The protective effect of determination, of setting one’s mind with a clear intention and having one’s actions then easily align with that intention, is a powerful and unique force. Determination comforts us and shields us, simultaneously. It emboldens us to make the changes we see are needed to make this world a better place.
The self-help guides of our era strive to detail the steps towards setting these intentions: the resolutions of the new year, the lists of what priority comes next, the self-assessments and measures with grids and spirals and webs of interlocking strengths and skills that you might best utilize in your job, or in your family life. These are workings of privilege- of class privilege, of white privilege, often of male privilege. A comfortable place within which to dream and plan and visualize.
True determination it seems, comes not from ruminating on what might be a nice goal for the future, but from facing adversity. True determination comes when standing up to injustice makes you uncomfortable and might shift the power dynamics in your life, but you take action anyway.
When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.
~ Rosa Parks
When I was a pre-med, working through chemistry classes at the local university after already having graduated from the neighboring college with a self-created movement science degree, I met up with a TA who was outwardly homophobic in the lab setting and who I needed to report to my professor. I wasn’t doing great in the lab class. I wasn’t doing poorly either, but I was intimidated by the TA, who led my section, and I knew there were folks who were more than intimidated, who were downright threatened. I knew that if I was struggling and couldn’t ask questions of clarification, that I wasn’t the only one.
True determination set in the day that his comments became more targeted. I resolved that it was more important to get his behavior noticed and changed in the classroom than it was for me to pass the lab section of that class. Concerned that I might bot be taken seriously and would need to leave for my own peace of mind, I scheduled a meeting with my professor, nervously reported the behavior, was thankfully switched to a different TA (in the same lab slot) and then waited. The next lab class, the offensive TA gathered his group, and me, from the other group, announced that “Someone” had been offended by something he’d said, that he was sorry and that we could then return to our stations.
Not much. Not much at all, but it was a pivotal point in my life in which I recognized my power as a bystander, in which I felt that interrupting an outrageous behavior such as blatant discriminatory talk in a classroom was a possibility and might have a lasting effect. That TA was made to be uncomfortable. He was forced to somehow own his behavior, call himself out for wrongdoing in front of his students and likely had a stern talking to from the professor. Hopefully he did some serious thinking about the effects of his words and the way that he had influence over others in the world.
I love that a quilt is a symbol for protection- that it is both a comfort and a shield. I hope that the quilts I make can be inspirational on the wall, in the hand, on the bed- however folks need to have and hold a bit of comfort and shield against the world, in order to face the world, and thus heal the world. Consider ways in which you are witness to injustice in this world, and ways that you can create positive change. I hope that you find something akin to a quilt on a winter night, that can embolden your actions by supporting you and moving us all forward towards increased tolerance, kindness and justice.