By Angela Stockman
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster.” Friedrich Nietzsche
This year, Prospect Magazine named Cornell Professor Kate Manne one of the world’s top fifty thinkers.
And earlier this month, she really made me think.
I had the opportunity to listen to her speak on a late September Saturday afternoon in the company of about five hundred other women at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.
Dr. Manne taught us about misogyny. She helped us understand patriarchy. She gave all of us words for the things that have shaped our lives. I’m not fluent in this language, but I’m getting there. I’ve discovered that as with all new language acquisition, speaking helps.
And I’m hungry for this conversation, because it’s helping me understand so much about the present and the very distant past. My own, specifically. Surprisingly, learning this language is helping me reach a new level of forgiveness--one that I never thought I could.
Understanding the monster can help to ensure we don't become the monster ourselves.
I was five years old the first time that I ran away from home. Ten years later, I tried again. The first time, they thought I was cute. The second time, they thought I was a juvenile delinquent.
And they were right. I was both of those things. Fleetingly.
I was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but as you might imagine, they preferred to manage my behavior rather than exploring that particularly ugly truth. And because it wasn’t welcome in the light, it stayed underground, rotting the roots of our little family. We withered
on the vine.
The truth is that when I was little, someone who was responsible for protecting me--someone I loved very much--used me in ways that no human being of any age should ever be used.
And I never forgot. I never told anyone, either. At least, not until I became a mother myself.
As it turns out, my first two attempts to run away were embarrassing failures, but they taught me a great deal. By the time I tried again, I was older and wiser. Far more disciplined. I’d found role models to look up to by then-mentors who taught me that there were smarter and safer ways to leave. There were more certain paths, they told me. Surer bets. Ways to do it right.
So, I went to college, and I became a teacher, a writer, a speaker, and a business owner.
Turns out the third time was a charm. That was the last time I ran away. It was also how I finally found my home. Well, to say I found it diminishes the hard and hope-filled truth: I built it with my husband with careful intention.
We both love to travel, but our home remains a soft place to land and a steady reminder of what matters most to us in this world: Safety. Truth. Empathy. Generosity. Humility. Responsibility. Forgiveness.
These are the values that I try to uphold. They’re my commitment to those I love. They’re the expectations that I have of others, too. And we are absolutely fumbling and failing our way forward there--every single one of us. We’re imperfect, but we have the very best of intentions.
And this means that we remember that despite our best intentions, our impact matters more.
We’re all getting better at making amends.
When I was a little, someone who was responsible for protecting me--someone I loved very much--used me in ways that no human being of any age should ever be used.
And I understand how this happened, now. I understand why.
I understand what it means to forgive the unforgivable, too.
And thanks to Professor Kate Manne, I’m learning a new language that will serve my own children better. I will teach them the words. I will help them see what is black and white. I’ll help them negotiate the shadows and the shades of gray.
And when it’s necessary, I will help them run away.
Are you a runaway too? I’m very much looking forward to practicing this new language with all of you in November. Stop by.
Angela Stockman is a teacher, an author, and an international literacy consultant who inspires people of all ages to create and share their most important stories. She also supports other K-12 teachers in the development of high quality curricula, assessments, and best instructional practices. She was born and raised in Buffalo, New York where she still resides with her husband, her two daughters, and her rambunctious Labrador retriever, Remy.