and murdered en route home from collecting her pension. We have prayed together, cried together and been angry together about this.

My helper, for that is what she does is help me in so many ways, approached me at the start of winter about changing work hours to avoid standing in the dark – something that I had thought about generically but hadn’t owned, and realised we need to think about this too where we can.

BUT then I come back into my own space and think about it again:in my car, in my home with someone to come and help me manage things better so that I can work on other things, I sit in a place of privilege – my mom isn’t walking to the taxi rank in the dark to clean for another family – and yes, I get its work & employment – but how do I respect and value the work of someone who helps create my home to being the nurturing space I want and experience it to be if I don’t honour the fullness of who she is (a pastor’s wife, a mother, a woman, a carer) and what she does?

This morning the woman who instils a sense of peace in my home whenever she has been here and I had a conversation about what makes her feel valued vs what doesn’t make her feel valued in people’s homes where she works. It was that simple a question – which required digging a little deeper into what type of things “do people do or not do” that make you feel respected? It was clear that there is a line between being a person coming to clean for people as opposed to being the function of picking up dirty tissues and wiping down day old food. It was apparent that respect & value, in this manner was something that wasn’t spoken but was felt and communicated.

Justice and being advocates of justice really does start in the kitchen. Unspoken messages of I respect you and honour the role you play in my home are an important of what justice means. It’s not about bags of old clothes or simply making sure that wages are living wages – it’s about ensuring that people who work in our homes are seen and honoured beyond being the arm that wipes a kitchen counter.

I don’t always get this right at all – and I am aware that this is a journey of growth and understanding and finding ways of communicating regardless of the awkwardness to figure things out – to work out how to negotiate this space. I know that it matters to me to be seen and respected and I want to make sure that people around me know that they are too.