Much. Too much. Much too much.
For me the last couple weeks have been... extra. A major work deadline and a death in the family of someone I was close to on top of the Too Much that is just regular life now: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, ceaseless attempts to legislate what people with a uterus can and cannot do with that organ (and the rest of their body). But I made it. I managed to get through without a total personal collapse. I couldn't keep up with absolutely everything, but somehow I held it more or less together. I even met the work deadline.
In large part my resilience is due to my incredibly supportive household and network of lovely friends, family, and chosen family. But I think there was also an element of lucky timing at play. The overwhelming confluence of events in my life were sufficiently spaced-out that I could still cope. The glue generally holding me together that is my personal Taiji/qigong practice was adequately replenished between occurrences so all my parts and pieces did not become totally unstuck.
The pleasantly surprising togetherness of my emotional state got me wondering if my tolerance is also up because of the state of the world we’ve all been living through. Which made me wonder if everyone else’s tragedy-o-meter has been recalibrated in a similar way. And I think it has. With so much going on all the time and inequity everywhere we look, I worry some folks (or a lot of people) will be less shocked into taking positive action to uproot the causes of injustice in the world. I worry we have normalized a new (higher) volume of tragedy as part of everyday life.
I remember watching the movie Gandhi in social studies class. In the movie, somebody close to Gandhi asks him how he planned to oust the British from India through only non-violent resistance. Gandhi replied that he didn't want to fight the British out of India. Instead, he wanted to shame them out. He wanted to walk into their beatings and abuse without fighting back until they became sufficiently disgusted by their own behavior to stop what they were doing. He apparently foresaw a point at which the enforcement of imperialism would become too much for the imperialists.
I think there is merit to that strategy. Shame can be a powerful motivator. But I also think it relies entirely on the assumption that the perpetrators of the injustice see the people they are abusing as human beings. Or that enough of the abuser's peers recognize the humanity of the suffering people so they can pressure the perpetrator into seeing their behavior as shameful.
We may be witnessing something like this phenomenon beginning to play-out in American politics, where some conservative lawmakers appear to have broken-ranks to oppose or prevent anti-LGBTQ legislation. It is possible that some of these laws are so egregious, even the conservatives can't stomach them. Possible the extreme actions many conservatives are taking in order to hold on to some semblance of power and control over the populous are forming cracks in the steadfastness of conservatism as an ideology. I hope so.
I hope so, but I don’t think so. Primarily because the last few years have clearly demonstrated conservatives, on the main, are not playing by the same rules as the people trying to take care of everybody else. Hell, they’re not even living in the same reality. They operate in a fictional universe they perpetuate through any means necessary in order to maintain their monopoly on power.
I know they see any threat to their hold on all that power as cause for great alarm. I have yet to see a humanitarian threat that causes them as much anxiety. I'm not sure I want to know what it will take to jar them into seeing that the way they move through the world hurts people. People are already dying from lack of access to food, shelter, and medicine in the Land of Plenty. The list of humans of color who have died at the hands of police abusing their power and position is many miles long. And none of this is new news. It's all quite well-known and extremely well documented. What more could it possibly take?
Shock and awe is not the only way to alert people to matters requiring their civic attention, but it sure is an effective method. The only good thing I can say about the outcome of the 2016 election is that the resulting President was so awful that a lot more people woke up to their responsibility to pay attention and participate in politics. People could see the effects of that travesty of a state-head on their daily lives and it was too much for some folks so they started doing something about it.
But as that drama dragged on unabated, it got harder and harder to muster up the same volume of indignation. One catastrophe of a decision was followed too closely by another, and another, and another. Eventually the shock and awe spectacle cycled through all the surprise points some folks had. And when you try to run on fumes, you eventually burn out.
So we can't rely on the inspiration of shock or indignation alone. Maybe we can't rely on it at all anymore. Maybe we never could. So where does that leave us? What options do we have now to spur people into action. How can I convince more people to care about the people around them? How can I convince more people to care about people they don't even know? Probably will never know. How can I convince more people to see other people as people?
I don't think most people are quite ready for that. Maybe I first need to concentrate on convincing more people to care about themselves. Not to think or act selfishly, but to truly care for themselves. To value and protect and consider their own humanity. To nurture their entire being. To participate in the real real of self-care. The challenging and rewarding work of undoing what society does to all of us and becoming more whole and healthy.
That certainly worked for me. The more complete I become by healing past traumas the easier it is for me to cultivate a more humanizing way of being in the world. The more completely I can see the humanity of other people, the more I can see that those other people are also my responsibility. Not that I am responsible to meet the needs of everyone else, but that it is my responsibility to make sure whatever I put out into the world contributes to an overall system through which everyone has opportunity and resources to get their needs met. It is vital that I am helping create a world in which other people can take care of themselves. If we're not all looking out for one another, this world is much too much to bear.
Information and Inspiration
Self on a Shelf
This week is the fifty-second week of the second year of Covid. In other words: it's Covid New Years. The mask mandate in my county officially ends this week - two years to the day from the beginning of the original lockdown. The timing is incredible. Almost surreal. It's the same time of year this whole mess started, so all the community events starting back up in the coming weeks were the ones suddenly postponed back in 2020. It's like the song just skipped, but the beat picked up right where it left off. Almost like nothing happened...
But it did.
It's been an intense couple years and a lot of things have changed. A lot of people have changed. I have changed. One of my favorite actives in the Before Time was a community folk dance called Contra. It involved sweating and breathing heavily with hundreds of other people indoors. Basically the most covid-unsafe activity there could possibly be. So when lockdown went on for more than the originally projected couple weeks, the whole community knew Contra dancing was gonna be the last thing to come back.
And then Covid just kept going. It became unclear when or if we would ever be able to dance again like we used to. To stave-off recurring bouts of disappointment, I put that Contra dancing part of myself on a shelf, where it's been collecting dust ever since. It turns out two years worth of dust is a lot of dust. And now that I'm facing the prospect of dances beginning again it feels like I need to do more than just unshelve that part of me. It feels like I need to resurrect it.
My Taiji teacher once told me that healing the deepest wounds of living and being human is the hardest and most scary thing because it requires letting go of a part of yourself. Specifically the part that's been holding something for you that you weren't ready to face. To let that kind of thing go, you have to unpack that internal box and deal with what's inside it. You have to surrender to the process of your own metamorphosis. You have to be willing to let your old self die to make space for your new self to grow and thrive.
I thought I understood that when it came up during a workshop. Then I thought I understood it more completely when I experienced it first-hand. Now that I'm on the other side, contemplating resurrection, I have a whole new kind of understanding. And I realize there isn't any way to step back into my old dance shoes as my former self. I'm going to have to meet this activity for the first time as my current self.
And that's a very strange feeling.
There is one aspect of the societal fervor to return to post-covid "normal" I have been pushing-back against the hardest: the accompanying desire to leave the whole experience behind. To move on and forget it ever happened. I can't do that (and I don't want to). But more importantly: neither can anybody else. We have all individually and collectively just lived through two years of trauma. There is no catharsis in refusing to acknowledge what we've been through.
And nothing to be gained by refusing to acknowledge who we are today. I want to make sure that all the lessons learned over the past two years do not wither under the fiery euphoria of returning to previously non-covid-compatible activities. I want to make sure the important considerations that bubbled to the surface during the past two years continue to float around the pool of popular discourse. I don't want to live through this time and never speak of it again. That's how we keep passing our unresolved bullshit onto our children.
We had a collective awakening about racism in America, and now we're banning books because parents are uncomfortable acknowledging their own guilt so they project that discomfort onto their children. We had expanded unemployment and individual stimulus checks that gave many people a taste of thriving, and now the President wants to give more money to cops instead of funding social programs. Our country was politically and ideologically divided before, and now we live in completely separate (and mutually exclusive) realities.
I want society to actually repair and heal the inequities Covid shined a very bright spotlight onto. We cannot do that by turning off the light and pretending we didn't see what we have seen. We have to unpack all those boxes. We have to look at the ugly truths, acknowledge all their parts and pieces, and we have to feel the uncomfortable feelings. We have to surrender to the process of our own metamorphosis. We have to let our old society die so we can rebuild a new society in its place.
Information and Inspiration
During the height of the protests against police brutality in the summer of 2020, everyone around me was working hard to figure out how they could support the movement for Black lives. We all wanted to throw our individual oomf behind the collective push for a drastically overdue reimagining of the justice system. It was a messy time; emotional, exhausting, and often unorganized. Little groups formed to accomplish this task or support that effort.
My group was a bunch of people at various stages along our personal liberation journeys, united by a shared goal, and trying not to fuck things up as we did our part. In keeping with the spirit of why we came together, we were determined to support each other's development, check ourselves (and each other). It was fraught with complication because we were also learning as we went how to participate in cultural revolution amidst a pandemic.
It was also challenging because some of us were more practiced at giving, receiving, and acting on feedback. One particular group discussion stands out vividly in my mind. Everyone in the group chat that day grew-up in America and most of us are racialized as white. One white person got upset when another white person used a slang term with roots in AAVE (African-American Vernacular English). This was exactly the personal work we all wanted to do, and it was an important topic, so we had a side-bar to discuss it.
The originally upset person (who I will call Steadfast Rule Person) shared a list of AAVE words and phrases they thought white people should never use under any circumstances. But many things on their list, while having originated in various intersectional sub-cultures, had long since been assimilated into the mainstream lexicon. So several folks thought there was more nuance to consider in identifying where the natural evolution of popular language morphed into cultural appropriation.
As we talked through it, folks shared information and anecdotes from their personal experience and posted links to topical articles and informative YouTube presentations. All the while Steadfast Rule Person continued to repeat their original stance without actually engaging the things anyone else had to say. Finally, one person got fed up, chewed-out Steadfast Rule Person for not participating in the discussion, and left the chat. In response, Steadfast Rule Person made a pronouncement that nobody was listening to them and also left the chat. Which left the rest of us feeling like we were in essentially the same place where we started the discussion.
A lot of people said a lot of things in that group chat discussion, but in the end we had gotten absolutely nowhere as a group. Much like the diplomatic efforts in the weeks leading up to the current war in Ukraine. Many diplomats and world leaders said a lot of things, including representatives from Russia. And in the end, Russia invaded Ukraine anyway. All that talk got us absolutely nowhere.
And now because of the rules of international decorum, no other country can directly intervene militarily or we will officially have World War 3 on our hands. I won't pretend to know all the historical context for this current conflict, although I have heard a great deal about it this week in the news and on social media. I do know what I have seen and experienced in my lifetime. And over the last several weeks I watched Vladimir Putin lie to the entire world while strategically surrounding Ukraine with troops. I saw this invasion coming a mile away, just like everyone else.
And that infuriates me.
Not just because I empathize with the Ukrainians who are suffering through horrific tragedy as their homes are invaded and their cities destroyed. But because I also see everybody else continuing to play by a certain set of rules while the one guy (Putin) is clearly and overtly breaking all those rules. The same guy who is always breaking all the rules. The same guy who has been breaking or re-writing any rule he feels like at any time he wants for all of my adult life. And yet, here we are. Despite strongly worded condemnations and economic sanctions, we are on the doorstep of another world war. Possibly a nuclear world war. All that effort seems to have gotten us exactly nowhere.
Although I am disheartened, I am not altogether surprised. The macrocosm of geo-politics reflects the microcosm of humans living our lives and relating to each other. Social media is a terrific example. Much of the content I see on every platform seems to be an expression of that exact phenomenon: people saying an awful lot without actually saying anything at all. Comments and likes and shares to boost ratings, drive engagement, and gain followers. And for what? What is anyone actually saying in all these comments? Where is all this engagement getting us?
Take for example a post I saw on LinkedIn this week. The poster shared a tip for successfully navigating some aspect of the hiring process. They ended their post with something I see more frequently than not: a question. Not a question I think they really wanted to crowd-source an answer to, but a question they already knew the answer to and had already answered in their original post.
By the time this post hit my feed, there were many comments. People chiming in with appreciation for or discouragement of the tip offered in the original post. People answering the post question by weaving together mostly jargon and buzzwords. Almost nobody gave any real, actual advice. Only one person answered the question by describing actual actions an actual person could actually take in their actual workplace to actually get from circumstance A to circumstance B.
Much talk and discussion. No forward movement.
I have been wondering recently if humankind has actually made any progress over our centuries of existence. Some people answer that question with an emphatic yes. They say we live longer lives because we have better medicine. They say more people can read and write than any other time in history. They say we have vast collections of scientific knowledge. But not everyone has access to medical care and education. And many of our current scientific understandings are steeped in the un-checked bias of the (mostly white and male) researchers, which has profound impacts on the application of that immense scientific knowledge.
I experienced the very same feeling of skeptical unease reading all the coverage of Caitlyn Jenner's coming out after she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. It was celebrated at the time as a huge win for trans people everywhere; lauded as mainstream recognition and representation at last. And it was. But it didn't feel like society had made a big step forward in that moment. Although it was terrific to see mainstream media celebrating someone's transition, it seemed like a celebration of humans being allowed to be either a man or a woman. Either masculine or feminine. To represent either one end of the gender continuum or the other.
Caitlyn went through extremely expensive surgery to "feminize" her face. Her public coming out was styled by a famous stylist, photographed by a famous photographer, and appeared on the cover of a famous women's fashion magazine. To me, all that fanfare missed the whole point of celebrating a person for being exactly who they are. It felt instead like an affirmation of the gender binary. It was now okay to transition, as long as when you emerge from your chrysalis the new butterfly you are fits into a category society will recognize and which will not make anyone too uncomfortable.
Humans have made a great many discoveries and crafted many terrific inventions. We have made a lot of progress, but have we arrived anywhere different than where we started? It seems to me like we are really just using newer and more impressive toys to play-out the same games we've always played. I got an email this week from Senator Jeff Merkley about the war in Ukraine. What particularly struck me was that he described Putin's invasion as unprecedented. History is full of any number of examples of one nation or one despot invading and forcibly taking some other country's territory. That is definitely not new, even if the equipment or tactics are arranged differently.
I think about the strides society has made toward racial justice and gender equality. We have certainly come a long way from black folks in chains at public auctions. And nowadays women can vote, own property, and have bank accounts. Those indicators of progress are what gives me hope. Knowing that we will probably be having this same conversation decades from now about slightly different expressions of the same damn issues fills me with exhaustion.
Maybe I'm just finally coming into a full understanding of what Charles Dickens meant when he wrote "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times" at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. Maybe I can take some solace in the fact that it's always been this way. Humanity has made it through all our past turmoil and we're still here, making art and stirring up trouble. Killing each other and loving each other.
That doesn't make me feel any better about the state of the world, but it does remind me that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. We make everything up as we go and we can (and do) adapt to anything. Just because it's always been this way doesn't mean that's what we have to keep on doing. I just hope we can make the big giant pivot we need to make fast enough for it to matter.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.