a brief commentary on diversity & inclusion in the outdoors

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One of the best trips of my life — my first summit in the Alps climbing with only women — awesome, amazing women, all three of us from different countries, who grew up speaking different languages, with totally different cultural backgrounds, and somehow here we are. 

Posting the below bit of commentary on my blog has me feeling sort of nervous. I desperately want to find a voice that says things that matter, but I have always been exceptionally afraid of conflict, ruffling feathers, being judged. So I tend to hide. I kick myself for not speaking up when I see something that bothers me. I doubt myself when there is something like this on my mind, and I worry that I’m going to say the wrong thing and offend someone unintentionally. I think this is an important step for me in opening myself up to feedback from voices outside of my inner circle. I trust my closest friends and their judgement, but I know there are other voices in this world, and many of them have great value.

I started writing this several times. I deleted quite a bit, but I left in my false starts. Please don’t judge me too harshly; I hope for kindness in all directions.

I’ve been thinking a bit about myself lately, and how I fit into the world, as a whole. I’m going to France again this summer, and I feel like my French is getting worse every time I go to this French-speaking country. To be honest, it terrifies me to be that outsider — the one who doesn’t understand what’s going on around me; the one who looks like a deer in headlights when asked a question. Is this what I worry about?

No.

Start over.

I’ve been thinking a bit about myself lately, and what the reality of my worldview is. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been seeing reality for what it is. I was browsing Instagram earlier and …

Again.

You might look at me, my social media posts, my photographs, my writing here, and think that I’m your stereotypical white woman, reminiscent of traditional outdoor industry advertisements, completely oblivious to the issues of diversity and inclusion in the world around me.

And for a long time, that was true.

Seeing websites like Melanin Base Camp, and social media accounts like @mynameisbam have guided me through an entire spectrum of emotions. I’ve felt frustration, sadness, defensiveness, insult, hope, empathy, sympathy, ignorance, self-doubt, guilt and more. I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to understand my white cisgender privilege and how it shapes the world around me, how it affects people I know (and people I don’t know), and how I sometimes hide from its unintended consequences. I never understood it before — I didn’t even know I needed to try. But I do. It’s really important.

People are speaking out. People who feel marginalized, less-than, offended, ridiculed, attacked, and so on. At the most basic level, simply the fact that people need to speak out, should be alarming, regardless of the words they use. But pay attention, those words are important.

Does it matter if I completely understand what they say? Yes, I think at least a little bit. Do I? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Do I think their voices are important? Absolutely. Sometimes I won’t understand, because I will never have the same experience. But this does not reduce the importance of what they are saying. It doesn’t change the fact that there are people who need to speak up and speak out. It pains me to think that in my ignorance, I’ve contributed to someone’s hurt, someone’s struggle, or someone’s fear. I don’t want to be the stereotype, and I don’t want to sit by idly and say not my problem. We share this world — we share this problem.

Here are some tips on working on this problem: https://www.guidetoallyship.com/

I recognize that I am so fortunate to have people in my life that I can ask questions of — people of different ethnicities, from different countries, and different colors; people who are queer, and have different gender identities. It’s something that I’m so grateful for, and yet, I have a long way to go in being a strong ally to them. Sometimes it isn’t hard to stand next to someone and be their ally, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.

It’s important work and I want to try harder. How can we do better? How can I do better?

The Spark of Friendship

I’ve often felt as if I didn’t have many close friends. When I was younger, I was considerably more reserved, and I would observe more outgoing children experiencing what I viewed as friendships built out of steel; indestructible, heartwarming and always encouraging.  And of course, I was always envious. My family moved many times, and I went to one school for no more than one or two grades at most. I never built any lasting friendships through these many moves, and in fact, it became quite draining to always be “the new kid.” I went to high school with kids who had been friends since they were born, playing together all through grade-school, and bonding through adolescence. I, on the other hand, was an only child; eternally dubbed “the new kid.” I left for college on my own; starting over in a new state with only a few friends to visit on the holidays, eventually fading out of each others’ lives, as the burden of distance became a ghost and we no longer thought of each other much.

I do realize now that you cannot judge a book by it’s cover — the relationships I observed other people having may not have been all sunshine and rainbows, as I had convinced myself they were. However, I do not let that stop be from contemplating my own state of affairs. Why don’t I have more friends? What am I doing wrong? Why does my mind see it this way? Is my perception skewed? 

While I have not often felt that I have had a plethora of BFFs to escort me through life’s Thelma and Louise moments, I have people in my life that I feel eternally bonded to and I do value them immensely. I may struggle, at times, to show it, however, more and more I am learning to nurture these friendships, and to really love the people that add vibrancy to my life. I’m finding out that my expectations — for myself and for others — may not exactly have always been realistic.

The year 2015 was a new beginning for me. Working through the dissolution of my marriage put me in a confused place in life. I lost relationships that I thought were strong, and others grew stronger as I learned to be vulnerable and trust. I was alone in life, starting over – no family, a few friends, truly on my own for the first time in many years. It was (and at times, still is) terrifying.

With my new life came the enormous task of reinventing myself — trying new things, meeting new people, discovering myself.  And of course, with that, came the opportunity to form new friendships. This time I was going to do it right. I was determined not to take people for granted; I wanted to actually have those friendships that I saw the other kids having when I was young.

What I found was that I was trying so desperately to force friendships. I thought the going was tough because of my mental state; that if only I tried harder, I would be close to people. But that’s not how it works. Over time, I met one person, then another, who I instantly clicked with. Others remained casual friendships, and yet others faded away entirely. My eyes began to open to a whole new world of friendship building. It was okay to allow things to unfold organically. It became comfortable for me to finally relax. You can’t force relationships, rather, there is a spark — that moment you realize that you just feel comfortable with someone; trusting them, sharing, being vulnerable without trying so hard; without forcing it.

What a revelation!

A few days ago I was having an emotional discussion with a new friend … and suddenly, without much thought, I asked her if I could call her whenever I needed to talk about this difficult thing. It happened so organically. Was this how friendships were supposed to unfold? Had I been trying too hard this whole time? Had I been doing it wrong?!?! I could hardly believe how comfortable I felt more-or-less asking someone to be my friend — my close friend. And she was happy to reciprocate. What joy! What spark! How good it feels to make a strong connection!

Today, my new, reinvented self, knows that I will have people in my life that I don’t connect with on the deepest level — and that’s okay. It’s okay to still appreciate them and to enjoy their company, and it is certainly not anything to stress over. The right people will find me at the right time, and the most profound relationships will unfold organically without any expectation. That spark will find me when the timing is right, when all is appropriate, when I need it the most. We, as humans, don’t need to force connections with one another, but we must be honest, nurture our own hearts and beings and allow people to flow in and out of our lives, appreciating one another, appreciating each moment.  Appreciating that spark. 

And for each one of you that is connected to me somehow (whether we spend days together at a time, or even if we’ve connected via internet but only once), if I have failed to show it clearly, know that I appreciate every moment of our connection.