A few weeks ago I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee, listening to the news while navigating morning traffic and a story came on about Afghanistan. The suicide rate for Afghan women is up drastically since the return of the Taliban. Of course it is, I thought to myself. One minute you’re a person with hopes and dreams and a future going about your life, the next moment you’re not allowed out of your house. And there’s no end in sight. Empty promise after empty promise from the Taliban about how and where they will let women and girls participate in society. Just last week the Taliban ordered beauty salons to close. One less place women are allowed to exist.
I want to think all these women killing themselves would get the Taliban’s attention. That this incredible travesty would convince them to reconsider their policies. But no. That would require thinking about women as people instead of as objects, which the Taliban is clearly not about to start doing. From the moment they returned to power they have systematically removed women from all parts of public life while blatantly lying to the international community with vague intentions of things that sound kind of like equality.
The BBC interviewer asked one Afghan psychologist what they are saying to their patients to help them cope. "I ask 'who is your hero?'" they explained. Nelson Mandela is a common response, so the psychologist offers, "Nelson Mandela spent a long time in prison, but he was eventually freed and went on to change the world. He survived and so can you." The reality of the survival option the psychologist presented to these women and girls breaks my heart. 27 years is too long to ask someone to keep hoping for freedom without any method or opportunity to affect their own circumstance.
At this point I can only hold the most cynical view: the Taliban are doing it on purpose. The women who are killing themselves in isolation are the ones the Taliban doesn’t want around. The independent thinkers, the people with aspirations and ideas and dreams that have been crushed. The once future leaders of a more gender-inclusive Afghanistan. Without even getting their own hands dirty, the Taliban are culling the herd. Culling the hers. It makes me sick.
But it's critical to acknowledge that this group of people in power is seeing this outcome of their actions and is taking further action not to mitigate but to make it worse. When a pattern presents itself, it does us no good to consider each compounding incident in isolation. Like every horrid assault the previous US president has ever perpetrated publicly. And just like the entirety of the American food and healthcare systems.
There are countless foods (or food components) sold freely in the US that are banned in other countries. For example, 160 countries have banned US pork because of the growth hormones given to almost all pigs raised in the US for food. There are only about 200 countries in the whole world. That means roughly 80% of the countries across the entire planet have determined US pork is too harmful to consume as food. That's most of the rest of the world. And our own Food and Drug Administration has no problem with our poisoned pork. That's absurd.
If we're going to allow such toxicity in our food, it would be nice if we had a robust healthcare system to treat all the resulting ailments people develop from a lifetime of eating US food. Obviously we do not. Quite the opposite, in fact: our healthcare system is downright predatory. Insurance companies bend over backwards to avoid paying for reasonable or necessary procedures and medication. Doctors, hospitals, and other providers send inflated bills to patients, who over-pay for service because they are unaware they can (and should) question the charges. Providers rely on consumer ignorance of the incredibly complex system (they helped create), so it sure seems like they are doing this on purpose.
A more localized example of potentially intentional malfeasance recently came to my attention. It's no secret that people without indoor housing is a big problem in Portland. It's a big problem in a lot of places because capitalism sucks for most people in most places, and it's especially true after the pandemic obliterated a lot of people's livelihoods. What's new is an organization called Loving One Another that appears at first glance like they are doing something to help. They provide food to people living on the street and connect those people with shelters.
That sounds great, people without food and shelter need access to food and shelter. The problem is this religious non-profit organization is owned by the same guy who owns a private security company. The same private security company on contract with many downtown businesses and the Pearl District neighborhood group. And a new rule just came into effect that punishes anyone camping on Portland sidewalks who refuses to move to a shelter with fines or jail time. Aside from the utter absurdity of fining someone who can't afford housing, this poses a giant conflict of interest issue.
Now the pairing of one capitalist's for-profit private security firm and his non-profit religious organization are in the perfect position as both carrot and stick. The non-profit outreach team can offer a person a trip to a shelter, and if they don’t want to go for whatever reason (like they get harassed there or worse), the enforcement squad can just detain that person instead of leaving them alone. But private security are not cops, so the (very minimal) protections of the current judicial system won’t even be there to help someone who is already vulnerable avoid mistreatment by these private enforcers.
It's a situation rich with opportunity for extortion and exploitation. Just plain profiteering off the housing crisis would be distasteful. But this guy has gone a few steps further and is playing both sides in a way that will ultimately exacerbate the problem since getting people out of doorways and into temporary shelters does not address the root cause of homelessness. All it really does is make it look like someone is doing something so the city council members can pat themselves on the back while people starve and go un-cared-for in a slightly less visible way. And all because the City Council refuses to do the difficult and necessary work of actually taking care of people and solving the problems of poverty. Almost like they're avoiding that work on purpose.
Information and Inspiration
The past few weeks have been especially challenging for me. One of the places I thought was safe from a certain kind of bigotry turns out to be just as in-danger as everywhere else and it exploded my head a little. There's so much anti-trans hate and hate-fueled anti-trans legislation all over the country, but all of that is happening outside my personal bubble of trans-loving, queer-centered existence. So when this time the call came from inside the house it was like stepping on a rock I thought was solid and ending up neck-deep in the icy river.
At the end of last year's PAWMA camp I was excited the community decided to address what it means to be a "women's organization" serving a community that includes non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming folks. In true martial arts fashion, we planned to face that question directly. A gender justice committee was formed to guide us all through these challenging and important considerations and the new board included some folks who were non-binary or trans (or both). It seemed like as a community we were setting ourselves up to journey together into a more inclusive future.
And then everything went horribly wrong.
After just a couple months, half the board resigned rather than suffer bigotry and abuse from their fellow board members. The half that remained manufactured a crisis to cover up their problematic behavior and overshadow their incompetence. The community initially tried to come together to help solve the issue, but the board refused. They refused information, they refused to sit down with other community members and talk it all out, and they refused accountability. Instead, they used organizational funds to hire a lawyer who sent out letters instructing certain people to shut-up about PAWMA, which was supposed to start a dialogue (their words, not mine).
To hear the current board tell it, some Bad Actor tried to forcibly take over the organization and they heroically thwarted the plot and saved the day. In reality, they made-up an imaginary hostile take-over which they "stopped" by performing a hostile take-over... the irony is not lost on me or anyone else in the community. The board battened down the hatches and then told everyone there was a storm coming. None of the explanations they provided for their behavior make any sense at all, but they just keep insisting their version of reality is what's actually happening.
The whole thing is absurd. If it wasn't unfolding before my very eyes, it would be unbelievable. It's like the plot of a bad made-for-tv movie. The board finally held a community meeting where their "experts" gave mini presentations that also didn't make much sense and mostly failed to address the matter at hand. It was a complete fiasco. And it made their narrative make even less sense. But somehow all the push-back and honest inquiry from the community they claim to be working on behalf of has not shaken their resolve to die bravely on this hill of poor choices they built themselves.
So that's what I've been working on in all my spare time (and a bunch of my non-spare time) over the last few weeks. Standing up for justice and accountability in one small place I may have a little bit of influence. Initially I didn't want to write about this situation because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to. I didn't want to tarnish PAWMA's reputation unnecessarily. I have come to realize this is necessary. Keeping quiet only serves to further invisibilize the people who were harmed in their service to this community and discount their experience.
Part of why it took half the board resigning and a pretend-data-breach for the majority of us to catch wind of what was happening is because those people didn't speak up about what was happening while it was happening. And I don't blame them. They probably didn't know whether the community would take their accusations seriously and provide them support, or do what happens in a lot of the rest of society and try to convince them the oppression they were experiencing wasn't real and it was all a big misunderstanding.
I should have known sooner. We all should have. And once we kick these bigoted folks off their current perches of power, we will have to put some systems in place to prevent bigots from running away with the organization ever again in the future. And we'll have to do it all out in the open. There is no such thing as saving face with this issue at this time during this moment in history. The only way for PAWMA to survive this scandal is by acknowledging the totality of this dirty, rotten, TERFy mess and restructuring to address and eliminate any future potential for its resurgence.
Maybe we could have accomplished the same ends with less collateral damage if the Gender Justice Committee had been allowed to do its work. Maybe they would have performed the mission the community tasked them with last fall. Maybe not. Maybe the community didn't understand how real and pressing this issue is inside our magical PAWMAland and it would have always erupted into an out-sized mess. Regardless of what could have been, this is where we are now: playing catch-up.
Catch-up seems to be the theme of this whole year so far. I thought it was just me until I came up for air and talked to some other folks experiencing a similar thing. All the authorities say the pandemic is officially over, so now it's time to actually process all the worry and fear and frustration and whatever other feelings we set aside during lockdown so we could make it through each day. That's a whole lot on top of regular, everyday life in modern times.
I also put a lot of personal life things on stand-by between January and May because tax season was off-the-charts busy this year. I barely had time to eat and sleep most days; I couldn't even fathom socializing. So the last two months I've been trying to re-learn how to exist in social spaces. I'm trying to be a human in the world who isn't working 100% of my waking hours and it's been a surprisingly challenging transition. And because I'm trying not to lean-in to my old protocols of control and containment, I'm sometimes not sure what to do with myself.
I'm trying to be gentle with myself about not yet getting to all the things I haven't gotten to yet. A lot of those old survival techniques included not letting anyone else know anything was wrong - a technique known as masking. Because I'm trying to reroute my survival systems, my default masking protocol doesn't always match up perfectly with what's happening, so the mask has been dropping itself in some unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Which is both new and scary in a good way and also sometimes makes it hard for me to just get shit done like I'm used to.
That and all the new catastrophes that just keep popping up. It would be super great if folks could stop finding new ways to set the world on fire for like five minutes so I could get all the way through my to-do list and take a nap. Then you can fire z missiles. So don't mind me, I'll just be over here crying for seemingly no reason and working through the backlog. If you also have a backlog, I hope you're being gentle and kind with yourself while you work your way through it.
Information and Inspiration
Maybe you heard the US didn’t default on its debt obligations last week. Isn't that nice? What a responsible and ordinary thing to do. Although I am glad my ridiculous country didn’t tank large swaths of the global economic system, it hardly seems like something worth celebrating. The only good thing I can say about the deal is the complete suspension of the limit until 2025. At least we have a year and a half reprieve before we will need to re-experience this particular madness again.
The rest of the deal gives me heartburn. The spending priorities contained within its pages are completely absurd. For starters, theres a freeze on all non-defense spending. Why the hell are we spending so much on defense? We’re not actively at war. We’re not really participating in anybody else’s war. We have peaceful geographic neighbors. Apparently we are preparing for some potential future battle.
Meanwhile, in the here and now we have people without housing or who live in places where the going wage is not enough to survive on. We have people with good-paying jobs who can’t enjoy a commensurate quality of life because they are buried under high-interest student debt. And we have people dying needlessly because they can’t afford life-saving medication while medical debt remains the most common reason people file for bankruptcy.
Clearly our national leaders have their priorities out of order. Which is not a total surprise since the vast majority of congressional members are way out of touch with what it’s like to actually live in this country as a regular, non-wealthy, wage-earning person. There are a frightening number of people in congress who don’t think every human being deserves access to medical care, education, housing, and food. At this rate we’re going to have the world’s most massive military ready to defend a country full of unemployed, uneducated, sick and dying citizens.
Anytime budget priorities and allocation are discussed it’s quite clear conservatives in Congress want to eliminate social programs altogether. Despite the constituents in conservative states using those programs at high rates. Conservative lawmakers advocate for less funding allocated to those programs and more stringent requirements to access assistance. My question is always: to what end? What are they hoping to accomplish? All those restrictions do is make life even more difficult for people who are already suffering. It’s asinine to punish people for accessing the assistance specifically designed to mitigate the circumstances they are experiencing.
What we should be doing is making the social safetynet more plentiful and easier to access. If we did that, people would experience fewer crises and overall need the system less. Look what happened during the pandemic - millions of people received extra unemployment each week (more than they made from their regular minimum wage jobs) and you know what happened? People started businesses. People hired contractors to make repairs and improvements to their homes. People took classes and learned new skills. People did what people do when they have access to resources. They used those resources to make something.
The tight-fisted stewards of federal funding are willing to cut off our collective financial nose to spite our financial face. Republicans didn’t want to fund the IRS (the organization who brings in the money). They also recalled the unspent Covid funds, even though it would probably do more good to allocate them toward covering the next vaccine. It’s all part of this misconception that numbers are more important than people. That productivity can somehow save us from total collapse or unwind all the problems we’ve been causing ourselves for centuries. But just as quantitative metrics are not the best way to measure productivity in the workplace, GDP and other numerical measures are far from the best way to measure how we’re doing as a nation. It’s the human condition that matters.
What’s the point of financial security if it’s derived from the suffering and exploitation of others? That's not stability. That's a facade. And it's not sustainable. This is the same problematic territorialism in some advocacy organizations who actively oppose rights for other marginalized groups. Like the feminist organizations who excluded black women from their ranks. Or the gay organizations who threw trans folks under the bus of public opinion.
It’s perfectly fine to want a space for a subset of humans who share a particular life experience with you where you can just exist or find community and camaraderie. And it’s perfectly fine to create that space to the exclusion of other people who don’t share that similar life experience. It’s not okay to pretend those spaces are more broadly inclusionary than they are. Ignoring or invalidating the experience of others doesn’t further the cause of liberty for anybody.
Just like all the “women’s organizations" excluding trans women because they are not "real" women. There are almost as many ways to be a woman as there are women. No one subset of women has the right to define womanhood for everybody else or set some arbitrary standard by which all other women are measured. The patriarchy shouldn’t get to decide what womanhood is, which is what women everywhere have been fighting against for centuries. So why should we police what it means for each other? What does that accomplish? Only more discrimination and bigotry. I want more liberty instead.
Information and Inspiration
The last couple weeks I have been traveling in a country where English is not the primary language. Although not fluent in the local tongue, I do speak, read, and understand enough to conduct myself successfully through the world. Plenty of people here also speak English, but part of why I came to Germany was to speak German. So that’s what I’m doing. And when I need help remembering a word, I can just ask the translator app on my phone. Sometimes the word I need bubbles up to the front of my mind in the moment, before I look it up, which is very satisfying.
An interesting side effect of immersing myself in another language is that I am also thinking in that language. I wrote a postcard home and it was a challenge to stop myself from automatically slipping-in some German sentences. A few of my English sentences were even structured a little differently than usual. Not quite German construction, but call it English with a nod to stylistically German grammar.
Thinking differently is an interesting (and enjoyable) experience. Over the years I’ve taken workshops designed to facilitate out-of-the-box thinking in various ways, but they have all been entirely in my native language. It’s been fun for the language itself to be the catalyst on this trip. A great example is the difference between how American English and German each express clock time. To describe 3:30 in English, we might say “it’s half-past 3.” In German, “it’s half to 4.” The main focus for the English structure is the past, the hour we are leaving behind. The German structure is future focused, identifying the hour we are heading toward. I don’t know enough about German culture to extrapolate a grander meaning, but it’s interesting to consider.
I have also been re-reading Ursula LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” on this trip, which includes some interesting discussion on how language is shaped by (and shapes) the way people think about themselves, the world around them, and the people in it. The story takes place in a fictional universe 7 generations after anarchists left their home planet to create a new kind of society on the moon. The formerly-home-planet is fertile and rich in natural resources (like earth), while the moon is habitable but less hospitable.
The colonists left not only the economic, government, religious, and other societal systems behind, they also left their language. 7 generations later, when the story takes place, one of the anarchists must learn the language of the abandoned planet so he can visit to share scientific knowledge and information with the capitalists who still call it home. This character remarks that his (anarchist) language has no possessives, so they don't say things like "this is mine, that is yours." Instead, he explains, they say "I use this one, you use that one."
I definitely possess things and describe my objects as such. This is my sweater, these are my shoes. When I share the ownership of an object with another person I include that data point as well by saying "this thing is ours." This week I have been reflecting on how I also claim certain connections to other people. My father, my best friend, my sibling. I don't feel like I own any part of these people because people are not things, but I do feel like I am making a claim on the connection we share when I use a relationship-oriented title.
I don't think this is a problem, usually a person's position relative to me is relevant when I describe them in this way. But it is objectifying in a sense, so I'd like to be doing it consciously. Just like using all the relatively commonplace honorifics we use in English (or any other language you speak). It's important to consider who bestows titles like Mr, Mrs, Doctor, Professor. It's important to ask how they are assigned? And just as important to ask who is left out? When are they excluded? And why? Language is one of the many ways to uplift or oppression each other, so we should take care how we wield that power.
People are doing things differently in the different places they are living. They are using different languages and speaking differently about people, places, and things. Because language is also constantly evolving, the way we express ourselves is growing and changing all the time. Technology has connected us globally and instantaneously, so we seem to be changing at a faster rate than the humans of prior centuries. I would like us all to examine what those shifts mean and to choose as many as we can with intention.
Information and Inspiration
For the last several years I have been on a quest to set myself free. First it was freedom from my controlling x-spouse. Then it was freedom from my rigidly unadaptive government job. With those two major life pillars rearranged, I turned toward finding freedom from all the fears and insecurities I collected over the years. It's been a challenging and rewarding process, with much community support along the way. One of the most helpful avenues of self-reflection has been (and continues to be) my martial arts practice.
On my way to brown belt, I discovered I was worth protecting. I divorced my x-spouse and shifted away from that specific (and very damaging) dynamic in other relationships. I could not have achieved my brown belt without ending that marriage, and I could not have gotten divorced without working toward my brown belt. Because martial arts is about building a complete human being (mind, body, and spirit), I had to confront the social and emotional reasons I wasn't willing to protect myself from people I loved.
And before I could do that, I had to notice what was happening. Situational awareness is a martial skill we practice in a variety of ways on the training floor. It's also a life skill that requires a different kind of practice. No matter the application, expanding my consciousness further and further beyond myself without just being overwhelmed requires a good deal of grounding. It's easier to reach out when I am more aware of my internal landscape.
Growing that awareness often starts with exploration. And exploration often starts with a question. My journey from brown to black belt included an even greater degree of introspection. I needed my internal arts practice of Taiji and Qigong to fill-in the gaps of my external martial expression. I also needed to do all that same work to free myself from the unhealthy or outdated narratives woven throughout my life and relationships tethering me to behaviors and patterns that no longer served my health and well-being.
In my solo practice, I ask myself questions. When I train with my teacher, she asks me questions. When I train with my fellow students, we ask each other questions. Until recently, I thought I had to ask the right question in order to be helpful. Since I have been exploring more ways I can let go of perfectionism, I decided to practice by asking the first question that came to my mind during a workshop instead of waiting until I had the prefect question. And you know what? It worked. I was helpful.
Even though the question I asked was not exactly right about what was happening for my training partner in their body, it was the gateway they needed to a deeper consideration. The value wasn't in my seeing exactly the correct piece that would perfectly "fix" their issue, it was in offering my perspective. I could see something from my vantage and I simply offered what I saw without attachment to being right about it. I asked a question they didn't think to ask themself and that was what they needed.
I'm incredibly grateful to share this practice with people who can ask me questions when I get stuck. We would all benefit if this was a more common practice in broader society. It isn't now because most of us are too caught-up in trying to be right, just like I was. The art of sincere inquiry is necessary for self-exploration as well as for relating to each other. The fastest way to deescalate an argument is by responding with curiosity instead of confrontation. And the only way to grow that skill is to practice it.
I would love to see more examples in popular media. I would also love to see a greater (and more honest) variety of outcomes from the practice of personal growth. Take for example the classic love story where two unlikely lovers meet, one person ruins the romance by hurting the other person, then learns a lesson and apologizes, and they get back together and live happily ever after. That's one possible outcome, but it's the least realistic and most uninteresting.
I want to see the story line where the guy is a dumbass and the girl leaves him, then the guy learns a lesson and apologizes and that's the end of it. He doesn't "get the girl back,” he just owns his bad behavior and apologizes, and they both move on with their lives like autonomous adult humans. I’m tired of the assumption that aggrieved parties are all just waiting dutifully by until The Jerk learns their lesson and apologizes. It's not all our life’s mission to be an object for a slightly-more-well-adjusted-former-asshole.
I think more examples of that kind of interpersonal development would do society a lot of good. The unhealthy dynamic currently played-out all over the place is exactly the same as excusing lying, cheating, lecherous politicians for their bad behavior while continuing to reelect them cycle after cycle. Take the very present example of that one guy who got indicted and arraigned a couple weeks ago. The charges were fairly mundane given all the unhinged illegal shit he has done (and admitted to on camera) over even just the last few years. But somehow a whole lot of people continue to want to excuse his wretched behavior.
Doing the same thing over and over isn't getting us anywhere new. It's just getting us exactly where we are. Just like the current president choosing to run for another term in office. I don't have a problem with old people doing important jobs. But I do have a problem with a politician who has been in Washington for the last half century continuing to occupy a leadership role. Like all of the Old Guard, Biden continues to play the old game the same old way. It's a problem because the world is not the same as it was when they established their protocols and honed their methods.
No matter his party affiliation, Biden is a capitalist through and through. And that’s not what we need to solve the current problems and bring us forward together into a future where everyone is taken care of. Biden can say he’s pro-labor and pro-union all he wants, but I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering what he and Congress did just a few months ago when the rail workers were planning to strike. He’s not evil, but he's not actually progressive either. Endorsing him right away is basically like giving up before the election even begins.
Politicians from my parents (and grandparents) era shouldn't still be in-charge today. They should have retired and passed the baton to the next generation of leaders decades ago. And they should have focused more on succession planning while they were in office rather than clinging to their post in perpetuity. Because these folks struggle to let go of being in-charge, we are all in the position of the present with too few viable contenders.
At this point it seems like the great political mission of GenX and Millenials will not be to take charge next, but to usher out the old guard and usher in Gen Z. The youngest generations are fired-up and full of energy. They see the world falling to pieces around them and want something done about it. What's more, they want to do something about it. We should harness that juicy change energy and get out of their way. Let the young folks loose on the problems of the world. They won't solve things like everyone has done before them, they will ask different questions. And I think that's exactly what we need.
Information and Inspiration
A video came up in my TicTok feed recently that pinged some things for me. The message isn't hate-filled or even entirely incorrect, but it felt like it was missing some critical pieces. And without those considerations, its message is deeply problematic. It's basically 8 minutes of one person's philosophical musings on why it doesn't matter what pronouns other people use to talk about them. What they didn't articulate, but which is a critical distinction: it doesn't matter to them because they are sufficiently disconnected from the consequences of those labels.
The video first points out that gendering of pronouns occurs only with third-person pronouns. The first person pronouns of I and me are universal and genderless, just like the second person pronoun of you. They ask why they should care what pronoun someone uses when talking about them to another (third) person whey they are not around. It's like they have never noticed when anyone has referred to them in the third person while they were also present. Or they have never noticed they sometimes have to read something written about them in the third person.
The video creator is un-bothered because their True Self has no identity; we're just making all this identity stuff up. Yes. Exactly. Identities are a societal construct. But when you are handed an identity by society or the people around you, you then also live-out the consequences of being assigned that identity. It doesn't matter if you reject that label or all labels. The outcome is the same: your experience in society is directly impacted by the labels you are assigned. If that label sucks, then you have to push against it somehow. One way to do that is by shedding that crappy identity and fill the space with something else that doesn't make you want to die inside. In modern society most of us seldom get the chance to just exist.
All measurements of objects exist only relative to other objects. People are not objects, but the video's reference to Einstein's theory of relativity kind of works in a similar way. As I exist in the world, I simply am. I am just me. But I don't live in a formless, solitary vacuum, so I eventually interact with the physical space and with other people. Interaction with physical spaces is how I learn things like I am too short to reach certain products on certain shelves in the grocery store. Interaction with other people is how I learn things like I am shorter than some people and taller than others. Over time, I learn what any of that means for me relative to anyone else.
So even though, as the video creator says, when a person attacks you they are not attacking the real you, they are only attacking who they think you are, and therefore "only if you identify with what they are attacking will you suffer," that doesn't solve the problem of being attacked. This would be a fine resolution if we were all on equal footing in society. If no one had any kind of power over me to affect my day to day living experience in any way, then it wouldn't matter what anyone else thought about or called me. But because the made-up labels come with real consequences, that makes the labels matter. The video creator's answer to this is if rejecting labels means you don't fit into society, then fuck society.
Wouldn't that be nice if we could all just extract ourselves from society? It's fine to detach yourself from the world if you have the skills and resources to do that. But that is not actually a solution to the problems that come from interacting with society or other people. All that does is insulate you from the problem. A lot of people don't have that option. And a lot of the people most affected by the ills of society are the least-resourced people, which makes them the least likely to be able to just escape. Which means the people who have the ability to just leave are the ones who should be investing their time, energy, and resources in making a better society that nobody has to insulate themself from.
It feels important to say clearly that I don't think this person's understanding or explanation needs to be perfect. It doesn't even need to perfectly consider all the things I think it should include. They are in-process just like the rest of us, and as they say at the end of their video, "this is their process." So that's great. Carry on with your process. And also, it's important to me to point out the places where the application of this viewpoint is problematic. Philosophy is interesting and theorizing is important, but I am ultimately interested in outcomes, not just ideas.
It reminds me of the times I've been bowling at a place with electronic screens and automatic scoring. You throw your ball down the lane and knock over however many pins you knock over. If you're highly skilled at bowling, you knock them all down and it's someone else's turn. If you're like me, you hit some number of pins (or none) and a variety of pins remain standing. That's when the computer flashes a tip up on the screen. It shows a diagram of the remaining pins with an arrow for where you need to send your next ball in order to knock all the remaining pins down. I always imagine the screen is saying "just do this!" As if it were just that simple.
And it is. All that is needed is a ball thrown at that one simple angle. But if I had the skills necessary to take the screen's advice, I probably wouldn't need the screen to tell me what to do. Which means it's not actually that simple. It's complicated, just like dealing with other humans and existing in the world that isn't built for every body. You can't say something is not a problem just because you have never experienced that particular problem. And you can't just leave and call that a solution. But you can help change the system so when you or anyone else struggles within it, the means exist to fix the issue.
Information and Inspiration
When a butterfly begins life, it is a hungry little caterpillar. It eats and grows and eats and grows and eats and grows until it's time to become something different. And then some freaky nature magic happens. The caterpillar builds itself a cocoon and then melts into a soup of pure potential. It grows its new self from that soup, and when it emerges from that chrysalis it is a completely different creature. Somehow the butterfly even manages to maintain memories from its time as a caterpillar. Totally incredible.
I've been going through my own chrysalis period the last few weeks. I didn't hang upside down from a tree branch, but I cocooned myself in work during a very intense tax season. Overall, it went really well: I put together a good team, we had good systems, and we did good work. I'm proud of everything we accomplished (and even more impressed with just how much we got done by the deadline), but the pace and volume of work was grueling. Long months of long weeks of very long days with little time outside the office and no time for rest or recovery.
The way I have survived similar periods of concentrated overwork in the past was by being a tough guy and just pushing through. I flipped on survival mode, put my head down and did what I needed to do to get shit done by the deadline. I rode the wave of momentum to keep up the ceaseless level of effort, and then collapsed the moment I crossed the finish line. So that's basically what I did this year, but with some unexpected consequences.
The pace and manner of my tax season participation awakened some of the deep dark personal demons I thought I already worked-through and resolved. And of course I have worked through them, but the old neural pathways are still there no matter how dusty or cob-webbed they may be. Once I got over my initial disappointment at having to deal with these same inner demons again, I realized their arrival actually makes perfect sense. Those demons were the ones who built survival mode in the first place.
That protocol was constructed during the part of my life when I took-on or was handed responsibility for too many things. I thought it was my role in the world to take up as little space as possible and give as much of myself as I could give (and then a little more) to work, volunteer work, home, and family while having no needs or feelings of my own. And if I did need or feel something, I was supposed to take care of all that myself. How exhausting.
Obviously that's not sustainable, so I had to do something to stay alive. One by one the demons showed up, and together they crafted a way I could get through it. Eventually, I decided I wanted more out of life and extracted myself from the relationships reinforcing those toxic narratives. Then I began the long and painful process of removing the metaphorical string and bubble gum that was keeping me together and mending the cracks in my soul left by all that abuse.
Part of that healing included deconstructing the wall I put up to prevent anyone from noticing I was having feelings. Over the last few years I have dismantled a good portion of that wall, stone by stone. I haven't had a clear vision of what should replace it, I was just focused on taking it down to make space for something else. So when I engaged the outdated survival mode protocol and accidentally summoned all the old demons, all the old feelings came too. But this time there was no containment mechanism, so feelings just flooded out and got all over the place.
The old methods don't fit my current circumstances, and even if I could just lock it all away behind a wall I don't want to. I don't want to be more coping strategies than person. I want a different relationship with these once-protector parts of myself. One that isn't so devastating when they arise. So I am sifting through what is merely surviving while allowing the status quo to persist and what helps me live through tumult while also building something more sustainable for the future. A process that feels very much like I am breaking down most of my self parts into formless, primordial goo.
I'm not sure what form I will take when I fully emerge, but I am aiming to treat myself with more curiosity and less control and containment. The wall I have mostly torn down was built for control and containment. You know what else was built for and persists on control and containment? The Patriarchy. I'd like to tear that down too. But I won't be able to if I lean-in to perfectionism and try to erase the parts of me that don't fit into the societally assigned acceptable box.
All I will be doing in that case is working against myself. Just like the two marginalized groups that feature prominently in the latest Black Panther movie "Wakanda Forever." It was an action-packed and entertaining super hero film, but it was also a commentary about recognizing your actual enemy. A lesson about seeing not just the foe right in front of you, but the greater threat lurking in the shadows waiting for you to squabble yourself to pieces before they swoop in for the final blow.
The story follows the only two nations to have discovered and mastered the highly powerful (and highly valuable) substance of vibranium. Wakanda is the land-dwelling, highly advanced society we already knew, and we discover Talocan have been similarly thriving deep under the ocean. For most of the movie they are at odds. Talocan demanding Wakanda ally itself with them under threat of annihilation and Wakanda resisting being bullied into championing another nation's fight.
To me as the viewer, it was clear they should just join forces and protect each other. But humans are complicated and we can't always see the path that will bring us greatest access to health, peace, and well-being. So Wakanda and Talocan fought it out and damaged each other before they realized what the audience already knew. It was good story-telling in part because it was so relatable.
So why do we have to fight amongst ourselves? Probably the same reason we sometimes fight against ourselves. Because we're all traumatized and it's nearly impossible not to lash out from our trauma at those around us. I think it's also sometimes necessary to go through the whole process. Even if I've traveled this dark, windy, thorny road before, I might have to experience the entire journey to gain the embodied understanding of where I end up.
This is why we need to champion each other's causes. If I can stand for my fellow humans, it gives those folks space to fall apart and heal. Then they are more whole and more able to be rested and ready when I need someone to stand up for me. The only way out of this mess of inequity and inequality is slogging through the sticky quagmire of humans relating to other humans. If we can give each other a hand, then we all get to be free.
Information and Inspiration
I want to be internally whole and harmonious. It feels good. And it makes coping with everything life throws at me a little less arduous. So I spend time shining a light into the dark and shadowed corners of my internal world. I dredge up shameful secrets. I open locked doors and sift through the traumas and the treasurers. Over the years I have reconciled many sides of my Self and I have made tremendous progress toward wholeness. Recently I have felt a bit stalled in this effort.
I realized this feeling like I'm treading water is because I am afraid. Afraid that if I am to congruous it might make me too powerful. A truly whole and complete me might be more powerful than I can control and contain myself (as I have spent most of my life doing in various ways). And that might mean I end up on the radar of somebody much more powerful who is interested in controlling and containing me. I definitely don't want that.
I want freedom and autonomy. Unfortunately, I got in the habit of denying myself greater liberation in a misguided attempt to avoid unwanted scrutiny. I adopted one of the great (and cruelly ironic) false narratives handed to everyone by the structure of our society: if you want freedom, keep yourself in-check. But that's not actually freedom... That's coping. And I'm tired of continuously coping with the way things are.
A lot of people (with and without various kinds of power) are threatened by my very existence. I don't fit cleanly into many of the societally-defined boxes. But I do pass real well. At first glance, I seem relatively normative. I don't look like anybody's worst nightmare of a queer, polyamorous, anti-capitalist with ADHD and anarchist leanings. So sneaky.
Even though keeping parts of myself undercover began as a survival strategy, now it means I get insider access to spaces other people like me are not welcome in. And that gives me opportunity to disrupt problematic attitudes and assumptions. It gives me a chance to humanize more kinds of people in the eyes of more kinds of people.
So while the prospect of drawing the attention and ire of bigots and authorities is frightening, I'm in a protected-enough position that I can be living out-loud a little bit more. The more I admit and embrace all the aspects of myself, the more permission I give other people around me to do the same. And the more I show people who have less access to resources or community support that they are not alone. That feels worth the risk.
Information and Inspiration
Fred Rogers derived a great deal of meaning from the number 143. This week being the 143rd OnHumaning essay, it felt like an appropriate moment to celebrate one of the most devoted life-long humanizers of the modern age. To Mr Rogers, the numerical phrase 1-4-3 was a stand in for the phrase "I love you" (I = 1 letter, love = 4 letters, you = 3 letters). Love was at the core of everything Mr Rogers created and shared with the world. It was the generous spirit he brought to his work.
When the documentary “Won't You Be My Neighbor?” came out in 2018, I saw it 5 times in the theater. And I cried every time. It is a very sweet telling of the life and works of a very sweet human being. The more I learn about Fred Rogers, the more I admire about. What stands out the most to me was his utter authenticity. He was the genuine article, as the saying goes. He always did things the way he thought things should be done. I try to emulate his example, being the change I want to see in the world.
I grew up on a steady diet of Mr Rogers and his neighborhood and I learned a lot of important lessons, often without even realizing it. One thing I learned was how important it is to recognize and appreciate each person's unique contribution to the world. No one individual has the exact same thoughts, feelings, or perspective as another person, and our coming together with those differences from a place of genuine curiosity is how we find common ground. And that's what makes the magic happen.
Another thing I appreciate about Mr Rogers is his subtlety. Until I saw the 2018 documentary, I had no idea he was a religious minister. It took me by complete surprise because most examples of religious leaders I see in the media are loud and obnoxious, dripping with volatile judgement for anyone who thinks or acts differently than whatever the one way they proclaim is righteous. Mr Rogers didn't preach like those people. He simply existed. And in so doing invited others to try on an existence of love and caring for on another as well.
I hope to be just a sneaky. I'd like to be an example in the way I move through the world that inspires other people to actively demonstrate care for everyone around them, especially people they don't know and may never meet. The things Fred Rogers had to say were similarly out of line with the prevailing societal winds of narcissism and personal safety by controlling others. I think one reason nobody shut him down was because he didn't seem threatening. He didn't arrive with an argument. Therefore there was nothing to argue against.
But his message was insidious. It seeped in through the cracks left in all our souls by the detrimental aspects of society. And it helped some of us fill those cracks with healing and knit ourselves back together. I didn't realize the breadth and extent of the balm I received for my soul from Mr Rogers and his neighborhood until after he died. Fortunately, it left its mark on me forever. Just like all the crappy parts of existing in modern society, I soaked up all the beautiful and healing love from all my exposure to Mr Rogers.
We should all be so lucky. I don't know that there are fewer examples of people like Fred Rogers today, but there are a very high number of people actively working to dehumanize other people. Maybe it's just because those jerks are so loud and there are so many of them in positions of power that they seem so many. But that's also the point: there aren't enough examples of the Fred Rogers way of being in positions of power in the world right now.
This week Uganda's parliament passed a bill making it illegal to identify as gay. It hasn't been officially signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni yet, but that seems quite likely given his vocal support thus far. Interviews with gay and trans Ugandans have been a feature in the news since the bill passed and the future these ordinary people see for themselves is truly horrifying. The blackmail and extortion has already begun and the ink hasn't even dried.
This morning three Ugandan women who identify as lesbians used false names to speak on the BBC program "Outside Source." One of them paraphrased the law in a perfect way: "I have a right to take away your right and you have no right to have a right." That is exactly what laws like this one in Uganda and the many similar anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in the US are saying. It makes absolutely no sense to legislate who anyone is allowed to be. But a lot of jurisdictions are doing it anyway.
A lot of people are also fighting back against these horrific and dehumanizing laws, but not enough of the people with the power to stop this madness are actually doing anything meaningful about it. Talking points are not enough. We need our governmental representatives to take action. Bold action. Immediate action. Real action. And we need them to keep doing it until the problem is all the way fixed. They need to keep chipping away at hatred, injustice, and bigotry until everyone is safe and taken care of.
To get there from where we are right now, we all need to take greater responsibility for each other. Not because we'll get something out of it (although we absolutely will), but because no one can thrive while their fellow human beings suffer from abuse and neglect right beside them. This is why wealthy and healthy people work so hard to distance themselves from the existence and effects of poverty. If they had to live among the suffering brought about by their lifestyle, they could not stand for it and remain whole. So they put up walls around their neighborhoods, eat in exclusive restaurants, and travel in private planes.
It doesn't have to be this way. Each of us wouldn't have to work so hard to meet our own needs if we could rely instead on our community to support us. If we pooled our collective efforts to ensure our collective survival. Just like adults are doing with children in Japan. There they see children as everyone's collective responsibility, so it's perfectly ordinary for very young children to do things like ride public transit or run errands by themselves. And if a child needs help while they are out and about, they can turn to any adult for assistance.
That's what we should be doing more of: taking care of each other. And the good thing about that is we don't have to wait for laws to be passed or the hearts and minds of bigots to change. We can just do it. Like Fred Rogers, we can live-out an example. May all our neighborhoods be like that of Mr Rogers. May we see each other as fellow passengers on the roller coaster of life. May we embody compassion for people whose life experience or struggle we cannot personally relate to, even if - and especially if - we don't quite understand it.
Information and Inspiration
This week I got a flat tire on my way to something important. Twice. And it wasn’t just a bit low on air. It was completely, rubber-floppingly, all-the-way-to-the-pavement flat. Both times. Fortunately, the first time I wasn't far from home and I happened to be next to a tire repair shop. So I left my car with the experts and caught a ride to my event. Someone else driving gave me a different perspective along an otherwise well-travelled route, and I noticed a quote on a billboard I hadn’t seen before:
According to the internet, well-known psychologist Carl Rogers made that pronouncement. I had never heard of that person until I Googled their quote, but I didn't need to know who they were to agree with that slice of wisdom pie. I feel quite strongly that no matter what we're doing or how we're doing it, we're always practicing something. I spent many years putting other people's needs before my own in relationships, so I became a person whose needs were not prioritized. That dynamic only changed when I began to practice a different way of relating to loved ones.
That gem of an insight also reminds me of something my Taiji/Qigong teacher has been saying for years which I now say to my students all the time: it's always your turn. Even when you're not the partner "doing the action" in a training drill, you still have an important role and you are still working on something. Even if all your doing is standing still while your partner identifies all the open targets in your posture, you are working on confront by watching strikes come in and keeping your awareness and your wits about you.
Beyond its application to martial arts, this concept feels especially poignant this week. According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have all the tools and ability to avert the worst outcomes from global climate change but we're not employing them effectively. To avoid impending doom, nations and industry must take drastic action and they have to do it soon. Like yesterday. But year after year world leaders negotiate incremental adjustments they fail to accomplish. As a global community, we're not doing what we need to do about climate change because we're still practicing what we've been doing the same way we've always been doing it.
Meanwhile, people of parenting age in China aren't getting married and making babies in sufficient numbers to keep the population up. This week a city in China launched its own state sponsored match-making app and included all the local residents without consulting them first. This move is such a glaring example of the simultaneous missteps of missing-the-point and making-things-worse.
Marriage rates are down in China for a myriad of reasons, including economics. Many folks say they can't afford to get married, but instead of addressing the root-causes, the government does what it's most practiced at doing: forcing people to behave how the government wants them to behave. And best of luck to anyone who wants to avoid a stalker or an abuser, or who isn't getting married because they happen to be gay.
The whole situation is a horrifying example of dehumanizing one of the most human things in the world: romantic love. Sure, the State has lots of data about all the people and it can certainly group two of them together. But this "service" is not likely to use metrics chosen by those people. The state sponsored match-maker is undoubtedly making matches according to its own criteria, pairing couples based on what is most likely to further the government's interest. Add this to the stack of things created “for people” that doesn’t actually take people into account.
Another highlight from this week is the 20 years that have elapsed since the US invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and discover all the weapons of mass destruction he was supposedly hiding. I heard an interview on the BBC news with Richard Armitage, who was the Deputy Secretary of State during George W Bush's administration when the Iraq invasion began. Armitage spoke rather candidly about what made the US operation such a catastrophe.
The most striking observation to me was how Armitage described the ignorance of the US national security team. Apparently the folks in charge thought it would be easy to just show up, install democracy, and then leave. They had no understanding of the tribal nature of Iraqi politics, governance, or societal structure. So we didn't know what we were doing. But we ran in there, guns blazing, and did it anyway. Because we thought it, that made it a good idea... because that's what the US always does. And then everyone has to deal with the consequences of our national practice of arrogance and ill-informed assuredness.
Another quote from Carl Rogers fits nicely in with this consideration: "Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me." Thinking about your values and imagining your principles is one thing, but it pales in comparison to the embodied experience of living-out those values in the way you move through the world.
It's always my turn. Even if it seems like my individual actions have no effect in shaping the grand universal design, I am still a participant. I can choose to participate passively, going with whatever flow happens to present itself to me, which lumps my effort in with that of the prevailing wind. Or I can participate deliberately, choosing how to engage with the people, places, ideas, and world around me, which adds my efforts to the stack aimed at the outcome I desire.
As Paul Rulkens says in his TedxTalk, "If you do what everyone else is doing, you get results that everyone else is getting, and those are normal results. And the thing is, what we are after today, are extraordinary results." The time is long gone when mere minor shifts could save us and rescue our one and only planet. Today we are facing the accumulation of several generations of fossil fuel use. That means we have to take a several-generation-scale step in a completely different direction if we hope to end up in a different place.
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.