Gabrielle Jackson traveled from her home in Australia to India in search of a good kebab. Immediately, I can relate to a woman who would go a substantial distance for food.
What happened next was unthinkable—running in flip flops to catch up with friends who had boarded a train leaving the platform, she fell onto the tracks and found herself conscious, under the train and watching it pass inches over her head. She survived, with some bumps and bruises, bringing renewed meaning to the word ‘miraculous.’
Gabrielle’s friends were unable to get the train stopped, and frantically disembarked at the next station. A group of women awaited them shouting “your friend is alive!!” and directed them to the next train that would take them back to Gabrielle. Awaiting them at that station was another group of excited women who brought them to the stationmaster’s office, where Gabrielle’s injuries were being treated, as she prepared to go to the hospital.
I love a ‘surviving the odds’ story for the gratifying deposit it makes into my “reasons to hope ” account. I grab Facebook stories of beating the odds with the urgency I would expend on diving face-first for the (good) candy from a birthday party piñata, like a mini-insurance policy should there come a time when I may have to believe in the long shot because it’s all I have.
But what caught my attention about this story was the somewhat mysterious appearance of groups of women, who positioned themselves to help, to be there for Gabrielle and her friends.
As women, we know how to mobilize when another woman, or a family needs us. We cook, pick up kids, schedule drop-off dinners for a month, offer a shoulder, a hand, a tissue. We grieve for one another, celebrate joy, we defend, standing by as witnesses for each other’s stories. We ensure our collective safety by walking in groups. We go to the restaurant bathroom in pairs. It’s what we do.
But there’s another side to what we do, too, one that is not so helpful.
My friend and colleague Fred Miller talks about racism or sexism or homophobia or any type of oppression as a giant boulder rolling, speeding down a hill. When we see it coming, we can choose to get out of its way IF we have the social privilege and power to, and if it’s not aimed directly for us.
This time, at least.
We can speak up against that boulder as it speeds by and that might slow down for a time, but then it speeds back up while we’re all talk and no action.
Or we can CHOOSE to have the courage to jump in front of that boulder with the full on intent of stopping it once and for all. But what happens if I jump in front of that boulder alone? Or if Gabrielle, or me or you or any one of us jumps in front of that boulder without all of us, locked arms, and beside them?
Yes, they get rolled over, or give up, they lose their courage.
We need one another.
But, if we jump in front of that speeding boulder together, and show each other the way forward, the destruction it has already fallen in its path can begin to mend, to heal from the knowledge that we ALL chose courage to make change, to make a difference.
We have, as Women@Work, enormous power to help and encourage, but even more to hurt, to discourage. Every time we say a negative comment about another woman, we tap on that boulder and it gains speed, aimed for the next woman in its path who we cannot even see from our spot higher up on the hill.
A few months ago, at a gathering of a few hundred women, I pledged to speak only kind words about other women. Only kind words. I have done pretty well. Not perfect, but well. I am asking that you join me in this pledge to hold other women up- all the time. I ask you to not tap the boulder of sexism through words about other women that can hurt long beyond the moment they come from our mouths. Join me, please. I believe it will make a difference. It is the least we can do to extend the privilege we have.
If joining Women@Work provides the sense of belonging to a community of women who will speak kindly of one another, who will jump in front of that boulder together- arms inter-locked- then count me in. Because there will be days when I will need your courage and you will need mine- and we will all need each other to stop that speeding boulder once and for all.
And may it be soon, and may it be quick, and may it be that all of our handprints on that boulder, joined together, serve as a reminder that we chose to be there for one another, and it made all the difference.
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.
Join in on the conversation! I always love to hear your stories! @CoreyJamisonLLC