What it means to “Be CAREful”: A New Perspective

This semester has been a new experience and a challenge for all of us, requiring major adjustments in numerous areas of life. As this year is nearing an end, we can reflect on the ways that this year has impacted all of us, especially in regards to the pandemic. Many of us have experienced trauma, but it’s likely that many of us can say we have grown from the changes and new experiences that this year has brought upon all of us in different ways.

The themes portrayed throughout Octavia Butler’s work all have to do with the act of growing through our learning, and bringing our thoughts and ideas to life in areas where our knowledge can be beneficial in changing the way we see issues in the world around us. There are a number of different types of people that we will meet in our lives in regards to being brought and bound together and we may even find that some of the people change as they encounter more aspects of life including bias, consent, and good faith. Some people will not want to be bound together, or will struggle to get to this point. Sometimes in order to feel comfortable being a part of being brought somewhere and potentially bound together with someone else, one must figure out and be vulnerable to themselves beforehand. Some people will be very open to the thought of being brought and bound together right from the start, but will have to be considerate of others, reminding themselves that not everyone is at their same level of comfort.

Throughout Dawn, disinformation arises through the doubt that exists between the humans and the Oankali. From the very beginning, Lilith has trouble believing that she can feel safe around Jdahya. She asks herself, “Why couldn’t she just accept him? All he seemed to be asking was that she not panic at the sight of him or others like him. Why couldn’t she do that?” It is important to remember that Lilith has gone through a traumatic experience, losing her family and even trying to remember who she is. In response to this, it is hard for her to connect with others and find the will to trust them:

“Oh god. One child, long gone with his father. One son. Gone. If there were an afterworld, what a crowded place it must be now. 

Had she had siblings? That was the word they used. Siblings. 

Two brothers and a sister, probably dead along with the rest of her family. A mother, long dead, a father, probably dead, various aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews … probably dead.”

“Insane question. Could anyone who had lived through the war forget it? A handful of people tried to commit humanicide. They had nearly succeeded. She had, through sheer luck, managed to survive—only to be captured by heaven knew who and imprisoned. She had offered to answer their questions if they let her out of her cubicle. They refused.”

Anyone who has gone through loss like Lilith knows what this feels like. Everyone has a different way of recovering from trauma like this as well as a different amount of time to recover, if they ever fully do at all. The trauma that Lilith experiences affects all of her interactions with the Oankali as they are split into the groups of males, females, and the Ooloi. What we can learn from Lilith is that we must be careful about how we interact with anyone, as we might know their story or we might not. Even then, we may not fully understand how one feels. It’s easy to make presumptions, but the more open-minded we go into a situation, the better our attitudes will be towards others and the way they act or things they share with us that we might not expect. No one can get inside another’s head to experience every thought and feeling that they have had and felt.

Eventually, Lilith comes to trust Jdahya as he is straightforward with Lilith and answers her many questions the best he can, despite his answers being quite vague much of the time. He also takes in Lilith so that she will become accustomed to living among the Oankali. Eventually, Lilith becomes the one who encourages the other humans to accept the Oankali, despite being more than a human herself. When Jdahya says that the Oankali trade themselves, Lilith asks “You mean … each other? Slaves?” Jdahya responds, “No. We’ve never done that.” Lilith asks “What, then?” and Jdahya says “Ourselves.” In relation to the idea of growth within this course, I think that we “trade” the individual experiences we have with each other so that we can learn and grow from them. We each have our own “independent lives” as Butler discusses “positioning movements of independent life” in one of our course epigraphs from Imago. By sharing our own interpretations of the world and people around us, this can bring and bind us together.

When it comes to the idea of good-faith practices, I think it is essential to recognize the importance of keeping an open mind and understand that there is always room for improvement whether it be in life and the way we interact with humanity, or in our writing. Being more open-minded and accepting of the thoughts and values of others can create a more enhanced learning experience, as opposed to immediately shutting down ideas that you may not agree with.

The best way we can reap the full potential that life has to offer is by using good-faith practices that make us vulnerable to reconsidering various points of view that may not match our own and may end up causing us to change our beliefs and values. By making ourselves more vulnerable in this way, we are bound to learn more about others and ourselves through the way we interpret literature, ideally in a respectful, courteous, and open-minded manner. 

An important question to consider that we may find ourselves in often as humans is whether hiding something controversial from someone is showing harm or care. There may not be a definitive answer as our reasoning may depend on the circumstances of a given situation. In Butler’s work, Lilith criticises Nikanj for his lack of understanding of the humans when she says, “‘Better yet, prove to them they’re in a ship as soon as they’re Awakened,’ she said. ‘Illusion doesn’t comfort them for long. It just confuses them, helps them make dangerous mistakes. I had begun to wonder myself where we really were.’” Like Lilith says, this confusion makes the humans feel so helpless and frustrated that they take desperate and even aggressive measures to gain some sense of control. Information spreads quickly and can really end up becoming misinformation, as it is misleading, but not intended to hurt people purposely. However, people can end up getting hurt when things are misunderstood when people jump to conclusions.

Things are happening quicker than we can process and interpret them. Even then, we don’t always know what we can believe when we are hearing so many different things.

We must be careful about the way we choose to interpret the world around us. We can all learn something from this pandemic as the United States was hit with the coronavirus months after it had already grown to affect other countries majorly. Something we can all learn from this experience is that it is important to shy away from the mentality that “it could never happen to me.” It always can, and sometimes it even will as we have learned, unfortunately the hard way this year.

Some thoughts to continue thinkING on:

Through our reading of Butler’s work, we can pick up on the pressing questions she wrestles with over and over. We are all struggling in our own ways. No one person’s battle is more difficult than someone else’s because everything in life is relative. Our country is big, but how big is it compared to the whole world? Our world is big, but how big is it compared to the entire universe?

There will always be ups and downs. What matters is how we choose to go about our interactions with others, whether those are brought together with are going through highs or lows. Then again, we might not even know for sure what a person is going through. No one person can get inside your head to know what you are experiencing and feeling at any given point in time.

It is important to be aware of how our words and actions might affect someone else. One person may see something as an act of care in which another person sees the same action as an act of harm. We can never know for sure, but we can show that we are being careful and intentional with our words and actions by being open to listening to others and trying to understand where they are coming from, even if we can’t fully understand for ourselves. All of these thoughts that we have reflected on whether we knew it at the time or not throughout our readings in this course, are all ideas we can and should take with us as we leave this course and semester behind, and go back out into the world as independent individuals, with the power to choose kindness and understanding over hate and ignorance.

Instead of opening with a quote, I want to end with one that seems to embody what I have learned and reflected on throughout this course and provides me with a sense of closure, though I do intend to continue thinkING on what I have gained from this specific learning experience in ENGL 431-01: Octavia Butler and Social Ties:

“I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” –Octavia Butler, Imago

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