October 17, 2023
I started writing this week’s missive on a plane. I kept editing and writing on planes and in airports until late Sunday night, and then again in my office on Monday. The challenge with which I’m struggling is finding the right words to explain the challenge of finding the right words.
By now many of you have seen my note about the attacks in Israel and Gaza. My decision to say something was not made easily. I wrote it after hearing from colleagues and students, and after a lot of thought and discussion. Not everyone I reached out to thought I should say something. Deciding what to say was even tougher. With the thoughtful input of a number of people hopefully I got it more right than not.
The violence and destruction are being felt by our community. Some of you reading this have friends or family in the region, or may be from there yourselves. The same is true of our faculty, staff, friends and alumni. CNN viewers watch Dana Bash talking to Hadas Gold - both SMPA - helping the world understand the situation. Members of our community are living, reporting on and helping shape the US and world response.
It is also a conflict about which I know alarmingly little. I see the pictures and read the reports - then triple check to make sure they’re not from a video game or another conflict, or are other visual lies. But beyond headlines and conversations I am woefully ignorant.
In the face of complexity, and out of fear that we will accidentally say something wrong, offensive or inappropriate, we are often silent. We want to say something, but since we’re not sure what the exact right thing to say is, we say nothing.
Which brings me to my statement.
I wanted to say what I feel, which is that I hurt for our community. I wanted to say, “this is awful, some of you are in the middle of it and that must be worse than I can imagine, the community is here with you.” What I finally wrote was a bit clunky and every time I read it I want to make edits. But it was something.
In my experience it is better to say something, to express empathy however you can, than to say nothing out of fear you won’t say exactly the right thing. Think before you speak, know your words may not be heard as you intend. But if you want to reach out to say you’re sorry, or are there to support someone, don’t let fear of not being perfect stop you.
That’s why I chose to comment, and how I chose my words. There are better words. Maybe a poem on which I could have drawn, or a perfect phrase I could have coined. But struggling for perfection may be more about me than those I want to reach - maybe I wanted readers to say “that was perfect, of everything everyone said, that was the best.” That feels like the writing equivalent of being sure the barista sees you leave a tip - the right thing to do, but not for entirely generous reasons. In this case, and I think in most cases, the best thing to say is that you hear and that you care.
In this moment, in this crisis, SMPA is here. I am here. Your community is here.