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Part 2: In Praise of Rudeness and Unity

For part 1 of this post, please go here.

I’ve been exploring this quote from Priscilla Shirer:

“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

It’s interesting, how a one-line quote can trigger so much contemplation and so many questions.

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

I’ve had two conversations with two different friends in the last week about how hopeless we feel to bring about positive change in the current political and social climate because people in general seem unable to unify and work together. A clear leader has not stepped forward. We are increasingly split into factions and too busy with in-groups and out-groups to step back and consider the whole picture.

This is not an accident. Unity is a distinct social advantage and a powerful strategy. It’s also apolitical, which is easy to see on the nightly news. Traditionally large groups are fragmenting into smaller and smaller units. Small groups, by means of forced teaming and other manipulations, are usurping power from established organizations. Current political leaders on both sides of the aisle are losing their followers. As traditional boundaries and frameworks dissolve, chaos and confusion sweep us into a new national and political reality, and it is not unity.

And then there’s capitalism. What we all have in common is an assault on our personhood, the subsummation of a human being into a cash commodity. In other words, how much money are we worth? Can we be manipulated into spending money or persuaded to prostitute for marketers and algorithms, politicians and bloated corporations?

Here, let me bend over and pick up that “free” soap for you.

For years, various people have told me I will never be “successful” if I don’t get on Facebook.

For years, I’ve resisted that assertion. Who made that rule? What is the evidence for that? Who benefits from me being on social media when it’s something I absolutely do not want to do?

I am fortunate to have a central pillar of support for my writing in a close relationship. That person is on FB and consistently, week after week, posts links to my work on his page. A couple of weeks ago, upon posting links to my latest Substack posts, FB threatened to suspend him. Why? Because the image that happened to be grabbed with one of those linked posts was a black and white picture of a nude pregnant woman. Nudity. Horrors. (You can go look at the pic here. Scroll down. You’ll know it when you see it.)

So, here’s the thing. An algorithm did that. It was instantaneous.

I’m not writing for algorithms. I’m writing for people.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

The hypocrisy staggers me. One can spread whatever mis- and disinformation one likes on FB’s platform. Stalkers and doxxers use it. Hate groups and insurrectionists plan to overthrow the government and kill people on it. Ideologues of all stripes churn out toxic poison on a daily basis. Bots and bad actors, both overseas and home grown, are free to roam, and every single keystroke users make is carefully recorded and mined so everyone can receive exactly the information they want to hear along with advertising they’re most likely to respond to.

The platform has grown and grown, become richer and richer, more and more influential, and less and less about connecting people on a healthy individual level. It’s now a sprawling, unmanageable mess. Users are leaving, and the company cannot adequately police and monitor itself or the activity taking place on the platform. So they look for ways to get even bigger and make more money (by making it more addictive and persuading the culture at large everyone needs an account to be “successful”) and write more algorithms to deal with “inappropriate” content (as defined by the company).

Nudity has been judged as inappropriate content, and because of an image grab over which neither the person posting nor I had any control (there were several other non-naked images in those posts), links to my content were deleted and suspension threatened.

That’ll teach us.

What it taught me is I’ve been right all along. Right to create my own blog and website. Right to find a platform like Substack that does not censor my work. Right to write for readers rather than clicks, stats, and algorithms.

My friend on FB has undoubtedly done much to get my work out there and find readers. No question about it, and I’m grateful every week for his efforts on my behalf.

On the other hand, if the price of “success” is participation on FB, it’s too high. I’m not interested. Not even a little bit. In fact, I feel vaguely I must be doing something absolutely right in order to be banned by an algorithm. I tried to squeeze out a tear of fear and self-pity, but I couldn’t manage it. There’s an ever-growing club of thoughtful, intelligent, science-based, talented people who have been suspended or banned (or both) from FB. I’d be proud to hang with them and I’m glad to read them elsewhere.

What does this have to do with unity? Well, FB was originally about connection, yes? First it was a dating hub. (All right, a getting laid hub. Whatever.) Then it was a way to maintain connections over long distance. Then it grew into a monster that presented every user with a way to maximize a “friends” list while allowing bullying, silencing, stalking, deplatforming, identity theft, hacking, and other behavior people feel they can get away with behind the privacy of their screen and keyboard.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Where is the unity now? What is our oneness of purpose? Oh, right. We’re unified in being income streams for FB. Lucky old FB.

FB lives because we animate it. Never forget that. We’re the ones who decide no one can be “successful” without it.

Oneness of purpose is a great phrase, but what does it really mean, and how do we get there? Is there any such thing as oneness of purpose anymore? Is our world too complicated for that? Can we come up with a simple overarching statement of purpose, or are we too tangled up in our ridiculous labels and ideologies, too distracted by our outrage and all the people wrong on FB and other social media, to raise our heads and look at the bigger picture?

Do we want our culture to be run by entities like FB that pay lip service to “friends” and “connection” but in actuality work to make money off discord, fear, and disconnection? Do we want our country to be run by authoritarians and corporations? What’s stronger, a handful of small sticks bound together or a handful of splinters? We the people are not powerful enough to make sweeping change individually. Our power, the power of democracy, is in unity of purpose. If we lose our ability and willingness to unify, we’re at the mercy of whatever bloated, narcissistic, moronic, power-mad, lying clown and his train of minions and hangers-on comes along.

And that’s worked out so well.

What I know is I’m writing for you, whoever you are, reading this page. I’m sitting in my green suede chaise with a cat above my right shoulder on the back, the blinds drawn against the heat, the laptop in my lap, writing for you. I’m not writing for FB or an algorithm. I’m not battering you with advertising. I’m not collecting your data. I’m not writing clickbait. I’m not thinking about success, beyond writing a good post, editing it, and publishing it today. Because that’s what I do on Saturdays. I’m not thinking about the money I’ll make, because all my content both here and on Substack is free at this point.

I have no interest in what you’re wearing, what color you are, to whom you pray, how you vote, if you’re vaccinated, what your biological sex or gender expression is. I don’t care where you live. I don’t care how much money you make or have. I don’t care who you love, but I hope one person you love is yourself. I don’t care how old you are, or what you eat, or what your health status is, or what language and culture you were born into.

If you’re reading this, I’m writing for you. If you find anything of value in my work, I’ve succeeded and we’ve made a connection.

There’s no need to hit a like button for an algorithm.

On the other hand, if you find an artistic black-and-white photograph of a nude pregnant woman offensive, you might appreciate FB’s censorship of “inappropriate” material, and you probably won’t enjoy my work.

And that’s okay, too. You won’t find me polluting the pages of Facebook with my obscene pornography.

Those of you who come to me through C. Leo’s Facebook page may want to consider subscribing directly through Harvesting Stones and/or Substack. I don’t know if he’ll continue to try to post links to me and risk suspension or not.

I’m going to continue to write what I write and use the images I like. I’ll let other people worry about whether I’m a “success” or not.

My oneness of purpose: To connect, to think critically, to explore, to question, to discuss, to create, to make a positive contribution.

What’s yours?

Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash

Special or Happy?

Years ago, when I was seeking a divorce, my lawyer asked me one day in the middle of my frustration and fear regarding custody of my boys if I wanted to be right or I wanted to be free.

It was one of the best questions anyone had ever asked me, and I didn’t have to think about my answer.

“Free,” I said. In that moment, I gave up on my rather naïve ideas about justice and cooperation in the process of divorce. I stopped worrying about being right. I understood no one but me was interested in the best situation for the kids. I fought for as much freedom as I could get, not for myself, but for them.

The memory came vividly back to me when I read this article by Arthur Brooks from Big Think. The author describes an interaction with a successful but unhappy financier, who remarks she would rather be special than happy. Her definition of special has to do with professional success. Ordinary people, she says, can be happy. She wants to be more special than that.

Photo by Andrew Loke on Unsplash

I thought about that choice, and I wonder, are special or happy the only two choices? Is there some rule stating one can’t be special and happy?

Why do we believe we have to give up something to be happy?

I’ve written a series of posts about happiness, inspired by the work of Martin Seligman, PhD. I went back and reread those posts.

Can ordinary people be happy but extraordinary people can’t?

Are ordinary people happy?

Is ordinariness shameful? Is happiness a goal only for those who can’t be special in any way, a kind of booby prize?

I don’t believe happiness has anything to do with being ordinary, extraordinary (as defined by whom?) or somewhere in between. It’s a lot more complicated than that. I wonder if we’re losing our ability to distinguish between temporarily satisfying our addictions, expectations, and compulsions while numbing our pain and fear, and feeling true, enduring happiness.

Happiness, after all, is a state of being rather than a state of doing. To some degree we must allow it – give it time, space, and a safe place to exist. It’s not something to pursue or try to create. It’s already within us, somewhere.

(This creation of space, by the way, is a pillar of minimalism. If everything is important, nothing is. One discards until what’s truly important is revealed.)

I jotted down this statement: I’d rather be dutiful, loyal, responsible, a good parent/partner/daughter/sister, rich, powerful, in control, right or successful, than happy. I didn’t think hard about it. I have chosen everything on that list at one time or another in my life. I haven’t chosen happiness or seen it as a choice, and I’ve been unconscious of my belief that happiness can’t coexist with my standards of integrity.

Happiness just doesn’t seem like a worthy goal to me. It’s not culturally sanctioned. Ambition, power, wealth – those are worthy goals. Those are things that matter. Obviously (so obvious it goes without saying directly), those are the roads to happiness. One can be happy, but it must be earned, and happiness is not the goal, just a nice bonus. The real goal is productivity. The shadow side of productivity is consumption.

But productivity is a moving goalpost, and it doesn’t make us happy.

It occurs to me we talk about happiness or unhappiness as a blanket state of being, but it’s really more like Swiss cheese. I feel chronically unhappy about some aspects of my life, and chronically angry about others. Yet every day I also feel periods of happiness when I allow it and take the time to be present in the moment.

When I allow myself to play in the garden, I feel happy.

When I allow myself to settle down with a good book, I feel happy.

When I allow myself to be creative, I feel happy.

When I allow myself to be who I am, I feel happy.

Gardening, reading, being creative, and living authentically take time, intention, discipline, and energy. Discipline. Can you believe it? It takes discipline to remember I’m not a human doing, but a human being. My intrinsic worth as a being isn’t tied to productivity or consumption. The treadmill of productivity is easy. Stepping off and relaxing takes discipline. And that’s not only me.

The nature of addiction (physical and mental dependence) in any form is that it gradually pushes everything else out of our lives. Our addiction consumes our time, energy and money. Anything not in service to the addiction is discarded, including relationships, health, free time, quiet time, and creativity. Our addiction becomes our primary relationship and those around us quickly learn we’re not available for anyone or anything else.

Workaholism and perfectionism are addictions, along with productivity, toxic positivity, substance abuse, eating disorders, over-exercising, and sex addictions.

Happiness is power. That which takes us away from our happiness is disempowering.

Why do we live in, perpetuate, and enable a culture that relentlessly and brutally disconnects us from happiness?

That’s easy. Our individual happiness does not benefit capitalism, because happiness can’t be bought or sold. Capitalism benefits from an unhappy population brainwashed into believing productivity and consumption will make us happy. Who benefits from violence, division, hatred, manipulating our fear, restriction of choice, and disconnecting us from the simple pleasure of happiness?

Those currently in power and determined to stay that way, both governmental and corporate.

Who allows and enables that power-over stranglehold?

We do.

But we could change our minds.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

Measuring Productivity (Or Not)

Food for thought from Seth Godin: Productivity is not measured in drama.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Sometimes life seems to me like a giant factory. The owners are busy manufacturing fear and drama day and night, making money hand over fist. We the people sit in little cubicles, brainwashed and manipulated by the factory owners, responding to fear and drama stimuli for all we’re worth (and much more than we’re worth, monetarily speaking) and providing a gigantic, endless river of profit to the few at the top. After a few months in the factory, we’re promoted; we’ve learned to create fear and drama all by ourselves! Now we can model good business practice for the newbies.

Success!

For someone.

Fear and drama. Two top money-makers. Naturally, a capitalist culture would be constructed to relentlessly promote them, and any vehicle for increasing fear and drama would have enormous lucrative potential. Hence, staggering financial power and influence in the form of social media, conspiracy theory centers and advertising.

Information (facts) and critical thinking mitigate fear, so let’s demonize them and weaken public education so such heretical things are not taught.

Breaking our addiction to stuff and stimulation, instant gratification and validation, might allow us to realize how hollow and expensive those addictions are, so let’s not give people a single second in which to be tranquil and quiet.

Changing our belief that having and doing are more important than being, that doing more faster will lead to greater productivity and thus more money (with which we can buy more) will hurt the economy. Let’s make that unpatriotic, unpopular, and offensive.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

Let’s emphasize and support division, outrage, hatred, bigotry, procrastination, ignorance, catastrophizing, gaslighting, urgency, “alternative facts”, and disempowerment. Let’s prioritize making a profit.

Let’s train the culture to demand drama, and richly reward those who disseminate the most drama to the public. Let’s give those people power, authority, awards, and our money. Let’s give them our time and attention, our applause, loyalty, and praise. They entertain us. They tell us what we want to hear. They will be our saviors in a terrifying world. Without them, we’ll lose everything. (Starting with our guns.)

Manufactured drama. Manufactured fear. As though life doesn’t have enough organically grown drama and fear.

But one can never have enough money, right? And fear and drama are sound investments. Better than blue chip stocks, because they perform best in the worst of times.

At some point, we hitched drama onto productivity and conflated them. Godin reminds us productivity and drama are not the same or even related, unless it’s an inverse relationship.

We don’t have to choose crisis. We can build slack into our lives, quiet, unplugged time, time away from a screen. We don’t have to feed drama or get involved with it. We certainly don’t have to pass it on. We don’t have to attach to fear. We can unhook from fearful media, take our time and attention away from it.

Fear and drama don’t help us effectively manage our lives or make positive contributions. They don’t make us more humane or better problem solvers. They don’t help us find true love or good health. They’re neither creative nor connecting. Urgency is not high-quality fuel for life, and it doesn’t help us make empowered choices.

If we want to be productive, we need to disengage from fear and drama.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Neurotic Perseverance

All my life, when I tackle a problem or a challenge, if I don’t succeed I assume it’s about me. I’m not fill-in-the-blank-enough. I’m a failure. So, I work harder. I perseverate. I obsess. I refuse to give up. I try, and I try, and I go on trying until I’m used up, and then I try some more.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Every now and then I get jarred into a wider perspective and I suddenly understand some problems can’t be solved. Some challenges can’t be mitigated. Sometimes the change I’m seeking is not possible. This happened recently with a short note from Seth Godin in my Inbox titled “The Win-Win Fallacy.”

I’ve studied power dynamics for several years now, as regular readers know. One of my most important filters in evaluating others is whether they come from a power-over (win-lose) or power-with (win-win) perspective. This discernment is not necessarily loaded with judgement. In some cases, power-over is both effective and appropriate. In terms of personal relationships, though, I’m not eager to engage with people working for power-over.

The invisible problem (to me) with this filter is I haven’t thought of it as a continuum. I’ve thought of it as two isolated positions. You’re one, or you’re the other. (You’re with me or you’re against me.)

I abhor black-and-white thinking. Way too much of it in the world. It’s always a trap, and it always feels manipulative. Maybe one of the reasons I dislike it so much is that I’m so prone to it myself. It sneaks up on me, completely invisible, and I’m chagrined when I realize I’ve fallen into it. Again. Aargh!

These few sentences from Godin point out many problems don’t have a win-win solution, especially problems that have been around a while. If there was a win-win, someone would have found it. Think about gun control, for example. (I know, I don’t want to think about it anymore, either, but our children are going to keep dying in schools until we figure it out.)

Maybe it’s not that I’m too stupid to find the win-win in any given situation. Maybe there isn’t one.

Maybe some problems can only be solved on a continuum of sort-of-win, sort-of-lose, or even definitely win-lose, at least in the short term. Maybe, as Godin points out, what we should work for is something better than we have now, a situation in which most people are happier than they are with the current status quo. This, by the way, is what’s known as compromise.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Time changes things. I’ve often lost in the short term but won in the long term, or vice versa. Winning and losing are relative positions, a snapshot of one moment in time. They can and do change. (A private prayer of thanksgiving here.)

We are obsessed with winning in this culture. We’ll kill others and/or ourselves in order to be right. We’ll lie, cheat, and steal to ensure we win. We elevate winners with power, money, and authority. Some people are unable to accept losing anything, ever.

People who operate from this perspective are unable to discuss, negotiate, or compromise. They have no interest in the price of their win, as long as they get it. They don’t care who loses, who suffers, who dies. They don’t care about justice. The win is all. Nothing else matters.

Then there are people like me who are convinced justice (always assuming we can identify and agree upon what’s just!) is desirable and achievable and must prevail at any cost. I’m equally obsessed with the belief that winning doesn’t matter a damn and people who think winning is power are pathetic. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. What matters is working together to figure out the greatest good for everyone, for all life on Planet Earth, most of which is not human, by the way.

But what if there’s not a win-win, in either the short or the long term? We’re losing animal species every day. Maybe certain kinds of human thinking and behavior should also go extinct. Maybe we need losers so the majority wins.

So the majority wins, not the most powerful minority. Just to be clear. And that means sometimes we need to be willing to lose something for the greater good. A small sacrifice. What a concept.

It’s tricky. I don’t want it to be tricky. I want it to be clear, because that’s easier. Win-lose, or win-win.

But I see it’s not clear. It is a continuum. Lots of shades of grey in there, lots of ways to win and lose at once, and even that changes over time.

On a purely personal level, I need to stop making myself and everyone else crazy with my neurotic obsession with absolutely equal power, a perfectly equal win. I do believe it can happen. I believe it’s possible. On the other hand, Godin has me convinced it’s not always possible. If I’ve tried as hard and as long as I can, maybe the problem isn’t me at all. Maybe the only solution(s) are somewhere between the pure and saintly win-win and the power-grabbing win-lose.

Life is complicated.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Choosing Bad

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.

Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Laercio Cavalcanti on Unsplash

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?

Huh.

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.

Maybe.

By Sean Stratton on Unsplash