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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Going on from here. My daily crime.
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except where otherwise noted
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My partner sent me this quote this morning, and inspired this week’s post.
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.”
— from p. 79 in The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
As I draft this, it’s Election Day. It’s a work day for me, but I have a long break between a morning and evening shift, so I voted, ate lunch and worked on a big clean-up project my partner and I are undertaking in an outbuilding on our place. The clean-up involves dust, dirt, trash, food debris, rodent and bat droppings, broken glass, sticky empty bottles and cans and cigarette butts. It’s filthy work, but this afternoon, forty-five minutes before I go back to my pay-the-bills job, I feel happier and more peaceful than I have all summer.
I feel safe.
My earliest memories are of feeling unsafe. The people around me were unhappy and unwell. The air was heavy with tension and unexpressed feelings. I was afraid all the time, and I knew that was bad, because it irritated the adults, so I tried to hide it. The world was unpredictable, inconsistent and baffling. Ever since those days I’ve comforted myself in times of stress and fear with a fantasy of being held in loving, protecting arms and feeling safe.
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I’ve been ashamed of that need. If I verbalize such a need, people will hasten to assure me that life isn’t safe, as though I haven’t figured that out, as though that wasn’t the point in the first place! An internal, jeering voice calls me a baby; a weak, pathetic thing, dependent and needy.
Yet safety is the most important thing to me in relationship, and healthy relationship is the most important thing to me in life. I want it more than I want money, more than I want a dream house, more than I want anything I could buy. At this point in my life, I’d much rather be alone than be in relationships that don’t feel safe.
I suppose safety is a term we each define differently, but I know what I mean by it. I mean knowing my thoughts, needs and feelings count. I don’t want to be the most important person in the picture, but I want to be as important as everyone else.
One of the things I need to feel safe is an orderly and predictable environment. That’s why raking up trash, sweeping, packing the car with bottles and cans and watching the man in the bottle shop count them is so satisfying. Creating order out of chaos stops my bleeding. Empty space, a clean dirt floor with the drag marks of the rake in it, allowing the dusty scent of old wood and fallen leaves to replace the smell of stale cigarettes and beer, are all calming. The energy of broken glass and animal-torn trash, the debris of self-destruction, is released. I can breathe again. There’s peace. I’m safe.
I’ve seen a lot of headlines about the national stress around this election. Political opinion and affiliation aside, I think most of us can agree we’ll be relieved to have it over. At this point it’s hard for me to even care who wins — I just want the hate and intolerance to end. It hurts me to see us tear ourselves apart, as friends and families, as communities, as a nation, as a globe. It creates no safety for anyone. We’re all vulnerable to hate.
This afternoon, breaking down cardboard and recycling bottle caps, I knew that part of my feeling of relief is that this election is over today. Whatever happens now will happen, and we’ll all have to go forward. Likely what’s ahead won’t feel any safer than what’s behind, but at least it’s movement away from this.
I wish I could take the last year of presidential campaigning and empty out the dregs of malodorous advertising and sound bites, sort out the ridiculous from the frightening and bag each speech, event and word. I wish I could sweep our memories clean of it, pick up the shattered broken glass of integrity; rake up all the greasy, moldy, broken egg shell stinking scandals and e-mails and recordings.
I wish America felt safe to me.
I wish Democracy felt safe to me.
The Morning After
As I sit down to finish this post, American voters have chosen a new president, and I wept as I ate breakfast with my partner.
As the day has passed and I’ve gone for a swim, taken myself to lunch and gotten a haircut, I realize what lies beneath my anger, despair and incredulous disbelief.
It’s right back to the beginning of this post. I’m afraid. I don’t feel safe. Overnight I seem to have become disenfranchised because I’m female, I’m not a Christian and I’m deeply concerned with human rights and freedoms and our planet.
I also realize I’m not alone. This election has been based in fear. In our fear, we’re truly united. Everyone fears something. We’re all looking for safe, strong arms to shelter in. Pick any campaign issue, and you’ll find fear. There’s fear of climate change, fear of economic collapse, fear of immigrants and shifting population demographics, fear of war, religious fear, fear of illness and disease. We all live in fear that someone or something will take our power away, and that fear makes us weak and vicious.
Fear breeds hatred. Racism, misogyny, censorship and terrorism are fear-based behaviors, Great-and-Powerful-Oz distractions that hide cowardice. The world is changing, and we’re terrified. We look for someone or something to blame. We look for someone or something to save us. In our fear, we cling desperately to our ideologies and annihilate any who disagree with us or question our beliefs. In our fear, we seek a hero/heroine, a representative of what we feel is just and right, someone who will help us retain our power, someone who will assure us there are no monsters under the bed.
Here’s what I believe: Power-over is always and inevitably doomed to fail, sooner or later. The only sustainable way forward is power-with one another.
None of us are safe until all of us are. Safety at the expense of another’s terror and repression is an illusion.
I pray for peace and unity for us in the coming days, months and years, but if that is not to be I will fight. Every Hitler and Pol Pot, every Sauron and Voldemort, create by their very existence heroic resistance that cannot be silenced. I will not turn against my friends, neighbors, families and communities in fear and do the bully’s work for him. I’ll work to undermine the bully himself, and I won’t stand alone.
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Has anyone read the book I quoted at the beginning of this blog? Please comment about it if you have. I’m adding it to my reading list.
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except where otherwise noted