I have been asked lately, "How did you transition from the trauma you went through to building something to help others?" Even though I've answered this question before, this time it gave me pause. I decided to truly take stock of my experience and my motivations, now that a year has passed since I-Ally was birthed.
I am also on the eve of taking part in TechCrunch's TC Sessions: Justice 2021, an event that will no doubt explore deeply the act of innovation in the face of ignorance. So, how do you fight for something if you've been told and shown your actions don't matter?
When I became my father's full-time caregiver at a young age, the absence of support served devastating blows. At once, loss surrounded me: not only my father's health and my former life, but also loss of innocence. I wrote at the time,
there is not one “adult” I know who can truly confront this, and so everyone I look upon appears so weak to me, so ill-equipped... I am defeated, because there is no longer anyone to admire.
This defeat was thorough and deeply sad. Grief laid down its complex layers: anticipatory grief regarding my father and his illness, and also grief over loss of lightness, of childhood. I would never relate to anyone in the same way again. I shed my skin like a snake. I was sure my appearance was one big question mark, and that question was, when am I a victim, and when do I have agency? When am I defeated, and when am I empowered? Can I be both?
The philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes in Upheavals of Thought,
Tragedy asks us… to walk a delicate line. We are to acknowledge that life’s miseries strike deep, striking to the heart of human agency itself. And yet we are also to insist that they do not remove humanity, that the capacity for goodness remains when all else has been removed.
Acknowledging my defeat does not mean I have no power. That is the transformation I went through. I realized that, as I lived within grief, my power grew. The dimensions of my power deepened and widened beyond measure. There is power in vulnerability because when you speak from a vulnerable place, you speak with a rich complexity that resonates with other human beings in a manner they may not have felt before. Or, they recognize it immediately; they, too, harbor defeat.
When I felt the power of my new voice, it was almost as if I had no choice. Martha Nussbaum also wrote,
A compassionate society ... is one that takes full measure of the harms that can befall citizens beyond their own doing; compassion thus provides a motive to secure to all the basic support that will undergird and protect human dignity.
If I can be a voice for those who have fallen through the cracks, whose labor is invisible to others, whose needs are invisible to others, who feel abandoned by society; if I can draw attention to the sheer amount of our citizens who need support; then, I can demand a compassionate society. A compassionate society benefits us all, because not one of us can claim immunity from the near-certainty that we will, one day, soon, need support.