Navigating The Dark Side

Search me O God and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

I recently heard a presentation by Dr. Nancy Jordan about story, pastoral caregiving and "being there" for those suffering grief and loss.  One of the many fine points I gleaned from her presentation was about giving care and creating a "safe space" for the client/patient/other to explore the dark spaces and places in their story.  Sharing about grief, loss and pain is not a pretty, neat process.  Things can get ugly, especially as the memories of hurt and loss are "unshelved" and brought into the present.  So as a loving caregiver, I must be willing to not judge the other or exploit the relationship to lead them somewhere they are not prepared to go.  We are equals in this relationship, and as one who gives care, I must view myself as a fellow traveler invited along for the journey into this intimate and sometimes scary space.  This is a trip, not to satisfy curiosity or take power over another's life, but to listen with empathy and be there as the other privileges me to share their hurts, fears and pains; their sorrows, tears and darkness that may still to this day haunt and burden their lives.

We have to possess a genuine love for all people and a sensitivity to the needs of the other.  We can't literally live in the skin of the other.  But we can at least attempt to walk in their moccasins and ask ourselves, "If I were X, how would this make me feel?"  I feel as though sometimes our Western society and culture is so obsessed with image and the "rightness" of personal narratives that many people are discouraged from sharing the fullness of their stories - the good, the bad and the ugly - for fear of being misunderstood, rejected and yes, abused, grieved and hurt all over again.

Nowhere is this suppression and abuse against persons and their narratives more evident than on social media.  There is much that is good about how social media is used.  But there are also numerous instances where individuals have been very abusive towards those whose narratives didn't fit their chosen ideological framework.  Taking to social media to rail against the family of a young Black man shot and killed by a policeman for walking in the street is violently abusive enough.  But adding insult to injury, masochistic racist trolls post autopsy photos of that dead son and @ his parents and call him a "thug" (the new code word for the n-word).  That is an extreme level of severe personality disorder that makes a human being behave so viciously towards another human being as to throw the pain in their face and intensify their suffering!  Such persons manipulate the powerful platform of social media to skew the power dynamics to suit their perverse desires to bully, abuse and cause harm.

Notwithstanding the abusiveness that occurs in social media, there are also many examples of empathic caregiving and support.  Whole online communities have come together for mutual support and even protection against trolls and online abusers.  They choose to use the powerful platform of social media as an instrument for building one another and whole communities up and not tearing each other down.  Transformative, positive social movements such as #FergusonOctober have been staged and/or supported on Twitter especially (which seems to lend itself more readily to online activism) as networks of people form around a common cause.  I see so much potential for this constructive engagement for bringing people together and giving people a voice on a powerful platform to tell their unheard stories, share their darkest chapters and get access to some semblance of empathic caregiving.               


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