Changing Myself Through Changing My View of Others: Running Towards Independent Life

How do you view others? Are you conscious of how you judge the actions of someone you don’t know, especially someone who looks different from you?  I think we would all like to think we view everyone the same, that we don’t discriminate, that we don’t judge others, that we are willing to accept differences.  Before the semester began, I felt secure in my belief that others’ outward appearances couldn’t outweigh the significance of their actions.  But, when I tried to sympathize with the Oankali in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, I arrived at the realization that appearances did matter. They mattered a lot.  They mattered so much that I was unable to acknowledge any potential acts of care on their part. I have learned to come to terms with myself and alter this perspective.  Earlier in the semester, I centered my Goal-Setting Essay on using a growth mindset this semester to be open to change.  In that essay, I wrote, “As the semester continues, I want to emphasize the importance of really getting to know people, beyond just what they look like.”  I set this goal at the start of the semester, not knowing where the final destination would lead me. Now having reached the end, the destination I didn’t know I was working towards revealed itself within the text.  This semester was one of growth and change.  The lens I use to understand others changed through reading Lilith’s Brood, as I realized the importance of focusing on others’ actions and intentions, instead of focusing on outward appearances. 

One way I learned to change the way I viewed others was analyzing the ways characters were brought together throughout the trilogy. Gabe and Akin were brought together, despite their best efforts not to be.  In Dawn, the group of humans didn’t take the time to understand each other or the Oankali. This resulted in many of them dying, or leaving the Oankali to become resistors on Earth. Many of these resistors were not at peace and turned to kidnapping as a source of hope for the future. Gabe is an example of a character who learned how to bind with others eventually, even though he resisted for the longest time. Gabe was extremely distrusting of the Oankali and Lilith for the entirety of Dawn.  In Adulthood Rites, he continues to be wary of the Oankali.  He doesn’t trust Akin.  When first meeting Akin as an infant, Gabe says, “What I want to know, is just how unHuman he is” (Butler 350).  Instead of trying to find common ground, Gabe focuses on how Akin is different, just as he always has done with others.  Gabe is forced to spend a lot of time with Akin.  He is forced to understand that Akin does not have bad intentions.  He is forced to learn that they have a lot more in common that he would like to think.  By the end of their time together, the two are so close that Gabe chooses to perform Shakespeare for him. Gabe has learned how to bind together with an Oankali.  He even saves Akin’s life.  When Gilbert Senn pulls a gun on Akin, Gabe stops him by saying, “If he dies, we all die” (513).  Gabe’s words stopped the killing of Akin. Gabe learned to lower his guard, and actually get to know Akin for who he was, instead of focusing on their differences. The arc of this relationship taught me that others deserve the benefit of the doubt.  If you resist attempts to understand others based on rumors or stereotypes, without making an honest effort to get to know them, you are harming yourself and others by refusing an opportunity for connection and understanding. 

Butler shows us again and again how characters need to be brought together in order to survive, especially those who have different beliefs.  Gabe became binded to Akin due to circumstances out of his control- he would not have chosen to.  It’s worth considering other circumstances of how people are brought together.  In this post-apocalyptic world, there are many different groups of people that feel differently about what the future should look like (sounds familiar-right?). The only way forward, towards finding peace within all groups and finding a solution, is for people to be willing to understand how the other groups are living, make an attempt to understand and reconcile. 

Tino showed me that people can be brought together when one is brave enough to follow their inner voice. Tino leaves behind everything he knows in an effort to get to know those he has been taught to hate.  Even though he risks being outcast from his family, Tino feels he needs to understand how the Oankali are living. He feels like he’s missing something.  Instead of going about his life, dissatisfied, Tino actively chooses to get to know the Oankali, even though he’s fearful.  Tino was nervous to meet Lilith and Akin in the forest for the very first time. He doubts whether Lilith is human and has hesitations toward baby Akin, saying, “I just don’t know what to make of you” (Butler 270). Tino is nervous, but he doesn’t shut them out completely; he’s willing to give them a chance and follows them to their village. Tino is welcomed by the Oankali and is asked to tell his story. The Oankali are desperate to learn more about him and Humans, in general. Akin is slightly nervous about Tino, wondering, “Will he try to steal someone?” (Butler 275) but Dichaan reassures Akin. This initial interaction is key to consider because despite the hesitation on both Akin’s and the Oankali’s side, both parties have a mutual interest in getting to know the other.  They both know the possible risks of being together, but they are willing to put differences aside, and put their desire to get to know each other first. This is incredibly important to understand- the circumstances will likely never provide a situation to get to know someone without any risks or potential for failure. That’s just not plausible, especially if the other person is part of a group you were raised to distrust. But this is when getting to know one another is even more important. 

Throughout Adulthood Rites and extending into Imago, Tino finds a home with the Oankali.  This transition isn’t easy, by any means, and there’s some hiccups along the way.  Tino has a hard time getting comfortable with Nikanj and trusting it to touch his body, “Tino drew back a little in revulsion.  God, the Oankali were ugly creatures. How had Human beings come to tolerate them, so easily” (Butler 292).  Tino changes his mind, little by little, by trusting Lilith and allowing Nikanj to touch him.  Eventually, Tino finds his place in the village tribe.  At the very end of Imago, when the Oankali arrive in a shuttle to help, Jodahs recalls, “The first person I spotted in the small crowd was Tino” (Butler 737).  I thought this moment was immensely significant. Tino has learned and been brought together with the Oankali fully, to the point where he is willing to risk his life to help Jodahs.  Tino finds his new family among the beings he was originally repulsed by, because he was willing to open his mind and let down his guard.  Tino is an example of how even though there may be hesitation to break down your walls and make an effort to get to know someone, it will be worth it. Moving forwards in my life, I will be sure to keep Tino’s arc in mind when I am faced with the opportunity to get to know someone I have heard bad things about. Tino’s journey of learning to understand the Oankali and live happily with them impacted the way I view others, especially those I have preconceived notions about.  If Tino can learn to follow his intuition, even if it means going against everything he had ever been taught, then why can’t I?

Part of the process of changing the lens I use to view others involved coming to terms with the overlap between harm and care. At the beginning of the semester, when we reviewed the etymologies of these two words,  I found it hard to believe that the roots were nearly identical when I thought they were polar opposites.  It was hard for me to realize that despite our best intentions, there is a potential for actions to cause harm in the end due to circumstances out of our control.  Conversely, actions viewed as harmful immediately, sometimes may end up transforming into acts of care. I learned that the relationship between harm and care is never as clear-cut as we would like it to be- for better or for worse.

One example of harm and care blurring is when Nikanj impregnates Lilith without her consent. When I first read this at the end of Dawn, I was outraged. I was still hoping for Lilith to return to Earth and start a new life with other humans, away from the Oankali. I was furious that Nikanj would take it upon itself to make a decision that was not its to make.  I do still believe that this was partly harmful because Lilith did not explicitly agree to being pregnant, as Lilith immediately says in response, “I’m not ready! I’ll never be ready!” (Butler 246).  But I can also see how Nikanj was trying to act with care, as it tells Lilith, “You’re ready now to have Joseph’s child… I mixed a girl to be a companion for you.  You’ve been very lonely” (Butler 246). Nikanj was trying to help Lilith in her loneliness and it wanted to give her a reminder of Joseph. Even though it took time, Lilith finds peace and contentment with having construct children, despite  once saying she would never be ready. Nikanj gave her a push that she was later grateful for, as she tells Jesusa in Imago, “[Nikanj]made me pregnant.  I didn’t think I would ever forgive it for that…I’ve accepted it…There’s closeness here that I didn’t have with the family I was born into or with my husband and son” (Butler 671). This example demonstrates how an act once seen as causing harm, Nikanj acting without Lilith’s consent, changed over time to be seen as an act of care, as Lilith was given family and connection.

Another integral theme to consider when attempting to understand the relationship between harm and care is the influence of disinformation.  This concept is more important than ever to understand in our world today.  It is extremely fitting that Lilith’s Brood contained these urgent themes of harm/care and the role of disinformation in 2020, the year of COVID and political turbulence.  I was able to better understand how harmful disinformation is in our world, by being able to understand how disinformation caused such negative effects in Butler’s world.  

We saw disinformation thrive past the point of no return towards the end of Dawn. The humans were unable to trust anyone and bind together, resulting in extreme harm for all.  The other humans did not believe that they were not on Earth, or even that Lilith was human.  Despite Lilith’s best efforts to convey she was on the human’s side, that she was put in a position she didn’t want to be in, Joseph told her, “Some people aren’t laughing…That new man…didn’t think you were human at all” (Butler 147).  Lilith tried to tell the truth, but those who did not like her position of power spread rumors about her to cause problems. This tactic worked without fail.  By the end of the book, the group of humans had broken into factions, each as scared of the other as they were of the Oankali. 

The humans were unable to bind together because disinformation was swirling; any potential acts of care would have fallen flat due to the lack of trust.  There was so much disinformation about where the Humans were being kept, that it drove the characters to commit the most extreme act of harm.  Kurt killed Joseph because the emotional climate caused him to act in unimaginable ways, as Nikanj explained, “I don’t believe he meant to kill anyone. He was angry and afraid and in pain” (Butler 224).  Kurt’s confusion does not excuse his murder, but, it does shed light on why he may have done it.  When you are in an environment where you have no idea what’s true and what’s not, when you don’t even have a single person you can trust, everyone becomes an enemy.  This is why Kurt felt compelled to kill Joseph. This is why polarization and “fake news” has threatened our democracy and our nation this past year. Disinformation prevents any motivation for care and opens the door for harm wide open.  In every action, in every person, there are elements of harm and care. There is no instance of one and not the other.  Once one comes to terms with this, it becomes possible to have an open-minded perspective and understand one another. 

As I learned how to focus on others’ actions and intentions, instead of their outward appearances, I realized my thoughts, my perspective, who I was as a person was changing along with it.  Looking back, I know that I was not open to change or to be changed when the semester began. I didn’t take the time to see anything from the Oankali’s perspective.  Even though I knew the Oankali saved humankind from going extinct, I still clung to thinking it was the Oankali’s fault. Why? Because it was easier.  Easier than admitting humans were at fault.  If I admitted this, I would have had to admit I was part of the problem.

I didn’t understand what it meant for the Oankali to “trade.” I thought they were choosing to force the humans to stop reproducing naturally, even though this quote (that we discussed in class many times) makes the necessity of this trade very obvious: “We are as committed to the trade as your body is to breathing”  (42).  Even though we discussed that the Oankali don’t actively choose to trade with other species, just as humans don’t choose to breathe, I didn’t like them.  They made me uncomfortable.  I was focusing on their outward appearance, instead of trying to understand them on a deeper level.  This happened slowly, but I began to understand and like the Oankali by the conclusion, without me even being actively aware of it.   

I know that I reached a greater awareness and ability to understand, I know that I changed, because by the end of the novel, I was rooting for the Oankali. I was rooting for Aaor to be restored to his healthiest form and find mates.  I was rooting for Jodahs to mate successfully with Jesusa and Tomás.  I was rooting for the resistor colony to sympathize with the Oankali and join them, instead of turning away from them.  If I read Imago with the perspective I had when I read Dawn for the first time, I can say with certainty I would not have been rooting for the Oankali.  Reflecting on this transformation of thought, I realized I shifted my perspective because I focused on the Oankali’s actions and intentions, instead of their outward appearances. 

The supporting materials used to augment our reading of Lilith’s Brood forced me to come face-to-face with my willingness to change.  I was asked to engage deeply with materials that would challenge what I had been spoon-fed my entire life.  Growing up in a small-town suburb with a predominantly White population, I never had to think about racial issues very much.  In fact, I don’t ever remember having a conversation about racism in school. Reading From Here to Equality forced me to come to terms with concepts that I have had the privilege to be unaware of for my entire life: that white privilege is extremely prevalent, that racism continues to affect society in extremely harmful and pervasive ways, and- the hardest thing to come to terms with- I am part of the problem.  Darity and Mullen break down the issues of racism and discrimination that are unavoidable for Black Americans, in a way that I had never encountered before.  Normally, history books prefer to gloss over racism, to create the facade that discrimination ended when slavery was abolished.  From Here to Equality had such a profound impact on me because it clearly illustrated how the evils of the past have still not been corrected; that Black Americans continue to face obstacles in society because those in power have not stepped up to make the system equitable for everyone. As the authors plainly explain, “The story of America could have been one of inclusive democracy.  But it was not.  At key junctures, when America could have separated slavery from blackness…it hardened those distinctions and intensified the institution” (Darity and Mullen 92).  It might be easier for White people to believe that racism is not real and that societal conditions are the same for everyone, but this is just a blatant lie. 

But even after coming to terms with the reality of racism, there was a part of me that was reluctant to see myself as part of the problem.  I have always thought of myself as someone who treats everyone with kindness.  But, as noted in Jerry Kang’s “Immaculate Perception” TedTalk, Timothy Wilson remarks, “We are strangers to ourselves” (8:15).  I did not actually know myself or where I stood with these issues.  I had thought that because I was not a racist person, there was no way I could be seen as accountable for the racial issues in society.  I didn’t think I held any biases towards people of other races, and I was comfortable with that train of thought.  If I believed that, then I wouldn’t have to reexamine everything I have learned. But, after watching Kang explain that we hold biases we are not even consciously aware of, his statement,“We are the problem” (13:10) resonated strongly with me.  It continues to resonate with me.  I had to be willing to acknowledge that my brain works in ways I am not conscious of. That my brain might jump to assumptions that I don’t decide to make.  I had to really look at myself, realize that I don’t know myself, that I am part of the problem, and come to terms with this.  This wasn’t easy.  This Aha! moment didn’t simply happen in an instant, it spanned the entire semester.  As each piece fell into place, this realization became, slowly but surely, more clear. I have learned to be okay with not knowing exactly who I am.  I have learned that I have to be ever-vigilant of myself and my actions, ready to correct my implicit biases.  I used to think I wasn’t biased toward others.  Then, after reflecting back on my reading of Dawn, I knew that I was fully capable of disliking others simply based on their appearance.  Reflecting on my growth this semester of learning to love the Oankali, I know it is possible to change the way I think about others.  But, it takes time.  It takes effort: honest, real, raw, authentic effort.  I have to be willing to let my walls down and truly see others for who they are, not who I think they are at a first glance.  

Moving forwards, I want to carry this understanding with me. Am I willing to really notice others?  I want to really, truly get to know people without needing to put them in a box based on their appearances.  I am part of the problem, but I have the power to be part of the solution.   Butler’s world has taught me that it is possible to love those who were once our enemy, that true understanding can be reached if we are willing to admit our own faults and biases.  I feel I have grown immensely this semester in how I view others. But, simply acknowledging this growth is not enough.  I am embarking on a journey of independent life, free from the walls of this semester, but I need to carry this journey with me, into every aspect of who I am. I have learned.  It is now time to run.  

Works Cited 

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood: Dawn — Adulthood Rites — Imago. Aspect/Warner Books, 2000.

Darity, William A., and A. Kirsten Mullen. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. The University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 

Kang, Jerry. “Immaculate Perception.” YouTube, 28 Jan. 2014, 

Final Self-Reflective Essay

“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

Something that I found myself having to learn this semester was how to adapt to new and different environments. This pandemic has taken a toll on every individual and has affected everyone differently; it has taken away so much so quickly, which can be a lot for people to handle at times. With everyone experiencing these struggles and stresses, it can absolutely bring and bind people together. I have noticed this binding in my personal life by observing social media and the people around me. I also learned that it is incredibly important to care for yourself and others at a time like this; mental health matters just as much as physical health does. This is something I absolutely struggled with myself, living on a college campus during a pandemic is a big change and something that took a toll on my mental health. I realized that there is still room to grow, despite the changes that had been made to everyday life and learning. My growth through this semester has been different than any others, and after this class is finished I will take what I learned and move forward with that. In Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood, people can be bound forever to the Oankali species. This kind of binding is not so different from binding we may see in our society today; people with similar struggles are brought and bound together and so are the humans and the Oankali. The Oankali version of care is also much different than how humans care for each other and themselves, and that is something I found interesting in today’s circumstances as well. For myself, I learned that growth does not happen unless you do something to encourage it. You must water the seeds that you plant in order to see growth and change; without water a simple seed cannot grow.

I think something that I learned about bringing and binding people together this semester is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is struggling with school work, family issues, and the general gloom of a pandemic. This sort of general struggling to do the best we can when times are the hardest is something I have had to learn how to do and also something I have been able to observe for quite some time now. I think that people with similar struggles and issues are drawn together, and this is a common theme that can be seen in  Butler’s trilogy. I also feel as if another binder is familiarity; such as the humans and Oankali not truly being familiar with one another. The Oankali can physically bind themselves to humans, but they can’t understand what it is like for the humans to be going through the gene trade. The humans, specifically the resistors, find it difficult to even be around the Oankali because of their appearance. The resistors take in Akin simply because he looks more like them than the other Oankali. They “liked him simply because he looked like them”(Butler 385). This familiarity allowed Akin to be trusted and accepted by the resistors. In the beginning of the trilogy, Lilith can’t even bear the sight of Jdahya. When she is first introduced to him “she found herself still unable to take even one more step towards him”(Butler 13). She was repulsed by his “alienness, his difference, his literal unearthliness”(Butler 13). This familiarity is just something that the Oankali simply can’t have with the humans, which stifles their ability to bind together. The struggles that the humans have versus the struggles that the Oankali have in the trilogy also offer nothing to bind them to one another. The Oankali can’t understand why the humans would not want to participate in the gene trade, and the humans can’t understand why the Oankali want it to happen in general. 

When I reflect back on this semester I noticed that since all my friends and I were going through similar struggles, we were all willing to help each other as much as we could. Whether it was for a paper, or we had to pack our bags and move into the quarantine hall, we were all there to support. There was this beautiful mutual understanding that we were all trying to grow and learn despite the circumstances, so we all needed to push each other and help each other a little more than usual. This in itself was growth I think; acts of selflessness during a time when it is so easy to be selfish. It was wonderful to watch this happen and wonderful when I realized I had grown from this as well.

Something that we analyzed this semester was that the basic roots of harm and care were not so different. This was interesting to me and I remember earlier in the semester reading the definition of both words and being surprised that they were incredibly similar. Someone may perceive something that is harmful as caring, and vice versa. This is similar to the Oankali seeing the gene trade as something that will benefit the humans, but the humans wanting absolutely nothing to do with it.  “The only thing they can’t do, it seems, is let us alone. Let us do it in our own way”(95). The humans, specifically the resistors, are incredibly upset when they hear the plans that the Oankali have for the human race, yet the Oankali can’t seem to understand why they would be upset; they believe they are saving the human race and the earth from extinction. Something that I am reminded of when thinking of harm and care is the acts of good faith we talked about earlier in the semester. Practicing good faith sounds easy, but when put into practice it can be difficult. These acts of good faith are important in truly understanding that slight difference between harm and care; it is the act of actively thinking about other people and their well-being. I think that this is especially important right now in today’s climate, students from all over are dealing with their mental health in different ways and it is important to check in with friends and family right now. This pandemic has been particularly straining on everyone’s mental health, so practicing good faith along with care is incredibly important right now.

While working at the elementary school I worked at over the course of this semester, I remember having a particularly bad mental health day. In a professional environment such as this one, it is important to remain calm and not let your emotions get the best of you. This day was particularly difficult for me, and one of my second graders had noticed I was a bit off. Even at their age, they realized I needed a break and asked me to sit and help them finish their craft with them. This act of care was in good faith and was extremely helpful to me this day. They did not judge me, just simply offered me a quick break from the stress of the job. Another necessary component to offering care in good faith is doing it without judgement. The second grader did not question me, they just simply offered me a break without any judgement and in doing so they practiced something that will come in handy for them in the future: good faith.

I think personally I have definitely gone through some changes throughout the semester. I learned a lot about myself and the limits my mind and body have, especially with online schooling and living during a global pandemic. I learned it is okay to take breaks and step back from reality for a second to keep my mental health in check. The changes that the humans went through in the trilogy I feel are similar in ways but also incredibly different. Lilith went through a mental change; in the beginning of the trilogy she refused to work with the Oankali and relentlessly found ways to go around them, but by the end she was having their Oankali mixed children and found herself becoming nurturing and motherly towards these children that she swore she would never have. Another character that went through immense change was Akin. They seem to be in some sort of limbo; not quite belonging with the Oankali and not quite belonging with the humans. He looks more human than a normal Oankali would, so they resent him for this and the humans resent him for looking even remotely Oankali.  “No one came for him. No one would take him home or let him go. He felt both unwanted and wanted too much”(365). Akin was trapped, and he was aching for a change. He soon realized that he wanted to look into his human side more, and decided to spend time on earth to learn and grow from them, “I want to know the human part of myself better”(406). It is here he learned that change is an incredibly important part of his growth as one of the first Oankali-human hybrids. Akin was basically a child at this point, and I think he found this limbo he was stuck in very difficult. I have absolutely felt the same way as him before; lost, alone, and unhappy. But when I was feeling this way, I always knew I had to make a change, much like Akin did.

Realizing I had to make a change for myself this semester was a major part of my growth. I was in a “rut” of sorts mentally, and online classes were not good for my mental health. Something that helped me out of this was that I realized everyone is in the same situation. Students are exhausted and lost in their course work, so realizing that we all are in the same situation helped me come out of my “rut” a little bit each day. I made the most of the situation I was in, and decided that enough was enough and I made the conscious decision to add some water and “grow” myself. Once I did this I noticed that my mental health got increasingly better, and my academic growth followed in suit.

Self-growth is not something that just happens when it happens. It is something that you must work for, nurture, and bring out of yourself. My own self-growth this semester taught me many lessons that I will personally carry on in the rest of endeavors at SUNY Geneseo and throughout my life.

Final Self-Reflective Essay

Throughout this semester, I have had a lot of time to self-reflect. How do I focus on key course concepts and relate them to the real world? What brings and binds people together? How have I developed my habits in thinkING? I think that this is the first course that I have taken that puts strong emphasis on the way that I think. Most classes encourage thought, but not necessarily expand your thinking to a deeper and more meaningful level. In terms of academics, the expansion of my thinking process has led me to question what the author is trying to portray and why it is striking my interes. I have learned that my thinking can expand past the initial thought and be more than just a fleeting moment, not only in academics but also in life. By this I mean that when having a conversation, I should not necessarily blurt out my initial thoughts, but present my side of an argument or topic from a more expanded and meaningful way, while simultaneously understanding someone else’s perspective. My thinking can also expand in regards to absorbing information. Instead of just analyzing the information laid in front of me, I can further my thinking process by deepening my thought process. By this I mean further questioning why the information is important, why it was included and how it can be beneficial to my learning and thought processes. 

This course has taught me quite a bit about the process of bringing and binding people together. Interactions between human beings with similar mindsets usually result in connection, or a binding or thoughts.  When learning about interactions between people and how these interactions bind them together, it has always been presented in a way that it was a primary source, a story from a person about how they connected with people. In Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” podcast is a reflection of her understanding of how people are torn apart by stereotypes. She says “they had become one thing in my mind” (9:18) in respects to creating a media fueled stereotype of a specific ethnicity. This single minded thinking will not allow people to come together, but rather separates us with our differences. I believe that this has broadened my perspective of bringing and binding people together by allowing me to see how thinking with stereotypes in mind will not allow me to truly connect with people beyond my initial thought of them. Another example of a way that this course has taught me more about bringing and binding people together is the discussion post “To The Forums! 2: Good Faith”. This discussion post narrowed down good faith practices to allow for more interactions with people unclouded by judgements or ill intentions. In the discussion, Beth McCoy includes a long list of good faith practices to keep in the back of your mind that allow for healthy interactions as life progresses. “Acknowledge without shame that which you don’t know. Once you do know that you don’t know something, that is when your responsibility to learn kicks in. ” This quote left in the discussion prompt by Beth McCoy has really changed the way that I interact with people, especially in my new college environment. To be able to understand that you do not understand something allows for room to ask questions and learn. This quote helps in regard to bringing and binding people together because if you do not know something about a culture, a sexuality or how someone identifies themselves, it allows room to acknowledge the fact that you are unaware and then learn in order to better your interactions with people. 

The concepts of harm and care have become more clear to me after taking this course. I have obtained a better understanding of how my thoughts and actions can either inflict harm or care based on how I consciously handle a situation. The To the Forums! 7: Disinformation and Harm, Information and Care discussion post in class allowed me to understand the differences between harm and care. The article that was in the discussion post, “5 ways to help stop the ‘infodemic’, the increasing misinformation about the coronavirus” gave great examples of differentiating harm and care. In the many months that this pandemic has taken over, misinformation about health safety and guidelines could be most harmful. This idea of misinformation connects with my real world adaptations of harm and care. If someone is misinformed in the real world, not just relating to the Corona-Virus, it could cause more harm than care. This basic set of rules when it comes to differentiating harm and care has given me the tools to be able to assess myself before an interaction or argument and be able to approach it in an empathetic and productive way in order to avoid creating a harmful situation. It is better to be informed rather than misinformed. In regards to Lilith’s Brood, I believe that harm and care play a large role in the beginning of the novel. With Lilith’s  lack of information regarding the Oankali, it creates a negative image of their people in her mind, because they are entirely strange to her. 

As I continue on into the void that is my college education, I think I have no other choice than to ‘prepare to change and be changed’. The habit of getting prepared to change and be changed is more so how willing I can be when it comes to change, whether or not I will stick my nose up in reluctance or allow for different views, thoughts and opinions to change my mindset. I feel as if in more recent years it is more likely that students across the country attending liberal arts schools are taking classes, much like this one, that address different types of controversial topics that face the world. Taking these types of classes can be incredibly enlightening if you open yourself up to the idea of learning these topics. This class in particular has allowed me to prepare to change and be changed by giving me a better sense of thought, especially when approaching controversial topics. To use empathy rather than react in a negative fashion. I also believe that the key course concepts circulating in this course have also allowed me to prepare to change and be changed. Ultimately, I feel as if it is very much so either sink or swim. Be progressive with thought, or remain close-minded. 

To Learn, You Must Listen: What Brings and Binds People Together?

Over the course of this semester, the idea of changing ourselves has been a constant weight on everyone. In the height of a pandemic we all have had too much time alone, stuck with our own thoughts. What is wrong? Why do I feel this way? What will make it better? However, change is not limited to our individual selves. We change to become more empathetic; to become better students. Outside the classroom, change and continuous learning allow us to be activists and push equality. The idea is to genuinely care about each other’s experiences in order to reflect on them. Genuine care means to listen and empathize with others; to provide productive feedback and relate through understanding. If we do not understand, then we must continue to listen and hear each other out.

  In ENGL431, the push to change in order to grow with our peers has been emphasized immensely. Through our thinkING and reading Octavia Butler, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that change does not come easy. We all theoretically want to change for the better, but obstacles and features of ourselves may prohibit us from quick reactions to new environments. The biggest one I have noticed is the lack of human connection. Gone are the days of going out and seeing strangers, shooting a smile at people or a friendly wave. Now days are filled with silent working and dystopian-esque virtual discussions.  I would not say we have been stuck with constraints in ENGL431 — we have been graced with reminders and motivated by deadlines. We must learn how to push past these difficulties in order to change and become better without the reminders and the caring that is reinforced constantly in class conversations and discussion posts.One needs experiences to reflect on in order to truly grow. To do this, we must not only change ourselves to be more compassionate and empathetic, but we must also listen to the people around us. Our own responsibilities come from how we interact with people and how the individual self must care for others and themselves.

At the beginning of the semester, I remember our very first PadLet post on what it means to bring and bind people together. I can vividly see how eager everyone was to type, to say they knew what the answer was. It is interesting that we all do understand what it means to bring people together, but it feels more divided and distant now than ever before. This goes to show exactly how difficult the growth for ourselves truly is. Octavia Butler’s series compiled in Lilith’s Brood focuses heavily on how connection among one another creates a sense of stability that promotes a positive change through learning and understanding experiences. Let us not forget that change is not always in our benefit — we must create a safe environment that promotes our growth in change, not our downfall. In turn, this will create a positive outlet to learn from others. Dawn, the first novel of the series, begins with Lilith experiencing her third Awakening, alone and confused. Discovering that her consent and compassion have been ripped from her, she feels withdrawn and alone. I can relate to Lilith here — this semester I contracted COVID-19 from my mother. I felt confused, alone, and very similar to how Lilith describes trying to piece together her reality in the opening moments of the novel. These events and experiences can be scary, and can make us want to run and forget. However, we cannot. As we have heavily mentioned in the course, we must rather  “run and learn.” We have to take these experiences in order to listen and talk with others. To share emotions and educate each other and ourselves creates an understanding that promotes change. When these are stripped from us, or we are suddenly seen as different, we lose our ability to change. Once the compassion is gone, there is fear instilled and we become so insulated with ourselves that we lose a sense of individuality.

“His words bit more deeply into her than she let him see. With all the questioning and testing she had gone through, the two and a half years of round-the-clock observation–the Oankali must know her in some ways better than any human being…Of course they knew she had certain practical experiences they considered important”  

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 91-92

Lilith, here, is describing how she has been treated much more like a test patient than an individual here. She feels alone and vulnerable; but it is important to note that the Oankali still consider her own experiences as something of importance. However, the issue is that experiences are being ripped from Lilith for the Oankali benefit; this is wrong. Her ability to bear a child is considered to be the only  This is not bringing and binding people together — this is using people and creating a hierarchy over them. That is why it is not enough to change ourselves to be open to other people’s experience, we must also genuinely listen and care. If the compassion is lacking, we begin to harm.

Harm and care are both very relevant topics not only in society right now, but also in ENGL431. Our care and good faith in others allows us to create the positive environment for change that was mentioned previously. This semester, I’ve learned that when you personally failed to encounter these things, it may seem helpless and worthless when you can see a disregard for care. I believe that our course is set up in nature to practice good faith, however when it is apparent someone has taken thoughts and ideas from others rather than expand on them, the change may be negative to the individual who has been discouraged. This discouragement leads to distrust, which we can see in Butler’s “The Training Floor” from Dawn. Distrust towards Lilith is prevalent amongst the Oankali; the spread of disinformation about humans makes them unsure of her. As the disinformation spreads and Lilith is treated similarly to an outsider; she becomes discouraged when trying to help unite the Oankali. I find that is important to note that although we need a positive environment to grow, we also need to allow individuals to have their own experiences. 

“They’ll cut the trees down, you know,’ she said softly. ‘They’ll make boats or rafts. They think they’re on Earth.’

‘Some of them believe otherwise,’’ Nikanj told her. ‘They believe because you do.’

‘That won’t stop the boat building.’

‘No. We won’t try to stop it”

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 200

This conversation resonated with me because I do think that spreading knowledge amongst each other is the key to bringing people together. However, individuals have the urge to discover things for themselves. Our curiosity is quite literally one of our most dangerous traits. This does not take away from care; rather it creates a careful environment in which others are free to have their own journeys and battles in order to learn from what they’ve done. In the textual case, the result is failure and that is okay. In life, some of the experiences we take lead to better ones. We must allow risks to be taken and not place limitations on each other. If we were to just copy and paste what people tell us, we fail ourselves. However, to avoid harm, we must remember that not everything has to come from experience. Lilith mentions this idea of experience in Adulthood Rites. “I was a city person, too, but there were some things I was willing not to learn from experience” (282). We must use our own reasoning to decide whether experiences and risks are worth taking.  Learning from one another does not mean depending on another person to tell us the answers. It is rather to take their understanding and use it in our benefit to promote positive change. We must genuinely care about each other and respect each other as individuals in order to promote positive changes. 

I, honestly, have failed myself in preparing for change. Or, rather, I have become aware that I have not done enough to promote positive change this semester. These actions have not gone to waste nor have they been unnoticed. I would say I am pretty compassionate, even maybe an empath. As a white, cisgendered woman, I have been more willing to listen to others experiences in order to understand and be an activist. However, I have not done enough for myself. Much like the humans building boats to row to the end of the environment in Dawn, I have experienced failures that I can change to finish strongly in my career as an Undergraduate student next semester. Reading Adulthood Rites, I was struck by the rules Wray explains to Tino. 

“You can do as you please here. As long as you don’t hurt anyone, you can stay or go as you like; you can choose your own friends, your own lovers. No one has the right to demand anything from you that you don’t want to give”

Butler. Lilith’s Brood. 286.

As I read this again, I sit and resonate on it. As students, we don’t have this option. I feel demands have been at an all time high — not in this course specifically, but I have seen more than enough students post or discuss they have been figuratively drowning this semester, whether it’s in schoolwork or personal life. I believe that this is what has contributed to my lack of change this semester, but has contributed to set me up to prepare for change as we enter a new semester. I do not want to discredit the demands put, however. Responsibilities are not an excuse for our lack of change, yet they can be lumped with the obstacles we face that may make our preparation delayed. Balance is not easy, but it is important. We all have our own individual steps to take in order to become our best selves and in turn listen and give advice to others.

Life is not fulfilled without the influence of others. In order to bring people together, especially in a time of widespread divide, we must better ourselves and be willing to share and listen to each other. This pushes past just listening to friends and family. It is also important to understand each other’s limitations and walls. We must listen to others’ experiences in order to better ourselves to help others down the road. As we wrap up this semester and year, there is one thing to always remember,

No one has the right to demand anything from you that you don’t want to give

Adapting to the Unfamiliar

Throughout this semester, I have deepened my habits of thinkING and I look forward to applying these new skills to my life beyond this course. I have gained a new appreciation and understanding of textual evidence, and am now much more comfortable asking myself why the things that I find interesting matter to the entirety of a story and to society as a whole. At the beginning of this course, I was not especially excited to start reading a science fiction novel. I was not quite sure why I never felt compelled to read science fiction, but after reading this novel and looking more closely into Octavia Butler’s writing, I have realized that the reason I was not interested in science fiction before was because I enjoy more realistic and relatable stories. 

However, I ended up really enjoying reading Lilith’s Brood and making dozens of annotations throughout the novel of things that I found notable. Oftentimes, I bookmark quotes or sections of novels that I find interesting, typically with no greater purpose besides the fact that I find them notable. For example, a frequent note that I made throughout my reading was in regard to the “human contradiction” that is often discussed throughout this novel. I found this incredibly interesting, especially because I had never thought of how truly contradictive humans are. Throughout this course, I have learned that I need to ask myself what these sections contribute to the story, why the author may have incorporated them, and especially why it piqued my interest. I was surprised to see that so many parts of this story did interest me, as I am not usually interested in science fiction. I noticed that while the situations portrayed in Lilith’s Brood are not incredibly realistic, the emotions and experiences can still be relatable to me. These notes that I took demonstrate how Octavia Butler uses this concept to illustrate how characters adapt to new situations in order to show how important familiarity and flexibility are in bringing and binding people together, harm and care, and change. 

Throughout Lilith’s Brood, Butler demonstrates how familiarity can bring and bind people together and make them more adaptable in new situations. In this trilogy, there is a clear separation between Oankali, Humans who mate with Oankali, and resistor Humans. I noticed especially how the resistors display that familiarity brings and binds them together. When Akin lives among the resistors, he is treated well because they “liked him simply because he looked like them” (Butler 385). The fact that Akin looks generally human to the resistors made the resistors more comfortable around him and more willing to care for him. Conversely, the resistors encounter the two Oankali-Human constructs, Amma and Shkaht, who do not look as human as Akin does. The resistor Neci wants to cut off Amma and Shkahts’s sensory tentacles because she believes that the girls would look more Human without them. Neci explains how she thinks the girls will “learn to do without the ugly little things if [the resistors] take them off while they’re so young” and “they’ll learn to use their human senses” (Butler 375). Since Neci is uncomfortable with how the girls look—they are not as Human-presenting as Akin—she believes that making them look more familiar to her might make her and the other resistors more capable of bonding with them. It is important to note how humans use the sense of sight to gauge familiarity, whereas the Oankali use senses like taste, smell, and touch to determine familiarity. When Akin tells the resistor Tate how much it would hurt the girls to cut off their tentacles and that a sensory tentacle could still sting a human even if the Oankali were dead, Tate seems to care more about the fact that a human could get hurt than the Oankali girls being in excruciating pain from losing their tentacles. This carelessness connects to the way that humans value visual appearance for comfort because even though cutting the girls’ tentacles off will hurt them immensely, it is more important to the humans that they are visually appealing. Tate asks Akin many questions about the process of removing tentacles, but seems to stop her questioning when Akin brings up the harm and pain it would cause the Oankali (Butler 381). Butler makes this subtle but important move to show how the Humans value their own comfort and familiarity over the comfort of someone different than themselves. 

The Oankali also demonstrate how familiarity brings and binds them together by sterilizing the Humans because they do not want Humans to mate with one another and make something that the Oankali do not want and does not look like them. Akin explains how the Oankali have taken away the Human’s ability to reproduce, saying “their kind is all they’ve ever known or been, and now there won’t be any more. They try to make us like them, but we won’t ever really be like them, and they know it” (Butler 377). However, at a time of doubt in Akin’s life, he remembers words that Lilith once told him:

“‘Human beings fear difference’, Lilith had told him once. ‘Oankali crave difference. Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status. Oankali seek difference and collect it. They need it to keep themselves from stagnation and overspecialization’” (Butler 329).

Lilith tells Akin that in times when he feels conflict, to “‘try and go the Oankali way’” by embracing difference (Butler 329). While the Oankali do believe that their species is superior to humans and want to essentially eliminate the humans, they are more adaptable than humans are in terms of familiarity. By illustrating this, Butler draws attention to how important familiarity is to all life forms when bonding with one another; however, adapting to the unfamiliar, like the Oankali pursue, can be just as important when bringing and binding people together. It is especially important to note that this conversation takes place between Lilith and Akin—both of whom exhibit human and Oankali characteristics—and Lilith urges Akin to follow the Oankali way rather than the human way. This advice implies that Lilith believes that the Oankali have a better way of accepting what is not familiar to them, displaying their strong adaptability. Familiarity is especially important in the conversation of what brings and binds people together because it can create a basis of comfort and understanding to explore unfamiliar things; meanwhile, adaptability can serve as a show of good faith and comfort as well. 

When considering how familiarity and adaptability brings and binds people together, it is also important to note how the idea of consent may be adaptable beyond what we are familiar with. I believe that consent plays a vital role in discussions about both harm and care. First, it is important to understand that there is sometimes a lack of consent on both sides of a situation. Additionally, we must consider that consent does not always equate to something bad happening to someone. In the case of sighted humans, physical attraction can be a nonconsensual situation. At the beginning of this semester, we viewed a “meet cute” from the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. In this scene, the two star-crossed lovers saw one another for the first time through a fish tank. In the context of the film, it is assumed that there was an instant physical attraction between the two. However, what we may fail to recognize is how physical attraction between sighted people often lacks consent. Neither of the participants in this scene asked for the physical attraction from the other, but they projected their own physical attraction onto the other. While this is not inherently harmful, it is still a nonconsensual situation. 

In a recent Zoom discussion, Beth presented the metaphor of how breathing is essentially a non-consensual act. Although breathing is something that every Human and mammal must do to survive, it is something that we have not consented to at birth. This discussion blurs the line of harm and care with regards to consent because while we tend to see almost everything that is not consensual as negative or harmful (in most cases it is), there may be some instances where not having consent is positive or caring. In this case, if mammals did not consent to breathing they would all die almost instantly. In Imago, when Lilith discusses mating with Oankali as a Human with Jesusa, Jesusa asks, “You didn’t have a choice [to mate with Nikanj], did you?” and Lilith responds “I did, oh yes. I chose to live” (Butler 672). This situation is similar to the metaphor of breathing. Lilith “consented” to a certain extent, but the only other option was death. This “choice” also brings up the question of how much the Oankali “care” for humans like Lilith if their version of “consent” is basically a negative ultimatum where one choice is life and the other is death. I found a similar situation in other instances where the Oankali seem to do positive things for the Humans, but without their knowledge or consent. For example, the Oankali cured Lilith of her cancer before she was Awakened and Jodahs altered Marina’s body so that she could safely bear children. The latter was a situation where Jodahs (who changed her body) also did not entirely consent, but it seems harmful that the Oankali—especially the ooloi—are physically unable to stop themselves from healing someone, especially when the person being healed does not consent. Butler provokes readers to think of consent in a different way than we’re used to; instead of seeing a lack of consent as strictly harmful, Butler exposes the ways in which lacking consent can also be used in a caring and necessary way, just like breathing. This nuanced concept of consent is perhaps unfamiliar to Butler’s audience, forcing readers to demonstrate good faith in Butler by adapting to a new meaning. 

Finally, recognizing how familiarity and adaptability brings and binds people together has really helped push me further into the habit of being “prepared to change and be changed”. All in all, I am typically receptive to new information and ideas as long as they do not challenge my moral values. In my second To the Forums! Discussion post, I discussed how I believe that willful education is one of the most vital practices of good faith. I often refer back to this post, as it is something I truly believe in and work to implement in my everyday life. In this post, I explain how I believe that “In an age of constant access to ever-evolving information, there is virtually no reason why one should choose to remain ignorant to the lives, experiences, cultures, etc. of others.“ In her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie touches on this aspect of being prepared to change and be changed, detailing a time when she realized how media and other people’s opinions affected her own views. Adichie tells the story of when she visited Mexico for the first time and was shocked by the difference between actual Mexican people and the negative, harmful way that they are stereotyped in the United States. What I find to be most important about this story is that Adichie recognizes that she arrived in Mexico with these negative biases, and was ashamed to have had them. Furthermore, this instance helped Adichie realize that this is probably not the only example of a societal, implicit bias affecting the way she sees things, and worked to change this issue in herself and others. I view myself as “prepared to change and be changed” because I work every day to be like Adichie and recognize the perceptions I have and be open to new interpretations of them. Whenever I catch myself thinking something stereotypical about something or someone, I take a moment to reflect on why I have those thoughts and how I can actively change them. Even going into this course, one of the first things I said during our first Zoom meeting was that I was not really “that into” science-fiction novels and usually do not enjoy reading them because they are unrealistic and therefore unrelatable to me. However, through reading Lilith’s Brood, I have formed a new, deeper understanding of what science fiction can be, something that was not familiar to me before reading Butler’s work. I have accepted that while a story may be unrealistic, it can still have themes that I relate to, like Butler’s discussion of familiarity and adaptability in Lilith’s Brood. I look forward to recognizing especially when things feel “safe” or familiar to me in my life outside of academia and further adapt my perception of the world around me when I must oppose that familiarity.

Continued Learning (and its Companion, Running): A Reflection on “Imagos”, Life Cycles, Care, and Harm

“Learn and Run!” (Octavia Butler in Dawn).

Over the duration of this course, I have come to better understand myself as non-linear, much like the life cycle of an insect. I encompass countless cycles, including unsuspecting companions such as harm and care. The question of whether I am in the habit of getting “prepared to change and be changed” urged me to reflect on how I came to this understanding of myself. Through reading Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood, contemplating on it, and writing about it, I absorbed different elements of the story, and applied them to myself. One element is the function of the third book’s title, Imago. “Imago”, Latin for “image”, may be an entomological term, referring to an insect in the fully-developed phase of its life cycle. It is also a psychological term, referring to a persistent and idealized mental image of someone. One of our course epithets was this quote from Butler’s “Furor Scribendi”: “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.” As influenced by the companionship between habit and learning, one way I am enacting changing and being changed can be best expressed through “imago” metaphors:

I have a persistent mental image of who I should ideally be, constructed of internalized perfectionism, of which I know to be a manifestation of “imago”. But instead of ever reaching the promised perfected self, this “imago” deepens stagnation, pushing me into survival, rather than survival paired with flourishing. I have begun habitually challenging this “imago” with a focus on its second definition. I am challenging my mental image of my ‘ideal’ self to look more like an insect, immersed in moving towards full development in some ways, and, at the same time, open to the other stages of its life cycle. Learning is similar to an insect’s life cycle. I am striving to learn more, developing my understanding of different subjects in different ways. “Continued learning” is a life cycle. Embarking on the journey of learning new things is like being in the egg or larvae stage. Growing through learning brings you to the “imago” stage, and the metamorphosis of understanding starts over and over again. 

A life cycle is multifaceted, as countless different aspects of myself are in different phases (I think of the typical multifaceted insect’s eye). I want to release the idea of having to be one ideal thing to make space for two; to make space for simultaneous dimensions of change, all at different phases in their cycle. I want to remember the dangers that come with holding yourself to a single story- one chance to be perfect, one linear way to grow and to learn- as Chimamanda Adichie’s talk “The Danger of a Single Story” discussed, and as Butler embodied in the different narrative points of views through the trilogy. This sentiment reminds me of a particular quote near the end of Imago: “And [the seed] would need the space the valley afforded it to grow and mature” (p. 745). The seed for the town, much like me, needs space to grow. I know how to make space: through change. To make space, some things need to undergo diminution, and at the same time, others need to expand. I want to put the perfectionist “imago” under diminution and expand the cyclic, multifaceted one of learning. Another relevant quote on the same page reads “Here the town could grow and always have the companionship of some of us. It would need that companionship as much as we did during our metamorphoses” (p. 745). A companionship encourages change; it embodies the “both / and” concept we have pondered throughout this course. Habit and learning as companions prompt metamorphosis. Another companionship- one of our other course concepts- is harm and care.

Harm and care are often conveyed as mutually exclusive opposites. For example, there are simple scenarios that seem to confirm a care and harm dichotomy, such as, if a child hits another child for taking a toy they wanted, this is harm, and needs to be taught out of the child. But then there are scenarios that are much more nuanced, challenging this dichotomy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy challenges obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors, and for an individual to newly defy these thoughts and behaviors, it is painful. Mentally and physically, it can cause distress due to heightened levels of anxiety. But in the long run, this pain ultimately ‘harms’ obsessive-compulsivity rather than the individual, through the development of coping skills. I found two particular incidents in Lilith’s Brood that challenge the dichotomy of care and harm. One is from the beginning, and the other is at the end. On pages 79-81, Butler writes, “On the back of her neck, she felt the promised touch, a harder pressure, then the puncture. It hurt more than she had expected…[After she awoke] she sat up carefully just in time to see Nikanj coming through a wall… “You’re so complex,” it said, taking both her hands. It did not point its head tentacles at her in the usual way, but placed its head close to hers and touched her with them. “You’re filled with so much life and death and potential for change,” Nikanj continued… “What did you do? I don’t feel any different…,” [said Lilith]. “You understand me,” [said Nikanj]. In simple terms, in order for Lilith to begin a new period of growth, there must first be pain. Lilith was afraid of this painful change that Nikanj was going to do, comparing it to the brain damage her husband Sam had suffered on page 78. I don’t think the change Lilith underwent can be classified as either care or harm in the long run, but as care and harm both. It is harmful to puncture an opening in someone’s body, but the change that subsequently unfurled was so dynamic, that it cannot be neatly placed into either category of harm or care, or even be considered to be the caring counterpart to the harm. Interestingly, after Nikanj fulfills the “promised touch” and Lilith regains consciousness, it uses its touch to ensure that Lilith is recovering okay. This is an example of how care and harm are less polar or linear, and more of a blending, fluctuating cycle. 

On page 738, Butler writes, ““I’m not sure I’ll forgive it,” Lilith said. But she was smiling…” The juxtaposition of Lilith’s words with her smile reminds me of the importance of intention, and how action and intention are entangled, giving way to the nuance of care and harm. Throughout Lilith’s Brood, harmful actions paired with ‘good’ (or neutral/ambiguous) intentions occur. For example, when Lilith buried her orange peelings in Tiej, she expected them to be “broken down by tendrils of the ship’s own living matter”. Instead, Lilith “poisoned”, as Kahguyaht says, the ground. Her intention could be considered caring, as she was burying her peelings to cover her trail, as she was not sure if Nikanj would be in trouble for allowing her to wander. But her burying the peelings “had caused harm”. Because the ship is alive, it feels pain. (Butler, pp. 67-69). 

The other course concept, of what brings and binds people together, is not necessarily implying willing, comfortable companionship. More uncomfortable dualities, like care and harm, companions in themselves, can bring and bind people together. “When the doctor first came to our household,” [Jdahya] said, “some of my family found her so disturbing that they left home for awhile. That’s unheard-of-behavior among us…They had never before seen so much life and so much death is one being. It hurt some of them to touch her…It was her genetic structure that disturbed them” (Butler, p. 26). The companionship of life and death harmed Jdahya’s family members. And according to Jdahya on page 38, it harmed humanity, as well: “You have a mismatched pair of genetic characteristics. Either alone would have been useful, would have aided the survival of your species. But the two together are lethal…You are intelligent. You are hierarchical.” If humanity does indeed ‘contain’ innate companionships- life and death, intelligence and natural hierarchy, care and harm- then, of course, those companionships bring and bind people together. They are us. I think habit and continued learning have the ability to sustain our relationships, both with our own selves and with one another. We are independent lives, with distinct life cycles and different things to understand. But sowing idealized images of a perfected human whole reap stagnation over growing, just like how having idealized images of our perfect individual selves can too. Rather, I want to continue on in my life cycle of habit and learning, growing and metamorphosing in my understanding of life. “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” (Butler, p. 746). Throughout this course, I have learned about myself and others, paralleling the planting of the seed; and I can run with these understandings, just as the seed moves forth as independent life. 

Fatima’s Final Self-Reflective Essay

The most crucial point to remember is that the person you were, in the beginning, was the foundation block for where you are now. Each and every piece of information I have learned in this course, has strengthened my outlook on the realistic world and Butler’s fictional world.  This course has pushed me to really look at myself as a student, peer and scholar about how I think and write.  The “constraints” of this course have, as a matter of fact, been utensils that have opened up a new realm of skills and understanding.  Through the course’s emphasis on textual evidence and reflection on one’s self, through the ING, I have seen growth in my writing and in my train of thought.  Throughout my academic years, I have taken lengthy notes in the books or articles that I read, because I deem them important.  For the most part, I will highlight or note a section because I find that there is symbolism, foreshadowing, or a lesson behind it that the author is trying to get at.  Evidently, this course has strengthened that practice of mine but also has made me more aware of the “how.”  How is this piece of text relevant or crucial to me?  How does it stand out from all of the other pieces of text that I have read.  I believe that when you learn something and attain knowledge, the most beneficial action to do is to take the lessons and try to apply them to your real-life situations. This being said you have to remember that it will not play out exactly the same as it did in Butler’s fictional world, so take it with a grain of salt.  Personally, I try to apply this belief to how I go about the classes I take in college, and every moment of my life.  As we go on from one minute to the next of our life, we are growing and adapting and changing.  We cannot be the same person as we were the day before because each moment we learn something new, and can make the intention to apply that lesson into our everyday life.  We take the chances to push ourselves into a new unknown.  By stepping out of my comfort zone, whether it be with the material I read or life choices, I am saying that I have acknowledged that there will be a challenge and that I am ready to conquer it.  

My throughline for this essay is that you are not who you were yesterday, because you are constantly changing and growing with each interaction that you have and every class that you are in.  The choice to do something can be a life-altering thing because each choice you make leads you to a new storyline.  You change and grow with every choice you make.    It is important to be aware of your interactions with others and respect the people you come into contact with, because if you cause harm to someone then that harm will come back to you in a similar way.  The central question for this course (What brings and binds people together?) has taught me to be more aware of my interactions with others, to focus on the details of a conversation or action, and see how they coordinate and apply to one another.  Each and every moment of my life will shape me for the future.  The core concepts of “harm” and “care” apply to our everyday lives, especially with today’s political and social climate.  It is essential to be kind to others and to accept other’s points of view and to realize that there are different stories for one idea/event/question.  I believe that with the concepts of “harm” and “care”, the concept of respect plays a huge role.  My respect for someone plays a huge role in how much I care for them and look out for them.  If you do not respect someone then you will cause them harm, whether or not it is intentional, and you will tend to care for them less. The central course question has taught me a great deal in regard to how relations work and how the people we meet, we meet for specific people.  The concept of trust and faith goes hand in hand with “binding people together.” You cannot bond with someone if they are not trusting of you or if you are not fully confident in their company.  For people to be bonded together, there needs to be a sort of glue that does that.  This “glue” can be their shared opinion, experience, or belief.  Many people are brought together through their common faith and use that as a way to keep themselves connected.  In my experience, when I see a fellow Muslim in a crowd of unfamiliar people, I feel a sort of ease because I know that I can at least engage with them on a topic that we both share: our faith.  Similarly, I believe that the “To the Forum” posts that are a part of the course, has allowed me and my classmates to form a bond.  Through the frequent posts, I am able to gather and understand how my peers are understanding the prompts and the material for the course.  Even if we are composing different opinions, we are all bonded through the posts.  It is a space for us to feel comfortable, safe and respected.  I feel as though these three concepts go hand in hand with the concept of consent that we have touched upon in this course.  In order to obtain someone’s consent one must first be able to feel comfortable and safe amongst the other person’s presence and space.  It is crucial to note that it is an honor and privilege for someone to provide you with their consent.  Through conversation, the individuals will be able to form a bond which leads to stronger trust.  Essentially, having common beliefs, experiences and ideas help to bind individuals together as there is a space of similarity.  I often feel safer with someone and am able to bond with them better when I have something in common with them.   The feeling of trust plays a huge role in giving or denying consent.  If an individual forms trust and a bond with another then they feel vulnerable and at ease with the other person.  In “Metamorphosis” in Imago there is a power present which characters have to constantly struggle with to figure out their “choices, desires and needs” as Beth says.  Ooloi have power over other creatures with their differing abilities and strengths.  One character that displays the power and uses it for her own advantage is Jodahs who makes changes to Marina’s body so that she can bear children, which was a desire that Marina Rivas had but not something that she consented to.  Jodahs narrates, “I discovered that I had slightly altered the structure of her pelvis during the night.  I hadn’t intended to try such a thing.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try it.  Yet it was done.  The female could bear children now” (Butler 582).  Jodah took advantage of the trust and bond that the two shared to go ahead and make a life-altering change.  It was not its body to decide if the body can be altered to bear children or not.  I have come to the understanding that who I am today will be different from who I am tomorrow because of the choices that I and others make, similar to how Jodah made a decision for Marina without her consent.  

Likewise, I have learned a great deal about our course concepts of harm and care that I had not known or absorbed prior to taking the course.  It is essential to remember that you are not who you were yesterday, because you are constantly changing and growing with each interaction that you have and every class that you are in.  It is important to be aware of your interactions with others and respect the people you come into contact with, because if you cause harm to someone then that harm will come back to you in a similar way. The harm you cause on someone cannot be reversed and is interchangeable.  Similarly if you express that you care for someone then that also is something that is interchangeable and one that will change their lives forever. If an individual is harmed than that clean slate will get marks on it and the result of those marks will stay.  No matter how hard you try to even out the wrinkles from the paper, the appearance of the paper will be different.  I have also learned that harm and care go hand in hand, and what I mean by that is that if you care about someone then you will do your best not to cause them any mental, physical or emotional harm.  One moment in Imago that this idea is practiced is when Jodahs expresses its concern about not wanting to cause Aaor any harm.  Whilst speaking to Nikanj, Jodahs says, “I don’t want to keep being dangerous, hurting Aaor, being afraid of myself” (Butler 571).  Due to its charismatic and kind nature, Akin is aware that it is hurting others, such as Aaor, and accepting that is hard for it as it does not mean to do so.  What is also crucial to note here is that it wants to change and stop hurting the people around it.  Jodahs’s intention to stop hurting others and being aware of how its actions impact others is an important lesson.  The concept of  karma works in such a way that the harm you cause onto others comes back to you.  The harm you cause is also a reflection of who you are and it is especially a reflection of yourself, if you do not change after becoming aware.  

Furthermore, this course exposed me to the concept of disinformation and allowed me to be more educated on the term and how it is present in our everyday lives.  The conversation about disinformation, under our course concept of harm and care, has helped me to put into words what I have been seeing frequently in our society in the past and present. According to the Wayne State University Library System website, “Disinformation refers to intentionally disseminating false information… It’s designed to manipulate the audience by either discrediting conflicting information, or supporting false conclusions. A common tactic is to mix truth with false conclusions and lies.”  Reading this article and the corresponding chapter of Dawn, I received a clearer perspective on the difference between disinformation and misinformation.   For instance, when Lilith wakes up some of the humans and debates with them as to where they are, where the Oankali has told her they are, a ship, or not.  Throughout the first book of the trilogy, Lilith has grown to trust the Oankali but her conversation with  Joseph, Tate, Leah, and Celene, starts to make her doubt what she already knows.  The individuals stated earlier believe that the Oankali are not indeed helping the humans solely because the Oankali are aliens and are different on the outside and inside.  These individuals did not believe in Lilith and believed that she was involved in harming them.  Their accusations and spread of disinformation started to impact Lilith as she started to doubt everything she knew about the Oankali and her experience on the ship.  Lilith asks herself “What if– The thought would not let her alone no matter what facts she felt she knew.  What if the others were right” (Butler 207).  The mix of truth and false information is dangerous because it could lead an individual to questioning what they already know.  The harm of disinformation is that it makes individuals doubt what they know and start to believe in misleading information.

Additionally, I believe that I am in the habit of getting “prepared to change and be changed”, I have adopted an attitude of constantly wanting to grow, and a crucial way to grow is to experience change and be in unusual and uncomfortable situations.  My throughline is that the choices you make can either help you to grow, through change or hold you back.  With this in mind, I want to travel back to one of the first concepts the course exposed me to: growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.  In his youtube video, entitled “Growth Mindset Introduction: What it is, How it Works, and Why it Matters” Trevor Ragan defines a growth mindset as the belief “that skills and intelligence are grown and developed” and this means that individuals aspire to grow and are proficient in a skill because they have practiced reaching that potential.  Also, this mindset pushes me to think about how I am always growing and that I should never stop learning because I think I have mastered a skill.  However, I should keep pushing myself to learn more because everyday new information is being created and discovered.  What we know today could be different tomorrow.  Whereas the term “fixed mindset” is defined as the belief “that you’re not in control of your abilities”  and that you are born with your skills and knowledge, and you do not have to learn anything new.  I believe that in my academic years I have witnessed myself go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, as I used to believe that I was naturally gifted in my classes as I would excel in them.  The notion that I was naturally gifted to understand different concepts, formulas, and terms in different subjects was present.  However, at some point, I switched to a growth mindset when that “natural talent” did not work for me as I got to higher levels of education.  I started to struggle with grasping certain mathematical concepts and saw my self-esteem decreasing because I no longer had that natural talent I once had.  What this led to was me working harder than ever to develop my skills and understanding of what was being taught in my courses.  In regard to Butler’s trilogy, I had changed my perception and liking towards the trilogy itself and the characters. For the longest time, I was not fond of science fiction as a genre, as I would get confused by the different terms, scenarios, and the “world” of the books.  But as I went through this course with an open mind, I found that the way Butler writes with avid detail and allowing the reader to “see” the characters, changed my view on science fiction.  I grew fond of the world that she created and the characters in the trilogy. Although Jodah and Jdahya’s appearances were unsettling when I first interacted with them, I looked past that and really looked at who they are on the inside. The sympathy and compassion that they have for humans is heart-warming, and something I believe our society needs to work on.  We should be accepting of others no matter their outside appearances; the only thing that should matter is how they respect others and the choices that they make.  

On a similar note, I believe that with the current difficult times with the pandemic, it has been a time of adapting to change.  Quarantine was something that I never had experienced before, and having gone through it for months, gave me a new perspective.  I was able to adapt to the change and understand that there are things that you have to do for the greater good of you, your loved ones, and strangers.  Quarantine and the pandemic have changed how I view a person’s impact on another person.  Each person should feel like they hold responsibility and should not let their selfish reasons be a reason for another person to suffer.  In Dawn, Jdahya talks about the trading concept which is a practice that I believe is similar to what we as a society are going through right now and what we have to understand.  It explains, “We must do it.  It renown us, enables us to survive as an evolving species instead of specializing ourselves into extinction or stagnation” (Butler 40).  In order to make sure the species does not go extinct, Jdahya and others like it understand that sacrifices need to be made and that small tasks will add up for a better outcome.  By trading parts of themselves to others, they are making sure that all of them stay safe and complete their tasks for the rest of their kind.  This practice is similar to what we are going through right now because this narrative is what has been put into place so that we as a species protect one another as much as ourselves.  If each person does their part then it will help the population as a whole.  

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

Independent Life: An Act of Creation in a Tumultuous World

“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

Over the course of this epigraph, Octavia Butler succinctly describes the act of creation. In the beginning, there is a preparation: Jodahs considers a location to plant the seed, and give it a “thick, nutritious coating.” The process of creation, for Jodahs, involves the implantation of the seed into the rich soil. The result of Jodahs’ efforts is profound: it then ‘felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” Jodahs enters this process with an open mind and has confidence that his efforts will produce something fruitful. The role of independence in this epigraph is crucial to note since the definition of independence implies two meanings: freedom from constraints and assumptions being the first, and then self-assuredness as the second. In this course, I initially thought that as a scholar and as a thinker, I always had to be more of a maverick and that the more original and freer from assumptions (as possible) my ideas were, the more valid my own ideas were. The act of creation, in this case, was a glorification of my own ego and need to be different. Over time, I have learned to be more self-assured in my own textual analysis and creative endeavors. I can take into consideration what people think, but because of self-assuredness, I do not have to let each critique be a buffer or a blow to my ego. The act of creation, in this instance, is an expression of self that is meant to be out for discussion and critique. In Imago, Jodahs is a construct, its role undefined in the setting of Lilith’s Brood that has categories of human, ooloi, and those that are a product of both. However, I take on many roles, such as scholar, author, creator, thinker, and future educator. In future discussions, pertaining to this text or otherwise, I hope to further examine the assumptions I have, coming from the roles of scholar, author, creator, thinker, and future educator. I hope to be self-assured and cognizant of my own assumptions, not only to be careful and propulsive in my own thoughts but also to reduce harm as much as I can. 

Continue reading “Independent Life: An Act of Creation in a Tumultuous World”

A lesson on Good-faith: Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, and Hermeneutic Reflection

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not…Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”–Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi”

During this unique semester of virtual learning, I took a class that focused on the author Octavia Butler. The novels we read are from her trilogy, Lilith’s Brood. A secondary material we needed to engage with was William A. Darity Jr. and Kirsten Mullen’s non-fiction work, From Here to Equality. A course concept that unites these two works is the concept of good-faith. I defined good-faith earlier in the semester based off of Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Framework principle called shared humanity. Shared humanity is defined as “recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience” . Good-faith means accepting that someone did their best, or that you did your best. This concept has been more important than ever to adopt amidst the struggles of learning virtually. Butler’s trilogy positively challenged my good-faith as a reader.  The reading experience taught me the importance of practicing good-faith as a way to establish my identity, in a personal and professional setting. I learned that practicing good-faith is a viable habit to acquire for the preservation of self and of others.

Continue reading “A lesson on Good-faith: Octavia Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, and Hermeneutic Reflection”