• Lucia Joyce

What Piece Am I?

Today I took part in a very meaningful Zoom discussion titled: 'What Piece Am I?'

It was led by an incredibly mindful and warmhearted moderator who I'm proud to call my friend, Paul Thiemann. Paul sings and dances in musicals and touring productions all over the country, and he is known for playfully weaving spirituality and acceptance into every conversation and basic action. Being with/talking to/thinking about Paul Thiemann is just generally inspiring. His slogan and social media movement is called #STLBTL or "ShareTheLoveBeTheLove", and I can't think of anything more apropos to use to describe him. :)

'What Piece Am I' refers to all of us having a personal role to play in the journey to social change and the slow, messy undoing of systemic oppression. The talk facilitated a safe space to listen and ask questions as we navigate how we can help in this weighty and emotional time, and as we continue to move forward with ever increasing unity.

I stumbled in, 6 minutes late, to an incredibly safe space--notably rare for an online platform these days, as so many are too in denial, too triggered, or too ashamed to engage in conversation around these difficult subjects, conversation that requires listening and vulnerability and admittance of mistakes right out of the gate. But here we were, 26 of us from various branches of Paul's world, showing up simply to listen. Even Tyler Mckenzie, an accomplished Black artist and entrepreneur, admitted that like all of us, he was just scratching the surface of how much there is to learn about his cultural history and community. When you take away the impossible standard of doing something the 'exact right way', you foster a safer learning environment.

I learned a lot in that hour and a half. It was made clear from the start that not one of us is 'the authority' on exactly how to help the movement along, but we all have unique strengths and skillsets to bring, and it starts with being open and willing to work on ourselves. We have our own research to do and our own personal thoughts/emotions/experiences to process before we fire shots on all platforms. This resonated with me deeply, as someone who has never been an expert at really anything, and has found a niche admitting all the things I don't know (daily!) and the things I've come to know through a lot of failure and imperfection.

I learned a little about 'White Fragility': a concept and book by Robin DiAngelo. I was familiar with its precepts via articles and social media dialogues, but I'm now looking forward to reading straight from the source.

I learned that the Black Lives Matter Movement was born out of the need to address racial disparity and police brutality, but that its work encompasses all oppressed groups: everyone from LGBTQIA+ to the disabled. Speaker Amanda Kouri likened the focus on Black Lives to the first candle, and "beyond this one candle, the rest are waiting to be lit". It is the first step in a long line of steps toward something better for all. But the work we're doing now will ideally make the work of extending acceptance and equality to all human beings a more approachable process.

I learned to differentiate between conspiracy theories and targeted bias news sources, (conspiracy theorists blame a traumatic event they can't fully process on an outside force, rather than facing the trauma itself) and how to have a dialogue with someone using a conspiracy theory as an argument (lead with empathy first always, and look for small wins, not giant ones; ask questions without providing the answer; help yourself hear where they're coming from to maybe find common ground). I learned about media bias charts and sites like MediaBiasFactCheck.com, where you can easily run news articles and sources through a database that will fact check and reveal skews/misinformation, run by teams of people encompassing a true spectrum of political views. This makes me feel a little more empowered to fact check, which will eventually help me spread a more unbiased awareness, something I imagine will only become more valuable to me as I continue to learn, and write about what I'm learning.

I learned more about systems of oppression, often compared to a 'hand' with 5 or more 'fingers' or institutions (i.e. education, judiciary, housing, politics, finance, and healthcare) that work together to keep the hand of oppression or segregation in place. I learned (as usual) that I have so much more to learn.

Other simple nuggets of compassionate wisdom:

Remain teachable (encompasses being open to making and admitting mistakes and moving forward imperfectly).

Listen first, reflect second, act third.

Take the learner's path, not the judger's path (Tyler Mckenzie's last pearl of wisdom).

In reading historical textbooks and articles, ask: Whose voice was oppressed to make this voice mainstream?

Honor the work being done, both seen and unseen, within ourselves and others.

The call wrapped with Paul asking everyone to switch to 'gallery view' which shows a live streaming grid of all the Zoom call participants. "Look at all these hearts and faces who showed up today and want to make a difference." Before signing off, Paul addressed our little Zoom squares with his custom grounded kindness: "You are all loved and worthy."

My kind of talk. :)

Feel free to check out the scattered links throughout the article for info on the excellent people involved and other helpful resources. Happy allying!

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