The two-toed sloth is slightly bigger than the three-toed sloth. It moves so slowly that algae has time to grow in its fur, which helps it camouflage with its leafy surroundings. It must crawl (slowly!) on land because it’s long, gangly legs don’t support its weight. They’re not lazy, they have objectives, but they’re gentle creatures.
I learned about the two-toed sloth in second grade during our six-week intensive on the Rainforest. I learned about the dangers of deforestation, and I remember feeling deeply a sense of concern for the two-toed sloths and their ability to survive the bulldozers.
Everything was a little bit simplified in second grade. Bulldozers were the bad guys. Similarly, we huddled on colorful rugs while our teachers read picture books about desegregation–I grew up admiring Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks, and thinking that racists were bad. We learned about the first Thanksgiving, but we were also taught about treating the Native Americans with respect, since our forefathers weren’t always paragons of civility. We learned about freedom of speech and freedom of religion in tandem. Peaceful protest was as much a part of our curriculum as our multiplication tables.
Elementary School lessons had a simple moral: do good, be nice, don’t be greedy. Don’t bulldoze the sloths.
The subsequent years of schooling added nuance to the narrative, but the truths we learned in schools seemed foundational, if basic. Do good, be nice, don’t be greedy, don’t bulldoze the sloths.
Armed with a healthy sense of girl power (thanks, mom!) and my early framework, I genuinely believed that I could be the one to dismantle the metaphorical bulldozers. But more recently, I have found that hope utterly diminished. It started when I realized the bulldozers weren’t independently operated, that they had hands that powered them up, and feet pushing the pedal that powered them forward. There was a human, and an ideology behind the bulldozer.
Who was I to dismantle a person, not a machine? Hadn’t I also been taught to be nice, to do good?
Lately I have felt this similar conflict, amplified times 1,000.
What happens when you have to choose between doing good and being nice?
Well, if you’re me, what happens is a lot of cognitive dissonance. So after several people extended invitations to the Women’s March, I felt like I had to choose. Do good? Be nice? Don’t bulldoze the sloths?
I didn’t like George Bush, but I didn’t like it when he was booed by the crowds at President Obama’s inauguration either. So choosing to march–a statement about a lot of things, but largely in response to one person–was hard for me. As completely and utterly bizarre as it sounds, I didn’t want to hurt Donald Trump’s feelings, let alone my friends and family that voted for him. I like to gently collect feathers, not ruffle them. I’ve watched for months as Facebook likes and a misunderstanding of rhetoric has torn our nation to bits on both sides. Things have become so tumultuous that we seem to have collectively forgotten our elementary school lessons. But yesterday, marching taught me that one doesn’t have to sacrifice niceness for goodness. Peace and Protest are not opposites.
Jeremy wrote a letter in elementary school about saving the rainforest. He also marched along beside me in the Women’s March. We made nice signs and we stood for something good, something that we are worried is missing in our current political climate. I’m happy to talk to anyone about what that might be, and I promise to be nice while we talk. Then maybe the giant masses of unruly people you may fear can seem a little less faceless. I want to hear your perspective too, so people who oppose me to become a little less faceless too.
This last year made me feel like one tiny sloth staring up at one gigantic bulldozer. Gone was my girl power, gone was my infinite belief in my own ability to enact change. But, yesterday, as one giant body, we crawled collectively like a slow, determined sloth towards a greater goal. And I am reminded by our speed that progress among giant groups of people happens slowly. But maybe, just maybe, in large number, we can learn how to dismantle the bulldozer without bulldozing the people operating it.