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Abandoning the Shield of Perfectionism

[Image description: A dark plum colored square background with a faded graphic of a multicolored hearts in rows across the center. In the upper left is a circular closeup picture of a young adult’s smiling face. Under a blue quote mark image reads the following white text: “I am so grateful for a radically real team who challenged me to recognize the impact of my words and actions as a person with so much privilege, get over my immobilizing perfectionism, and begin moving toward personal transformation. I am learning that the oppressive systems I hope to change must first be radically transformed within myself.” Underneath the picture and quote is blue text reading: “Tabea Meyer, 2017-2018 Facilitator and Social Work Intern” Centered at the bottom of the graphic is gold text reading: “Invest Now in Youth-Led Change! www.buildingbridgesshift.org/donate” To the right of that in the bottom right corner is the Building Bridges logo, a multicolored (green, gold, plum, blue) kaleidoscope circular shape made up of layered quote box shapes with the text “Building Bridges” in blue text across the center.]

by Tabea Meyer

Wearing perfectionism like a self-defeating and conscience-soothing shield, I have found it easier to explore outward than inward for the causes of systemic oppression.  I have unconsciously protected my perceived vulnerable self with excuses that maintain the status quo and perpetuate injustice.  I abdicated responsibility for the trauma I thought others had inflicted on those with marginalized identities for generations, thinking myself somehow above reproach.  How could someone else have been so unjust? What kind of person could have those thoughts or make those policies hurting marginalized groups? I sat in judgment of others, consoling myself with the thought that my intentions were good.  I was committed to being a part of the solution, wasn’t I?

I could deconstruct, analyze, and critique social realities all day.  Always placing responsibility outward, at a safe distance.  But then, I attended a training at Building Bridges that challenged me to turn inward and recognize my role in perpetuating injustice.  Who, me? Perpetuating injustice? Yes.  Suddenly, I found myself in uncharted territory where my perfectionist shield was a symptom of my privileged white identity I needed to abandon.

Sure, I am passionate about social justice.  I want to change oppressive systems in my society.  At the same time, I have always struggled to know what change is most equitable.  I have struggled to know how to engage, and how to catalyze others to do the same.  At facilitator training, the reality set in that it starts with me.  I am slowly and awkwardly fumbling my way along this journey to become more conscious of my daily thoughts, interactions, and beliefs that perpetuate the privilege that raises up those with identities found most desirable while systematically oppressing those whose identities are considered inferior.

Prior to facilitator training I could tell you about this unjust system of oppression all day and never truly face my place in it.  The goal of this six-day training was to familiarize a team of summer intensive facilitators with each other and the program components and skills they would introduce to participants a week later.  The training accomplished so much more. I met beautiful people who challenged me to abandon my unconscious privileged complacency, get over my falsely fragile, immobilizing perfectionism, and begin moving toward personal transformation.

As I maneuvered a new space as a white, cysgender, heterosexual Christian, I was oblivious to the harm I caused these amazing people I was already learning to genuinely care for.  Claiming good intentions could not excuse me of responsibility.  Facing the immensity of my injustice echoing the chorus of centuries of injustice is overwhelming and heartbreaking in a way that inspires me to speak less, listen more, and make space for personal transformation.

At Building Bridges facilitator training, I came face to face with the harm I cause others by ignorantly journeying through life with privilege.  I am learning that the oppressive systems I hope to change must first be radically transformed from within myself.

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