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  • Aram Mitchell

wildness, privilege, and accountability

While walking around the cove last week, I passed a woman and her children sitting near the water on a bank of stones. One child, a boy of four or five, held a stone the size of a softball overhead and thrust it down to the ground as I passed by on the other side of the path. Noting the impact of his action he declared to his mother with surprised glee: “I broke a rock!” 

He saw me and I offered a word of affirmation: “You’re strong.” 

With his new found sense of power, coupled with the praise of a witness, he proclaimed, for all those near enough to hear: “I can do anything!”

I don’t make a practice of correcting the children of strangers. I also try not to hold children to the standard of nuance while they’re figuring out the world’s broad strokes. 

Plus, in a literal sense, he wasn’t exactly wrong: As a little white boy, he is living in a world that will let him get away with pretty much anything. But I hope that, before too long, he lands on the experiences and finds the teachers that will show him how to mingle his sense of confidence and power with an even stronger sense of responsibility. 

I hope that he finds paths and practices that will help him to supplement his fierce strength with the insights of tenderness. A better future requires that of him, just as it does all of us who carry the privilege of moving through this world without restraints. A better world requires that we inform our strength of the lived experience of others.

A couple weeks ago I marched with a group of clergy in the protest organized by the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement here in Maine. The leadership I witnessed during those eight hours of protest was a profound manifestation of power informed by wisdom.

I’ve been reflecting on this, on power and privilege and the freedom that I have, as a white man, to move through the world without fear. I was in seminary in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed. I did a lot of waking up then. I’ve done a lot since. And I have much more to do. 

One of the main reasons that I regularly walk on wooded trails and paddle wild streams is because of the insight that I encounter when my body and spirit are free to engage with earthy elements in the raw. I try to pay attention to wildness as a sacred source of wisdom. 

Sometimes wildness is conflated with fundamental ferocity, or confused with unmitigated freedom. Granted, there is a sense of freedom in being wild, a sense that: I can do anything. But wildness, in truth, is something more than a personal experience of being free. There is more balance to it than that. There is more wisdom in it than that.

The more that I pay attention the more it becomes clear: The wisdom of wildness is found in relation. Wildness is the ability to engage with otherness. It is the sense — no, more than a sense — it is the experience of accountability to a relational fabric that wraps us all in its embrace. 

If we stray outside that embrace of accountability; if we use our strength to defend others who stand outside of that embrace; if we fail to use our strength to champion that embrace — there’s no denying that we may still have the strength to break rocks. 

But if we stray outside the embrace of accountability then we have lost the wisdom required to repair worlds.

Friends, we are strong, we are able. We are responsible. Let’s be wild. Let’s do good.

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