Deciding what matters, and then choosing it.

Anyone who knows me hopefully also knows that I will fight to the death when it comes to body- or appearance-shaming as a means of character assassination. So, like, judging a person based on what they do? Totally fine. Open season. But judging a person based on how they look? Totally NOT OKAY. Especially equating being overweight to a character flaw or moral judgement. It’s lazy, it’s flawed logic, and it’s unkind… for starters. It’s not even necessary. Chances are, if you’re feeling the need to slam a person using physical traits,  there’s likely something else you could be using instead (example: Chris Christie is a turd, and there’s a whole host of reasons why, but NONE of them have to do with how he looks). A person’s appearance has nothing to do with who they are as human beings, and is not a reflection of character, mind, or heart. It IS, however, a reflection on us as a society, that we use those things to condemn other people.

So, it’s interesting for me to note that I have been beating myself THE HELL UP for not losing weight before the wedding. Like, suddenly I am a failure, a horrible human being, I’m going to hate seeing photos for years to come because it will remind me I suck, and everyone who has ever wished me harm will revel in seeing me be overweight on the most important day of my life… every time I look in the mirror, every time I’m putting on clothes, I’m these saying mean things to myself, I’m flailing on the inside wondering what I can do to lose weight and get in shape in 6… make that 5… and now 4 weeks.

But this post isn’t so much about that, because here’s what I know: C loves me for who I am, not how I look; in 4 weeks, we will be married to each other, just as in love (if not more so) and happy together as we are right now. We’ll be surrounded by loved ones, eating wonderful food and drinking delicious cocktails, and we’ll get to share this most important event with each other and our friends and family. None of that has anything to do with my physical appearance, and EVERYTHING to do with my mind, my spirit, and my heart.

I recognize that a lot of this self-deprecation comes from external programming. Growing up surrounded by messages that enforce the focus on appearance as a measure of worth, it’s hard to overcome that sort of thing, and just as I said about other people judging – that it’s easy, it’s lazy, and it’s unkind – that’s the default setting for my own brain directed toward myself when I’m looking for something to stress about, some sort of outlet for the pent-up stress and frustration I’ve got going on.

I am stressed OUT. About a lot of things. And apparently the first easy target is me, and how I look, because hey… I’m right here, right? So instead of dealing with stress in a healthy way, it just shows up as my own worst critic.

But this isn’t really about that, either. I mean, it’s good insight, and I’m glad to have it, because it’s keeping me from losing my mind and bursting into tears as I head to my next dress fitting.

What I want to know is… how do priorities form? How do you decide what’s important to you? Is it something you’re born with, or do you learn these things because of the world around you? How do some people decide that fitness is important to them, while others decide they’re just not interested?

And, more specifically, how can you be totally overcome with thoughts of, “Oh goodness, I’m getting married in 6 weeks (or a year or three months or whatever), and I would really love to lose about 5 lbs and get my arms in shape before the wedding!” and then not do anything about it? Like, how can you say and feel with every ounce of your being that this is a priority and it’s important to you, but then not actually do anything about it? And not only that, but do things that are diametrically opposed? Eating ice cream and pizza and drinking wine and doing all the things that you enjoy but you know fly directly in the face of what you’ve stated is your desired end result?

How do make a decision on what’s really important, say it out loud over and over, and then actually flip the switch so you’re working toward that goal? Or is it just that my brain is so determined to have an easy enemy that it’s intentionally sabotaging whatever efforts I might have made? Is it that I have so much other stuff going on that I only have so many spoons of discipline, and they’re all used up before I can get around to the food and exercise regimen I know would get me where I want to be?

And in the face of all of this… how do I just be okay with the apparent reality that losing weight and getting in shape just wasn’t really a priority after all? And then be okay with the outcome?

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Perfection, expectations, and the sometimes-messy business of being human.

“Prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness.”

The other day, a dear friend reached out via email and, among other things, shared a podcast (with Brené Brown) that reminded her of me. If you know me, then you know I love me some Brené Brown. Her research and writing changed the trajectory of my life some years back, changed how I thought about things, how I worked on things within myself… it was a big ol’ necessary and welcome shift. But it’s been a minute since I took the time to either revisit her older books or to dive into her new ones; I’d been assuming there wasn’t much new for me to learn.

The quote above is what stopped me in my tracks and brought a whole lot of things into the light that have been lurking in the recesses for a while. So, on the eve of my 45th birthday, I figured it was once again time to dig deep. (And yes, I’m procrastinating on homework. It’s how I do my best thinking.)

Brené was talking about how we have prerequisites for our worthiness. “If I lost 10 lbs., THEN I’d be worthy.” “If I only made more money or had nicer things, THEN I’d be deserving of love and belonging.” That sort of thing. Just like expectations equal premeditated resentments, prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness. The truth is, we’re all worthy, right now, as we are. If we don’t believe that, then we’ll never be enough. Coming at life from a place of scarcity – not thin or fit ENOUGH, not pretty ENOUGH, not wealthy or smart or funny or interesting ENOUGH – will always set you at the back of the line, and you will never, ever catch up.

It makes me think about how there are people who derive their sense of self worth from external sources, vs. those who feel how they feel about themselves based on internal sources. So, like, there are people who only feel good about themselves when they achieve something, get something, DO something… external accomplishments drive their sense of self worth, which means they have to keep achieving, doing, getting, in order to maintain that sense of worthiness. On the other hand, we’ve got folks who feel good about themselves based on who they ARE. How they think, feel, and engage with the world.

(Here is a nod to another post I’ve got in the works, separating people from their behaviors. It’s… beefy.)

The latter is a much more static sense of worth, but I think it’s also just as prone to faulty thought lines. It ties into the difference between guilt and shame, also a Brené revelation. Guilt = I did something bad; shame = I AM bad. Guilt is a healthy feeling because you can learn from it; it’s there to show you what you’re okay with and what you’re not; what’s right and wrong for you. It’s how we learn not to do things that don’t feel good, whether because we already know it’s wrong, or because we see how it impacts those around us.

Shame, on the other hand… that’s where we are bad people, not good people who’ve done a bad thing or two. We’re failures, we’re not worthy, and no amount of a change in behavior or making of amends will change our inherent lack of worth.

So, my friend reached out to me because she’s in a place in life where she’s struggling a little with her own sense of worth, and she wanted to hear my thoughts on it all because she sees me as someone with boundaries, someone who is vulnerable and strong all at once, someone who has a strong sense of her own worth.

What she’s getting, in the form of this post, is the admission that I’ve been unwittingly stuck in a stress-induced shame spiral for months, it seems. Certainly the last few weeks, but it was building up a lot longer before that. And it took her reaching out for me to be willing and able to CALL it out, so I’m eternally grateful for that.

Between working full time, being in school full time, taking on a SpeechCraft class (an offshoot of Toastmasters) to confront speaking in public as one of my bigger fears, and planning a wedding, not to mention contending with some disappointing, albeit minor, health issues and stressing about money and blending families and managing the house while C travels and all kinds of other stuff… I’ve got a LOT going on. It’s not all bad, not by any stretch, but it is a lot. Bordering on more than I can reasonably handle

Because of this full plate, I’ve been slowly chipping away at my own sense of self. Which is amazing, when I think about it, because I’m doing a LOT to better myself as a human. Funny, then, that I have been struggling so much with stuff. Like, I somehow lost my material for the Toastmasters class. I don’t lose things. Ever. A few months ago, a pair of my gym pants went missing, and I guarantee you I will obsess over that for-EVER. Not because they were great pants, but because I. DON’T. LOSE. THINGS. My belongings were the only constant in my life, growing up, and after living alone for so long, my stuff became my companion through all my moves, all my life changes… you get the idea.

So, when this folder came up missing, I lost it. I’m still freaking out about it. I have an idea of what likely happened to it, but without confirmation, I feel like my world is out of control, that I’m not responsible or reliable, and can’t count on myself for ANYTHING. I cried about it, several times, including on the phone with C while he’s a thousand miles away and can’t do anything to help.

I also cried during my first wedding dress fitting this past Sunday, because I haven’t lost the weight I wanted to lose, and because if I don’t lose the 15-20 extra pounds, then what’s the point of having a pretty dress because I’m going to look terrible and hate our wedding photos for all of eternity and I’m a failure because I had all this time to do the work and I didn’t do it.

I have been beating myself up over not having a job making twice the money I’m making right now; over not losing weight and getting in shape, which is apparently a moral failing on my part; over not being able to afford a new car; over not making more money so C doesn’t have to travel as much; over not being a better friend, family member, and partner; over not being the perfect student…

I’m exhausted with myself. And I see now, these were all just prerequisites for worthiness that I was inflicting on myself.

Because of the transitory nature of my upbringing – all the moves, the changes, the family dynamic shifts – I think that my need to control things was born of a need to feel some semblance of stability, security, and safety. It’s the place from where my perfectionism stems; my sometimes overwhelming need or desire to control perceptions, outcomes, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Not because I think I’m better than everyone else and am the only one who can do things right; instead, it’s because I’m the only one I can, will, and should answer to.

So I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m not enough. Not thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, young enough… and I’ve been finding ways to reaffirm that messaging. Not intentionally, mind you; it’s just the way my brain seems to work. It’s really easy to find ways to sabotage your sense of self-worth, especially if you let yourself get overwhelmed with stressors and other things that take your defenses down. If you’re not inherently secure, then it’s work. Necessary, important, and worthwhile work… but work, nonetheless.

I am incredibly fortunate to have people in my life who remind me when I forget. Carter loves me unconditionally and wholeheartedly; he reminds me to try and do the same. But it’s unfair to put the onus on anyone else, to ask THEM to do MY emotional labor. I’ve got work to do. It’s always there, ever-present, and some days it’s easy. Some days I can see my value and know I’m worth fighting for. But some days, the demons rear their ugly-ass heads and try to tell me different.

Noelle the wonder-therapist says that one of the best ways to combat anxiety – which, for me, presents itself as perfectionism and the need to control things – is to just call it out for what it is. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and move along. It certainly helps to take the sting out, seeing it all for what it really is. And THAT is why the baring of the soul is so damned important. Shining a light on things instead of trying to hide them… that’s how you heal. Shining the light, and doing the work.

Happy birthday to me, then. My gift to myself is the freedom to do what I can, and to have that be ENOUGH. ❤

How far will you go?

To avoid having a difficult conversation, I mean? To what lengths will you go, just so you don’t have to speak up for yourself, draw lines in the sand, enforce your boundaries… to request (nay, demand) what is your due?

What will you put up with? What behaviors will you tolerate? What will you justify, in the form of another person’s poor choices or actions, just so you don’t have to have that difficult conversation with them? Or, maybe, just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’re settling? That you’re compromising yourself for the sake of “going along to get along?”

Will you quit a job, rather than calling out workplace toxicity or abuse? Rather than confronting an unfair pay structure? Will you move, rather than having a conversation with that neighbor who plays their music too loud, without ever giving them the opportunity to make it right? Would you stay in a relationship with someone damaging, rather than standing up for – HONORING – your needs, because it’s easier than the devastating loneliness you imagine on the other side? Do you downplay those deep-down voices as silly daydreams, rather than the gut instinct you were never taught to trust?

Do you listen to the people who say you’re too demanding? Your expectations are too high? You’re a traitor to the cause if you expect compensation commensurate with your worth? Do you trust the partner who tries to keep you still by telling you you’ll never do better? Do you believe the lies they tell you, because it’s easier than challenging all you’ve ever known from the world, even though there’s a bluebird in your heart that sings sometimes, that knows better?

Do you stay in undesirable situations – work, play, love, home – out of fear of being viewed as flighty? Unreliable? Unstable? Do you place the value of outside perspective higher than that of your own intuition? Or do you run, instead of staying in those situations and doing the work to make them right? Is it worth the work? Where do you draw the line between standing up for yourself and giving in? When does it turn from mutual compromise, to compromise of self?

Have you decided it’s easier to struggle to make ends meet, instead of having the scary conversation with a boss about a raise? Do people who know you guilt you into getting what they want? And do you let them, because it’s easier than having the fight? Do you let fear get in the way of saying no?

Were you ever taught to lobby on your own behalf? Did you grow up with people acting as your champions, or are you having to learn it on your own? Does it feel like work, and does that sometimes inform how you engage with the world? Does it exhaust and upset you sometimes, feeling like you need a megaphone and a sandwich board sign to announce to the world what you will (and will not) tolerate, what you do (and don’t) deserve? And does that exhausted upset lower your defenses to where you put up with more than you know you should?

At some point in life, did someone instill in you the belief that you should just take what you’re offered, that to ask for anything else is a selfish insult? Did someone teach you that it’s better to let others have what they want, that it’ll always turn out okay in the end? That you have to suffer for your art? Or suffer for truth? Or just… suffer?

How far will you bend over backwards to please other people? Until your back breaks? At the first sign of discomfort? Or somewhere in between?

How far will you go to avoid standing up for yourself? How far, to avoid acknowledging your own value and demanding you be treated accordingly? How long will you let other people tell you who you are, and what you’re worth?

And then I guess my next question is… are you okay with that?

Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

Trust and truth.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Assuming you want to know and hear the truth, I mean. How do you know the truth when you hear it? What is “truth,” anyway? I guess that’s a better place to start. You kind of have to agree on what truth is before you can have a conversation about it… so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster

Simple Definition of TRUTH
the truth : the real facts about something : the things that are true
: the quality or state of being true
: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true

And then to take it one step further… one of the definitions of TRUE:

a (1) :  being in accordance with the actual state of affairs <true description> (2) :  conformable to an essential reality (3) :  fully realized or fulfilled <dreams come true>b :  ideal, essential c :  being that which is the case rather than what is manifest or assumed <the truedimension of the problem>d :  consistent <true to character>

So, for the sake of this post, when I say “the truth,” what I mean is a factual account, whether of an occurrence, that person’s feelings for you… you get the idea. What really happened, how they really think or feel about you (at that moment, since those things change and are way more fluid than an event or occurrence), stuff like that.

Oh, and (what I think is) an important reminder/clarification: Opinions are not facts, and feelings are not evidence. 

Back to the original questions. Those people you trust… why do you trust them to tell you the truth? Why do you trust them at all?

I started thinking about this after the events of the last week and a few days (ahemELECTIONahem). Temperatures are running so high, everyone is so sure they’re espousing truths and condemning the liars – you know, basically anyone who disagrees – that I had to stop and evaluate some things. Like, why do people believe what they believe?

 

I just watched a really good video about how we decide what to believe. He talks about the four things that go into testing/examining a claim being made: intuition (gut feeling); authority (relying on credibility of source); logic (systematic reasoning); and evidence (verifiable information). What’s interesting to me is that only one of those four things involves actual facts; the other three are basically dependent upon you, your brain, your feelings, and your own past experiences.

How reliable are your gut feelings? Where do they come from, and what life experience colors your perception there? Are you aware of the emotional and mental lenses in place when you’re evaluating a claim?

Why are certain sources more credible to you than others? Why does one person trust Fox News implicitly, while another person places their confidence in PBS?

Is logic inherent in human beings, or is it learned? Is what’s logical to you, also logical to everyone else? Or is that a personal thing based on experience again? I mean, I know there have been many times when something I did – a project I developed, a route I took to get somewhere, the order instilled in my closet by hanging things in a certain way – seemed completely logical to me, but it may very well make no sense to anyone else.

So, then we’re left with evidence. Verifiable information. On the surface, this seems straightforward (ZOMG FACTS), but then, I guess we have to lend credence to the fact that if there are two witnesses to the same event, what they’d each report back could very well be completely opposite from the other depending on their personal spin. So, then, does evidence mean what we see with our own eyes? How can we be sure we’re witnessing something and evaluating it without prejudice or bias?

I’m not getting too far into that here, though, because what I think happens is that most people are relying on gut feelings and what they deem to be credible sources in order to decide what they believe. Whether it’s due to information overload, a lack of time for conducting their own research, a lack of interest, a lack of ability (or desire) to do the work themselves, and instead rely on their feelings, and they rely on people who strike them as trustworthy to tell them what’s true and what’s real. People are reposting things online without verifying validity, and it’s all because of that bastard called confirmation bias. There is SO MUCH OUT THERE… how in the hell do wade through it all to find what’s real, and what’s true?

You see the problem here. And this isn’t a partisan statement, either; everyone is guilty of it, myself included. I have decided which side I’m on, I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, I’ve decided what and who I believe. And not because I’ve done a ton of research and have deemed these sources the most credible, either. I’ve decided what to believe based on my own gut feelings, based on who I’ve deemed credible sources, and based on my own logical conclusions resulting from mild to moderate critical thinking skills.

Which, by the way, isn’t a skill we’re born with; it’s something that has to be taught, and encouraged, and nurtured, and maintained. Critical thought allows you to evaluate effectively, and ideally, get your feelings out of the way to land in a justifiable and reasonable place.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the huge disparity in beliefs in our country. The division is palpable, and the difference between someone like me and someone who heartily embraces DJT and his proposed band of merry bigots feels enormous and overwhelming. I would even go so far as to say, insurmountable (and I am totally okay with that).

Everyone has ideas about why we’re divided and what would fix it, but in my opinion, there’s no fixing it. There’s managing it, there’s overcoming it, there’s governing people into acting right whether they want to or not… but the division, to me, reveals some distinct groups: people who only care about themselves; people who care about others; and people who just don’t care at all. There are people who approach life from a place of love, community, and equity; and there are people who approach life from a place of hatred, fear, and division.

These qualities, these temperaments, these personality types… they drive how you engage with the world. Who knows how we would turn out, what personality traits and world beliefs would come about without the influence of those around us? Are humans born good? Or are we born hating and then hopefully have it loved/nurtured out of us? Or, conversely, are we born loving, and have that abused out of us emotionally, mentally, physically?

I think most of this is taught. Human beings are blank slates when they’re born.  We teach them to love, to respect, to embrace the world and everyone in it… or we teach them to fear, to fight, to find fault in those around them, to compare and to be “better than” instead of “equal.” Or, to deem anyone different as an “other” and certainly “less than.”

And so I guess I’m coming out of this long, rambling train of thought with two things:

  1. A reminder to do better with my own fact-finding and evidence collection with respect to my own beliefs. I’ve got a pretty solid gut reaction, my logic could use a little work, I’m sure, and those credible sources? More of those, please.
  2. A reminder that there’s a lot that goes into what a person believes, and why they believe it, and I would do well to remember that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand, nor does it mean I won’t challenge what I believe to be wrong, but I guess I’m hoping this will help ME from inserting some of that “better than/worse than/less than” language in my head. Or, at least, keep from inserting it into conversation.

Remember, kids: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Snapshot thoughts: A cost/benefit analysis (of sorts).

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some adults and kids, and the talk turned to Trump and Pence. One of the kids asked who he was, so I responded with, “He’s the guy from Indiana who made it legal to deny services to the LGBTQ community.” Boyfriend followed that up with, “To be fair, he made it legal to deny services to anyone; that just happened to be the main outcome.” And then in chimes a known right-leaner who says, “Well, it actually just gave businesses the FREEDOM to choose who they wanted to serve.”

*record scratch*

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange. How it is that two arguably decent human beings can view the same situation from such different perspectives. What causes that? Where did those two roads diverge? And I guess the biggest question of all… how can you place more value on the freedom of a business (or, like in the state of TN, a mental health provider) to choose who they want to serve than you place on the needs of underserved and marginalized populations?

This all led me to thinking about where we currently are as a society. So divisive in our thoughts and conversations and behaviors, it’s as though there’s no room for respectful discourse anymore, much less the possibility of being open to changing our minds – or at LEAST seeing things from another perspective. Like, politics and religion and “alternative lifestyles” are off-limits, because how dare you question what I believe! How can you challenge yourself to grow, if you’re not willing to listen to other sides? How can you be so firmly entrenched in your beliefs when you won’t venture outside your comfort zone? Why are you so afraid to admit you might be wrong, or that you might be a racist, or at the very least, contributing to the systemic racism that is so pervasive in our country? Why does it have to be one thing or the other? Why can’t people see that just because you criticize something or someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the good, as well.

Constructive criticism is as important as critical thinking, and I think our society is drastically lacking in both right now.

A lot of this can be attributed to what I have dubbed “snapshot thinking.” You know, the way we only get little bits and pieces of information, usually stuff that is already in keeping with existing belief systems and usually from sources that align with bias, and we just let that further affirm that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. Like, for instance, people who are convinced that WE ARE IN DANGER AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WE MUST BE SAVED, despite evidence to the contrary:

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/07/psychology-why-americans-afraid-low-crime-levels.html

The snapshot thinking comes into play with the internet, too. You’re only getting snapshots of the lives people are leading, and it’s only what they want you to see. Facebook? Snapshots. Instagram? Definitely snapshots. Twitter? 140 character snapshots. And if you don’t take the time to investigate and flush out the picture with research and questions and critical thought, then you’re left to fill in the blanks with your own bias and assumptions.

This never turns out well.

It’s my understanding that, as humans, we’ve evolved to make snap judgments in times of danger. But so much has happened to complicate that process that now we rely on it for our entire existence. We don’t ask probing questions. We instead get lazy and expect the little bits and pieces to suffice when it comes to educating ourselves, whether about the world around us, the community in which we live, or the people we profess to love. Snapshot thinking – the satisfaction with bits and pieces that likely reaffirm what we’ve already assumed, because we are quick to dismiss anything that challenges us in any real meaningful way – is corroding our ability to relate, our desire and ability empathize with others.

But we need connection, now more than ever. We need to be willing to learn, to grow, to be challenged. We need to ask questions, and we need to evaluate how our thinking and our behavior might be contributing to the marginalization of others. Doing so does not take anything away from who we are or what we have; instead, I like to think it adds to our character, makes us better as humans.

I find myself conducting my own cost/benefit analyses on different areas of my life. Should we get a cat, or should we get two? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not we should get one at all…) What are the costs associated with one vs. two, and what are the benefits? (Final answer TBD next weekend, but probably the answer is TWO.) Should I continue the MSW program, knowing it’s no longer the actual path I want to pursue, but also knowing what I learn would lend itself to my growth in the human services field and as a human being? (No.) Should I return to Facebook, knowing it was such a chaotic and disconnected experience before, but also knowing that most of my friends rely on it for communication and otherwise we’re all just out of touch with each other? (Yes. And so far, so good. Mostly.)

And, finally, what are the costs of having these difficult conversations with people I love? What are the benefits? Is it better to just keep everyone comfortable in their existing beliefs? Should I just worry about myself and my own expansion and growth as a human, or is there a moral responsibility to try and bring others along?

Final thought, courtesy of John Gruber on Twitter, and it’s honestly something that should drive home what racism looks like to ANYONE, if you think about it long, hard, and well enough: What if, instead of Trump, Barack Obama were the one with three wives and five kids between them? What would the discourse look like then?

Equity Equality and Justice

From Natural Disasters to the Warmth of the Sun

I’ve had it in my head for a while that I wanted to write a piece here equating the various types of terrible relationships/dates/partners to natural disasters.

You know, like how someone who lies can be like an earthquake: you never quite trust that you’re standing on solid ground because you can’t trust what’s coming out of their mouths. And the aftershocks continue in much the same way the effects of lies are long felt after the original lie is told. Some lies, when discovered, shake you to your very core, and the recovery from that can take months, if not years.

How someone who manipulates and gaslights, making you think you’re crazy or wrong when they’re the ones wreaking havoc, can be like a tornado: tearing through your life like it’s a charming old town, leveling structures you thought would always be standing, leaving you in the wreckage of their behavior wondering what the hell just happened and whether it was somehow, maybe, your fault for being so naive.

How the person who cheats might be like a never-ending blizzard: freezing you out but holding you captive with the hope that things might change or get better, or maybe it’s just a little snowstorm that isn’t nearly as bad as it seems or was predicted or looks on the weather maps because what do they know anyway.

Or how a person who withholds affection is like a famine. Or someone who tries to take over your life is like a flood.

You get the idea.

But after a few months of sitting with those analogies, I just never felt compelled to suss them out any further. I’d like to think that’s because I’ve opted to spend my days and time with more positive mental and emotional pursuits, and that’s probably most of it. I’m much more inclined to celebrate the good in life: the good friends, good relationships, good opportunities, good lessons, and good times.

Which leads me to my current relationship and all of its stability, trust, honesty, happiness, and love. If I am to keep with the prior analogies, it is the calm after every storm. It’s when the sun comes up, the air is clear, and birds begin their bright and clever songs. It’s the happy and the peace you find in quiet moments.

Aside from two notable, long-ago exceptions, nearly everyone I’ve dated has been some kind of natural disaster. I’m not inclined to get into the hows and the whys of it, except to say, a lot of things lent themselves to me following that path. It’s taken a lot of hard work, insight, processing, and willingness to finally get to the point where I no longer have any interest – at all – in chasing a storm.

But in having been conditioned to brace against the elements, whatever they may be, I find myself looking around, not quite yet fully trusting that quiet, that sunshine, that love. I am in the company of someone with whom I feel fully comfortable to speak up, to tell the truth and ask questions and be vulnerable. Someone who finds me attractive in all the ways that matter, and who has no reservations in telling and showing me that, at any and every turn. Someone who is self-aware, and willing to dig deep and talk about things and maybe even change his mind, when it’s warranted. Someone who is simply present, with no games or agendas; just a heart as big and tender as my own, with an infinite capacity for joy and love. I’m learning to breathe and trust it (and him), and am fortunate to have met someone who can be patient and understanding around that.

It’s like, after years of having blindly set up camp in the path of one destructive force after another, I’ve packed my shit, moved out, and followed my internal compass in the right direction.

Here’s to that, y’all. Here’s to letting yourself exhale and be loved.