In defense of Increments
I often try to do things in the right order. For as far back as I can remember, I have been thoroughly convinced that if I do things in the right sequence, they will be done most effectively. The least amount of time will be wasted transitioning between things or retracing steps, and the maximum accomplishment of tasks will result.
Sometimes it works really well. And sometimes this tendency is actually a clever disguise for procrastaccomplishment. I’m definitely not doing a hundred things other than the one thing I’m supposed to be doing right now... I’m maximizing efficiency! Other times it can be a sneaky screen hiding some unsettled part of me I’m not yet willing to look at. Like this week, when I finally realized the high volume of house chores I’ve been feverishly tending to is actually just a stand-in for a schedule.
I like to plan things. I am a planner. I also like order and structure. These parts of me usually go nicely hand-in hand and I tend to live a well-organized existence amidst the chaos of the world. However, the last few weeks that programming has malfunctioned and my day to day has felt topsy-turvy instead. Somewhere along the line I seem to have developed a reliance on the presence of at least one of those pillars in order to facilitate the other. I can plan based on some kind of worldly order or structure. I can create order and structure within a solid plan. But I forgot (or never knew) how to do both.
Planning anything throughout this pandemic has been extremely difficult. In the beginning, everything was unknown. We locked-down expecting to be right as rain in a couple weeks. Since then it feels like every time we get a lock on something we either open-up too quickly, or a new variant emerges, or something we thought was working actually does nothing at all. It's all very un-fixed and nebulous. And it doesn't seem like that's going to change any time soon.
In the Before Time, I had plenty of events and activities shaping my schedule. Even though I worked for myself and had a fair amount of control over my schedule, I still had meetings with clients and colleagues requiring me to leave the house. I attended and taught multiple martial arts classes each week at the dojo. I went dancing. I volunteered and showed-up for board meetings. I went to the movies or concerts or theater or lectures. There were so many things occurring at a particular time and place that I did not arrange. So I worked my calendar around those fixed points.
Covid has eroded most of those anchor points into puddles. The parts of my work that were not already remote shifted online. No more ritual of leaving the house for work. All public events pivoted to online events, most of which were recorded so if the original schedule was inconvenient you could tune in another time. The dojo and the gym closed. The dojo re-opened with beaucoup covid protocols, but the gym stayed online... until it closed completely a couple weeks ago.
I didn't realize until this week those zoom gym classes were the keystone of my calendar. Not only were they reliably scheduled by forces outside myself, they happened every weekday. Weekends always include more unstructured time, but the workweek is far more determinate. At least it was when I had something definitely happening at a specific and certain time I could arrange all other tasks around. And in its recent absence I have been floating from task to task, adrift in the sea of all my to-do's.
Knowing this is both reassuring and helpful. I am not (as I was beginning to suspect) simply no longer capable of getting my act together. There's a root cause. The dock sank and I have been trying to steady my ship with buoys instead of building a new dock. And now that I am aware of what's actually happening, I can do something about it.
So what am I going to do about it? How am I going to get back to something shaped like order? When can I get back to planning? I can't foresee all the details of the entire process, but one thing is for sure: I'm going to do it incrementally.
Very few changes happen all at once. The meteor that killed the dinosaurs was sudden. Covid lockdown was sudden. But the ultimate effects of even both those massive events were gradual and built, little by little, over time. The sudden event was ultimately only a catalyst for the gradual change that came about after the inciting incident. Even the Amazon rainforest was significantly shaped by thousands of years of human influence and interaction.
So I will start with one day and bring structure to that day. Then use that anchor point to structure the days around it. Or some other method I come up with after a check-in with myself about why I'm doing the things I'm doing in my life. I will let the small shifts grow into a bigger change.
Just like we need to do with the big adjustments we have to make in society and the world. I will push for the big changes needed to end poverty, eradicate racism, and provide health, safety, education, and autonomy to everyone everywhere. And I will gladly welcome all the small incremental changes along the way. As long as it's a step is in the right direction, then it's a step we should take.
I read several stories this week about revolutionary thinkers and societal reformers refusing to accept anything less than their total and complete vision. In the end, what they ended up with was: absolutely nothing. The example that frustrates me the most is the demise of universal basic income in the United States, which could have been a reality in the 1970s. Instead, it flopped because the reformers thought it didn't go far enough. What a missed opportunity.
We have to ask for total resolution. We must demand a complete and meaningful shift away from the problems plaguing the populous. And while we unrelentingly ask for the whole pie, we need to take each tiny slice when it's offered and gobble it up. We need to use those small snacks as fuel to continue advocating for the ultimate goal of equality for all of humanity. To build a better world we cannot be anti-incrementalism. We have to be anti-stagnation. Refusing a slice because we can't have the whole pie right away gets us nowhere.
Information and Inspiration
Autumn arrived this week. The air feels crisp underneath the sunshine, everyone seems to be sporting sweaters or hoodies, and the weekend of torrential rain reminded me this is still the PNW (climate change not withstanding). Outside my house, the squirrels are storing nuts all over the yard. Inside the house, I am storing preserves from my garden harvest.
This moment of seasonal transition is bittersweet. Equal parts sadness that summer is over and excitement that holidays and hygge are just around the corner. Fall has always been my favorite season. I love absolutely everything about it from the food to the weather to the sweaters. And I will miss the summer sunshine and it's varied opportunities.
Every time I come to the end of something, I am reminded me of a poem I saw once on a bus:
I read and re-read that poem during my entire commute. I could not tell you where I was going that day or where I was coming from, but I was certainly in a period of major transition in my life. That poem felt like a little gift from the universe. A gentle invitation to reflect. And, in so doing, embrace the sadness for the end of a thing. Not just to acknowledge the loss of whatever is ending, but to hold that sadness even while a something new is growing up into the space left behind.
I feel like this year has included a lot of endings. The end of my naiveté around just how devastating the effects of our changing climate will be in my lifetime. The end of the blissful part of my ignorance about just how insidious racism and bigotry are in my community, this country, and the world. The end of my assumption that someday I will go to the grocery store without a mask on.
And while I mourned cutting the final threads by which my imagined sense of societal safety was hanging, I began gathering and storing supplies for the natural disasters and other as-yet-undefined emergencies coming in the near future. I became more fervent in my previously nonchalant desire to conserve water, energy, and other resources. We installed solar panels, changed to bulk soap in compostable packaging, signed-up for a supplementary recycling service.
I stopped being mad about racism, and got down to the business of fighting it. Continuing my anti-racist journey, I dug deeper and wider. I called out more public policy and organizational practices that support the status quo of inequity. I wrote to private companies about their racist products or thoughtless marketing. I supported striking workers. I read more books by and about humans of color and listened to more music by indigenous folks. Gathering and storing all those examples of people who look different than me having the same thoughts, feelings, and aspirations.
I lost all tolerance for the anti-mask-anti-vaxx humans prolonging this pandemic. When my gym closed recently, it was surprisingly devastating. I knew already that those zoom classes were one of the things keeping me sane and grounded during lockdown, but I didn't realize I also assumed it would be there forever. I cried for days. It felt like my best friend died. The end of that community caught me completely off guard, and so did the volume of sadness I felt at its ending. So I gathered all the workouts I happened to save from the last couple years and stored them to tide me over until some other version of that magical gym opens.
In my qigong practice, after moving through each direction we allow a circle of storing. It's one more pass with the arms feeling all the energy gather from the edges of our body in, toward our center (the lower dantian). Where it all begins and where it all returns to. The circle ends with our hands over our dantian, where we allow a breath and embrace an internal self-hug. In that moment we remember all that energy is stored and waiting for us any time we need it, and we have access whenever we want to remember it's there.
That small part of my practice is a helpful reminder that we are made of everything we experience. We carry all the parts of ourselves with us all the time. Friends, jobs, gyms, like many things, come and go. But I am always me. And I can be present for an ending even as I witness a new beginning. The thing that ends informs the next thing. Summer may be going to sleep, but we can remember it's warmth and abundance through the rest of the year. We can store it and shine it on the next beginning, whatever it happens to be.
Information and Inspiration
What are we commemorating?
For the last two weeks, 911 has been all over the news. I have heard stories explaining the confluence of circumstance that lead to the attack, personal accounts of experience during the attack, and analysis of US actions in the wake of the attack. That one event was incredibly significant for many humans individually, this country as a whole, and the world altogether. And I think we're taking the wrong lesson away from it.
That kind of catastrophic attack by outside forces almost never happens in America. It is a once in a generation cataclysm. We have a massive military, but American soldiers go away to war. War always happens somewhere else. The violence of war erupts in someone else's city, the destruction of war is wrought on someone else's home, the tragedy of war rips someone else's family apart. And I watch it on the news from my safe and un-touched home.
Just like everyone else, I remember where I was when planes flew into the twin towers. I was in the same place when they collapsed shortly thereafter: fast asleep in my apartment on the West Coast. We had a party the night before and some folks spent the night. One of them saw the early morning news, ran up the stairs into my room and shouted "the twin towers in New York just got bombed! I think we're at war!" Bleary-eyed and still half asleep, I stumbled down to the livingroom to huddle around the TV with everyone else .
And that is how I spent the next few days. Gathered around the television with my friends and roommates, constantly checking my phone for updates about my family in New York City. It was a couple nerve-racking days before I confirmed everybody I knew and loved was alive and whole. War's brief appearance on American soil had left my family untouched. I was lucky.
All those someone elses are on my mind this week. Not just the other Americans who lost friends and relatives on 911, but all the people who live that reality every day in other parts of the world. America had war visit for one day. America has visited war on many other places for months and years. Millions of people have lived their whole life amidst war. Children in Yemen attend school in buildings with blown-out walls because they are in an active war zone.
Listening to thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of the 20th anniversary of 911 right on the heels of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan feels hollow. The Taliban politely ushered us out as they ushered in restrictions on the Afghan people, especially women. And on our way out, in what feels like one last act of true Americanism, we killed an Afghani aide worker along with several members of his family because we mistook him for a terrorist. The legacy of 911 isn't about protecting people or cultivating freedom, it has turned out to be about protecting the power of the powerful.
And it started pretty much right away. Before the dust had fully settled at ground zero, Congress began expanding the government's surveillance authority. Not just on faceless foreign bad guys, but on all of us at home. It passed laws, it formed new agencies, it created a commission to investigate how this horrific event could have happened. Turns out it happened because we let it happen. It happened because America often behaves like an arrogant bully.
Increased surveillance, additional airport security, invading Afghanistan and Iraq. None of that made our country safer. I am in more danger today from my own government than I ever was from foreign adversaries. Those things were all just distractions. Something to focus on so we could avoid looking at ourselves. Avoid considering how our dismissive and cruel behavior toward the rest of the world may have visited consequences upon us.
Just as we avoid looking at the consequences of our cruel and dismissive behavior toward each other. That avoidance is enshrined in all the statues of confederates like Robert E Lee. Those monuments are not about venerating a stellar commanding officer or celebrating bravery. They are about not being wrong. The people who went to war with America to keep enslaving other people lost that war, but they didn't lose their dedication to white supremacy. They built monuments to it.
Similarly, the 911 memorial is not about honoring the lives of the people who died that day or celebrating the bravery of the first responders. It is about perpetuating the myth of America as a victim of circumstance. The people who died that day and their families who live on without them are the victims of our collective failure to be honest with ourselves.
Fortunately, we have an excellent example for how to do that in people like Silvia Foti. She initially set out to finish a biography of her grandfather, a celebrated Lithuanian war hero. Through her research she discovered a very different legacy. Her grandfather worked with the Nazis to round up Jews and displace them from their homes. Later he directly supervised the mass murder of thousands. So Silvia is now working to set the record straight.
She has faced fierce opposition, just as anyone in the US does when they try to remove a statue of General Lee. And just as many Americans ask why we need to keep talking about slavery and racism since they are things in the past, many have asked Silvia why she can't just let the history lay in the past. The events may have occurred a long time ago, but the denial about what actually took place continues today. She says, "The denial is what makes it current."
We have to set the record straight. We have to set all the records straight, especially the ones at home. Ignoring the seeds of terrorism we sew will not prevent them from blossoming. Pretending white supremacy was something else will not change racism. We can never move on until we acknowledge where we’ve been. And I'd really like to move on to a better version of ourselves.
Information and Inspiration
There’s a misconception out there that making things less personal makes them more fair. The theory goes: if we can pick the right criteria and apply them in an un-biased way, then the outcome is sure to be an equitable one. This is a nice sounding idea, and I used to believe it was possible, but it doesn’t pan-out in the real world. Humans are the ones setting the criteria. Humans are programming the selection mechanism. And humans are inherently biased. Making every system we create… biased.
No matter how hard we try to achieve fairness through impartiality, we are destined to fail. Each of us is the culmination of our life experiences. We cannot set aside everything we have seen and heard and felt during our journey to this present moment. We cannot switch-off the way we think and feel because that is how we make sense of the world around us.
And that’s okay. It’s great, even. It’s both the challenge and exactly what we need to meet that challenge.
The societal systems we create and operate in are biased, so overcoming the inequity in these systems will take some very personal solutions. For example, capitalism favors wealth. Where there is already wealth, more can accumulate. To keep all the wealth from perpetually pooling at the top, we need to redistribute it to folks with less access to wealth.
That means we need to see each individual in our society in a very personal and human way. We need to acknowledge the ultra-wealthy have more than they need. We need to recognize those folks are not any more deserving of a comfortable and privileged life just because they have one. We need to see that poor people deserve food, housing, medical care, education, and time to pursue leisure activities. Not because they have worked hard enough or earned it some other way, but because there is plenty to go around.
A similar analysis can be applied to our societal relationship with policing. Law enforcement is not better when it’s applied in an impersonal manner. Applying laws in a uniform way might be fine if everyone had uniform access to resources and the legal system. But that is not currently the case. It’s not just Cops dealing with Criminals. It’s humans with a badge dealing with humans who make decisions and take actions based on circumstances. Understanding those circumstances is critical in the pursuit of justice.
Getting society to that place of humanizing everyone requires each one of us to get personal with ourselves. We need to look at ourselves honestly and ask why we believe the things we believe. We need to identify how those narratives have served us in the past or are serving us in the present. We need to shine a light into the darkest corners of our being and make peace with what lurks there. Only by acknowledging all the parts of ourselves can we become more whole. And that process can be really challenging.
I see a lot of people falter in their anti-racism efforts, despite their genuine and fervent desire for racism to end, because they have not examined themselves with honesty to see all the ways they continue to disregarded their fellow humans. I have seen quite a few social media posts clearly frustrated by the process. This kind of post laments in one way or another that it would be a lot easier to be a white ally if all those victims of racism would just stop feeling oppressed. It feels to me like an unspoken request for all those humans of color to somehow go away and stop being constant living reminders that we haven’t solved this problem yet and there is so much work left to do.
But even if all the disenfranchised and oppressed people suddenly disappeared tomorrow, that wouldn’t end racism. The folks left behind in this fictitious scenario would just find other ways to express their well-practiced drive for superiority and hierarchy. Instead of skin color, it might be hair color or eye color or arm length to height ratio. It could be anything, and it would definitely be something. Not because humans are naturally and inherently prone to hierarchy, but because that is what we have practiced most often and most completely for so many generations.
Doomsday preppers are a very good example. Many of the folks creating stashes of food and ammunition for the End Times are preparing for a future that likely won’t exist. Despite humanity surviving by banding together for mutual support and protection during our entire history, they somehow think they can go it totally alone. The everyone-for-themselves-in-the-end attitude is only possible to plan on because these folks ignore their current reliance on other people.
They have access to what they need when they need it, largely through the efforts of other people in other places. Those other people manufacture, ship, and sell the food, fuel, and supplies these preppers gather and store. It is likely they don’t even register the impact their prepping has on anyone else because it is probably what they have practiced their whole lives. Disregarding other people is what many folks practice their entire lives.
We just have to practice something different, so we can do something different. After I passed my green belt test my teacher said, "now your training gets really personal." Up to that point, I had studied the general curriculum just like everyone else. But going through the motions of punching, kicking, blocking, and throwing would not be enough to progress to brown, brown-black, and black belt.
Getting to my black belt required something more. It required me to show up with the fullest expression of me. I had to heal old wounds and shed old narratives, accept and incorporate more and more parts of myself into wholeness. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The parts I am proud of and the parts I am ashamed of. My greatest joy and my deepest sorrow. And there’s only one way to do that: I had to practice, day after day, getting really personal.
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.