This is a guest post by my friend Cait Gordon, discussing ‘allies’ from her perspective. – Talia.
We’re living in the age of social media, where we flood our timelines and pages with status updates, photos, and videos of practically everything we do. And I mean everything. I saw a guy on a toilet coping with gastro once. He was smiling at least.
Mostly we’re pretty much content to share our lives, and restaurant orders, with friends and strangers. I reckon the cell phone and the selfie stick have triggered the benevolent narcissist—if there can be such a thing—in all of us.
However, science has proven that the world really doesn’t revolve around us. It’s true. Google it. A healthy way to exist on this whirling planet is to create a balance between self-care and caring for others. With this in mind, how do we draw attention to people who need our help and support, without making it about ourselves?
Actually, it’s pretty simple. Just don’t make it about yourself. Seriously.
Ally or supporter?
A couple of good friends of mine cannot stand the word ally, as it’s typically applied to cishet people (cisgender and heterosexual) who profess to be activists for people who are LGBTQIA. Because I have also used the term to describe myself, I wondered why. The answer I received went something like:
“Because allies often make their activism about themselves. See what a good ally I am? Can I have a cookie?”
I confess I was rather put out because I didn’t feel that way at all, and even though I respected my friends, I couldn’t relate to what they meant. Then something happened that opened my eyes. I had joined a Facebook group where I watched events unfold about an issue that should have been led by the LGBTQIA members. (The cishet peeps were there to listen and support.) In what felt like lightning speed to me, the timeline of the group was interrupted for a commercial by “allies” who needed to toot their own horn. Something similar to, “Let’s take a few minutes to congratulate ourselves for being such good allies,” was posted by a cishet person.
I was stunned and turned off. Actually, I sort of felt like I was hit in the face with a frying pan, like in cartoons. I finally understood the viewpoint of my queer-identifying friends and decided right then and there not to use the term ally any longer. Instead, I vowed to offer my support by, well, being supportive. My goal would be to make sure I have on my listening ears, and to follow instead of lead.
What should be our reward?
When we do good deeds, I believe we shouldn’t expect one thing in return. If you think about it, there is a strong difference between
- sharing a post encouraging people to support a cause, and sharing exactly how much you donated to the cause.
- contributing your time to help organisations or individuals in need, and taking 100 selfies of yourself doing the work.
- working deep in the background, and not taking centre stage. (And if you happen to be leading, you can still be humble about it, because you’ll find joy even through the trials and challenges you might face.)
If you can give of yourself and don’t care if anyone is watching, then I believe you’re walking the good path. I’ve seen people in charge of charitable organisations who work mad, even impossible hours, because they want to do their best to help their organisations flourish. Many times I’ve had to hear from other people about all the things the group leaders have done when no one else was looking. And my admiration went up a thousandfold, because of their devotion to the cause and their extreme humility. Now, I know these people are not living for my admiration, but they’ll get it all the same. I am truly impressed by those who don’t need an audience, and who are satisfied by doing the right thing, and that alone.
Please note that you don’t have to be at the helm of an organisation or do grand acts to be of any value. Anything that you can offer, if done so sincerely, is a huge help. Just being there for another human being, even over a cup of coffee, or a well-timed phone call, can result in a world of good for the recipient. Whatever you can contribute, within your capabilities and means, is fantastic.
Social media and the heart
It’s easy to slam social media but I’m not against it. In fact, I love it. Social media can be used quite effectively to broadcast an issue or a group of people who need help and support. I really appreciate those posts, because sometimes that’s the only place I’ll hear of these situations. Social media is merely a tool for communication, and it’s how you use it that shows where your heart lies.
It really does come down to that, though, doesn’t it? Where your heart lies. Are you all about you, or others? Do you sincerely want to help, or do you just want people to think you’re awesome? Do you absolutely need tons of admiration? These are important questions that I, too, have to ask myself.
So, no cookie? Really?
I hope that we all discover what it means to give, support, and help others, without expecting that cookie. And that’s really hard for me to write as a metaphor because I love eating desserts. However, it’s true that we should not feel we deserve that cookie. We might never even receive a thank you, and even though it would be hard not to hear any gratitude, it’s really good for the soul not to make it about ourselves.
So, if you’re a cishet person reading this, I encourage you not to be an ally. Just be a decent human being. That’s far more valuable.
Cait Gordon is a Canadian author who lives in the National Capital Region, in the suburb of Narnia. Her book, Life in the ‘Cosm, is a comedy sci-fi teeming with desserts, but in real-life she doesn’t want to be an ally who lives for cookies. She’d rather be kind to people and then eat cupcakes.