I subscribe to a Substack newsletter for writers by Lani Diane Rich. A few weeks ago, she wrote about being bad. On purpose. It made me laugh.
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I’m one of those people who has a recording angel at my shoulder, busily writing down every single less-than-perfect thing I think, say, or do. It’s a full-time job.
The idea of being bad – on purpose! – caught my attention.
Well, maybe not on purpose. Maybe just living in such a way that “bad” and “good” don’t enter into … anything.
But then again, maybe on purpose. Maybe writing badly, acting badly, cleaning a dish badly, or eating a whole pizza and letting the grease run down my chin without regret or guilt on purpose.
My horror at the idea (not about the pizza, though) makes me giggle.
This writer makes a great point. Doing things badly, in general, will result in negative feedback of one kind or another. But so does doing things well. In fact, sometimes doing things well results in more negative feedback than doing them badly! Then there’s always the average middle ground: doing things well enough to get by, thereby avoiding attention for being really good or really bad.
Ugh. I’d rather be bad than fit myself into average if I can’t manage good.
How many times in my life have I thought or said, “I’m doing the best I can”?
Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands.
Why is it my job to do the best I can?
It used to be my job because I had to justify my existence. However, I’ve outgrown that mindset now and I can’t take it very seriously. I don’t have to justify my existence anymore.
I also did it to stay safe and get loved.
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It didn’t work.
I do it to make a deal with the Universe. I’ll do this thing as best I can if you’ll make sure I’m OK.
Hard to say if that’s effective. I’ve always been OK, but I might have been without killing myself trying to be good.
I do it to prepare for failure. I’ll try as hard as I can, and if (when) I fail, at least I’ll know I gave it my best.
Failure and success. I’ve redefined those. I haven’t always gotten the success I’ve wanted, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. In fact, some of my most stunning missteps and miscalculations have turned out to be life-changing gifts.
In the end, I have one good reason for being good, and that has to do with my own integrity. It’s important to me to know I’m doing the best I can in everything I do. I don’t expect praise or rewards. I’ve learned (sadly) it’s no guarantee my needs will be met. I know better than to expect reciprocity or appreciation.
It’s simply who I choose to be in the world.
But here’s a question: are “bad” and “good” mutually exclusive? Would I be more flexible, more creative, healthier, happier, and more whole if I could be bad as well as good? Is there unexplored territory in badness? Could the ability to choose to be bad be part of being good?
Could I choose to be some degree of bad along with good?
Being skilled, productive, effective, useful, kind, reliable, honest, etc., etc. all the time takes a lot of energy.
A lot of energy.
When we’re kids, we’re taught good things come to people who are good.
It would be nice if life was that easy.
I can’t help but notice while I’m doing my best from dawn to dusk some other people are not. Other people are sloppy and lazy and careless and they’re not struck down dead by a celestial lightning bolt.
A little voice in my head says that’s all the more reason I have to be continually good, to pick up the slack the fuck-it-I-don’t-care people leave.
Bullshit. I’m not the Cosmic Miss Fix-It.
Maybe it’s okay to think about taking a break from the job of being “so goddamn excellent all the time,” in Lani’s words.
Everyone needs a day off now and then. A lunch break. A vacation. Maybe I’ve worked too much overtime being excellent. Maybe I’ve lost my work-life balance.
We are paradoxically stuck in the process of moving. Sometimes I feel we’ll never stop moving, and we’ve never done anything except slog through moving. Not true, of course. It’s only been about 4 months.
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One of the fun things about moving, for me, is creating a new home. Rearranging possessions and furniture. Making new mental maps of space and how to navigate from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen. I’m looking forward to that, but every day it feels farther ahead in an unobtainable future.
I’m figuring out strategies to help myself through this.
Right now, I’m metaphorically rearranging my mental furniture.
Most people arrange their living rooms around the focal point of a screen. It’s funny to think that’s only been true for the last 100 years or so. I would hardly know what to do with a living room that does not contain a screen.
Currently, my mental and emotional living room is overwhelmed by a big screen on which the reality show Moving is endlessly and relentlessly playing. Attached to the screen, of course, are a sound system, remote controls, and all kinds of additional tech and equipment. Beside the screen is a neon calendar counting down the weeks to yet another closing date (our fourth), and along the bottom of the screen a continuous feed of rising interest rates and costs for everything from cat food (if you can find it) to heating oil. I don’t have room to breathe. I can’t escape the noise. I can’t pull my attention away. I feel imprisoned and disempowered.
I want it to be over, to turn it off, to turn away, to think about something else.
I have hot, red fantasies of sledge hammers and the sound of smashing glass. (This is an old fantasy. I am a secret wannabe serial TV screen murderer. Turn off the effing TV!)
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I can’t do much about the fact that the only sheets I still have unpacked are flannel, boxes are stacked to the ceiling in one room, another room is filled with empty boxes, tape, packing material, markers, and objects waiting for the right sized container. I’m not going to start unpacking because the weeks are dragging on.
But I can do something about my internal landscape, and I have got to get that screen out of my living room! Turning it off is not enough. It has to go, along with the sound system, remote controls, calendar, and scrolling rising interest rates.
I decided, a few days ago, to Stop Caring. Just stop. At least, Stop Caring so much.
I did Stop Caring for a day or two. A friend asked me what I did over the weekend, as she knew I was going to Stop Caring about Moving. I told her I worried about not caring, and she laughed. Will I stay stuck forever if I don’t Care? Am I supposed to Care? Is Caring some integral part of the process? Is something wrong with me if I Stop Caring? Am I abandoning or betraying the cause? Am I giving up?
I know. It’s ridiculous. But all you worriers understand. I know you do!
Anyway, I realized after I Stopped Caring I was feeling depressed. And I asked myself, is not Caring the same as sinking into apathy and depression?
Well, if so, that’s not good. That’s not what I want, either.
It was a relief to Stop Caring for a while. But I don’t want to Stop Caring about everything. I mean, I still have work to do, and people to love, and words to write, and the cats to enjoy. I still want to listen to music and light candles and exercise. I still want to read, and laugh, and hang out with friends.
What I want is to push back against the feeling nothing matters except Moving, that there is no life until we’ve successfully made this transition. I don’t want to watch the clock, watch the calendar, watch my email, watch the interest rates, worry about contracts, and think about all the places and ways I have no power in this process. I want to Stop Caring about all that.
I have to decide what to care about and what not to care about, and then I have to be constantly present with where my attention is and disciplined about redirecting it.
Oh, good. Just what I need. More work.
If we don’t arrange our living room around a screen, how do we use that space? What can I look at instead of the screen?
Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash
A window and the world beyond it. The weather. The sky. The light. Birds and trees and all the other life responding to spring, feeling the call of mating, foraging for food, living their lives as temperatures moderate and the light strengthens.
A bookcase. If you don’t love books, this makes no sense to you. If you’re a bibliophile, I needn’t say more.
A fireplace, or hearth, or stove. A source of warmth, light, alchemy, primal comfort.
A piece of art.
A spiritual altar; maybe something as simple as a candle.
And so on.
The point is I have a choice about where my attention is and what I care about. Clock and calendar watching are not effective or useful. Neither is obsessing over the interest rate or compulsively checking my email and the latest real estate listings. In fact, those activities add to my stress and make time slow down. Far better to Stop Caring about the clock and calendar, shut the computer, and channel my Caring into enjoyable things, creative things, small tasks and pleasures anchoring me to everyday life right here, right now, in the pre-spring season in central Maine.
The places in which I have power deserve my Caring and attention. They deserve my effort and presence. I don’t need to squander my love and Care in places where it’s neither effective nor appreciated.
It’s my living room, and I’m choosing what’s in it.
I’m doing it again. Dissenting. Doubting. Questioning the status quo. Looking for new or buried information.
Thinking critically, in other words.
I know unthinking conformity is convenient, but I’ve always been an inconvenient sort of person.
This time it’s about diet, and fat, and cholesterol.
I’ve written several posts on this subject before. Here’s the first one.
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I know it’s all wrong to eat meat and animal fat and stay away from plant-based food of any kind, but it solved my health problems.
I’ve had a lot of bad experience with doctors. For much of my life, I’ve been completely intimidated by doctors or anyone else in authority, especially men. I’m not afraid of blood draws and exams, but unable to speak up for myself, ask questions, or dare to fail to please in any way. Which means in and out of the office as fast as possible, making no fuss, not speaking except to answer questions succinctly, never disagreeing, and thanking the doctor extravagantly for their time and trouble, even if (especially if) I felt completely unseen, unheard and unsupported.
(Oh, and desperately minimizing any problems I do have so as not to be a whiner or come across as drug- or attention-seeking. Because it’s bad to need help.)
In short, fawning from the beginning of the appointment to the end.
This experience has meant I avoid health care, aside from well-woman exams and an occasional emergency visit for antibiotics or an injury.
When I have been to the doctor for things like chronic pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety, I’ve been offered medication rather than information. I don’t want to take long-term medication. I want someone to help me understand what the underlying problem is, not slap a band-aid on it. That means I want to exchange information, which takes time, and ask questions. I want to be given resources and options.
Here in Maine I’ve found a health care provider I like and respect. She’s intelligent, personable, and doesn’t make me feel as though I’m nothing but a nuisance. With her help, I’ve caught up on all appropriate scans, screens, and tests. It’s nice to feel empowered to take care of my own health.
However, part of screenings and tests for women my age have to do with identifying risks for cardiovascular disease, and according to current standards of care I am at risk, solely because of my diet and cholesterol panel.
Current guidelines and standards are built on the longstanding lipid hypothesis, which states diets high in animal fats lead to atherosclerosis, which leads to heart disease. Other, equally longstanding evidence-based data from around the world over a span of decades suggests the opposite, not only that cholesterol is not an indicator of heart disease, but it’s actually protective against it, especially for women. Many doctors, Ph.Ds, and biochemists believe the lipid hypothesis is false and based on a severely flawed original study, which means all the current guidelines (diet and nutrition recommendations and pharmacology to reduce cholesterol) and standards of care built upon it are ineffective, at best. This is validated by staggering and rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems in the American public since the lipid hypothesis began to change diet and nutrition guidelines, food production, and medical care in the 1950s.
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However, the lipid hypothesis is enormously lucrative for Big Ag, Big Pharma, and food producers, and those entities have frightening wealth and political power, more than enough to successfully stifle any funding for unbiased studies, silence independent scientists researching diet, fat, and cholesterol, and corrupt or bury any data that does not support the lipid hypothesis.
I am not getting my information from Facebook or conspiracy theories. I’ve spent years researching and reading, both in books and online, about diet, fat, and cholesterol. I don’t take the position that current cardiovascular guidelines are wrong, but neither am I convinced they’re right. I don’t know, and I know I don’t know, but the evidence tells me there’s plenty of room for doubt. My experience tells me a high-fat, low-to-no-carb diet is the key to my own health.
I want to have a discussion about it with my healthcare provider. I want to talk about studies. I want to ask questions. I want to be allowed to have doubts and concerns. I want to weigh my overall excellent health and function against numbers that may or may not have much to do with heart disease. I want to share links and be given suggestions for research.
I want to consider the possibility that current standards of care are based on a hypothesis that is incorrect.
I scheduled a phone call to discuss some of my test results. My provider expressed her concern about one particular result and thanked me for an email I had sent her, containing several links and information sources I find useful and interesting.
She was polite. I was polite. But our previously warm and friendly connection had vanished. I don’t believe she read anything I sent. I asked a couple of questions about studies and different ways to assess cholesterol panel results, but she dismissed it all. Flat. Businesslike. Professional.
It was a disappointingly brief conversation. I was clear about what I would and would not do. We came up with a plan. We hung up.
I spent the rest of the day feeling like an extremely anxious, difficult, bad child, waiting for catastrophe because I Failed To Please.
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All healthcare workers are under the gun these days. I work in a hospital myself, and come in for my share of politically-motivated bullshit regarding COVID. Healthcare providers are understandably exhausted, burned out, and defensive. I’m probably just one more patient influenced by some crazy ideology on the web, as far as my provider is concerned. She has a standard of care to adhere to that’s clean, clear, and congruent with the organization’s policies and procedures, which are congruent with the American Heart Association and all the other powerful medical organizations’ guidelines. She doesn’t have the time or energy to debate with patients about vaccines, dietary fat and cholesterol, or anything else.
But what if current cardiovascular preventive care is based on bad data? What if the truth has been buried under politics and capitalism for decades? What if I feel in the best health of my life because I am in the best health of my life, and nothing’s wrong, nothing needs fixing?
I don’t want to suffer from heart disease, cancer, or other health problems any more than anyone else does. I value my good health and work hard to eat right and stay fit. I want to learn about my own metabolism and physiology. I don’t want pharmacological fixes for issues that might not even be real problems.
I feel sad and frustrated and very alone. I’m feel as though I’m being punished for being a sceptic, and researching and thinking for myself. I’m back in the familiar pattern of asking questions and having people shut down, or withdraw and withhold.
I suppose at the end of the day we all wind up with ourselves and the best choices we can make with the information and resources we have. I know what the right thing is to do for myself at this point. I might get new information. Things might change. I might make a mistake, or be wrong, and suffer consequences. I’m prepared for all that. Things change. I can change with them.
This time I’m not blaming myself for the way I feel. This time I’m seriously considering the possibility that I’m not broken, but our healthcare system is. I’ll continue to take responsibility for my own health and well-being. I’ll continue to read and research as new data and studies become available for review. I’ll continue to doubt, dissent, question, and seek information.
I cannot blindly follow an organization, a system, or a set of expectations and rules from anyone. Data can be and is misinterpreted. It can be frankly corrupted by politics and capitalism. Much of what I’ve learned in my life I’ve had to unlearn and replace with something more effective. I’ve never been able to understand why we are so resistant to being wrong. How can we ever learn if we can’t be wrong? How can we ever go forward and build on our experience and observations? How can we ever hope to improve anything?
So here I am, skeptical again, and paying the price for it. But I’m going to stay on my side and continue to support my healthcare choices, even if I can’t find professional support. I’m not going to fawn, or let my fear chose for me, or apologize for who I am. I’m going to exercise my power to say yes and no, think critically, and advocate for myself, regardless of the expectations of others.
I work in a small local hospital rehab facility. Maine has recently instituted a mandatory COVID vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers.
Here in Maine, school districts are choosing whether or not to enforce masking and social distancing as in-person school begins.
As we go into Fall, these two issues are inescapable, not only here but across the country as businesses, organizations, and individuals make choices about dealing with COVID. Or not.
It’s an unpleasant atmosphere, rife with argument, outrage, broken relationships, blame, and contempt. I frequently drive home in tears, exhausted by the effort to remain calm and professional with our patrons, patients, and some staff members.
Much of the current conversation centers around the issue of freedom of choice, and those are conversations worth having. However, I’ve noticed a key part of that conversation is nearly always missing.
We are not free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.We have never been and never will be free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.
Freedom of choice goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, and choices cannot be separated from their effects. Sometimes those effects are logical, and other times they’re unpredictable. Sometimes they’re obvious and immediate, sometimes subtle and long-term. Sometimes the right choice results in heartbreaking consequences, and sometimes the wrong choice doesn’t. None of us can fully foresee where our choices will lead us. Some people are paralyzed by this fact and resist choosing.
Refusing to choose is also a choice, and it creates consequences.
This inescapable part of being human is something we all share and experience. Nothing can shield us from it, not power, not money, not beliefs, not government. Sooner or later, consequences catch up to us and play out.
We are not “losing” our freedom to choose. We’ve never had unlimited choice. We are experiencing the effects of our choices, just as we’ve always done. It’s a process beyond justice or injustice or good or bad. Consequences are often teachers and opportunities.
Choices and consequences are simply what life is. Everyone’s life. Every day.
Sometimes consequences are deadly and tragic, and we never have a chance to make a different choice. Sometimes we have lots of chances to choose again. Most of us are familiar with the I’ve-been-standing-at-this-crossroad-before kind of feeling.
Choices are linked together in our lives in an endless chain. We decide who to believe. We decide what to believe. We make choices reflecting our faith in someone or a source of information. Things happen. We discover our faith was misplaced, or we discover our faith was justified, or, possibly, both.
This is the human condition.
I believe most of us are making the best choices we can in life. Inevitably, we will experience consequences we didn’t expect and don’t want, and we’ll have to manage those as best we can. Sometimes we’ll need help and support to manage the effects of our choices.
At the end of the day, our power resides in making choices for ourselves and accepting the consequences. We can’t make choices for others, and nobody is making choices for others. Rules and mandates regarding the pandemic are going into place, joining countless other rules and mandates we’ve always lived with. As individuals, we will choose whether to resist or comply, and then deal with the consequences of that choice.
Because the globe is so densely populated, our choices, and the effects arising from them, are bound to affect others. We can’t escape from interconnection. Even so, we can only choose for and manage ourselves. Hurling contempt at one another over the choices we make isn’t useful. It doesn’t provide resource, support, or respect. It makes unwanted consequences more difficult to experience and manage for all of us. It doesn’t persuade anyone to make the “right” choice.
It doesn’t change minds or save lives.
We are comparatively free in this country, but freedom is never absolute. None of us have unlimited choice, but all of us have some, and that means all of us will experience consequences generated by ourselves and others. Freedom does not erase the consequences of our choices.
Free. Managing consequences, just like you. My daily crime.
As I implemented the holistic planning process earlier in the year, the first step was defining the whole I was trying to manage. I continue to feel challenged as I remember to include my needs in the whole. My default has always been to work harder in pursuit of goals, but now I recognize the wisdom of working smarter instead.
Last week I read a post titled ‘Do You Like the Person You are Becoming?’ by one of my favorite minimalists, Joshua Becker. His piece doesn’t focus on needs, but on how we feel about who we are in the context of our lives and projects.
Something about his language cut right to the heart of my struggle to hold onto my own hand as I go forward into the future.
I feel a lot of movement right now. The season is part of it, with its new growth and hope. Pandemic limitations are relaxing and human affairs flow more “normally.” Personally, I’ve had some new opportunities, some of which I engaged with and some of which I didn’t. I’m involved with an exciting new creative project (more about that later).
At the same time, balance is hard. I squeeze the last minute out of every hour and berate myself when I feel unproductive. The gardens and yard cry out to me, but I haven’t spent more than an hour playing with them. If I work hard creatively all day, I feel too drained to exercise. If I exercise and choose to be more active, I’m unhappy with my creative progress.
Now, more than ever before, I simply can’t do it all.
Writing has made me confident, authentic, joyful and playful.
Which woman do I like better? Whom do I want to live with and see in the mirror?
The fact is I could meet all my needs and still not like myself. I could have chosen to make more money, but I would have liked myself less.
Learning to love myself has been an incredible journey, one that saved my life.
I have no intention of going backwards.
Another tenet of minimalism is understanding the feeling we don’t have enough space and time doesn’t mean we need more space and time. It means we need less stuff and fewer things to do. We need to find a way to make our lives easier, not harder.
We need to love ourselves enough to create a meaningful, joyful life with plenty of space and time.
Maybe, as I begin my day, the question is not what I want and need to accomplish, but what choices will make me like myself better than I did the day before.
Can it be done? Is it possible to lead a balanced, vibrant life, full of texture and joy, keep an adequate roof over my head, and create a more secure future while doing the work I love, all while loving the person I am?
(I finally know what I want to be when I grow up! Not only what I want to do, but who I want to be!)
As I work with the next piece of Allan Savory’s holistic management model from his book, Holistic Management, I’m thinking about choice.
When I learned emotional intelligence, I understood choice as central to our personal power. The choice to say yes. The choice to say no. Our power to choose mindfully and intentionally is constantly under attack.
I also learned, to my chagrin, how much time and energy I had spent trying to change or fix what I have no power to change or fix and overlooking the places in which I do have power. I could not effectively make decisions until I learned to let go, stop arguing with what is, step away from where the blows land, and stop taking poisoned bait.
Reclaiming our ability and power to choose from our unconscious patterns and addictions is a difficult journey. Reclaiming our power of choice from those who have stolen it or seek to steal it is a journey into fear. Reclaiming our power of choice in spite of our fear is an exercise in heroism.
Once we have narrowed the whole we’re trying to manage to the dimensions in which we truly have power, we’re faced with learning how to make decisions and carrying them through.
The power of choice comes with responsibility. Some people don’t want to consciously choose because they don’t want to take responsibility for the outcomes they create with their choices. Another pattern I’ve often seen is the desire to have as many options as possible at all times – a recipe for noncommitment and a tactic that invariably steals power from others.
Choosing one option means we leave others behind. Choosing, and working with the consequences of our choices, requires flexibility, resilience, and the willingness to be wrong.
We will inevitably make choices that result in unwanted, unexpected results.
However, refusing to choose is still a choice. Inaction has consequences, just as action does.
If we don’t choose, someone else or circumstances will choose for us.
Is the goal of decision-making perfection or empowerment?
Is the right choice the one that gives us the outcome we want? Is the wrong choice the one that results in an outcome we didn’t foresee or dislike?
Some choices are easy, like which shirt to wear.
Some choices tear us apart, like being forced to choose between caring for ourselves and caring for someone we love.
Most of the choices we make in a day we never even notice.
Some choices change the direction of our lives and we never forget the moment we stood at a crossroad and made a decision.
We can’t necessarily tell the important choices from the unimportant ones when we’re faced with them.
The ability to choose is strength and power.
The ability to choose involves risk and uncertainty. No matter how well we gather information, weigh pros and cons, and try to imagine the future, choice is largely a leap in the dark. As we choose, so do those around us. Our choices impact them, and their choices impact us.
It’s absolutely impossible to predict where some choices will take us.
In Savory’s model, the holistic context directs decision-making. If we know something about where we are, and something about where we want to end up, we can build a path from here to there. Our choices are steps along the path, taking us forward. The cause and effect of choice is always uncertain and dynamic, so we can expect our path to fork, detour, double back, and otherwise confuse and confound us.
Choosing is a flow that never stops. Once we’ve decided to step into it, one choice leads to another, and another.
No one, no one can make better choices for us than we can.
Savory proposes a list of questions, called context checks, to help in decision-making:
Might this action have negative social, biological, or financial consequences?
Does this action provide the greatest return toward the goals for each unit of time or money invested?
Does this action contribute the most to covering the costs inherent in the endeavor?
Is the energy or money used in this action coming from the most appropriate source in our holistic context?
If we take this action, will it lead us toward or away from the future resource base described in our holistic context?
How do we feel about this action? Might it lead to the quality of life we defined in our holistic context? What might its adverse effects be?
These questions ask us to think beyond our immediate desires and consider the possible impact of our actions on others, now and into the future. They ask us for our best predictions, and to think carefully about our goals through the lens of sustainability.
The context checks are not a one and done exercise. Savory suggests they be revisited frequently, either at set intervals or in case of unexpected outcomes and events.
There will certainly be unexpected outcomes and events, as well as new information. Each choice we make teaches us something, and we (hopefully) integrate what we’ve learned into our next step.
Learning to make choices, and discerning the places in which we have no power to make choices, are two of the most essential things we can do in life. It seems to me the act of choosing is far more meaningful than whether we or others judge our decisions and their outcomes as “good” or “bad.”
Sadly, our culture seems more concerned at present with criticizing and/or eliminating the choices of others rather than developing and supporting good decision-making skills that foster personal power for everyone. Many of us spend too much time preoccupied with things we cannot change, actively disempowering ourselves and making ourselves miserable.
Making my own choices and learning from the consequences. My daily crime.