Reflecting on Rebellion

When I was young, I saw the rebellion of youth on TV and students in my various college classes and national service programs as being a privilege of the wealthy. At that point, I literally thought I couldn’t afford to rebel. Everyone wore the right t-shirts, joined in on doing the right activities and generally had the same affect towards the world.

By the time I began to feel a sense of rebelliousness in me I was in my mid-twenties. As a teen and young adult, I didn’t rebel at my parents or the structures that I knew growing up. Instead, as a newly married young professional I felt I had to rebel against the middle class socio-economic structure that I was rapidly surrounded by and part of. Struggling and confused, I felt alone and separated from my partner and friends. I was going through an experience my parents and siblings couldn’t relate to, as we’d all chosen different life paths. So I went alone.

I knew if I did it mindlessly my trajectory would inevitably moving towards a life of complacency and ease. When I became aware of that momentum, I rebelled against it. I sought to find work that challenged me and the people who I worked with. I asked my partner to read and listen to the authors and philosophies I was exploring and navigating. I started walking a pathway without signage.

Living this life of rebellion in my own way, you might not recognize what I’m talking about. But for me it rings true. Sometimes I’ve gotten it right, and often I’ve fallen flat on my face. Writing books is an act of rebellion for me. Facilitating these workshops and giving these talks is an act of rebellion for me. Struggling and striving to address injustice for others and working to transform systems of oppression are acts of rebellion for me. But mostly, I’m rebelling against my self.

This lifestyle has cost me a lot at times, including job security, long term relationships and other luxuries. I don’t have the big family and nifty house I’ve always wanted, and my truck is looking more raggedy than ever before. My bills are demanding and sometimes I can’t get the book I wanted.

Throughout my career, I have never felt like I had a choice over how much money I made. I have not had this job offer or that one that forced me to choose a wealthy corporate job over impoverished social work, and I’ve never made a dichotomy out of making money or helping the world. I have always known that since I knew my life’s mission is my livelihood, and I would have to make money doing it. I have never felt qualified or wanted in the world of money making. Instead, I have constantly an awareness that my work is work for the society, the work of working with others in order to make a living. My rebellion from this work happens the days when I come to the place where I don’t want to help others anymore. My rebellion is to stop doing the work and making money on those days.

As time goes on, the rebellious spirit in me has calmed, too. I have grown more quiet and contemplative. My rebelliousness has led me to embrace more of my eccentricities and differences, too, as I inject my goofy humor into personal interactions and professional engagements, or tell more of my own stories in the context of the social change and educational transformation work I do to make a living.

Another major part of my rebelliousness is my unabashed love for my daughter. You may have heard my stories about Hannah before, but I’ll guarantee you she is closer to the heart of my work than ever before. I live in a society that actively supports fathers to disengage from the lives of their daughters, and while I bless everyone around me, many of my people release me from my bond with her too. I rebel every time I engage deeply in her life.

So, reflecting on rebelliousness, I see how I strive to live it rather than talk about it. How are you living today?

This post was inspired by this conversation at PopTech between Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin focused on rebellion.

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