A little over three years ago I wrote a post titled “Questions Before Engagement.”
Since then, the world has changed, and so have I.
I’m not on social media, but my biggest writing cheerleader is, and he tells me people are talking about how to recognize red flags. He suggested I post again about problematic behavior patterns.
A red flag is a warning sign indicating we need to pay attention. It doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost, or we’ve made a terrible mistake, or it’s time to run. It might be whoever we’re dealing with is simply having a bad day. Nobody’s perfect.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
A persistent pattern of red flags is significant. Ignoring problematic behavior sets us up to get hurt.
The problem with managing red flags is we may be flying several ourselves, and until we figure out our own behavior we’re going to struggle to deal effectively with others.
We all have an excellent built-in system alerting us to possible danger. We call it intuition, going with our gut, or having a hunch or a feeling. We may not know why we feel uneasy, but we subconsciously pick up on threatening or “off” behavior from others. The difficulty is we’re frequently actively taught to disregard our gut feelings, especially as women. We’re being dramatic, or hysterical, or a bitch. We’re drawing attention to ourselves, or making a scene. What we saw, heard or felt wasn’t real. It didn’t happen, or if it did happen, we brought it on ourselves.
We live in a culture that’s increasingly invalidating. Having a bad feeling about someone is framed as being hateful, engaging in profiling, or being exclusive rather than inclusive. Social pressure makes it hard to speak up when we feel uncomfortable. Many of the most influential among us believe their money and power place them above the law, and this appears to be true in some cases. In the absence of justice, we become apathetic. What’s the point of responding to our intuition and trying to keep our connections clean and healthy when we can’t get any support in doing so?
If we grow up being told we can’t trust our own feelings and perceptions, we’re dangerously handicapped; we don’t respond to our intuition because we don’t trust it. We talk ourselves out of self-defense. We recognize red flags on some level, but we don’t trust ourselves enough to respond appropriately. Indeed, some of us have been severely punished for responding appropriately, so we’ve learned to normalize and accept inappropriate behavior.
So before we concern ourselves with others’ behavior, we need to do some self-assessment:
- Do we trust ourselves?
- Do we respond to our intuition?
- Do we choose to defend ourselves?
- Do we have healthy personal boundaries?
- Do we keep our word to ourselves?
- Do we know how to say both yes and no?
- Do we know what our needs are?
- Are we willing to look at our situation and relationships clearly and honestly, no matter how unwelcome the truth might be?
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
Once we’ve become familiar with our own motivation and behavior patterns, we can turn our attention outward and focus on the behavior of those we interact with.
Red flags frequently seem too bad to be true. In intimate relationships with partners and family, the anguish of acknowledging toxic or dangerous behavior and setting limits around it cannot be overstated. Those we are closest to trigger our deepest and most volatile passions. This is why it’s so important to be honest with ourselves.
The widest lens through which to examine any given relationship is that of power-over or power-with. I say ‘lens’ because we must look and see, not listen for what we want to hear. Talk is cheap. People lie. Observation over time tells us more than words ever could. In the case of a stranger offering unwanted help with groceries, we don’t have an opportunity to observe over time, but we can say a clear “no” and immediately notice if our no is respected or ignored. We may have no more than a minute or two to decide to take evasive or defensive action.
If we are not in an emergency situation, or dealing with a family member or person we’ve known for a long time, it might be easier to discern if they’re generally working for power-with or power-over. However, many folks are quite adept at using the right words and hiding their true agenda. Their actions over time will invariably clarify the truth.
Power-over versus power-with is a simple way to examine behavior. No labels and jargon involved. No politics. No concern with age, race, ethnicity, biological sex, or gender expression. Each position of power is identifiable by a cluster of behaviors along a continuum. We decide how far we are willing to slide in one direction or another.
- Silencing, deplatforming, threatening, personal attacks, forced teaming, bullying, controlling
- Win and be right at all costs
- Gaslighting, projection, DARVO tactics (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender)
- Fostering confusion, distrust, disinformation, and violence
- Poor communication and refusing to answer questions
- Emotional unavailability
- High-conflict behavior
- Blaming and shaming of others
- Refusal to respect boundaries
- Refusal to discuss, debate, learn new information, take no for an answer
- Lack of reciprocity
- Lack of interest in the needs and experiences of others
- Encouraging questions, feedback, open discussion, new information, ongoing learning, critical thinking
- Prioritizing connection, collaboration, and cooperation over winning and being right; tolerance
- Clear, consistent, honest communication
- Fostering clarity, trust, information (facts), healthy boundaries, reciprocity, authenticity, and peaceful problem solving
- Emotionally available and intelligent
- Taking responsibility for choices and consequences
- Words and actions are consistent over time
- Respect and empathy for others
We don’t need to be in the dark about red flags. Here are some highly recommended resources:
- The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
- Bill Eddy’s website and books about high-conflict personalities
- Controlling People by Patricia Evans
Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay
I’ve been trying to frame a post around generosity for several months. Interestingly and unexpectedly, the idea of generosity has remained a Gordian knot in spite of word webs, notes and lengthy simmering in the back of my mind. Since I began chewing on the idea of generosity, I’ve discovered Unsplash, a site offering free use of photographs for things like this blog, and now I finally feel I’m getting a grip on the subject.
Unsplash features more than 300,000 photos from more than 50,000 contributors. It’s free to use and free to join. Users may upload photographs for whatever they want as frequently as they want.
If generosity is unconditional readiness or liberality in giving, Unsplash is surely a fine illustration of the concept. The Internet is filled with people practicing their art. Some are trying to make a living. Many, like me, provide free content. Others start out contributing freely and then uplevel in order to earn a little bit of money with advertising, an Amazon affiliate program, a subscription fee, etc. In my view, some of the content out there is worth paying for, and other content is not.
Unsplash is worth paying for. Many of the photographers who contribute are professionals with content to sell, yet they continue to share some of their work freely with others.
Up to this point, I haven’t made a dime on this blog. It wasn’t about the money, but exercising my voice, my writing skills and my courage. I had no idea where it would go or what would happen with it. I had no idea if anyone would read what I wanted to write or how much I would grow to value the weekly practice of posting and maintaining a blog. I do want, however, to publish and sell my books in the future.
I think part of my struggle to get my head around generosity has been my own damaged sense of value. Those of us who feel we’re worthless assume we’ve nothing to give. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve declined attending a pot luck, a fundraiser, a party or even a funeral. I tell myself I have nothing to contribute, I was invited out of obligation or kindness, and nobody will even notice my absence.
Photo by photo-nic.co.uk nic on Unsplash
I am not Cinderella, and I do not possess a fairy godmother who will make me socially acceptable or worthy.
I wonder, looking back, if others have experienced me as being ungenerous or mean because of my lack of social contribution, when what was really at work was introversion, social anxiety and an abysmal sense of self-worth. I have no way of knowing.
On the other hand, I’ve volunteered my whole life. I’ve spent years working with children as a librarian, tutor, child development clinician, teacher’s aide, swim teacher and parent. I’ve participated in fire and rescue work as a volunteer EMT, as well as with animal rescue organizations. I’ve volunteered in libraries and as an oral storyteller, and I’ve volunteered as a dancer. I’ve worked in hospitals, nursing homes, public schools and libraries.
See? Nothing to contribute.
I earned a paycheck for some of that work, but one doesn’t get rich doing the kind of jobs I love to do, and the paycheck was never my motivation. I just loved the work. I felt as though I was making a difference in every one of those roles.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I’ve always limited the idea of generosity to financial resource. Part of my shame about my poverty is that I’m unable to be financially generous, which I’ve believed automatically makes me stingy and uncharitable. If my generosity is measured by what I spend, it’s so small as to be negligible. I’m a rotten capitalist consumer.
In thinking deeply about generosity, I can see how my beliefs have distorted my view. I wrote some time ago about the failure of money, and that peeled away some of my limiting beliefs, but only the first layer or two. If I make generosity about money, I can never be generous, and I block the financial generosity of others toward me because I can’t reciprocate in kind. My desire to give is greater than my desire to receive. I desperately want to make a contribution. I feel disempowered when I can’t reciprocate someone’s generosity in a way that feels equal, and then I disconnect.
Unhooking generosity from money changes the way I look at it. Developing some trust in my own value also changes the way I think about generosity. Now I wonder if money is perhaps the least reliable indicator of generosity, not the most. Money is very visible and obvious in the world, but that doesn’t make it the most useful contribution. There have been times in my life when I’ve been in desperate need of money, but many, many more times when I’ve been in significantly more desperate need of someone to hold me, someone to believe in me, encourage me and simply love me. Money is easier to come by, believe me, than love and acceptance. Writing a check, donating a few dollars to the organization of our choice or buying a gift is easier, for many of us, than effectively communicating our love and appreciation for those around us in words or actions.
Some people give only to receive. On the face of it, it looks like generosity, but it’s not. My understanding of true generosity is it has no hidden agenda. Conditional generosity is like conditional love; control and manipulation pretending to be something else. Behavior seeking power over others, or freighted with unacknowledged expectations, is the reverse of generosity.
Another way in which people use generosity to mask control is to force a “gift” onto another. In this case, someone informs us about what we need and we understand we’d better damn well accept it and be grateful. Refusal is out of the question because of an unequal power dynamic. Acceptance of the “gift” also perpetuates an unequal power dynamic, because we’re expected to demonstrate appropriate gratitude (as defined by the gift giver) for something we didn’t want or need in the first place. We’re not allowed to express or receive what we really need, only submit to what someone else needs to give in order to get something for themselves.
A good litmus test for discerning authentic generosity is whether it occurs in anonymity. People giving to receive will never do it quietly. There’s always a camera, a video, a witness or a headline. There’s always a score card, a quid pro quo. There’s always a distorted power dynamic. Such people give to reward and withhold to punish.
You want to star in my production? Meet me on the casting couch and maybe I’ll put in a word for you.
At the end of all this excavation, I’ve finally begun to make friends with generosity. I am capable of being truly generous, and I have generous people in my life. I can discern the difference now between the real thing and a ploy to maintain or grab power. I may not have money, but I can appreciate, marvel and share. I can say thank you. I can give anonymously. I can exercise a generous compassion towards myself and others for our weaknesses and mistakes. I can recognize my desire for reciprocity and power-with as important pieces of my own integrity and freely disconnect from people and situations that don’t support what I need.
This takes me back to Unsplash. I know in this day and age it’s hard to think past the money, but as a creative person on line with free content I can assure you no amount of money outweighs the gratification of knowing I’ve made a connection, that something I write resonates with someone else. Money is important, and I wish I had more of it. If I can uplevel the blog in small ways to earn a little bit of money, I’ll do it. The real reward, though, is when someone reaches out to me and says, “Yes! Me, too! Your words made a difference in my day.” It just doesn’t get better than that.
Because of that, I’ve developed a habit of contacting a couple of photographers every week whose work appears in this blog. Behind each photograph is someone living a life, struggling with the things we all struggle with, sharing their unique vision and eye with the world just because. Unconditionally. I go to their website, if they have one. I explore their pictures and read about who they are. I contact them and briefly introduce myself. I thank them for their collaboration with me, a collaboration invisible to them unless I reach out. I express my appreciation for their contribution. It doesn’t take very long. It’s not as fast as writing a check or reciting a credit card number, but it’s a lot more fun.
So far, every single one has responded to say thank you. Thank you for acknowledging my unique creativity. Thank you for taking the time to remember the person behind the camera. Thank you for collaborating with me so we enhance one another’s contribution.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
There is no exchange of money in this generosity, only of humanity. They give freely. I accept the gift and add it to my own, paying it both forward and backward.
Generosity: Unconditional readiness or liberality in giving.
Please take a moment and meet photographers Jeremy Bishop and Annie Spratt.
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except where otherwise noted
I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:
“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’
Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash
I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.
At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.
I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.
As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.
I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s post, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)
After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!
Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash
This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.
I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.
I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.
Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
That’s all fine, if it works for you.
It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.
I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.
It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.
I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about — authenticity, compassion, power-with rather than power-over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.
Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.
Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.
Nobody is entitled to tolerance.
Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.
Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash
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except where otherwise noted