More and more I feel concerned about the convergence of the current crises: the climate crisis, the coronavirus crisis, the racism crisis and the looming economic crisis. It’s hard to know where to turn, let alone what positive next steps to take. Lately, when people have asked me how I am doing, I say I feel wary.

Wary was the word that came to my mind when I first ventured into a grocery store after weeks of self-isolating. I felt wary. And I felt everyone looked wary, partly because of our masks, but even more because of our tentative behaviour. Were we standing too close? Moving in the wrong direction? Could we get through our shopping quickly, avoiding any unnecessary contact?

The word wary, according to my etymological dictionary, has as its origin Old High German war, whence “attention, to take note, pay heed, perceive.” It’s not a bad thing for us at this time to take note and pay heed. To be careful. And, when I look up the word careful, I find that its roots are in Old English carian, cearianwhich has to do with anxiety, grief and concern, with the word careful meaning full of concern and thus applying attention, being painstaking and circumspect.

Given all the crises we’re facing, I think we must all be wary and careful. And, as an old and privileged white woman who has enjoyed a mostly very comfortable life, I feel I must step back. I’d also like to step up, but I really don’t know what that would look like. I was talking about this with a smart young woman today and she said she believed we had to be prepared to give up our privilege and work towards an equitable society. I agreed, but wondered where to begin. She proposed that we need to start by allowing ourselves to feel very uncomfortable with things as they are. 

I remembered that a long time ago somebody said, “The enemy of good is not evil but comfort.” I think it’s true, and I believe that, if we are to survive the climate crisis and the economic crisis, we will have to move towards an equitable world which will mean that we privileged people will have to become a lot more uncomfortable.

We’re starting to become much warier and more careful in reaction to the coronavirus. Perhaps this behaviour will help us deal with the other challenges we’re facing. Being wary makes us pay attention and take heed. When someone in a line-up gestures to let us know we need to move back, it helps us to become aware of boundaries, our own and those of others. And when we pay attention to others, we may experience anxiety and concern about the differences we perceive. We notice the inequities that must be addressed, and we recognize the need to prepare to give up some of our privileges.

The first privilege to renounce could be that of privilege-splaining, the habit of offering all the answers and giving the directions. Doing this may be uncomfortable for those of us who are used to being the talkers.

And being uncomfortable, being quiet, looking and listening, could help. We might begin to see things differently and perceive a bigger picture. 

We might learn to see the whole forest as well as the trees. And then we might just let others tell us what the next steps must be.

2 thoughts on “Wary

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