The article, “To Hell with Good Intentions” first made its way into my hands in 2013 on a chilly fall day in Sweden. I was a participant at The International Youth Initiative Program (YIP), an altruistic social entrepreneurship training for youth. That afternoon we were in the portion of our week aptly titled, “Internship Preparation.” As part of the curriculum we were to embark on a 6 - week internship to diverse countries around the world. The goal being for us participants to learn from established organizations that were working with local challenges. I remember part of the original allure of YIP was the idea of this internship. From the palpable excitement in the room, I could see that others felt similarly.
Before I continue on, I want to give a little context to who I was as a 22- year - old. Prior to arriving in Sweden I had begun to work with questions around where I had come from, who I was now and who I wanted to become. My deep thirst to understand myself in context to the world had been present ever since I could remember, but I was finally emotionally mature enough to express this curiosity. Even though Occupy Wall Street had taken place far away from my island home of Maui, it had sparked something profound in me, something which until recently had been intangible. I hadn’t grown up in a politically active household and had yet to be politicized, so the Occupy Movement had raised more questions rather than statements as I struggled to gain a footing in the relevancy of this historical moment. Right at this time when I was asking where to go and what to do with my life YIP had come into view. Here was a place I could learn about the world and myself. A place that would accept my half notions of “making a difference” based solely on the fact that I cared. The internship seemed just the thing that might give me an experience capable of putting this feeling of “caring” into action.
It was more than unsettling for me when the organizers of our program handed out a transcribed speech titled “To Hell with Good Intentions”. The speech was given in 1968 to a group of American college students. The author Ivan Illich, an Austrian philosopher, well known for his critical views on contemporary western culture outlined why he is against “Mission-vacations” and “North American do-gooders.” In 6 pages of strong yet concise language, I was forced to wrestle with ideas of progress and my identity that regardless of my brown skin spoke of privilege concerning the “American Way of Life.” Illich’s viewpoint was that one of the “largest exports” of the U.S. is the “idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders.” His appeal is not earnest but instead straight forward and at times haunting. He ends his speech by plainly saying, “I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status, and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.” I underlined that last sentence made aware that I was being called on to have a confronting conversation with myself around values, ideas of identity and most importantly intention. I was also scared. I was having a clear and painful awakening around the popular notion that just because I had time and interest did not necessarily mean I had something to offer.
That was five years ago. Since then there have been opportunities to explore those original questions that this speech asked of me. I have continued to travel, created relationships in new places, worked on projects in different countries and always kept the original copy of this speech tucked away with my important paperwork. I have re-visited it over the years as a personal north star, discussed it with new and old friends and worked at deciphering the many points it touched on. In short, Illich was asking for the halt of travel and experiences made extractive based off of the notion of helping and improving, to stop thinking that we know what it means to live a truly wealthy life. Within the mindset of the well-intentioned savior lives similar constructs of colonization. These are hard truths that are stark contrasts to the idea of what we have been told and shown when we ask what it means to give back, especially when we ask who is really reaping the benefits of our “helping hands.”
I often see remnants of the sentiments of this speech in online posts and long comment threads concerning our fragmented conversations on racial and social justice. A post might start out with “You well-intentioned _____”. These statements cut right to the heart of Illich’s viewpoint, which at times feels paralyzing. In this paralysis I am left with the question, “Is it possible to do no harm in our quest to do good?” In a world where we are being asked to show up every day for our communities, policies, and earth we must also remain diligent in how we show up, asking how the consequences of our actions may ripple out and shift others realities besides our own. Every intention is made personal through the nuance that makes up our lives, but learning to ground our intentions in research, questions and an attitude based on the practice of humility and listening might be our only way forward.
Questions that help to hold me accountable:
This piece was originally written for and published in Loam Magazine's online monthly missive, Loam Love.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free”
I used to think that creating change was as simple as truth telling and speeches and long heart felt nights with new friends who felt just as passionate as I. Caffeine was my fuel and the label of a “good day” was given only when my productivity somehow managed to match my never ending to-do list. My identity and self worth was largely wrapped up in my ability to produce and title myself, from yoga teacher and UN Climate Youth Delegate to climate justice activist and project manager. It felt good to be seen and to impress. Like so many of us, personal value only made sense when others expressed interest or praise. A year ago, all of this abruptly shifted when I found out I was pregnant. I was on a trip, thousands of miles from home, over worked, under slept and attempting to keep a raging cold under control. I was alone staying at a strangers’ house when I looked down into a positive pregnancy test and for the first time in years I felt the gentle peace of quiet sweep throughout my soul. Suddenly the lists didn’t matter, there was nothing left to do, not even cry. Life took on the quality of one- moment- at- a- time, and so I walked myself back to bed, got under the covers, and felt the last echoes of my childhood fall away. I called my boyfriend to share the news and then I went to sleep.
When Kate asked me to be a columnist for Loam’s monthly missives, I thought that I would pick up from this point here in my story. In the last year I have been grown into a mother. My capacity to carry literally increased by 40lbs, and tested by never ending growing pains. I have felt and continue to feel all the feelings, sometimes in just one day. Loneliness, excitement, sorrow, fear, embarrassment, forgotten, love, patience, the list goes on. I have asked if I will ever be me again, and then laughed at the silliness of that question, only to ask it again the next day. I have worried and wondered how change comes about and have been filled with anxiety when I think about the world my son has been born into. Some days all I do is mother and other days I am back at my computer, in meetings discussing the recent UN Climate Change report, and planning a conference on spiritual ecology and education. In short, I am a modern mother who desires political and environmental justice and dreams daily of our collective liberation. My theory of change has always been rooted in the idea that there is more than one way to contribute and that more often than not, those who create lasting change are often quiet and invisible. This has only been reinforced in this last year, when in the exhaustion of pregnancy, I suddenly tuned into the low yet steady hum of people going about their every day lives, without the big trips and big presentations. Resistance and resilience, I have been learning looks so many ways and getting creative within the steadiness of work and home life is its own type of vital contribution towards a healthier world. This is what this column, “Reimagining Activism” is dedicated too. For those who wonder if their actions are too small, for those who hold down a 9-5 and are curious what their place might be in our greater social movements, for those who are questioning the current culture of activist spaces, I write for you. This column is an open letter to our collective struggles and discoveries, an ever shifting dialogue on the subtle ways that change comes about. Shifting culture is made up of the consistent ritual of every day life. Shifting culture takes everyday people, like you and me.
I see you, I recognize you, and I thank you for showing up.
A: We are currently seeking new leadership and we need to see diversity in all sectors so that we can even conceive of new ways of being. Most importantly though, I know that when a child that looks like me, sees me in a space where representation has been scarce, it opens up a possibility for that child to consider who they might be. All of this for me is about raising up our next generations strong.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your IG?
A: My IG is my daily love letter to the resistance movement. I challenge myself to break open what it can mean to live into resistance on a daily basis. Most people cannot live on the road traveling from one rally to the next, nor should they. I want to continue to open people’s hearts to the possibility of practicing resistance through fully embodying ones own life. What happens when more people get interested in making subtle shifts on a daily basis? What happens when we start to define our successes by the food we grow and the relationships we caretake? The news is heavy, the world is heavy, and yet we are more connected than ever. I want people to take away the feeling that they are not alone. That their small acts matter. That collectively we can shift the tide. #representationmatters
Photo: Last summer on Tahltan Territory, standing tall on my ancestor land
To those empowered by recently acquired knowledge of the pervasive corruption, cronyism, and treachery inherent to imperialism, colonialism, racism, manifest destiny, patriarchy, sexism, capitalism, etc. I commend you. Welcome to the movement.
However, the swift reprisal of anyone who may not parrot the popular opinion of the week is a counterproductive measure. Disagreement is healthy. Infighting is not.
Those activists who may have moved through much of the rage-stage do not necessarily become any less wrathful, nor have they ceased sharpening their spears.
Activism takes place on a wide spectrum, upon which an individual may shift throughout life. To expect all allies to share the same opinions & strategies at all times is groupthink. It is also Totalitarian.
In previous years, alternative news was coveted due to its rarity, yet today we are incessantly bombarded with ceaseless data. Due to the age-old marketing strategy of breeding mass outrage in order to garner more views/support/attention/affirmation, many seasoned activists have taken to resisting the distraction-factory by observing longer periods of relative silence. Such silence should not be confused with apathy. Rather, it is strategic.
Outrage fatigue is real and our movement is in the thick of it.
A movement currently hijacked by hatred. Yet fighting hatred with hatred is a zero-sum game. To be clear: anger and hatred are not one in the same.
Anger can be a tool.
Hatred is cumbersome.
Self-defense is a powerful force.
Revenge seeking is blinding.
Our movement has lost this nuance.
Our movement is rewarding groupthink.
Our movement is losing compassion.
Our movement has lost sight of the long-game. Where short term "wins" and stirring up the next great controversy are becoming as addictive as fb likes.
It is a truism that the ends don't justify the means. We must do our best to embody now that which we strive to become in the future. Collectively and personally.
It brings me great concern, because if we lose sight of peace in our attempts to create a more peaceful world, what will remain that is worth fighting for?" - Summer Starr
I've been in an ever expanding conversation with Marissa Correia of ma.medicina and she recorded a portion of it for her Practical Priestess Podcast. Marissa's work with uplifting the feminine is a gift to the world and I am so grateful to be weaving our stories together.
You can listen to the episode at marissacorreia.com.
"In this episode Kailea shares about the times of media/news inundation we find ourselves in and her practice for staying present. How to really be with our hearts and what comes up when we hear these intense stories - and to not just put it down or chalk it up to the world, instead to really feel the impact and let that inform how we respond. We also speak about her growing curriculum, Earth is Ohana & the true meaning of Resistance. Kailea offers the question, “What could it mean for you / how could it feel for you to know your place of origination and to be standing and working from that place?”"
I have not wanted to participate in the collective gathering of energy around the Eclipse and I do not fully know why. I do know that I am tired by the Eclipse posts in my feed and the repetitiveness that they represent. I do know that most days I feel angry and that at night an old type of fear has traveled its way into my bed. Before Charlottesville I was starting to lose my footing, post Charlottesville I can feel within my skin an under current of my old childhood temper. Flashes of red-hot, bursts through my bloodstream, the word ‘”fuck” comes out of my mouth frequently and I feel real hatred when I think of our current Presidents face. It’s the type of hatred that I so openly speak out against and that knowing makes me want to fall into myself and out from our mass channels of conversation. I don’t have something so pretty to contribute at the moment. I don’t have the energy to pick your spirits up. I want to tell you that there is a way forward, but I cannot be your guide.
I have been re-reading a letter I wrote to Adam, my boyfriend about my fear. This was in the month of December, and I had yet to arrive back in the states post our disastrous election results. I had woken up from a dream where I had spoken out at a rally in support of Trump. I said “we have to resist. Do not listen to his lies. Get up off the ground, go home, you do not have to be here.” In the dream I knew that part of doing this would put me and the people that I loved in danger. I could feel that our right to publicly speak out was slowly being taken away.
The night before writing this letter to Adam, I had watched what I would still consider the most impactful piece of media that I had taken in since the election. It was a video of Daryl Davis, the black man who is famous for befriending KKK members. A recent news article on him reads, ‘How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes’. This video back in December was the first time that I ever heard of Daryl Davis and this mans story was a direct confrontation to everything that I had been taught. I was suddenly held accountable to my own ideas of hope and the strong boundaries that encased them. I realized I had never seen a black man standing next to KKK members, not counting a dead body swinging from a tree. I didn’t know this could be a possible reality and it felt as though a strong beam of light was shining down into my face. I felt like a hypocrite, hiding behind my fear of the perceived ‘other’. I quite literally had to raise my arm up and cover my face with my scarf from the friend that was watching this video with me. I felt ashamed as I started speaking out all of my fear. Childhood thoughts surfaced. Men in white robes are the images of my nightmares, I realized that this ingrained fear I have been carrying my whole life led to thoughts like, “These people are not human. These people are demons… these people.” I tell my friend, “I’ve only ever had two friends that were Republican. I have been raised in such an us, them mentality.” My world seems so small against the story of Daryl Davis. I am shaking inside to think about the possibility of really deconstructing these walls that I have been shaped by. I hear the stories of my family told to me at bedtime, about the one time my Indian father encountered a KKK member, how the man spoke hate into his long native hair. I am thoroughly saturated through by my mother’s plea for my safety, “Kailea the rules are different for you because you are brown. If the police stop you, you must comply. Please be safe!” I have been knowingly and unknowingly diligently building up walls of security over the past 26 years. There has always been the feeling to be small in moments of mass fear, to glide under the surface, to be an unnoticed face. This is our family’s way of survival.
I have never let these thoughts move out of my mouth into the air. I have never let them be fully realized and I feel foolish as they burst forward in my babbling. I am not brave. I am a human girl. I harbor prejudice that can be seen through the scarf that I hold over my face. When I finish talking, my friend hugs me and I cry. Suddenly there is space to think the words, “What is possible?” It had never fully occurred to me on such an embodied level that I could meet hate crimes with humanity. The idea of it grates against my insides; I take a breath and call it a night.
That was eight months ago. Eight long months in which we have been watching our government accelerate into its own inevitable collapse, taking a part of our society with it. Eight months of a continuing rise of white supremacists. Eight months of each of our own personal turmoil as we look for shelter in the echo chambers of our feeds. I know just as much as you that there will be no solace there, yet I can’t stop looking for it even as I can feel the sucking of our progressive views becoming smaller and smaller. I am not satisfied by anyone’s anger, least of all mine.
And then Charlottesville happens and it is like watching every one of my childhood nightmares come out of the night. I have been waking up from sleep and shaking Adam’s arm and speaking my fear into the dark while he tries to listen half asleep and tries to comfort while wrapping me in his arms. I lay there still awake unable to shake this feeling in my bones, it feels ancient this type of fear.
I have a personal strict protocol to not move forward fueled by hate, and so instead I have been stalled out. I know this is not what you want to hear. I am still moving, just in place. I put in my hours, check off my to-do’s and when I can, I walk up into the hills where you can hear the dry sounds of summer crack the long grasses in half. I find a bit of fuel in books just like I always have and I think everyday about how to tell the truth about the fact that I feel more and more uncomfortable in the left. How the spaces made to help POC and native people feel ‘safe’ make me furious. I feel I don’t belong anywhere. I am tired of being so careful with my words. I am tired of fitting myself into neatly crafted PC packages. I am yearning to be in conversation with people brave enough to say it wrong, brave enough to say, “I don’t know.” Our lack of exploration leads me nowhere. All of our right-ness is starting to sound very similar to everything that we say we stand against. I am starting to forget what it is we stand for. I miss hearing into the true words of people’s hearts.
Today is the day of the Eclipse. I have not read any of the horoscopes, and the fog of the North Bay blocked out my view of the sun. Instead I went and sat down in my own yard. It was not mystical, it was not deep, it was just me and my tomato plants, my half drunk cup of coffee going cold, the feeling of dry soil against my feet. I placed a prayer down for this emptiness that I feel in the form of a contained circle made of dried bachelor button petals. Dark purple, indigo, light pink, the colors tell the age of each flower, bleached lighter and lighter by days growing under the strength of the sun. Here we are as well, running around in our frantic pain while the sun ticks time, day after day. Putting ourselves to bed in the well-known fears of the past. Asking for something different while we practice all the same motions. Forgetting that we are more alike, than different, forgetting that we are rarely original in our thoughts about the world.
Rumi left us with the well-known lines, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” There are more words though that are part of this particular passage that are less known. They read, “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”
I am putting down my big ideas of making sense of any of this. Instead I am asking for the courage to live into a humble life; a life where there is space to speak my fears and to hear yours too, before we set them down.
The Eclipse is over now.
On Saturday I was filled again and again by watching how other people interacted with our booth. Flowers for homes, flowers for lovers, flowers for a bride, flowers just for the moment. A pause in our policies, a pause in our collective pain. For all of our stumbling and uncertainty, the natural world awaits our return.
Claire Eve Margaux
Earth Is `Ohana
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