For months I have been struggling with the feeling of division that seems perpetuated by social media. As it seemed impossible to engage in any type of discussion for the purposes of engaging, debating or enlightening each other, I wondered if perhaps we are doomed to regression as a civilization all because of technology.
Yet it is amazing how from the overwhelming outpouring of self disclosures of abuse and harassment, there seems to have emerged- in my limited self selected social media reality at least- many positive, uplifting and healing conversations that seem to be bridging a gap in some small way.
Recently, a friend posted a question to women to share what we do to protect ourselves or consider our safety and asked men to take this in. While reflecting, I realized that I am often more aggressive or defensive than I would like to be when approached by men I don’t know.
This realization made me sad, for men as well as for myself.
Think of all of the positive opportunities to connect missed or fumbled because of this type of self defense reaction.
This discussion led me to recall this story…..
This past August, I was walking in my neighborhood on a particularly hot day. I saw a man walking in my direction and moved out of the way to give him space. He moved to walk directly in front of me, which in my mind was creepy as all Hell.
I was gearing up to say something defensive to him when he came out with a pick up line that was so over the top it actually disarmed me because it was more ludicrous than threatening.
Although I immediately made it clear to this person, very directly, that I was in no way interested and that he was way out of line, somehow- I don’t recall how- but somehow we ended up having a conversation.
He had just arrived from India two days prior, had never been to this area, knew no one and was looking for friends and places to go. I recommended some places he may find interesting.
He asked if I had voted for Trump.
This led to a very interesting discussion about his perspective, his fears, and the political and social climate into which he had immersed himself for the sake of attending SUNY.
He asked if Albany was safe.
I was about to blow this question off entirely “Of course! You’re a guy! What do you have to worry about?” but I caught myself before the words came out.
(Yes there have been about three times in my life that I have stopped short of saying something incredibly stupid, this was one of them…)
I didn’t know how to answer at first, because it took me a minute to digest the reality that in many ways we were in the same boat, for all of our differences.
I didn’t know how to answer him because experience has shown me that safety is a relative term.
What makes one safe?
Is it a place? Or the people or lack of people in a place? Or the time of day? Or none of these?
I told him he had to be careful. To not take the progressiveness and diversity of this city for granted. That there were no guarantees and that prejudice is being stoked in many places in this country and Albany is no exception.
But I also told him there are great communities here, and allies, and that he would find friends- if he could be more subtle.
Somehow an exchange that began with me wondering if I would need to defend myself, ended with me feeling more concerned for his safety than mine.
I am not implying that people who feel threatened should engage in conversation or linger in situations in which they feel unsafe by any means. Had I felt threatened I certainly wouldn’t have hung around talking about things to do in the Capital District.
But this story reminded me that this young man who was misguided about how to make connections in a new place, was not that much different from myself, we were both posturing. Both of us trying to figure out our safety.