We are actually getting somewhere
In college I took a class called “Foundations of the American Legal System.” We learned all about the British common law and tort systems that the American legal system was based on. We read several landmark cases and discussed how they were decided. We talked about what impact those noteworthy cases had as they became precedent in the cases that followed. Naturally, we also read about Roe v Wade.
At the time I was horrified to learn such a significant decision (that affected me very personally) was hanging by a very thin legal thread. A thread connecting the right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure to a person's right to bodily autonomy. I called a friend who was in law school at the time and talked to her about it. Then I settled into an uneasy hope that no one with the power to pull on that string would ever reach out and untie the knot. Unfortunately that's exactly what happened this week.
I was glad to see so many people come out to march and protest, making their feelings known on sassy signs and creative placards. And although I am upset and disappointed, I am not surprised: we all knew this was coming. As was true last week, we need some better legislation in place that expressly gives individuals autonomy over their own body. And while we’re at it, clearly we should codify protections for The Gays and other queer folk and anyone else on Justice Thomas' chopping block.
A lot of things need fixing. And since we’ve got quite a long to-do list, we should also take note of what’s going right (or right-ish). We should make an effort to see the signs of things headed in the right direction. I had dinner with some friends who wanted to practice gratitude in a different way than they are used to. We picked a theme and each shared something we are grateful for on that theme. The practice of sharing gratitude was not new to any of us, but the framing definitely was. The frame: what are you seeing in the world that feels like a sign that things are moving in the direction of people fixing the world?
For example, this week I was at a work conference and I was pleased to hear just how many times diversity, equity, and inclusion was wound into other content. After the main conference, I stayed for a two day course on professional interviewing. There were useful tips and templates, and other practical content, but what really struck me about the course was the underlying principle of humanizing the interview subject. It wasn’t labeled as such in the presentation, but that’s what it was.
All the techniques the presenter introduced and all the templates and methods they provided formed a structure to keep the interviewer present within the process and less likely to allow their pre-mature conclusions to run away with them. It makes for a more well-rounded interview and a more complete investigation.
This presenter is out there giving this same trainings to cops all across the country. So he's sneakily giving cops tools and techniques that make them more accountable for the methods they use and the conclusions they come to. Even though the entire institution of policing needs a complete overhaul, it's the system we have right now. So as long as it's still around, I want this guy out there subverting the historical misuse of power through his training offerings.
Recently I heard a segment on the BBC about decolonizing the institutions of arts and antiquity. Powerful nations stole art and cultural artifacts from many parts of the world during centuries of colonial expansion. Many of those peoples and nations understandably want their history and heritage back. But it can be very complicated. Transporting delicate items across great distances is a challenge, as well as identifying who should receive the items if a cultural group is split between nation-states or across a broad geographical area. And then there's the question of reparations for the many decades pieces have been separated from their original or appropriate custodians.
Several museum curators and indigenous art advocates had a conversation about how to deal with all the facets of the situation. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and earnestness with which everyone engaged in the discussion. There was clear acknowledgment of both the past wrongs and the present complications. I was glad to hear the frank and open discussion aired on the BBC, the home channel of one of the biggest colonizers there ever has been. I'm not sure that same conversation would have been possible even a couple years ago.
Once I started looking, I found signs all around that the efforts of the many people and institutions engaged in building a more equitable and inclusive future are actually working. Public monuments commemorating indigenous culture and legacy are more common than they were decades ago, even in conservative areas. Marginalized people are refusing to go back into the closet, even in the face of legislative threats from bigoted public officials. Affirming support for those folks from community near and far is much more public and prevalent. Capitalists are even starting to care about the environment.
Often it seems like we humans will not get around to fixing a thing until it's all the way broken. But there are some things at least some folks have been working on all the while, whether you knew about those efforts or not. There’s no shortage of things that need fixing, so in order to keep our pep up and avoid burnout it’s important to remember that overall we’re well on our way. When you have your head down in the work, it’s hard to recognize the incremental progress. So I invite you to step back occasionally and see how far we’ve come and how much we've all grown.
Information and Inspiration
Have you heard about the soon-to-be Squid Game reality TV show? Yeah, me too. Despite the fact that I have never seen any of the original Korean drama it's based on. I did hear an interview on the BBC with an applicant who hopes to become a contestant. They said this reality show being made at all completely misses the point of the original show, which was apparently meant to highlight the wealth gap and show the unfortunate lengths people will go to - including putting their life on the line - to escape the circumstance of poverty. So Netflix decided to televise desperate people competing "in a series of heart-stopping games" to win a giant pile of money. Missing the point indeed.
This is not a phenomenon unique to Netflix. It's not even unique to high-level, out-of-touch executives. As the discussion continues in the local contra dance community about discontinuing gendered dance-role terms, many of the folks resisting the change have definitely missed the point of making that change. So much so that I felt compelled to make a public announcement to explain we are not asking anyone to change their gender identity. I thought it was clear that we are asking everyone to separate their perception of other people’s gender identity from the role they are dancing. But it didn't land, so I attempted to clarify.
A lot of people are missing a lot of points lately. I used to take responsibility for other people's misunderstand of something I wanted to express because I prided myself on being an effective communicator. I used to think if I just expressed something more clearly, or in a different way, then people would be bound to get it. If I just worked harder, I could overcome the misunderstanding of others. But communication is a two-way street. The listener has to WANT to pick up what I'm putting down. Otherwise I'm making offerings to the void. And there's no sense in talking to a wall.
Even though I no longer take sole responsibility for the non-listening or non-comprehension of others, I do empathize with people who are at least trying to understand the other humans they interact with because it's difficult. Empathetic listening is a skill that takes effort and practice to develop. A practice made no easier by the fear and uncertainty swirling around everyone everywhere all the time. No one can be on their listening, understanding, or empathy A-Game when they are scared and exhausted.
The folks I don't empathize with are the people in power who are choosing not to listen because they don’t have to. Elon Musk is a classic example. He recently told employees they must return to the office or they can go "pretend to work somewhere else." Clearly missing the point of working remotely for most employees in most positions. And also revealing his apparent lack of respect for his entire workforce generally.
Most politicians are also frequent, unfortunate, and frustrating examples of this. Ignoring opportunities to roll up their sleeves and get some real work done in favor of making broad anti-the-other-guy gestures and statements because they think they have a better method to win votes than doing what constituents ask. The folks in the upper echelons of politics would do better to remember they are insulated from much of what's going on out here for the rest of us. It behooves them to make a more deliberate effort not to miss the point of our needs and requests.
Figures in supposedly non-partisan positions are just as prone to missing the point. I had a conversation with a fellow anti-fraud professional at a conference this week. She shared a little with me about a case she's currently working. It's been many years in the making and so far it's a harrowing tale of little old ladies scammed out of real estate by high-priced attorneys. The part that really made my blood boil was what the attorney for the accused fraudsters said on a call with the judge: "Don't worry about Ms. X suing us, we're untouchable."
This attorney happened to be friends with the judge, who also happened to be friends with the accused fraudsters. Maybe it won't surprise you to hear this case is developing in Texas, where this kind of philandering is apparently a common occurrence. Clearly they are all missing the point of not only this case currently before the court, but the entire court system and the rule of law. Gross.
Maybe someday her story will become a movie, like "All the Queen's Horses" or "The Inventor." Then we can all watch a skilled documentarian weave the intrigue and malfeasance into a compelling story of winners and losers and how the heavy hand of justice ultimately prevailed. Until that happens, the rest of us will just have to keep fighting the good fight. And the least we can do for each other while we’re out here working to build a better world is try to understand what is going on with each other.
Information and Inspiration
I had a conversation last weekend on a controversial topic: human genome sequencing and the continued use of HeLa cells in modern medical research. The legacy of the fast-replicating HeLa cells is two-fold. On one hand, they have been used by many researchers to make significant advancements in the study of cancer and other diseases. On the other hand, they were used without the patient's consent (or that of her family), and credit was not given until fairly recently, after decades of use.
Henrietta Lacks' cells have done a lot of good for a lot of people, which is amazing. But the way they were used and the challenge the family faced to obtain eventual recognition shines a spotlight on some of the structural racism in our medical institutions. Johns Hopkins was the original research institution that collected the sample and provided it to other researchers. According to their website, it has not profited from the use or distribution of HeLa cells.
It's worth noting that Johns Hopkins has most surely profited in the form of industry clout and prestige by having such a valuable resource and by providing it to others. But that kind of reward is hard to quantify in dollars. The larger issue is of course that other, non-public institutions have used those cells in the creation of profit-producing products and medicines. So who has a right to use that kind of genetic material? Who should have access to it? And what should they be allowed to do with it?
In my ideal world, health care is driven by a desire to take care of people and everyone has a place to live, plenty of food to eat, as much education as they want, and opportunity to work on whatever they're passionate about. In that world, every scientist or student could have access to all the knowledge and materials to experiment and make fabulous discoveries because their work would be public knowledge and regulated by a confluence of community values and opinion.
Unfortunately the world we live in is profit-driven, so companies and individuals keep discoveries secret and guard their findings jealously. At the moment, there is no straight-forward mechanism for how we reconcile the need to advance science with the need to share profits with everyone who contributed to a profitable discovery. Enter the intense discussion from this weekend, which went something like this:
“I don’t have a problem with science people using something like cells from one person to make cures for many other people, but...”
“Well, I’m not okay with that!”
"The scientific advancement isn't the problem, though, using cells is probably good, but"
“No way, I’m not okay with that!”
Eventually I managed to convey that I had a two-part thought to offer. I’d like scientists to do that work, but I’d like them to do that work within a different system than we have right now. The first couple tries, I got half my comment out and was immediately shot down. My friend thought I was either with her or against her. She didn’t give me an opportunity to expand the consideration beyond the either A or B she presented.
Which is also what a lot of public discourse feels like these days. There is hardly any room for nuance in social media comment threads, and many groups seem to function entirely on the with-us-or-against-us premise (especially the most dangerous and violent ones). The current iteration of callout culture seems to have also degraded into basically an application of the all-or-nothing.
A few weeks ago, our current president was scolding the European Union for not presenting a united enough front, saying Putin would use any scrap of an excuse to call the West divided. That comment made me wonder where all that insistence was when Putin was getting up to his bullshit over the last several decades... Or where is it now with China and their abysmal human rights stance.
The thing is: disagreement is not inherently bad. It’s healthy and beneficial to bring your own perspective to the party - you’ve experienced things in a different way than others, so you see things someone else might miss. The unhealthy practice constantly exemplified by national and international leadership is to pretend like those differences don’t exist when you have to come together on one thing you do agree on. It makes a stronger, more credible stance on issue A to be truthful and transparent about disagreeing on other things.
Every once in a while there is no way to come together. For example: you either want everyone’s humanity to be recognized or you want some people to be considered more human than others. If you are in the later camp, we really can't work together on solving any other societal problems because we will never be working in the same reality. Otherwise, you’re either with us or against us is a non-useful fabrication.
There are very few irreconcilable arguments when the rhetoric is stripped down to the core values. Which is why we cannot continue to stop at the surface statement if we want to make any progress toward a better world. We must instead take the next step to ask questions about what values or what principles are driving the offending argument. That’s where we can either agree or disagree. And that's where we can find some shared values to build upon.
There’s plenty people don’t agree on. Across the world we don’t even use the same system of measurement. Our slang is completely different. But in the end we're all the same fancy apes we have always been. Just because we don’t agree on one thing doesn’t mean we suddenly stop being able to agree on some other thing. That whole other territory between Camp Agreed-Upon Stuff and Camp Unagreed-Upon Stuff is called common ground.
Information and Inspiration
What is even happening with this week? A parent from Uvalde rescued her kids from the school, then was threatened by police to keep quiet about her story. The supreme court decided border patrol agents should be insulated from public accountability. There's an absurd controversy over the new Gerber Baby, Russia is selling grain it stole from Ukraine (and lying about it), and I spent Saturday morning working rainbow security at a Kids Pride event because adult protestors had threatened to disrupt it.
This week I have also witnessed more than the usual number of near-accident-causing extreme traffic maneuvers by frenzied drivers. It sure seems like a lot of folks are just losing their shit right about now. Which I understand because there's a lot going on. And there's been a lot going on for a while. Yesterday I nearly lost my own shit at a dance community discussion about moving to non-gendered role terms when someone conflated overturning Roe v Wade with losing his "right to choose" the role terms ladies and gents when he calls dances... That is some champion level missing of the point, right there.
I'm also too damn tired to take it all in at the rate it just keeps coming and coming. Earlier in the week a friend asked me how work was going. I replied with something like "I'm like a regular amount of behind on everything, but not an extra-high volume of behind on everything, so that's nice." Excuse me, what? Apparently at some point in the forming of this new normal we all find ourselves in, my baseline for overwhelm was recalibrated a couple notches higher.
I've arrived at a new understanding of how much is too much, but that doesn't feel like something I want to celebrate. It definitely doesn't feel like a healthy achievement. I'd like to do more than just survive this life. I've done full survival mode and I would like instead to enjoy the experience of life from a place of centeredness. But that grounding has been a challenge to settle into lately. Despite my best efforts to schedule in breaks and plan recovery time, one thing or another has interrupted all of those plans and prevented the slow-down, restore, relax and recover.
There are so many compounding apocalypses happening that my usual restorative practices no longer completely restore me to Full Self. The things I have been doing for years are now only getting me part of the way back to baseline. And the cracks are starting to show. Amazingly, some things sneaking through those cracks seem positive: I am no longer willing to be patient with people who are unwilling to participate in humanizing others. But other results are decidedly unhelpful: I’m tired pretty much all the time and constantly feeling behind on things.
So what do I do now that we are living in the Age of Apocalypse? Break some shit. Specifically those patterns and practices that are no longer serving. So far this year I’ve been varying levels of annoyed about not ever getting a break from the onslaught. I realized this week I am trying to apply outdated tech to a new kind of problem. I have been focused on finding that big serving of recuperation to go with the big serving of stress and effort. Consequently, I have been trying too hard to do relaxation a certain way instead of allowing it to happen in whatever way there is space for.
In my Taiji practice, I see my teacher only a few times a year because she lives two states away. But those times are vitally important for my journey. For me, the emotional aspect of this art is key to my personal growth and exploration. I can rest-in to standing on my own, and meditate on my own, and I can also work the physical alignment stuff with almost anyone who wants to. But my teacher's ability to see me so completely when I stand before her and her care in offering me an opportunity to see and feel some more of myself is something I have not experienced with any other teacher. And a gift I aspire to one day offer my students and the world.
Most of my training time I work the emotional stuff on my own and the physical stuff during class with my students. I help my students plumb their own depths, but I don’t have the breadth of skill to get myself unstuck from every new sticky point I find in myself. It always comes back to the emotional layer and sometimes I need a mirror in the form of another human being to see what I’ve been keeping from myself. So a couple times a year I show up to train with my teacher, like bringing my Self in for a tune-up. And every time I do, I make some significant discovery that moves my training forward several steps.
One of the reasons I keep training is because it's the glue that holds me together. The world being the way it is, I would absolutely fall apart if I didn't regularly spend time lovingly putting myself back together. The other reason is because I know the world needs this kind of healing - I feel it like an ache in my heart. I also know a lot of folks are not able to take-on their own journey of internal exploration for a variety of reasons. And I know many folks that could are not willing to do this work because it's difficult and sometimes painful.
But I don’t want to live in a world where I am not at least trying to make it better by living as an example of how we could do things differently. And I want to spread that healthful, humaning juice as far as my reach extends. So I've got to continue getting my regular tune-ups. And I also need to engage with my daily practice differently. I need to sprinkle little morsels of self-care throughout each day, allowing it to fill whatever space is available, instead of relying only on one big dose in the morning and evening. And I've got to stay present for the unfolding of whatever happens next, so I can continue to come back to myself even during all those impending future storms.
Information and Inspiration
The process will change you
For most of my career as an IRS employee, I was a union steward. I represented employees in both the formal grievance process and in informal disputes with management. I learned many things during that time, including: get everything in writing and always bring a copy of the contract (no matter how trivial the matter at hand). To my initial surprise, I resolved a great many disputes just by showing a manager the applicable contract section. I wondered why front-line managers seemed so woefully under-informed about the contents of that highly available document.
Then I did a few stints as acting manager and attended some official management trainings. And I stopped wondering. In addition to using the workflow-management software and tips for resolving employee underperformance, I learned that a thorough understanding of our contract was not a priority of the people managing the managers. Managers (and prospective managers) were simply not trained on that very important content. So as they went about the day to day tasks of managing people under that contract, they often got it wrong.
Fortunately, we (union stewards) were around to regulate. Unfortunately, we couldn't be everywhere all the time. One way I thought I could make a positive difference was by joining the ranks of management myself. Since I knew the contract back to front, I could lead by example and speak-up in management meetings to prevent bad decisions from being made in the first place. I was a high-performing employee with strong leadership skills, so management looked like it was on my horizon anyway.
So I stepped onto the career escalator, headed toward the first floor of management. Along the way I became aware of other causes for what I had previously attributed to an innocent ignorance or garden variety incompetence. I peeked behind the curtain and saw the guy pulling levers and pushing buttons. And I saw everyone else sitting quietly around and saying nothing. So I got off that merry-go-round and pulled my union hat on a little more snugly.
Sometime later I got a chance to talk with a retiring manager who had been a union steward for years before becoming a manager. He told me he regretted his cross-over into management because he had been asked so frequently to compromise his principles. He persevered because he knew he was protecting his team from something much worse the longer he stayed in his post. But the pressure weighed on him. It was like wading up-stream against a powerful current. One misstep and he was likely to be swept-away.
The recent primary election deadline got me thinking about the process of getting to a position of power and influence. With politics in particular it seems like many people start out with good intentions and some people-first principles, but somewhere along the way those inciting inspirations get lost. The process of getting from civic-minded human to well-funded, winning politician is so grueling, it reshapes a candidate's connection with their own humanity. And it's such a well-established path, there is almost no way to make it into office without running that soul-sucking gauntlet.
It reminds me of something a US Army vet once said to me: "I don't care who you are when you go into the army; when you come out, you're a killer." There is a very involved process to get ordinary humans to a place where they can kill another human if they need to. That process remakes the people who go through it into new versions of themselves. Unfortunately, there's not as lengthy or rigorous or institutionalized un-militarization process. When soldiers, marines, and sailors come back from active duty to retire as veterans there is no program they go through to be indoctrinated back into the role of ordinary citizen. There certainly should be.
It's no wonder suicide rates among veterans are well above the national average in just about every demographic. It's no wonder most politicians in a position to actually effect change aren't seizing the opportunity to make an actual difference. It's no wonder many of the managers I dealt with as an employee and a union rep were more focused on avoiding blame for a problem than fixing what needed to be fixed.
Process changes you. It's unavoidable and it's part of being human because we are the culmination of all our experiences and observations. Right now we're letting our well-established processes change people into agents of the system. No matter how you start out, by the time you make it to the control room you have become committed to maintaining that system. That's why it's almost impossible to change any massive societal system from inside as part of that system.
We could change our systems to fit people instead of requiring people to fit themselves into the cogs of our long-standing institutional machinery. It's happening in some ways in some places, like all the efforts to decolonize career advancement and higher education. To bring that same sweet juice to everywhere will require quite a lot of work by quite a lot of people. It seems worth it to me. We all have to put the work in one way or the other: to either maintain the current mechanism or to create a new one. So why not make something better?
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.