I read this, from Umair Haque, a fascinating writer I have been following recently (he is writing about Twitter in this article):

We have created an abusive society. We have normalized, regularized, and routinized abuse. We are abused at work, by the very rules, norms, and expectations of our jobs, at which we are merely “human resources”, to be utilized, allocated, depleted. We are abused at play, by industries that seek to prey on our innocence and literally “target” our human weaknesses.

Read the full article here.

I read this and I wished I had written it. I thought - yes - how come I haven’t had the courage to say this? That we live in an abusive society. That the abuse is subtle and pervasive. Why have I held back?

An important conversation with a colleague shifted my view. Instead of living in “how come I haven’t had the courage to say this?” as a true statement of me and my lack of courage, she suggested that I listen to the words as if they held meaning. So how come I haven’t had the courage to say this?

Oh. Fear. Lack of legitimacy. How could I name the abuse? But now that what I perceive to be a prominent man has said it I feel that I can echo (or quote) him.

I am not talking about the content (we live in an abusive society) here, important and related as it is. And I am not talking about what I believe to be true (I don’t believe that Umair makes me safe). I am talking about the unconscious relational dynamic that is happening. I am talking about the unconscious beliefs and feelings that drive the formation of my language: how come I haven’t had the courage to say this?

As if naming the abuse was dangerous. As if I knew it was abuse all along but didn’t, couldn’t say anything.

All this took me somewhere important (albeit painful) for myself - I saw the familiarity of it and its importance for me.

It was fruitful to share my thoughts with another person and hear her response. And it was fruitful to listen, really listen, to my words.

Here is my subjective progression:

I read Umair’s words. I feel the truth of the ubiquity of abuse This evokes fear but I don’t feel the fear - it’s underground - too much to take in the moment. Instead I make the safer choice and say quickly to myself: How come you haven’t had the courage to say this? In saying this I deflect the fear into self-critique. My colleague hears the fear in my words “how come you ‘haven’t had the courage to say this?” and points it out. I see the enactment and have the option to sit with the fear and experience myself more directly.

This happens all day everyday in each of us. Our hidden feelings and experiences drive our language. Our unconscious is part of the process of putting together our sentences.

I am writing this and I am a bit sad. I think it is a good kind of sad. More directly in touch with my feelings, less wound up in figuring it all out and slower to evaluate my own “performance”.

This is our productive and healing response to abuse in all its forms. We listen. We hear. We respond. And in so doing we love in places where love has not been before.