Let me tell you about the time I fought the squirrels for sole ownership of the backyard persimmons.
At first, the persimmons were barely visible–smooth, green orbs perfectly camouflaged in the leaves. Then one day, they ignited in a flame of orange. I noticed them. And so did the squirrels.
One by one, I began to notice holes in each persimmon as the orange brightened into ripeness. In their acrobatic attempts to eat the hanging fruit, the squirrels knocked partially-eaten persimmons to the ground. They were swarmed with ants or rotten in the sun by the time I noticed them.
My annoyance and anxiety grew with each lost persimmon. I mean, they didn’t even enjoy them. They just let them rot in the sun. ‘Entitled,’ I called them. ‘Ungrateful,’ I called them.
I started chasing them out of the tree when I saw them. I pondered buying a fruit tree net. I was starting to care a lot about persimmons.
In my 20s I worked as a peer mentor for young adults aging out of foster care who experienced mental illness. We didn’t acknowledge that they were also navigating the trauma, and the logistical nightmare, of racism, adultism, classism, and ableism, to name a few.
Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.
The job wore us down. We navigated a bureaucratic system of intersecting oppressions that could not care about social workers or their clients. Forms and regulations do not have that capacity.
We went above and beyond for our clients because we did have that capacity. We advocated for them to get funds beyond rent and food support.
One day, my colleague returned to the office and slumped down into his chair. He had gone to triumphantly deliver the money he had fought for and won.
“He didn’t even say thank you…” The anger on his face was overshadowed by the exhaustion slipping down his shoulders.
Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.
I’ve been called entitled and ungrateful in my life. People called me this when I did not reciprocate in the ways they wanted me to. We sometimes call it giving even though we expect something in return.
I was given $20 by a relative once. My only thought was, “well, this doesn’t even help.” I had a long list of necessities I needed to pay for immediately or face consequences.
At that time, I was lost in a labyrinth of trauma and the logistical nightmare of racism, classism, and ableism, to name a few. The tightness in my throat was so dense I felt like I was choking most of the day. I knew I should feel grateful, but I could not think of a single grateful thought.
Worse still, that drop into my ocean of need only served as a reminder of how vast the need was and how unequipped I was to address it. The gift only made me feel sick to my stomach. I do not remember how I responded to the pause that was gently inserted for me to express my gratitude…
Entitled, they called me. Ungrateful, they called me.
I noticed my own entitlement one day while sitting in my car, waiting for the light to turn green. A young man, who looked tired beyond his years, held a sign asking for money. At the time, I prided myself on being someone who had learned some lessons about giving. I felt very advanced.
I gave him $5 and a heartfelt smile. He took it and walked away. As he sat back down on the curb, I noticed an expectation of a thank you that had been hiding behind my gift. More still, I had expected a $5 thank you, not a $1 thank you.
Entitled, I could have called him. Ungrateful, I could have called him. He could have said the same about me.
Entitled. Ungrateful. Desperate. Panicked. Alone. Unseen. Afraid. Overwhelmed. Resilient. Determined. Persistent. Unyielding. Tired.
We all know what it is like to be tired. Especially now, almost two years into this COVID-19 expansion in the game called life.
What a gift it would be to take the burden of our entitlement off those around us. Especially those weighed down by systems of oppression. When I imagine this collective shift of entitlement, I feel weight roll off my shoulders. It feels easier to breathe.
I asked myself why I felt so entitled to the persimmons.
I have lost a lot since the beginning of COVID-19; My health, my housing, my home, my friends, my colleagues, the woman I was dating, and the person I was when I had those things. I am still sad and reeling from the shifts.
Part of me had had enough. I am tired, it said. I cannot feel this anymore, it said.
The refusal to feel my grief feels like a constriction in my body. It gets hard to breathe. Each subsequent loss of a persimmon ignites the feeling of loss that was already there. I tighten and constrict about each new loss to avoid feeling the reservoir of stagnating grief about my losses. I don’t actually care about persimmons, but I have started plotting and chasing squirrels.
Things get off track when I refuse to feel my feelings. I could feel and release the grief, or I could start a war with an unsuspecting population over a resource that suddenly feels desperately important.
I see the dynamic stretch out behind me, across time and human history.
What if my coworker had been willing to see and appreciate himself for how hard he worked for our client? If he needed to be seen a little more, what if he asked us, his coworkers and supervisor, to see it too? We could have celebrated the determination and love we saw in him together. I think we would have been happy to.
I say to myself, “Leanne, I see how much you have lost. I am so sorry that it feels like you have lost everything. I see how hard you worked for so many years to cultivate that life. I know it feels hard to start over. I see that you miss what you had. I see that you are so very tired. What I like about you is that you never give up. And you have learned to rest along the journey, so I know you can do this. I am here whenever you need to talk or feel sad.”
I curl up in the lap of the kind words and snuggle into a calm, grounded feeling. It is nice to be seen when people like what they see. I can give myself the gift of liking what I see in me.
Naturally and easily, I loosen my grip on the persimmons. Naturally and easily, I notice things from the squirrels’ point of view. After seeing things from their point of view, I naturally and easily care about them.
I suddenly feel excited that they get to enjoy a nice meal. Winter is coming. I will still have a grocery store, but their backyard grocery store will close for the winter. There is fresh fruit now, but not for long.
I start leaving apples out by the persimmon tree for the squirrels. I forget to check if there are holes in the persimmons.
If feeling my feelings is all it takes to stop a war, be less judgmental of a young person living on the street, or feel validated instead of unappreciated at work, why don’t I feel them more?
I fear being seen because I am worried people won’t like what they see. They haven’t always. I haven’t always. But when I tell myself the supportive words I want to hear, being seen feels pretty great.
I have the opportunity to be the audience that gives me a standing ovation or the interviewer who is impressed with my responses. I can give myself the experience of being seen and liked.
For a while now, I have been the only slave driver, rapist, and warlord in my life. I relentlessly drove myself to work harder and longer. When I asked for rest, I lashed myself with shame and judgment. I forced my body to do things she did not want to do and told her she should be grateful for the opportunity. I waged war on those around me who accidentally reminded me of the trauma I would not feel.
But this month, by feeling my feelings, I naturally and easily became less entitled. I became less oppressive. I found greater liberation.
I hope you find it too.
Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.
Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me. Learn more here.