My partner tells me I “build bridges.” He’s right. I do. All the time. Building connection is the foundation of my life – connection with myself and with others. I also do what I can to support connection between others.
It’s no wonder I feel increasingly alienated in a culture focused so strongly on division.
Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay
Some people, and right now many people in power, are breakers rather than builders. I won’t pretend I understand such a priority, but it’s undeniably real and undeniably destructive.
As I’ve thought about building bridges, I’ve realized underneath the patterns of building or breaking is a larger issue: power.
If evil exists, I believe one of the first steps on the road to it is the willingness to steal power by any and all means. When individuals and groups of people lose their power, they’re easy to break, easy to disconnect and isolate. Easy to control.
Dedicated power-stealers are very, very skilled at what they do, so skilled they often present themselves as the marginalized or disempowered victims. In this guise, they infiltrate systems, organizations, and groups like a cancer, steadily breaking healthy connections and communities and appropriating power. By the time enough people notice, clearly identify what’s happening, and organize resistance, the balance of power is so skewed serious conflict becomes inevitable. Those addicted to stealing and hoarding power don’t give it up without a fight. This classic aggressor behavior is referred to as DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. In this dynamic, when individuals and groups are forced to defend themselves from aggressors their defense is framed as bigotry and hatred. Brutal social sanctions steered by those who steal power are activated to stifle it.
Few see past the emotional rubble and wreckage of destruction to the offense triggering the defense, and even fewer see past all the drama and distraction and recognize a simple, savage power grab disguised as social justice, political correctness, compassion, empathy, etc.
This is not to negate the true problems of systemic and institutionalized racism and bigotry so many people stagger under every day. We all know power (and other resources) are not distributed equally – far from it. And why is that? Because there have always been people who are committed to disempowering others.
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
I’m a builder, not a breaker. Not a breaker, I hasten to say, in the sense that I deliberately hurt others or injure healthy connection. However, I have more than once tried to build a bridge to nowhere. Worse, I have spent much of my life frantically maintaining my bridges to nowhere, a kind of counter-terrorist who never blows up a bridge but instead batters myself against a broken one as though my blood, sweat, and tears will magically build a solid, effective connection.
The thing I invariably forget is not everyone wants to build a bridge!
Sometimes, and I’ve done this, we blow up bridges accidentally. Some action or word becomes a catalyst and suddenly … BOOM! The bridge is destroyed and we’re left wondering what the hell happened.
Sometimes our bridges are sabotaged by others and deliberately destroyed. Unless both parties connected by the bridge understand what’s happened and work together to make repairs, the bridge becomes permanently weakened.
Sometimes, and I’ve made this choice, too, we deliberately walk away from a bridge we’ve built. It didn’t connect us to what we were hoping for, or it didn’t connect us at all. We built the bridge, it went nowhere, and we found no there there, so we leave it behind to fall into disrepair.
Saddest of all (to me) are the people who don’t value bridges, or can’t recognize them. Building is expensive. It takes time, patience, commitment, and cooperation. It takes emotional labor. For me, the rewards of good bridgework are enormous. Healthy connections enrich us and I believe bring joy and healing into a suffering world. Healthy connections enhance individual power and are productive and creative rather than destructive.
Anyone can destroy. How many can create?
At the same time, I accept and endeavor to respect that some people have no interest in building bridges, at least not with me. Some people are focused on other things, and the activity central to the meaning and purpose of my life isn’t in their field of view at all.
By Landsil on Unsplash
It’s probably unwise and unnecessary to take this personally, although I have a tendency to do so. On the other hand, I have no interest in coercing anyone to build a bridge between us. Forcing healthy connection is impossible, not to mention coercion is a power-over tactic I don’t employ or participate in.
Sometimes I build bridges to nowhere. I work hard, for a long time, because that’s my default. Eventually, however, I notice I’m the only one building. A little bit after that I wonder what would happen if I stopped building. Would the person I want connection with even notice? Would they pick up the work I left undone? Would they value our potential connection enough to meet me half way? Part way?
Honestly, in the case of most of my bridges to nowhere, once I stop building the building stops. I move on, looking for another place to build another bridge. Those abandoned bridges are, at best, picturesque ruins going … nowhere. Resting places for unrealized possibility and potential. Crumbling monuments to loss, heartbreak, letting go, and wisdom.
Consider your life. Are you more of a builder or a breaker?
When you struggle to connect with someone who’s just not that into you, how do you feel?
If you can’t successfully build a connection with someone, do you leave quietly or blow up the metaphorical bridge you were trying to build?
Who or what has sabotaged previously healthy connections in your life?
Leave a comment below!
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“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.”
Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash
I’ve been thinking about this quote for a couple of weeks now. It’s especially relevant for these times, when social and political tensions are so high around division and unity.
We’ve understood the strength inherent in unity for a long time, but what exactly is unity? Oxford Online Dictionary defines it as “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” Note ‘sameness’ is not part of the definition.
Division and disconnection, however, are excellent ways to disempower individuals or groups of people. Authoritarians know this and take advantage of successful strategies and tools to achieve social chaos, violence, and play on our innate paranoia and tendency to distrust and blame others. Controlling media and communication as well as the flow of information (facts), stamping out free speech and critical thinking, invalidating science and data, weakening education, and allowing ideologues, fanatics, and seriously disordered people to gain and maintain positions of power are direct frontal attacks on unity.
We can see how highly effective such strategies are. Slowly, we’ve drifted into the belief that unity is sameness. Black and white can’t work together. Men and women are enemies. Republicans and Democrats, left and right, vaxers and anti-vaxers, must all maintain oppositional positions.
But unity does not mean sameness.
Neither can unity be forced. Some time ago I wrote about Gaven de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. As far as I’m concerned, this should be required reading for every woman in the world. One of the concepts de Becker has coined is that of “forced teaming.”
Forced teaming is an intentional, directed manipulation projecting shared purpose or experience where none exists. It’s an effort to force premature trust and false intimacy. The example de Becker uses involves a strange man approaching a woman juggling bags of groceries and offering to help. Ignoring the response of “No, thank you,” the man speaks in an insistent, friendly, pleasant way of “we.” “We neighbors need to help one another out.” The woman, polite and not wanting to be unpleasant to this nice man, acquiesces. She unlocks her door and lets the man in with a couple of bags of her groceries.
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash
Forced teaming is extremely hard to deal with because it’s subtle, and rejecting it feels rude.
I tripped over that word and fell flat on my face. My inability and complete unwillingness to ever be rude has handcuffed me my whole life. It’s opened me up to abuse and trauma, silenced me, and fueled my self-hatred and self-harm.
All because I didn’t want to be rude.
I never consider whether someone is being rude to me. All I have room for is the desire to avoid behaving in such a way at all costs.
Ladies, when a strange man approaches us in a vulnerable situation, it’s rude. And dangerous. He may mean well. He may not. We can’t tell and we’re fools if we trust a strange man when we’re in an unsafe situation. I don’t care how well he’s disguised as Prince Charming or how solicitous and warm and friendly he is. Forced teaming does not occur in a situation of coincidence. It’s deliberate and directed at manipulating us. Are we unable to push past the taboo of rudeness and say, “I didn’t ask for your help and I don’t want it”? Would we rather put ourselves at real risk for violence? Is the social mandate against rudeness, especially for women, that strong?
It’s not, when I lay it out like this, on the screen, in words. Of course I can see how foolish it is to put manners ahead of my own health and safety. But in the moment, I’d be a woman who didn’t notice my “No, thank you,” was ignored. I wouldn’t want to make a fuss or a scene. I wouldn’t want to hurt the nice guy’s feelings. I wouldn’t want to be a bitch.
I wouldn’t want to be rude.
Oxford Online Dictionary defines rude as “offensively impolite or ill-mannered; startlingly abrupt.”
Notice the subjectivity of that definition. Many people currently appear to believe disagreement is rude. Biological fact is rude. The truth is rude. Boundaries are rude. Questions are rude. Discussion and debate are rude. Speaking up in self-defense is rude. Saying no is rude.
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash
Rudeness is tricky. We all have a private list of rude behaviors that make us cringe. It’s important to note the list varies from person to person. I’ve known people who were brought up to consider sneezing out loud rude. They go through all kinds of contortions to avoid it, emitting a variety of hilarious sounds. It always makes me smile when I run into this. I wasn’t raised with a prohibition against sneezing, so to my way of thinking it’s not rude if the sneeze is covered or contained and a murmured “excuse me” follows it.
Rudeness is so often in the eye of the beholder.
Of course, those who try to control us with forced teaming and other manipulative techniques will be loud about how rude we are when we refuse to accept those tactics. We’re likely to be publicly shamed and called hateful names.
But we’re less likely to get dragged into a car, raped, or murdered.
It boils down to the old problem of saying no. If we decide saying no is rude, the only polite way to live is to have no power and no boundaries. Who would benefit from a such a compliant and disempowered population?
I like the idea of oneness of purpose. It’s a container for strength, cooperation, and integrity. However, this, too, is a minefield because, to put it rudely, people lie about their purpose and agenda. Forced teaming comes into play. A small group with intentions to grab power approaches a larger, well-established and organized group working for empowerment and support of a marginalized population and says we’re with you! We want the same thing! Look how alike we are! You have to include us!
Individuals and groups who have been marginalized are particularly loath to repel this kind of invasion because they believe in kindness, tolerance, and an equal playing field, and they know from their own experience how painful and unjust systemic discrimination and bigotry are. They are successfully infiltrated, manipulated, and weakened from the inside by the smaller group, who never had any intention of working and playing well with others and only wanted to co-opt the established group’s presence, position, and power for their own ends.
To achieve oneness of purpose, we would have to agree on priorities, have equal access to information (facts) and resources, create strategies and systems to improve our situation, tell the truth, and consent to work with people different from us in a variety of ways.
It sounds lovely. It also sounds like fantasy in our current social context.
Never in my lifetime has unity felt so out of reach.
Never in my lifetime has unity appeared so necessary.
This is my third post exploring happiness. The first and second posts are here and here.
We’ve defined happiness as a feeling of contentment and peace, which inadequately expresses its complexity. Positive psychology scientifically examines the human experience of peace and contentment more deeply, with surprising results.
In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., carefully differentiates between transient and enduring happiness. Transient happiness is what I call happy. It’s the joy I feel when dancing, swimming, sitting outside in the sun, or looking forward to something pleasurable. Enduring happiness, or our general level of happiness, is our baseline feeling of peace and contentment. Can we increase our enduring level of happiness, and if so, how?
Our genetics play a part in this, as I mentioned before, but circumstances do, too, and we have some power over our circumstances. It turns out there are three decades of research and data on external circumstances and how they affect our experience of happiness.
Now we are in territory heavily influenced by social politics and our consumer culture. Everyone knows more money and things make us happier. Anyone in doubt need only sit in front of a screen and absorb advertising for 30 minutes.
A cross-national survey of tens of thousands of adults does indicate life satisfaction and overall national purchasing power are closely correlated, but only to a certain numerical point. After that point, the correlation disappears. This means people in a comparatively wealthy country may generally have a higher overall experience of happiness than people in a country who live in life-threatening poverty, but there are many exceptions, and social scientists are not sure why. In addition, as purchasing power has increased in wealthy countries, life satisfaction has not.
It appears how important money is to us is a more powerful factor in our happiness than the amount of money we actually have. More materialistic people are less happy. In this, of course, we have power. If we rearrange our priorities and reduce the importance of money in our lives, perhaps we can intentionally increase our happiness.
Other factors that have been extensively studied as ingredients for happiness include marriage (or other long-term, committed bonds), education, social networks, health, age, biological sex, intelligence, and where we live.
As I think about happiness, I reflect on all the reasons I’ve heard people (including me) say they can’t achieve it. It’s interesting how we all make excuses for avoiding happiness. I wonder why that is. What are we up to? Are we afraid to be happy? Is the pain of “losing” happiness so terrible we reject the condition entirely?
Data invalidates many of our excuses. External circumstances such as moving to a sunnier climate or getting more education are not correlated with greater happiness. Race and biological sex are also neutral factors in happiness, as is intelligence.
It does appear living in a comparatively wealthy country; strong social networks, including a healthy primary relationship, as in marriage; and creating or participating in spiritual/faith practices are positive influences on happiness.
Interestingly, health is an influence much like money, in that how we feel about our health is more important than our objective health as a factor in happiness.
As I write this, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we are awaiting final results in the 2020 election and facing increasing COVID numbers. These external factors and the stress and anxiety I feel over them certainly seem barriers to anything like happy.
A couple of weeks ago I was part of a conversation in which someone asked me if I’d heard Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas were “cancelled.” He was angry, bitter, loud, and hostile. I exited the conversation after telling him quietly I hadn’t heard, but I’ve thought about it ever since.
Is happiness cancelled because of our current external circumstances?
Of course not. As many others have pointed out, family, love, tolerance, generosity, and the holiday season are not “cancelled.” Many of us will (or have) changed the way we approach these celebrations and expressions, but change doesn’t have to be an atomic bomb wiping out every tradition and good feeling, unless we make it so.
I, and I suspect many others, feel the fate of the world rests on the outcome of the 2020 United States presidential election. The endless political rhetoric certainly encourages us to believe that. When I really think about it, though, no matter who is in the White House we’ll still be a deeply and hatefully divided nation. We’ll still have a pandemic. We’ll still have climate change, broken healthcare and educational systems, and a faltering economy. We’ll still have to deal with immigration, racial injustice and violence.
The president, whoever he will be, will not have the power to destroy our individual happiness. He may be a fine scapegoat, along with a million other external circumstances, but in the end I believe our happiness is in our own hands and no one else’s.
I find this a particularly unpalatable realization right now. I spend a lot of time being a professional, being an adult, and striving to be positive and supportive with others, but deep inside I struggle with an ungodly mix of rage and despair. I have moments in which it’s all I can do to just walk away from the headlines, the ignorance, the selfishness, and the toxicity of others without screaming and tearing their throats out. I’m constantly fighting down tears. I feel unsafe, hypervigilant, and bone tired.
I know I’m not alone. I have the most superb self-control of anyone I know, so I will not relieve my feelings with public tantrums or assaults, but the feelings are there and these times are bringing them close to the surface for everyone.
To write about happiness or even think about it right now seems idiotic. Upon further reflection, though, I wonder if it isn’t the perfect time, after all. There’s so much going on that we can’t change; perhaps now it’s more important than ever before to pull our gaze away from those things and look at where we do have power. We have the power to intentionally choose happiness, even if only for a second. We have the power to choose between connection and division. We have the power to love, even in the midst of rage.
If I told you I’m happy this week it would be a lie. When the final votes are counted I won’t feel happy, either, no matter who wins. I’m hoping my sleep will be less broken and I can stop trying to crawl out of my skin with anxiety, but happy? No. Relieved would be good. Let’s aim for relieved.
But what if the truth is that happy is right here, sitting on my shoulder, or waiting patiently in the corner, and all I have to do is give it my attention and open my arms to it? What if I could feel happiness today? What if the most useful thing I could do for myself, for my loved ones, for the world, is choose happiness, no matter how fleeting?
I haven’t enjoyed this week much. It reminds me of the week after 09/11, when I thought I would drown in the hate and despair around me.
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
I’m not on Facebook, but my partner is and I hear more than I want to about what’s going on there. I’m developing a pathological hatred of the news in any form, even as I obsessively read the Internet. I think about friends, family, acquaintances and a world full of frightening strangers with the power, strength and willingness to hurt others, including me.
I work at home as a medical transcriptionist, a fact I don’t talk about much because I respect the privacy laws in this country around medical information. My book of business is presently in Illinois, but I’ve also worked extensively in New York, Ohio and Alabama. I spend twenty-four hours a week typing dictated stories about strangers, a significant number of them experiencing physical and emotional pain and suffering from the current situation.
Here in central rural Maine, Native Americans in our community are victims of increasing hate crimes. Their people have been in this place for thousands of years.
Photo by Sue Tucker on Unsplash
It seems to me in the last week we’ve put on the table an infinite number of ways in which to divide ourselves from one another; an infinite number of ways to express hate, intolerance and blame; an infinite number of labels to weigh ourselves and others down with. None of it feels useful
I want to find ways to support what I believe in and reach out to other people. I want to do something, no matter how small, to make a difference in this, but I’m noticing something interesting about that. As soon as I communicate about some kind of action I’ve taken, someone cuts me down. I’ve been told wearing a safety pin is patronizing and indicates privilege; I’m not welcome in America; I’m going to burn in hell; and I’ve joined a hate organization (that would be MoveOn.org).
Maybe no one out there needs support, or wants to make a contribution to unity and respect, but I don’t really believe that. At any rate, I need support and I do want to make a contribution, so here are some thoughts about what would help me.
Here’s a graphic to contemplate as we go on:
Enough with the labels. We have to stop this. One thousand labels can’t define the complex creature a human being is. I maintain that what’s happening now is NOT about race, gender, religion, politics, immigration or socioeconomics. What’s happening now is about power — how we define it and understand it, how we use it and what we’ll do to gain it or overthrow it. I think the most important question to ask ourselves is if we support power-over others or power-with others. That’s really the bottom line. It’s at the heart of all the disagreements. The rest is just inflammatory and dangerous distraction.
Enough with the apocalyptic stories and predictions. The fact is nobody knows what’s going to happen now. We’re in uncharted territory politically, economically, socially and environmentally. Many people think that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s scary. The unknown always is. On the other hand, politics as usual wasn’t working very well for most of us in this country and change is an inevitable part of life. Blessing or disaster, the point is none of us know the future and we’ll all have to deal with whatever happens as best we can. Terrifying ourselves and one another with dire predictions, threats and stories won’t help anyone. Fear is terribly contagious and terribly ineffective in decision making, but it’s a useful tool for manipulation.
The best defense against fear and misinformation is to do our own research. All the people in the headlines right now are real people. They have lives, histories, Wiki pages, on-line organizations, quotes and podcasts. We can read about them. We can look at quality news organizations in other countries and what they’re reporting for a contrast to domestic news. Discerning between fact and opinion is important. We need to take responsibility for our opinions and beliefs.
It’s time to stop worrying about everyone else and clean up our own acts. Are our words and actions congruent? What do we believe, and why? What are our priorities? What kind of outcomes do we want for ourselves and our communities, however we define community?
We can’t change other people; attempts at doing so merely divide us more deeply. We must accept that not everyone agrees with us and stop wasting time in destructive argument. We don’t have to shoot one another in the head and throw scorn at those who disagree with us. We can use our energy to work for what we believe in and allow others to do the same.
Photo by tom coe on Unsplash
We don’t have to accept an invitation to fight. We can find communities in which respectful conversation and debate take place if we want to discuss an issue. Many of us don’t feel safe verbalizing, revealing or defending our views, but everyone can vote with their presence. If we’re uncomfortable or scared in a conversation, we can leave it. We can’t stop hatred, but we don’t have to be a part of it.
We can learn to express our thoughts, feelings and opinions in a way that allows others respect and dignity. We can learn to listen. We may disagree with people, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing important to say.
We need to root out sweeping generalizations. All white people are not living a life of economic privilege! All patriots are not Christians! All Muslims are not terrorists! All blacks are not criminals! All Latinos are not undocumented immigrants! All men are not rapists! All gay people are not child molesters! All Christians are not militants! First graders think in these black and white ways, not adults. We shackle each other with these assumptions.
There’s a lot of talk about privilege right now. It’s a slippery term, and I think the perception of privilege is really in the eye of the beholder. Here’s a very interesting self-test you can take. Some of the questions will help you appreciate the difficulties many people face. In case any one wonders, my score was a 44 — NOT privileged, according to this tool. Certainly very privileged in comparison to some people.