Category Archives: Personal
Thoughts and experiences. Life and love.
I was going through some of my 200+ tabs of articles and found one that I never quite got to finish reading. I find that it really articulates some things that have been weighing on me heavily lately. My partner has been going through hell trying to get much needed help from support systems, and instead of empathetic response has garnered not only brutal, heartless scrutiny, but in fact further threat to her stability and well being. Only this week did she gain some moderate reprieve, only to have her housing come into crisis.
As difficult as these things have been, I think the deepest part of the struggle has been the isolation and lack of understanding from those you ought to have been most understanding. Were it not for the competition and subsequent isolation this article addresses, I don’t think such broken systems could ever have developed. We would have addressed them much sooner.
To my mind, the article also relates well to the topic of “loving yourself so that others can love you.” I really believe that this discussion is not a completely honest one. There is a level of truth behind having enough awareness so that you are not an emotional vortex who suffocates people. Such people can’t be satisfied or healed simply by giving them attention.
Beyond that however, this discourse becomes a farce. We DO need each other, and needing each other does not deserve the shame we assign to it. In fact I think that shame only deepens the desperation. The assurance required to help someone out, is not absence of need, but merely a willingness of the individual to take ownership of it; to have a dialog of respect where each has room to express and negotiate.
Radically loving each other and engaging in deep struggle, even suffering, is not only beautiful but necessary. In fact, I think that for society to get back to a level of sustainable humanity, it will take a considerable number of people engaging in immense suffering for the greater good, as the momentum of this Great Machine bears down against their resistance.
Counter-intuitively, struggle and suffering done well can gives us deeper meaning if it is in the service of communion; just as intense competition for selfish gain or even simply for personal security, seems to leave us desperately unfulfilled.
What are your thoughts, your experiences?
I’m happy to hear that many of you have had a great 2012 and I hope that your 2013 will be as good or better.
I’m resolved to be very candid in sharing that the closing of 2012, for me, has been marked by major changes which may be for the better but challenging nonetheless. It’s also been marked by some painful regrets and humbling realizations about myself.
I have come to pride myself on being a highly self-aware person through much personal effort. Indeed, I have learned a lot in the last few years, there is no denying that. Yet without being aware of it, I came to depend on this being a new and all encompassing fact about myself. Mike, the new king of self-awareness! Yep that’s me!
This all came crashing down for me on multiple fronts, with different people, just in these last few weeks leading up to the new year.
They were not directly connected to each other, but only indirectly through me. The first of these would be my partner over the past four years. With her I thought I could take care of everything. I even thought I was. I thought I had no limits in my ability to handle things that were making me unhappy, or that I could bypass them. I thought that everything was my responsibility. I thought I understood her needs. If it wasn’t hers, it HAD to be mine, right? I thought I was communicating well enough. In short I thought I knew what I was doing. This was all wrong.
In the other, I thought I knew myself. I thought I was aware of my own expectations. I thought I knew what I was feeling, and I thought I knew why. I thought I was in control of those feelings. I thought that it could exist in its own happy microcosm and not be affected by what was happening in the others and my resulting sensitivity and emotional vulnerability. I thought that this new super-self-awareness had me covered. I thought that progress in handling feelings was always in a positive direction; that a lesson learned was learned forever. I thought I was being a good friend, or at least… an open and candid one. Wrong again.
In the first, the reality is that I was burying my needs, making false presumptions about theirs, and suppressing communication to spare their feelings which might have helped to avoid so much damage done to both of us. Even the bits that were not my responsibility would probably have been dealt with if I’d not suppressed my feelings and instead spoken up.
With the other, I ultimately found that I had regressed in being able to navigate my emotions or was at least temporarily beyond my capacity to do so. I found that knowing why you behave in some way is not an automatic fail-safe against doing it again. In hindsight I believe I was careless. I put myself into situations that I knew would lead to me having even stronger feelings for her. I put too much hope into this being a super happy new thing to counteract all the suckage going on elsewhere; Maybe some sort of catalyst for a new phase of life. I don’t know.
I believe that what was right in front of me was far better than anything I seemed to be pushing for, or at least much like what I really needed: an amazingly accepting and candid friend who really liked me for me and who obviously enjoyed spending time with me. I ended up driving her away. I pushed her boundaries; not just once but twice in short duration and in the same way. It remains to be seen how much has been damaged.
The king self-awareness is feeling more like a second-rate jester. Despite having a pretty good time with my partner on New Years Eve, I went to sleep with a lot on my mind, my chest aching with regrets and sadness. A new, dear friend having been pushed away by my foolishness. My relationship with my dear partner on the verge of major change and reinvention as she moves to her own place with friends. So many mistakes and sorrows.
I don’t believe it fate. I don’t believe in any sort of magical power imbued into the event of a clock rolling over. Yet, I find it poignant that I should wake up this morning, January the first, with the ache dissipating, and being displaced by a sombre feeling of… acceptance.
Yes, acceptance. I’ve forgotten you again. It occurs to me that I gave that new friend some great advice about acceptance when we recently reconnected. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found myself giving advice that I neglected to follow myself. Seems like a good time to remedy this.
I think that acceptance is not the same as pretending that everything was fine or that it doesn’t matter. It certainly does matter. I am not an island and I can’t ignore how I’ve affected these people in my life.. I don’t think that it means not having any regret either, and I certainly have no shortage of those right now.
I think acceptance is letting go of that desire to deny, to release the vice grip on our heart from trying to crush the painful truth out of existence. It is expanding our view out past the narrow perspective of that painful moment in time to re-incorporate our present and our future. When we do, we allow it take on meaning beyond our self-destruction and denial.
Yes, I did these things and they may reveal unflattering truths about me. I can feel fear and regret ask myself, “What does this say about me?” Then I can either choose to deny that truth, or I can take a step back and ask “What will I do with this knowledge?”
Strangely enough it was the making of this new friend that sparked some awareness in me of the candidness and vulnerability which was missing in the relationship with my partner. It lead to lengthy discussion and exposure of painful truths about how far we’d come off track, but has also opened up the possibility of acceptance and healing between us.
So, these are my hopes for the new year. To live candidly. To embrace my desires, at least in principle. To accept my limitations and fallibility. To accept that I will not always remember each of these things. To mend what I have damaged whenever I can. To keep on trying regardless. To exercise acceptance.
I look forward to new possibilities in 2013. I know that not everything is in my hands, but it does start with me. Hopefully meet you on the road!
I have decided that it is time to leave the skeptics. I have poured myself out trying to give the benefit of that doubt, and hoping to someday have trust and understanding with the core members of this group, seemingly to find myself toiling alone on a fool’s errand.
When I first joined I was at a new phase in my life. I had just found the courage to escape an abusive marriage, and took it as the impetus to reevaluate many unbalanced and unhealthy dynamics in other relationships. I was shedding the shackles of religion and was also prompted through new friendships and relationships to tackle many unchallenged beliefs, both inside and outside the realm of science. I found it difficult yet rewarding, and continue to do so. My hunger for continued change lead me to this group: The Winnipeg Skeptics.
I was very excited to get involved and eager to build relationships with these new people who were not afraid to question their beliefs or discuss ideas. I am sure this still happens and to some extent will continue to. I have no delusions that groups or even individuals are either all good or all bad. I am not broad-brushing every person, but for me overall, the bad unfortunately has come to outweigh the good.
It’s all fine and good to advocate for scientific literacy, and critical thought on scientific matters. Not that that there aren’t any concerns on that front, but that is not really what brings me here. I am here to say that when it comes to operating as a community it fails at being what it declares itself to be. It is not progressive. It is not inclusive. It is, in short, not welcoming; at least not in the way it would have to be to even begin to reach the goals it claims to care about: being a movement that aims to win over a culture rife with irrationality and ignorance.
You cannot win over the world with science alone. Before you get to the science, they people need education. To get that they need schools, physical safety, food security, healthy psychology (good home life), adequate income and many other things. You want to change the world towards scientific enlightenment? This is where you start. Get rid of desperation and hopelessness, and you’ll have granted some immunity to the siren call of delusion and woo.
Certainly a skeptical community can’t tackle every social issue themselves, but at the very least it needs to be aware of the reality behind them or you risk being complicit in their harm. You cannot simply opt out of reality no matter how unfair or uncomfortable. A skeptical community needs to be accepting, welcoming and open to understanding the experience of others. It should be obvious that to win a culture means being aware of culture, including your own. If these are indeed your goals then you’ve carved yourself one big damn piece of pie to chew on. If they’re not your goals, then all you have is a lot of self-serving, disingenuous hot air.
So what do I see instead? I see a community of people where the most active members with few exceptions are not interested in these things. I see a number of people who regardless of their conscious intentions and intuitions about themselves are, in practice, are working to make a group that is safe and comfortable… for themselves. Damn anyone else.
Over and over I see arguments where members take disingenuous stances against those who voice real concerns in order to gas-light and discredit them, only to flip-flop 5 minutes later on that same issue when someone from their in-group expresses that same sentiment or argument. This is just one recent example. I’ve seen this and various other tactics made in the effort to discredit, dismiss, and shut down discussion. Points are not addressed. Efforts are not made to understand or engage. Rationality is appealed to as a concept rather than practiced: like a holy text to beat people over the head with like a cudgel. Is see people fighting, not to whittle out the truth, but to win at all costs. Not dialectic, but debate. I don’t see scientists. I see lawyers.
Rather than a community. I see a mob. Drop one of the trigger words like ‘homeopathy’ or ‘privilege’ and watch the dog-pile. Too many views are merely borrowed from the giants on whose shoulders you stand. You pass them around with congratulations and pats on the back for being masters of the universe as though you came up with them yourselves. Looking at your actions, I would have to conclude that you do not really want to change the world, only to carve yourself out a little piece of it, and sit in your huddle with your pointed sticks and fearful hearts. If someone has something to say that gives you pause that maybe you’ve done something hurtful, you react like they are trying to steal your home, your clothes, your food, and your life. It’s a fight to the death. You can always win your battles on your home turf and always make the rules.
Social privilege? Body-positivity? Class division? SENTIMENTALISM! SKEPTICISM FAIL!!!!!!1!11!eleventy! Skepticism done this way is just another warm blanket in the cold dark of the universe, like any other over whom you would claim enlightenment. In the end its your own war that you’ll lose, not that of the people you drive away. Unless of course your goal really is to create your own elite.
Time and time again I have tried to advocate for those you say you want to include. Time and time again you have shown yourselves to be more interested in protecting yourselves from the straw-people who are apparently at your door to dilute you and enfeeble you, and perhaps even destroy you. You don’t see would-be kindred minds who cared enough about truth and honesty to take a stand for it. You seem to only see persecution and the slippery slope of your own destruction. Not everything that brushes past you or goes bump in the night is a monster come to get you. Sometimes there is a reasonable explanation. Sometimes that explanation may require that we give up the illusion that we know ourselves, that we are rational beings.
Until you are ready to shed the warm blanket of rigid worldview and your pointy stick of self preservation, you will never be congruent with your own values. Science is only as good as the questions you can ask of it and if you are clouded by the delusion than your love of rationality makes your intuitions rational, then science can only give you a biased answer to your biased questions. The point is not to deny the existence emotions and biases. The point is to recognize and counteract them. You cannot shed yourself of these shortcomings like having your tonsils removed. You can only be ready to make up for them when they present themselves and be diligent in working against them to the best of your ability for the rest of your life. That’s life.
I remember saying in the documentary “The Non-Believer’s Beliefs” that you can take rationality and with the right inputs, boil it down and come out with love. I’ve also recently borrowed a quote in my a recent blog post shared on TWS Blog:
Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a few loud voices within The Winnipeg Skeptics’ seem to fall into the latter category. You imagine yourself within a trite reconstruction of what you think is someone else’s experience, only digging deep enough to discredit and disarm. You don’t investigate where your ideas and feelings come from. At worst you cut down straw-persons, disingenuous positions, ad hominem attacks, backtracking and sliding goalposts, right from your first breath. Everything you supposedly despise in others. At best, you take your intuitions and work backwards building a trail of pseudo-logics, and then tell yourself you’ve done it with RationalityTM, because you’re a Real SkepticTM, not one of those sentimental trolls.
Every bit of progress in social justice and every bit of social enlightenment you currently enjoy from was won by people who grasped this concept and poured their lives out in its pursuit. Any progressive views you have (except those that serve your group or score points against your enemies) have been tacked on after they’ve gained great momentum elsewhere. It is argued that skepticism and lack of religion leave much room for all kinds of wonderful humanity, but you don’t practice it. Not really. Not enough. Not if you feel that it brings your character into question. Not if it really challenges you.
In your fervor to build the name of Skeptic, you deny your emotions. You deny your own biases and false intuitions. You deny your irrationality. You have done so to try and escape them, but you have only made yourself more captive to them. Instead of rationality I see straw-Vulcans. You pay lip service to these things in a kind of pro-skeptic dogma, but your actions don’t follow.
I am not above reproach, and this isn’t about who’s better. I’m sure there are things I could have done better. I’m sure I’ve picked the wrong battles at times. Perhaps I have misinterpreted a thing or two, but I have not been disingenuous and I’m not a fool. I have made rational cases which have been for the most part, either twisted or ignored, but no more.
But, tell you what. You don’t really need to listen to any of this. I’m sure one of your trusty SSRs will tell you what you want to hear. You can just get together at the next Skeptically Drinking and agree how “I never really was a very good christian… oops I meant skeptic” (see what I did there?). Just repeat those trusty old narratives of the valiant intellectuals (Crusaders?), shoring up the barricades against the unworthy, uneducated, touchy-feely masses (unwashed heathens). Remind yourselves not give anyone a foothold with their wishy-washy sentimentality (evil self-indulgence), or they may just destroy you from within! Remind yourselves how rational (good/holy) you are. Everything will be just fine. It’ll all go back to normal. No more uncomfortable dissent. No more questions to challenge your self-image. No more scary unknowns. Just a nice, warm, comfy blanket.
I came here looking for critical minds. I came here looking for empathetic hearts. I came here looking for self-aware human beings. I found a few, but I also came here looking for a community. I doesn’t seem to be that yet. Not for everyone. Not for me. You have hurt me deeply. Maybe one day it will be different, but until then…
When I saw Sara’s note on Facebook announcing Project ME! I was at first shocked! It was very bold of her to take such a huge leap. There are others in my life who have lived in the stiffing silence of mental health issues, so I have some small idea of how difficult it must have been. Kudos to you who are true friends and stand by her. Don’t get too comfortable though. Sometimes the time when we are most needed is when it looks like things are “better now”. We’re sticking with you Sara!
So, what to say. I’ve struggled with what I might have to give to this project. These are not my struggles, after all. It’s not my place. I’ve learned through my own self-discovery that as a young, white, able-bodied, mostly neurotypical male, that most of the ideas and beliefs I’d been handed about other people’s reality are totally self-serving and full of crap. Having come to these realizations I now see a lot of people (including many like me), speaking for others about what their reality is, and even what it should be. I don’t want to be that guy. I will try not to be.
What I immediately noticed in Sara’s post was a lot of self-blame, but this isn’t to put Sara on the spot. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is for the rest of us. Please allow me to explain.
You see, I don’t see this as a failing of Sara’s. Not even slightly. In some sense, it’s everyone’s. She, like most of us, have been bombarded by messages our whole lives. These messages may not have originated with us, but we are passively complicit with them.
We live in a world dominated by advertising.
Oh please, I’ve heard this before. I’m not so easily affected. I can think for myself!
If that’s the case you might want to take a DNA test, as it’s debatable that you’re human. The science is against you on this one. It says you are! In fact, some suggest that the more you think you aren’t, the more you are. These aren’t the simplistic ads of yesteryear.
Buy brand X, it’s just better!
No, they have gotten many times more sophisticated since then. They have found a more potent message.
You’re not good enough, and it’s all your own fault!
But the message isn’t there in so many words. We are more (though not completely) aware of the direct assertion of words. In fact some of the strongest messages have no words at all. Instead of the simple and obvious “buy brand X”, they have found a tool developed over thousands of years of human evolution. They have found a “magic” tool. It’s a loop-hole, and it leaves us prime for suggestion.
Stories and narratives!
Storytelling: Not just a practice of times past, now quaint and mostly irrelevant. No. Stories and narratives are the back door to our minds; a trait as important to our propagation as a species as was our opposable digits (thumbs) and the brain itself. Stories are the adaptation we use to pass information from one generation to the next. Information about who we are as people, how we should treat others, how to be happy, how to think, and every aspect of our philosophy, ideology and emotional life. To a large degree, we have stopped the practice and passively handed it over. Corporate media has graciously taken over the task for us, presumably to spare us the trouble.
It takes the form of TV, magazines, newspapers, movies, books and even (or especially?) advertisements. It’s no wonder that the latest marketing tactic is no longer merely the promotion of product or brand image, but now Brand Personality. This is the “person” who tells us the stories, and who we are to aspire to be like. They are key that attempts the fit our lock.
But these stories aren’t geared to our benefit or collective happiness. These narratives show us an unattainable ideal that no one can hope to achieve (without being dehumanized or dying in the process), then convey it us as normal and expected, and leave us to make the implication upon ourselves that we don’t belong to it. The genius of it is that when we do so we also take ownership of it, forgetting that it came from outside ourselves. We don’t see calculating corporate interests vying for their piece of the market of our minds. We see compelling narratives with fantastical images, and the primary desire that we universally crave: happiness and comfort. Everything else is secondary and the idea that their product is the conduit simply goes without saying!
Of course, that primary desire always ends up being elusive. Yet, whether or not we buy their product, they have co-opted our idea of normalcy. We’ve taken the bait, and it doesn’t dissipate.
Advertising is cumulative.
We continue to replay that narrative in our minds and incorporate it into our perspective on ourselves and those around us. It begins to colour our interactions with each other. We might make a comment about our weight and how we dislike ourselves for not being able to fit the nice clothing at that brand name store, or about that other person who just “should not be wearing that dress!”
Like a cockroach scoring an unknowingly poisoned piece of bait, we take it and share it with all our friends (this isn’t just my own analogy, but an actual marketing term). This is subliminal advertising at work.
So what kinds of stories are we being told? I’d like to leave it to the wonderful Jean Kilbourne and her presentation called Killing us Softly 4.
On top of this (and perhaps because of it), there seems to be an explosion in social judgment, roughly correlating with the surge in popularity of “reality” TV shows. I don’t naively assume that there’s a purely causal relationship, but if there is causation it is likely also symptomatic . Either way, we have become vicious in our policing and criticism of each other in every way imaginable, not the least of which is body policing. So even if you’ve limited your media intake (which is impossible to do completely), you will still be not only awash in these messages, but also judged by them. You can’t entirely escape it! Often, and even with the best of intentions, we are repeating the mantra to each other: “You’re not good enough, and it’s all your own fault!“
There is a enormous difference between realizing the harsh reality that the only way for some people to get better is to pull themselves up with brutal, agonizing effort, and the boorish attitude that turns this into a kind of idealistic dogma. I see most people going through life beating others over the head with this self-serving fallacy, telling themselves, “I would NEVER be like that.” We tell ourselves that we’re somehow better and forget all the privileges, all the encouragements, all the opportunities, and all the experiences that help to shape us and enabled us to make a few good choices for ourselves. We forget the bad choices as long as they didn’t have life changing consequences.
If you were to live someone else’s life from start to finish, you would not just become you with their life. You would become them. The failure to empathize is a failure of understanding, and it applies to everything. Many people in many ways are suffering at the brunt end of hurtful messages, not just with body image but also to race, class, sexual orientation, you name it!
This is not Sara’s failing!
This is a natural response to toxic ideas. Recognizing this does not make someone a victim. This is about how we think and why.
It means “thinking about thinking”. It’s the defining mechanism of self-awareness: the practice of being aware of one’s own thoughts. This is where our hope lies for betterment and healing. We can have the greatest of intentions and do more harm than good if we are not aware of ourselves.
Apart from just being there and listening (which is sometimes the greatest help), this self-awareness can enable us to manage what kind of messages we share both actively and passively. It can also give us greater capacity for compassion. When we learn to think about thinking, we can “step out” of ourselves and examine what might be desperate, dogmatic or destructive views and try to see things from someone else’s perspective. Nothing is more fundamental in the art of empathy.
In fact, one of the best things you could do for Sara right now is to start being kinder to yourself. Love your own body. Learn to speak nicely about it, and of others. Lead by example! You can’t tell someone else to love their body if you don’t love your own. It has no potency or meaning. If you struggle with doing so then just be candid about it. Share in the struggle and stand beside her.
Otherwise, if we are still carrying the bait ourselves, we are almost certain to pass it along.
Well here I am, jumping into my first foray in the great world of blog. I’m sure like many before me, I’m feeling more anxiety than I expected to when I first started planning to make this thing. I’m just hoping that I can carve out my own little corner of the cesspool to try to build an island on. Here goes…
The last couple of years of my life have seen incredible change, inside and out. I suppose some might call it “finding yourself”. I would have to say that I find those words to be rather insipid, like something from a trashy, pop-psychology self-help book, but it will have to do for now until we invent something better 😉
To give you a small idea, I’ve gone from being an insecure, judgemental but intellectually passive authoritarian religious right-winger, to an actively questioning, thinking, feeling, happy person who’s learning to celebrate in the marvelous function of his own mind.
I felt the impulse to dish out some labels for myself at this point to help you identify me, but in my own mind at least I think I defy them to a fair degree. In fact I think that might be a topic for an upcoming blog… “Ideas are more important than labels”. You’ll have you chance to flame me if that’s your thing, but I prefer to make you work for it 😉
I expect most of what I have to say here to be about consciousness: politics, philosophy, beliefs, psychology, sociology, even spirituality and every other way in which we navigate our world with these marvelous organs between our ears.
At any rate, I think I’ve learned a few things, and have something to offer and so intend to stay here until I think otherwise. I hope you’ll stay a while, share your thoughts, challenge mine and with any luck be inspired to think.
Until I get another hour to sit still, Adieu!