Review and Preview

A few weeks ago I explored self-trust. Until I wrote that piece, I had not realized how deeply I distrusted myself. (As a writer, I find nothing clarifies my thinking better than written inquiry. The process uncovers so many unconscious and hidden things.)

In that post I speculated about choosing to trust myself, as trust is a belief, and beliefs can and do change. I thought it would be interesting to consciously trust myself for a few days and see what happened.

What has happened is a profound change in my interior life and my mental health. What happened is the realization that learning to self-love, while a healing and valuable practice, was not, after all, what I most needed.

This still seems strange to me. We are certainly taught love is the greatest feeling, the closest to the Divine we can come, the best we can be as human beings. We define love endlessly, discuss it, long for it, search for it, tell ourselves it will fix everything if only we can find someone to love, if only someone will love us completely, unconditionally, forever and ever (or at least until death do us part), amen.

But my experience has taught me love is changeable and elusive. All kinds of abuse masquerades as love. We don’t all mean the same thing when we express love.

By Marianna Smiley on Unsplash

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, we don’t always value the love that comes our way, and we may learn to distrust it. Every master manipulator in the world recognizes the power of our need for love. Once that need is used against us, we are on our guard against love.

Love hurts. Love can endure, but a withered, starving love living on memories and perhaps based on delusions or the simple call of blood is a desolate ghost haunting our hearts. Love can scar us so deeply we’re never the same.

The daily practice of loving oneself is less complicated than loving another. At the very least, I know what I mean when I say it to myself, and my self understands my demonstration of it. Nothing is lost in translation. I can trust my own love.

And there’s that word – ‘trust’. Trust and love: does one require the other, or are they separate? One is a feeling (love), and one is a belief (trust). Both can be manipulated. In terms of our love and trust of ourselves, both are highly subject to interruption or even amputation by those who influence us, especially as children. If we are repeatedly given to understand we are not lovable or not to be trusted, we internalize those beliefs before we even have language. We don’t learn to love and trust ourselves.

Internalized beliefs are enormously powerful right up until we examine them closely, at which point they can vanish like a wisp of smoke. Once we’ve seen them as false, we become conscious of their pervasive influence and our internal structure changes in astounding ways.

This is what has happened to me.

When I set out to live a few days consciously trusting myself, I realized within an hour my obsessive and unending loop of review and preview. Just like a fish in water, I have no memory of ever living any other way, so I never noticed it before. Well, that’s not true. I noticed it, I just called it anxiety. As I’ve always been anxious and expected I always would be, I didn’t think further about it.

In an example from my childhood, when I was very young, kindergarten age, my mother had a lot of pain and was quite unhappy. I had a younger brother and we had cats and dogs. In an effort to take care of my mother, I learned how to do things like make beds, sort laundry, set up the coffee maker, make orange juice in the blender (frozen concentrate), take care of the animals, tie my own shoes and teach my brother to tie his, etc.

I vividly remember lying in my bed, my brother across the room in his bed, reviewing everything I’d done that day. I had trouble with hospital corners on the beds because I wasn’t strong enough to tuck the sheets in properly under the mattress. Mom had to bend over and do them again, so I failed to help and caused her pain. I didn’t turn a sock right side out when I sorted the laundry. I could tie my own shoes, but I was baffled trying to teach my brother to tie his while facing him. And so forth and so on.

Review: I hadn’t done it right. I hadn’t helped. I hadn’t been perfect. I hadn’t made Mom happy. I had to do better. Preview: Next time I would look at every piece of laundry, be sure nothing was inside out. Next time I would remember how to sort it properly so Mom wouldn’t have to bend down and do it herself. Next time I would figure out a way to get the hospital corners right, but I wouldn’t have to face that again for a week or so. Maybe I’d be stronger or bigger? If I got behind my brother and tied his shoes from that angle, could I do it? I had to do it! It hurt Mom to bend down.

This habit, this ongoing internal review and preview, has never stopped. Whatever I’ve just done, I review it. Whatever I’m about to do, I preview it. Racing thoughts. Circular thinking. Problems with sleep and chronic tension. Adrenal overload and exhaustion. The need to distract, to make it stop. The inability to have a quiet mind. Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of anxiety.

I believe my anxiety has been rooted in my self-distrust. When I decided to behave as though I do trust myself, I became conscious of my lifelong review and preview habit, as much a part of me as my blue eyes. At the same time, I discovered the solution. The minute I catch myself either reviewing or previewing, and it’s many, many times a day, I say, “I trust you,” to myself.

And I stop. I don’t need to review. I don’t need to preview. I did the best I could, because I always do that. I’ll do the best I can, because I always do that.

“I trust you.”

I’ve also realized, after long experience of sorting through my own psyche, this self-distrust is not mine. It doesn’t smell like me. It’s not home grown. It came from someone outside me, like so many of the unmanaged, unacknowledged emotions and beliefs I’ve carried, recognized as not mine, and let go.

By Danijel Durkovic on Unsplash

I discovered, as I wrote that post on trust, I do trust myself. I’ve always had cognitive dissonance around trust. Those around me didn’t trust me, yet I trusted myself. I trust my intuition. I trust my empathy and sensitivity, I trust my intention to do the right thing, I trust my flexibility and my ability to learn. I trust my ability to love. I trust my ability to think critically and recognize the truth, no matter how unwelcome. When I assure myself of my trust, it’s not a lie. It’s a truth buried for years under trauma.

I suspect many of us review and preview, consciously or not. It’s wholly ineffective in terms of healthy functioning. It makes us less flexible and resilient. It tires us out, creates long-term chronic stress, and is a constant no-confidence vote we give ourselves. It doesn’t make us more perfect; in fact, it does the opposite because it encourages us to be brittle and fearful. It doesn’t stop us from making mistakes. It turns us away from presence and authentic expression and towards behaving like automatons with a rigid script.

It gives us anxiety.

Most of all, reviewing and previewing doesn’t keep us safe. It doesn’t help us feel loved.

The compulsive habit of reviewing and previewing took up an extraordinary amount of space in my mind and required enormous quantities of energy and attention. Without it, I feel an internal spaciousness I’ve never had before. I read more. I write more. I can rest and relax. I’m far less driven, far more comfortable in my own skin. I’m more present and mindful in the moment, and with my feelings and my body.

I’m far less anxious.

Learning to love myself has been a gift. Reclaiming trust in myself has changed my life.

Questions:

  • Do you love yourself? If not, why?
  • Do you trust yourself? If not, why?
  • If you could only have one, would you prefer others to trust you or love you?
  • What do you think is more important socially: love or trust? Why?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Trust

When I wrote about internal locked rooms earlier in the month, I had no idea how much there would be to unpack. In subsequent discussions about locked rooms and unconditional love (for a connect-the-dots map go here) a friend tells me she believes trusting herself is the biggest barrier for her in unconditionally loving herself. Me being me, I asked her how we define trust. In asking her I asked myself.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Here we go again.

Trust is defined by Online Oxford Dictionary as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

Trust is a tricky subject for me and I’ve so far avoided taking it head on, but this feels like the right time. Part of my hesitation to talk about it is my own identity as a person who doesn’t trust easily.

I feel that piece of identity as a shameful aspect of my character. As I write this, I have a vivid childhood memory of being in the back of a dim car in a blinding snowstorm feeling scared. An adult in the car was also fearful, as were the family dogs. The driver asked me, “What’s the matter, don’t you trust me?”

The answer clamored inside the car, “NO!” For a moment it seemed to me we’d all shouted it, though nobody said a word and I huddled, frozen with fear and not daring to speak, in my corner.

It’s bad not to trust; disloyal, unloving, unnatural. But I learned very young trusting those around me was dangerous. All my life I’ve been torn between my shame about not trusting and a determination to survive and learn to self-defend … which sometimes (often?) means not trusting.

I don’t see trust as a black-and-white belief. I might trust someone completely with money and business affairs, but not at all as a confidant. I might trust someone as a parent but not as a dog walker. I might trust someone’s essential goodness but not their reliability in following through on plans.

This question of trusting ourselves, though, is slightly different. What does it mean, exactly, to not trust ourselves? What do I mean when I say it to myself?

Trust is defined as a belief, and beliefs can and do change. Belief is a choice. My belief that I’m untrustworthy is not something I was born with, but something I internalized from my family. I’m untrustworthy because I’m dramatic, I struggle with math story problems, I have needs and feelings, I’m intuitive, I’m sensitive, I have boundaries, I challenge authority and rules, and I tell the truth, among many other reasons.

Internalized voices are a bitch, because we don’t realize or remember they came from someone outside us.

And people outside us lie. People outside us can never fully see what’s inside us. People have agendas, their own wounds and trauma, and navigate around their own internalized bullshit.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People outside us are not necessarily reliable sources about our worth and value as a human being.

If trust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something,” we have specifics we can explore.

Reliability: I know myself to be reliable. I have many flaws, but my integrity is strong and I keep my word to myself.

Truth: A thorny aspect of trust. I wrote two paragraphs here about the ways in which others perceive my truthfulness. On edit, I realized none of that has to do with my truthfulness with myself, which will always be invisible to the outside world. Do I trust my truthfulness with myself? Yes. Absolutely.

Ability: This is my weakest area of self-trust. In some ways. At some times. I wrestle every day with imposter syndrome. On the other hand, I absolutely trust my ability to write, to teach, to swim, to dance, and to do many other things. Oddly, though I trust my ability in most cases, I don’t want others to trust my ability because I have a huge fear of disappointing people. This, too, is an old wound, first opened when I received constant messaging about how disappointing and inadequate I was as a child. Because of that, I don’t want people to rely on me for fear I’ll let them down, not from my perspective, but from theirs.

I told you trust was tricky for me.

Strength: Which brings me to strength. This, for me, is a no-brainer. I have absolute belief in my own strength. God knows I wouldn’t be sitting here at the keyboard typing if I hadn’t been strong all my life.

Given this mostly positive review of the components of this definition of trust, what’s the problem? Why have I so consistently mistrusted myself during my lifetime?

I can easily come up with two reasons. There may be more lurking in the background, but these two are in front: One is trust in my physical body, and the other is perfectionism.

Perfectionism is one of the first things I wrote about on this blog. It’s another piece from my childhood I’ve struggled with it all my life, and I’m certainly not the only one. I’m conscious of it now, which is helpful, but it affects every day of my life and if I’m not mindful it rules me. Publishing this blog was one of my first real efforts at resistance. It took more than a year of weekly publishing to stop feeling panic as I pushed the “publish” button after a reasonable amount of writing and editing.

Even as perfectionism drives me, I’m aware enough to know I can’t define it beyond pleasing people. Which is impossible, and I know that. Yet the internal pressure to be perfect seems to be inescapable.

I’ve also written extensively about expectations. As a child, I was expected to be perfect according to conflicting expectations from three adults on whom I was dependent. Needless to say I failed to please any of them, which meant I lived in a constant state of shame and fear of abandonment. A perfect setup for internalized self-loathing. The road from self-loathing to considering unconditional self-love has been an amazing journey.

I was aware, as I explored ability, reliability, truth, and strength above, of a little voice in my head saying, “Yes, but—,” a precursor to the time I was late, or forgot an appointment, or the occasions I did deliberately lie, or the times I felt weak, or when my ability did not live up to my own unconscious standards of perfectionism.

As I became aware of this, I realized I will never trust myself if I aspire to be perfect in these four categories. I have never been perfect, I am not perfect, I never will be perfect, and I’m not much interested at this point in my life in attaining perfection in any way.

So fuck off, perfectionism. I’m not your bitch anymore. AND you will not stop me from loving myself, unconditionally or otherwise. Unconditional love is not built on some ridiculous set of expectations.

Photo by Emma Backer on Unsplash

Which brings me to an interesting insight on my relationship with my body. Let’s not do the body-as-a-political-signal thing, OK? I’m sick of it. We all live in a body. We have baggage about how our bodies look and function. We’re pressured, every day, to try to buy a “better” body, especially children. In today’s world, many of us feel we “should” be different, no matter what we look like. Currently, we’re obsessed with appearance and virtue signaling rather than health and function.

I don’t hate my body. However, due to autoimmune issues and years of chronic pain, I haven’t trusted it. Until the last ten years or so, since I’ve gone carnivore, my physical state was extremely limiting; I was unable to engage fully in activities I loved, get regular exercise, or even reliably manage the activities of daily living without severe pain.

Now I have my inflammation under control, my chronic pain is gone, and I’m able to joyfully live the kind of active lifestyle I’ve always wanted: gardening, walking, swimming, water aerobics, free weights, stretching, a little yoga, a little Pilates, a little time in the gym. I’m healthier and more active than I’ve ever been, but I am aging, and as I age, my body is changing. (Big surprise, I know!) I noticed, in my post about unconditional self-love, some of the things I wrote about unconditionally loving were physical things. In this culture, nobody tells us to love our varicose veins, or our age-spotted hands, or our lined neck. Instead, we’re encouraged to buy something and “fix” all those problems, or at least hide them.

That’s not unconditional love. (I also deny it’s “body positivity,” but I don’t want to dive into that rabbit hole!)

I know if I push myself too hard my body will hurt. I know if I allow my anxiety to spin out of control I won’t sleep. I know if I eat a whole pizza I will a) have inflammation and pain from the carbs and b) have severe constipation (cheese). I know if I garden for too many hours at a time I’ll be too stiff the next morning to get dressed without sitting down. I know if I spend too many hours in the pool I’ll develop eczema on my elbows and hips.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

I ask myself, does all this mean I don’t trust my body? Because it actually sounds like I do trust it to react to my choices in various predictable ways. Is what I’m really saying I don’t trust my body to be a 20-year-old perfect body?

Well …. Yeah. I guess that is what I’m saying. Pretty silly.

My friend doesn’t feel she can unconditionally love herself without trusting herself. She’ll navigate her own path through all this. My own conclusion is I can trust myself. Perhaps I should consciously start doing so. (What an idea!) For me, lack of self-trust is not an obstacle to unconditional love, but it certainly makes a nice contribution to it.

Questions:

  • Do you see trust as essential to unconditional love?
  • Do you agree with this definition of trust? If not, how would you define it? Can you find a better definition?
  • What aspect of trust in this definition do you struggle with the most?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Red Flags

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.

Power-Over

  • 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
  • Dishonesty
  • Poor communication and refusing to answer questions
  • Emotional unavailability
  • High-conflict behavior
  • Blaming and shaming of others
  • Refusal to respect boundaries
  • Inconsistent
  • 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

Power-With

  • 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

Manufactured Distrust

Trust: Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Mistrust: General sense of unease towards someone or something

Distrust: Specific lack of trust based on experience or reliable information

Leo Babauta recently published a piece on practicing trust which has given me much food for thought.

Trust is an uncomfortable subject for me. For most of my life I’ve considered myself to be shamefully distrustful. As I’ve learned emotional intelligence, I’ve realized I have plenty of good reasons for my mistrust and distrust, but there’s still a part of me that feels I should be more trusting, more willing to give others a second, or third, or hundredth chance, less guarded, more open, more forgiving.

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Except I know intellectually forgiveness does not mean an automatic reinstatement of trust.

In my heart, I feel like a bad person, especially a bad woman, because throughout my life people who say they love me have appeared to be hurt by my lack of trust. Yet those same people have given me reasons not to trust them.

When I wind up in these confusing emotional cul-de-sacs, I blame myself. I’m being too dramatic (again). I’m being a bitch. I’m mean. I can’t love, or let anyone love me. (Does trust = love? Does all love automatically come with trust?) When I explain the specific events leading to my mis- or distrust, I’ve frequently been told the other party doesn’t remember saying what they said or doing what they did. This implies I’m nitpicking, ridiculously sensitive, keeping score, or even making it up. I wonder if I’m being gaslighted, or if I’m just not a nice person.

Years and years ago I made a rule for myself: give every situation or person three chances before deciding not to trust. It still feels fair to me. Sometimes things happen. We have a bad day. We say hurtful things, or don’t keep our word, or make a boneheaded choice, breaking trust with someone. I know I’ve done it, and I’d like to be given the benefit of a doubt.

The benefit of a doubt is fair, right?

I still follow that rule. It feels appropriately kind to others and like good self-care. Yet I feel guilt nearly every day over the people in my life who I want to trust, feel that I should trust, and don’t trust.

Babauta’s article specifically addresses signs of distrust of ourselves, and some ideas about practicing self-trust. I never connected problems with focus, fear or uncertainty, procrastination or indecision with lack of self-trust, but I can see they might be. If we don’t trust our priorities, resilience, or choices, it’s difficult to be decisive or take risks with commitments and problem solving.

If we don’t trust ourselves to cope effectively with sudden changes and reversals and frightening situations, uncertainty and chaos disable us, making us vulnerable to anyone or anything promising relief, certainty, or help.

The boundary between trust in ourselves and trust in others is permeable. If we define ourselves, as I do, as “having trust issues,” presumably that includes issues with ourselves as well as others.

It makes me shudder to imagine living with no feeling of belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of anyone or anything. How could anyone sustain such an emotionally isolated condition, not only from those around them but from themselves?

I do have people in my life I trust. Is it possible I don’t have trust issues? Is that just a polite, apologetic, and roundabout way of avoiding a direct “I don’t trust you?”

Do I have to answer that?

It’s true I trust far fewer people than I distrust.

But it’s also true I give people and situations a chance. Three chances, in fact. At least.

Why does it seem so cruel to tell someone we don’t trust them?

Trust, as I experience it, is not all or nothing. I might trust a person to be kind and caring but never allow them to drive me anywhere. I might trust a person with money but never trust them to be on time. I trust myself to be there for others, but I haven’t trusted myself to be there for me.

Consumerism is about distrust. We’re actively groomed to distrust ourselves. Yesterday I was laughing with a friend about articles on MSN. There was an article about trends and fashion in decorating, as though it matters. Shiplap is out. White kitchens are out. Accent walls are out. Then there was an article about how to properly fold plastic grocery bags. I’m not kidding. Did you know you’ve been storing plastic grocery bags the WRONG WAY all these years? How could you be so incompetent? A capitalist culture only survives as long as people buy things, and advertising (and a lot of other media) is about the ways you need to improve, do it right, be better.

Advertising is manufactured distrust. We’re inadequate, but a widget would make us better. We buy, and we discover we still don’t feel good enough, and another ad tells us we need a nidget. So we buy that, but then we see a gidget on sale that will make us even better …

Who benefits most from our lack of trust in ourselves?

I believe information is power. I believe education is power. I believe in science, data, and critical thinking. I trust those things.

Who benefits most from the breakdown of public education, the demonization and gutting of scientific organizations and communities, manufactured misinformation, manufactured disinformation, and “alternative facts?”

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

The Center For Nonviolent Communication says trust is a human need; it’s listed under connection needs. When our needs aren’t met, our health (mental, physical, emotional) suffers. If we are unable to trust we’re wide open to conspiracy theorists, ideologues, authoritarians, and other abusers and manipulators. Predators happily gorge off the results of manufactured distrust.

This is a big, big, problem, because it stands between us and managing things like climate change. Which, depending on who you talk to, isn’t even real because science has been the target of so much manufactured distrust.

One day, sooner rather than later in the Southwest, a switch won’t deliver electricity and a faucet won’t deliver water. Scientists have been talking about consequences of climate change and drought in the area for decades. It was one of the reasons I left my lifelong home in Colorado and came to Maine nearly eight years ago. A combination of manufactured distrust, denial, and the misplaced priority of winning the next election have effectively stopped any kind of collaborative or cooperative problem-solving around water usage throughout the Colorado River watershed, and here we are, on the brink of multi-state disaster that will affect the whole country.

Trust is a choice we make many times a day. Do we trust our families, coworkers, and friends? Do we trust the headlines we read, the news anchor we hear, or the algorithms providing us with “information” on social media? Do we trust what lands in our Inbox or the unfamiliar number calling us? Do we trust the oncoming car will really stop so we can safely walk across the busy street?

More importantly, do we trust our own instincts, feelings, and capability? Do we actively teach our children to trust theirs? Do we encourage our friends and loved ones to trust themselves? Or do we tell people they have it wrong, it didn’t happen, they’re being ridiculous, they don’t understand?

Choice comes with consequences and responsibility. Choice is dynamic; do we trust if we make a choice that doesn’t work out the way we hoped, we’ll choose again? Do we trust ourselves to be wrong and learn something before we choose again? Do we trust our ability to problem solve, bounce back, and do the best we can most of the time?

I suppose somewhere between having no trust at all and trusting everyone and everything lies a fine line of willingness to trust. We could approach new situations and people with curiosity and an open mind, be big enough to give the benefit of the doubt, and have healthy enough boundaries and the self-trust to disengage when we have evidence and experience indicating our trust is misplaced.

The first step in rejecting manufactured distrust is building trust in ourselves and demonstrating our own reliability, truth, ability and strength as we engage with others.

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

Censorship

Now that I publish my fiction on Substack, I read regular content from the platform, and a few weeks ago the platform runners wrote an essay about censorship titled “Society has a trust problem. More censorship will only make it worse.”

I’ve read and reread that essay.

I’ve been trained as a librarian, and one of the most important tenets of professional librarians is freedom of information. One of the things that drove me out of my job as an elementary school librarian in a public school system was pressure to take Harry Potter off the shelves. I told the school board I wouldn’t do it. If they had to fire me, so be it, but I wouldn’t take the books off the shelves. I asked if any school board member had actually read one of the books in question. None had. Surprise, surprise.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

Freedom of speech and freedom in general have been hot topics since the 2016 presidential election and COVID. I’ve written before about freedom of speech, which is not all-inclusive.

In the last six years, cultural censorship has increased enormously, but it’s failed to silence anti-vaxxers, proponents of the election Big Lie, COVID naysayers, and people who believe men cannot become women, or vice versa. It’s also failed to address increasing civil violence, disconnection, and unrest.

Does censorship work? Is it a useful tool?

It doesn’t appear so. I’m irresistibly reminded of the “Just Say No” drug campaign for school kids and sexual abstinence programs for teens. Do they work?

Not so much.

It seems to be a human character trait that the minute we’re forbidden to do something we move heaven and earth to do it. Look at Adam and Eve. Look at Pandora. Dozens of old oral stories from around the world are about people who broke their promise not to look and suffered the consequences.

I’ve never thought to ask myself what problem we’re trying to address with censorship.

Is it cultural trust?

Possibly. Trust is an easily manipulated quality, because it’s a belief. Belief, as we’ve seen demonstrated over and over during the last years, is more powerful than facts. People will die for their beliefs. They’ll kill for them.

Are beliefs strengthened or weakened by access to all kinds of information (facts) or opinions? Are beliefs strengthened or weakened by censorship?

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I’m not sure trust is the root problem, though, or not the entire root. Perhaps the deepest root is education and, paradoxically, freedom. Authoritarianism is characterized by blind submission to authority. One of the tools of authoritarianism is censorship, including limiting the rights to vote, read, write, report the facts, speak, and teach.

Censorship implies people can’t be trusted with a full range of information. They are unable to make the “right” choices, according to the authoritarian(s) at the top. Thus, the public is spoon-fed only that which supports the authoritarian power. Asking questions is not allowed. Challenge is not allowed. Discussion and debate are not allowed.

Don’t you worry your little head about substance abuse. Just say no. We don’t talk about sex and our bodies in this house. It’s dirty and shameful. Just abstain from inhabiting your healthy young body.

The subject of censorship is tricky, because I suspect we’d all like to have the power to censor certain voices on social media, on radio, on television, in the bookstores, on YouTube, and on platforms like Substack. Some of the propaganda and opinions out there, the lies masquerading as facts, are horrifying. However, my lie might be your fact. Your heart-felt ideology about eating meat may be in direct conflict with what I need to sustain my health and quality of life. Should one of us have the power to censor the other?

This is where the trust problem comes in. We don’t trust one another to make the “right” choices or believe the “right” people. I think many don’t trust themselves to make the “right” choices. They rely on someone they have faith in to tell them what to do.

The “right” choices imply the possibility of “wrong” choices, but this is black-and-white, overly simplistic thinking. Perhaps you need to be a vegetarian in order to sustain your health. Perhaps I need to be a carnivore. We’re both right. Does that mean a full range of diet and nutrition information should be available to all? Can we, as a culture, agree to live and let live?

I have my doubts.

The current specific issue on Substack is the subject of COVID. Evidently, there are writers on the platform spreading dis- and/or misinformation about COVID. Scientists on Substack sending meticulously researched, linked, and data-driven information take issue with that and want Substack to censor such writers for the sake of the public good.

Substack, in response, wrote the above essay, maintaining their position against censorship and explaining their thoughts about it.

I’m in sympathy with both sides. I, too, am frustrated with the sheer volume of unmitigated bullshit out there. But I never forget many people would say my sources of information are bullshit, and I would fight hard to maintain access to those sources.

Maybe the problem is not how deep the bullshit is, but how bad we are at recognizing it. And that’s a product of our broken education system and our inability to think critically. Both these cultural trends make us increasingly vulnerable to authoritarianism.

As I’ve discussed before, choice goes hand-in-hand with responsibility. If we want optimum freedom to choose, we must accept the consequences of our choices.

Taking responsibility for our choices is not humanity’s greatest strength at this moment in history.

If I was Supreme Ruler of the World (God forbid), I believe I would vote with Substack on this issue of censorship. Silencing people does not address the root of the problem, only a symptom. We need to figure out a way to fix our educational system so we all learn critical thinking at every stage of education. Not only does this empower people to make their own choices and recognize the difference between lies and truth, opinions and information, it allows public access to a full range of viewpoints.

We are never going to silence the liars and manipulators. They will continue to try to obtain power and money, and they will continue to aggressively work to silence those who disagree with them. The best weapon against them is to firmly empower ourselves and others with education and the ability to think critically. We don’t need to be protected. We need to be armed.

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