Maybe you have heard the phrase – “stay in your lane”. It is typically used in a derisive way to dismiss individuals not experienced or professionals in a certain topic. I’ve seen “stay in your lane” used several times in social media, often in pictures or memes. One instance that stands out - an individual was chided for noting a double standard of sorts in the term history compared to herstory. The denouncers, the stay-in-your-laners, pointed out that history is not entymologicially related to the masculine. No, it’s not, but herstory is a social movement, not a reference to language theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herstory ) - who was out of their lane here is rendered questionable.
Unsurprisingly, the whole concept of lanes as it is used here is offensive to me. It is privileged, rude, patriarchal, and arrogant. Yes, there are instances where experienced, educated professionals are needed (ex. western medical training and licensing, such as for nursing; though these systems do create conflicts, such as between profit and protection of the public, they won't be discussed further here). However, it suggests that if you don’t have the appropriate credentials, you need to sit down and shut up.
Engaging in dialog is how we learn and help. Shaming people for being incorrect or out of their scope is harmful. These individuals were brave, got into the “arena”(a Brene Brown reference), put “it” out there, and tried. We need engagement with compassion, mutuality, and respect. Dismissing someone outright for not being credentialed is cheap and easy, and in doing so, you lose the understanding of their perspective. Communication with understanding, perspective, and respect leads to lifting each other up, progressive dialog, and expansion.
A question to contemplate (When Things Fall Apart, pg 84): “How is there going to be less aggression in the universe rather than more?” Telling someone to stay in their lane creates aggression, more hostility, dualism, alienation, and separateness. “Separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us” (88) “When we release the tension between this and that, the struggle between us and them, that’s when….. our noble heart is felt as kinship with all beings.” (91) In difficult situations “the instruction is not to try to solve the problem but instead to use it as a question about how to let this very situation wake us up further rather than lull us into ignorance."
We can’t possibly know everything or educate everyone in all topics of relevance. Trying to do so would lead to diminished effectiveness and burnout; rather, the goal should be dialog and relationship, lifting up rather than shrinking and shutting down. Do you really know that person, their training, their knowledge? Are you really hearing what they are saying? And are you the authority in what they may say or what information they may have access to?
One of my professional engagements is as Teacher. When a student doesn’t understand something, the problem is not necessarily with the student, but with the teacher’s presentation. Rather than shaming someone for getting something “wrong”, why not consider what perpetuates a lack of understanding, as suggested above by Pema Chödrön? How can the teacher reframe the issue so that there is resonance, connection, or awakening (of student AND teacher)? As Teacher, I never assume I know everything. Indeed, I often learn as much from the students as they learn from me.
Another consideration here: the novice mind. The neophyte brings a fresh way of seeing and thinking without the bias or blinders that long-time “professionals” often miss and take for granted. A beautiful example is of Dr. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan, the first woman in east and central Africa to earn a doctorate (in anatomy; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/wangari-maathai-71-nobelist-and-advocate-for-kenyan-women-environment-dies/2011/09/26/gIQAZfpE0K_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a0d976f09b97). She led the Green Belt Movement, planting trees for environmental restoration, for which she was later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Early in her efforts though, she was dismissed as a “mad woman”, a “threat”, and not a professional forester. Imagine if she had shrunk herself down, stifled her efforts, stopped because she didn’t “stay in her lane”.
The “stay in your lane” phrase is reminiscent of the silencing and dismissing of women in general, how we are excluded from discussion, professions, or ways of being because of our anatomy, or secondary to the limitations and demands of parenting, as if we couldn’t possible encompass more than 1 aspect of life at a time or have a relevant, educated opinion. For example, women were forcibly excluded from medical professions, such as obstetrics, regardless of their expertise of midwifery (see Of Woman Born as well as Witches, Midwives , and Nurses: A History of Women Healers). We only won the right to vote less than a hundred years ago. Don't get too complacent in the success of women today - women still do not have equal rights protected by the constitution (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-neuwirth-equal-rights-amendment-for-women-metoo-20180105-story.html) As the saying goes “Well-behaved women rarely make history”. The Work of change and progress is often out of the lane, particularly for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
The thing is: many of us don’t fit neatly into categories – our interests, expertise, professions, gender, sexuality, ethnic identity, personhood. I have been known to say about my life and self that I am not a point on the spectrum, I AM the spectrum. YOU are the spectrum. In fact, forget hard points, forget the spectrum, as a linear, 2-dimensional comparison it cannot encompass the fluid, creative potential that is me or that is you. I usually see many sides and try my best to avoid binary thinking (binary, either/or, dualistic thinking is fundamental to “patriarchal consciousness” (Of Woman Born, pg 116). I am reminded of my own creative identity – WILD Woman in the Suburbs. I’ve been told to narrow it down, focus, essentially stay in a lane so I can make for a prettier package and easy consumption. I am trying to create subtle, spiritual, deeper connection to nature and place through ritual, meditation, art, exercise, reiki, nature therapy, and women’s and children’s groups (children who need connection to nature now so that they maintain it and can utilize it in the future). To many, these topics likely seem disparate and isolated, rather than the interconnected, healing, creative entity these modalities create and breathe to life.
So the next time you attempt to reprimand someone to stay in their lane, please pause and consider: what do you not understand? How can you lessen aggression and duality? Are you uncomfortable with the person’s expansiveness and creativity? Is your aggression related to the regular silencing of marginalized groups? How can you help end the desire for silencing and dismantle “lanes”?
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
Witches, Midwives , and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English
Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich
Written by Allison Mitch, PT (DPT)
RYT 500, reiki master
Contact me at: email@example.com
Please do not copy or reproduce this material without express permission; all written material is copyrighted. Photo, however, is from Pexels.
One Reply to “(Don’t) stay in your lane”
Thank you for writing your thoughts this way. I was feeling lost and getting ready to write a response to some broad advice out there about ‘staying in our lanes’. I may write that story some other day, but for today, I will take your gift and cherish it.
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