For a few years, I participated in the practice of selecting a word of the year. The idea is to look at the year through the lens of the word you chose.
I didn’t do it for a few years, and haven’t since I started this blog. But, through the miracle of figuring out where the option to search my old Facebook posts is located in the interface, I found my choices from previous years. It appears that the 2013 word was “Flexibility.” Good choice.
And here I found out the 2014 word was “acceptance” (that’s done me good ever since!) and 2015 was “vulnerability.” Whew. I’m glad I’m healthy for my age, because I can see how long it takes to really assimilate concepts that require fundamental changes in my outlook and mindset.
I’m not sure how I got out of the practice of setting a word for each year, because I enjoyed it in the past. Maybe 2016 was a hard year for focusing. It was the year we spent at the little casita. That was, indeed, a confusing year. Of course, I’m glad I didn’t pick a 2020 word, as interesting as that might have been.
It took very little meditation to have this year’s word come to me. My year’s focus and mantra need to be this.
Yes. Whatever happens, I want to find it to be enough. I’m not going to push this year. I want to appreciate what I have, how things are, who is in my life, and what happens. I’m not looking for perfection. I want to abide and accept my circumstances. It’s enough.
I encourage you to find your own word for 2021. Please share, if you would like to.
Not sure if this is a rant or what, but I’m experiencing some righteous indignation on behalf of some people I know, in person and online. It seems like folks are really, really bored right now, and I get that. It’s winter and many of us are pretty isolated.
Just because you’re bored and you have an opinion about someone’s beliefs or actions does NOT mean you are obligated to share it with the rest of the planet. More important, you don’t need to tell people how wrong all the things they think and do are. Really, you do not.
Yes, people we know do stuff that bothers us. And, I have nothing against talking about things people, in general, do that bother us. I do it, as you may have noticed, and am doing it now, as a matter of fact.
However, just because you have the TIME to send a long email, text, or IM to someone spelling out exactly how wrong their beliefs and opinions are, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. Think about it.
If you are happy with the religious path you have taken, which after all is a personal religious path, would someone telling you how wrong it is do anything other than make you think less of that person. It certainly would not change your religious beliefs. That happens between you and your deity or deities. No one has a right to call your beliefs into question (even Scientologists, ha ha).
If you have expressed your personal thoughts on a personal platform (blog, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) about politics of your country, policies in your area, or issues that need to be addressed, that does not (or should not) open you up to diatribes, name calling, meanness, or threats. Sure, people can express disagreement or other points of view, but why be mean about it?
Does insulting someone or disparaging someone’s beliefs EVER EVER EVER get them to change their mind and see your brilliant point of view as correct? (Hint, the answer is, “no.”)
Suggested Alternatives to Giving People a Piece of Your Mind
If you get a strong urge to tell someone exactly what you think about their life choices or viewpoints, here are things you can do that don’t involve attacking them with your scathing words:
Donate money in their name to your favorite cause. That always feels good. I’ve done it!
Write the horribly misguided person a long letter by hand, on a piece of paper. Then stomp on it really hard to get your frustrations out, followed by violently wadding it up and throwing it in the trash.
Take a long walk around your property while muttering dark and foul thoughts about your target, until you get distracted by something naturally beautiful and you start feeling all sorts of oneness and your hostility dissipates (works for me).
Call your best friend and declare that it is time to vent. Rant and rave and complain your head off. The friend will say soothing things. Then you will agree that there’s no point in telling the wrong-thinking person off; they just won’t get it.
Wait until Festivus, then stand by your Festivus Pole and air your grievances. That will be okay, because it’s a holiday activity.*
By the way, it’s FESTIVUS! Let us air our grievances!
(*The article I link to above explains how Festivus is the perfect pandemic holiday and is pretty cute. Also, if you Google Festivus, there’s a Festivus pole in the margin! Hilarious!)
Please let me first apologize for making my discomfort with plane travel over the weekend appear like I think I am sick. I have no symptoms of COVID-19, and have been taking my temperature. Still just fine, as far as I can tell. I was just really uncomfortable being around so many people in the Dallas airport and sitting next to a woman who was coughing. Like I’ve said before, I’m a special snowflake who believes the pandemic is real and would prefer not to take chances. But, I’m not sick.
And by saying I’m tired, I mean I’m spending a lot of energy (and rightly so, I think ) supporting friends and family who are going through really hard times right now. It may be tiring, but it’s important work, and I don’t plan to stop.
Examples and Inspiration
For example, I know how to not get overly sucked in by others’ needs, but when your close friend’s husband passes away, you can’t help but send your energy out to them. My friend Vicki was the only person who came to my dad’s funeral to take care of ME, and she’s stuck with me since we were teenagers, despite our political and spiritual differences. That’s true friendship. I’m so sorry she lost her beloved husband so soon after finally reuniting with him. True friends need to be there for each other and truly listen, so I’ll so what I can in these WEIRD times.
Coincidentally, I just read this beautiful article in the New York Times, by someone famous, but who suffers just like us.
“[W]hen people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter — for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.”
She recently experienced a miscarriage, a devastating life passage she shares with so many of us. She shared that just having someone actually express that they care about how she is getting along was helpful and healing. And her overall point, that checking on others during this time of isolation is VITAL, is something we all need to think about.
I know reaching out is not one of my best skills, but I’m prioritizing it. I’m very GOOD at responding, though, and boy do I send out those healing thoughts (which I’ll go along with the organized religion fans and assume do some good).
Another example: someone I know mentioned that none of their local friends had checked up on them during the pandemic until very recently. That hurt. It made me wonder who I should be checking up on (yes, I will call my stepmother). Who do you need to check on, just so they will know they aren’t alone?
As Meghan pointed out this morning, we need to really see each other right now, even if we’re covered up:
“We are adjusting to a new normal where faces are concealed by masks, but it’s forcing us to look into one another’s eyes — sometimes filled with warmth, other times with tears. For the first time, in a long time, as human beings, we are really seeing one another.”
I truly hope she is right. With so much loss and pain going around, we need each other to see us, accept us, and show we care.
A final example: a blog reader wrote me a long email yesterday, in response to one of my blog posts on Highly Sensitive People. He was worried that he was using his sensitivity as an excuse to indulge his other issues (fears of various things). Now, this man is also dealing with autism and other mental health issues, and I felt so bad to think he worried that his personality type was an excuse. I’m glad he reached out, because I think he expressed something many of us experience, which is that our thoughts or feelings aren’t good enough, or are a cover-up for something else. In reality, many people share the HSP trait, and some of them have other issues, too. It’s just who we are, and dealing with it becomes a lot easier if we accept our limitations and challenges, and work to be the best unique individual we can be. Who that man is, the way he is, is fine. No one should judge him without spending some time in his reality.
Of course, I told him this, in other words. It’s what we all should do, listen and be supportive. Everyone’s struggling with something!
Listen to the Universe
Wow, it sure seems like the Universe is conspiring to tell me something this week. Clearly, the effort it takes to be supportive of others, to listen to what people are concerned about, and to reach out is worth it, even if it can make you tired. We’re all we have!
I’m talking about mentally lighter, here. True fact is that I have been feeling much lighter while I’m on my sojourn in the mountains. I have finally given myself space to breathe and permission to do nothing I “should” be doing for a few weeks. I’ve been able to read, knit, watch silly television movies with the family, and eat whatever I want to, whenever I want to. Nice.
It turns out, though, that I’m not the only one. In my casual reading of email, Facebook, and news sites this morning, I have run across a surprisingly (to me) large number of folks expressing that they feel lighter, better, more free, or less stressed. It’s not everyone. But it’s a lot of people.
I’ll address the elephant in the room.*
Lots of people are feeling more free and less vigilant because of the US election results. Some of us are relieved at the Presidential election stuff; others are happy that their party did much better than expected in state and local elections. Still others are just glad for a break from all those ads and such. But, I don’t think it’s all about that.
There are still lots of things in 2020 that can keep us blanketed with concerns. The COVID stuff weighs on everyone’s minds, for sure. There have been exposures in my family, and that worries me, of course. And I keep trying to think of ways to have fun in Utah and avoid crowds of strangers (so far, I’ve done pretty well, though one store I went in last week made me uncomfortable, so I left). Being able to figure out ways to enjoy life, even with restrictions, though, has helped me a lot, and I am thinking others are figuring out ways to be comfortable with their “new normal” (a phrase I’m growing to dislike).
Maybe, just maybe, the way we’ve all been forced to do a lot of introspection and many of us have been spending more time in nature and noticing how we’re all interconnected, maybe that’s helped. I want that to be true. And it has really helped a lot of us focus on the here and now, not what just happened or what might happen. When we realize we are a part of everything, even pandemics fall into place. We just deal with what comes up, every day.
I keep mentioning that finding the good in whatever you’re doing seems to work. Attitude seems matter, lots. I think more and more of us are finding this focus, whether intentionally or not. I know it’s how I’ve gotten through previous politically tough times and times when people I love are ill. I think back to when my mom was sick, when my dad was in his horrible accident and the aftermath of that, the loss of my son’s love, and all the hard times I’ve faced, and I realize that all these times I’ve focused on the current moment, realizing there’s nothing that worrying or brooding can do. We all have these kinds of times, and 2020 seems to have brought more than its share to so many people.
Let’s enjoy feeling a little lighter, even for a short while. Hold these times in our hearts as we figure out what to do with all the upcoming holidays and other challenges. Keep those negative thoughts in their proper place (there is still plenty to challenge us, and there’s no denying it). With the support of our inner circles and a focus on the good around us, I think we can make it.
*Another elephant (symbolically) is that maybe a lot of the people who are angsty and upset are hanging out in their Parler now, so I’m left interacting with people who are coping with life right now.
True fact: every time you figure out a way to lessen one type of stress, another one comes up. Ha ha, life, you are SO FUNNY!
I had gotten a handle on some of my worries about the greater angst in the planet, which has helped me see our political stuff a different way (thanks to the mushroom book). And reading Caste gave me concrete ideas for working to make relationships among Americans better, so that wasn’t upsetting me as much. I even grappled myself into a place where I can deal with the changes at work in a positive and productive way. So proud of my own self.
But, no, I did not dwell in my feelings of equanimity for long at all.
The details are not important, just know they involve a not insignificant collection of sad animal tales and sickly family member tales (not just me; by the way I feel better).
BOOM. I got knocked right down and feel like a tumbleweed rolling down a hill in a rainstorm. Not a lot of control. But then, you NEVER have a lot of control, do you? I have to hand it to life, it doesn’t take it long at all to remind you of lessons you should not be forgetting.
There are challenges out there and they aren’t gonna stop. That’s always been true, even if right now seems like they’ve sped up, like an old 78 RPM record or something. Round and round and round, zoom!
While there will always be challenges, there will ALSO always be ways to deal with them! And I know what those are, because I’m prepared!
Deal with one day and one challenge at a time
Not worry about what’s next or what just happened
Breathe deeply and get to my familiar place of comfort/ease
Light a candle and stare at it for a while
Read a book on a non-sad topic (I’m looking at YOU, book on the color blue!)
Pet a small animal (hi Pickle, since Vlassic is staying with Jim, ’cause it’s cold)
Go on a brisk walk (guaranteed brisk, due to aforementioned weather)
Send out loving-kindness to all my friends and families dealing with similar crap as mine
So, I hope you can do some of these things with me! Peace to you.
Yes, another book report. That’s what happens when you take time off from your usual busy-ness-hood. Today’s book is another really special one that I bought after the Master Naturalist meeting. Fantastic Fungi is a companion to a film I need to see. The book is edited by Paul Stamets, an expert on mushrooms, who also contributes essays.
Before I go on and on about the writing, though, let me gush about the illustrations, which are mostly gorgeous photographs by Taylor Lockwood and others. I could look at them all day. The variety of shapes, textures, colors, and forms that mushrooms and other fungi can take surprised me. There are things in this book that I’m awed by.
And now for the content of the book. There are lots of short essays, interrupted by annoying large subheadings (my only complaint). The greats of mushroom science contributed, and it’s weird to read “and I discovered x in my research,” rather than “this famous person discovered x.”
Since mushrooms are an area where I lacked knowledge, I learned a lot about how mycelium and fungal networks are organized. I knew they could be very large and very old, but the contribution they make to life on this planet are way more significant than I’d realized.
And that’s where this book switched from being a pretty book about a part of nature I only knew a little about to something much more significant. Over and over, the contributors to Fantastic Fungi, stressed that fungi have much to teach us and may even be able to save us, if we learn how. The subtitle is: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness and Save the Planet, after all.
Reading about how we seem to be designed to use the nutrients, chemicals, and other aspects of mushrooms makes me realize we are related. And that’s the point the contributors are trying to make. Without mushrooms, plants and animals would suffer greatly. Paul Stamets, especially, speaks eloquently.
A core concept of evolution is that, through natural selection, the strongest and fittest survive. In truth, (and scientifically proven), communities survive better than individuals, especially communities that rely on cooperation. Acting on such a principe, people want to give in order to receive, which I think reflects the power of an essential goodness.
Paul Stamets, p. 66
It becomes clear from Stamets and others that all of the organisms here in Earth depend on each other. Humans have been woefully ignorant of this.
Then, they bring in the heavy hitters, Michael Pollan and people he’s worked with to talk about how mushrooms (psilocybin) can help humans realize this (which I did read about in How to Change Your Mind). And they bring in more research on the experiences people have with these mushrooms. Good stuff.
What they mainly say is that people overwhelmingly have experiences of oneness and connection with other people and the earth. Maybe this is what mushrooms are trying to tell us? If so, I’m all for it. A bit more acknowledgment of our commonality and less artificial differentiation would be fine with me.
I’m inspired. And it strikes me that focusing on this kind of mutual connection is yet another way we can help get past racism, bullying, and needless antagonism. Thank you, fungi.
Hmm. I seem to be on a journey, don’t I? Are those mushrooms growing on the cow patties what I need?
(No, I’m not gonna do it. Too law abiding. And don’t want to poison myself.)
I don’t usually reblog or repost things from other people. But this article From Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper today hit so close to home that it nearly burst my heart. So, today she’s the guest blogger. I hope that linking to the original makes this more okay.
She writes of the divine feminine, which I’ve always associated with our interconnectedness with each other and nature. She writes of tenderness, a trait we see less often these days. She provides hope for the future.
I don’t know about you, but I need it right now. I pretty much shut down yesterday and ditched my commitments. I had to breathe. These words support and uplift me. (I will link to the original when I can find it).
Maria Shriver is my age, and has seen a lot in her privileged life. To read her thoughts is comforting!
I’ve Been Thinking…
Not too long ago, a friend suggested I write down the definition, values, and characteristics of the “divine feminine.” He said it would be a “good exercise” for me moving forward.
“Mhmm, OK,” I thought.
I sat down to give it a try and ended up staring at the paper for a long time. I wrote something and erased it, and I tried again and again. Nothing really felt right to me.
Then last Sunday in this newsletter, I wrote my essay about courage and tenderness. The response I got was overwhelming, from both men and women.
“That is what we need!” people wrote to me. “That’s who I want to be!” My friend Elizabeth suggested I even curate a new conference called “Courage and Tenderness: The New Hero’s Journey.” Others wrote that they had never contemplated tenderness in the public space, but that they were open to it, even hungry for it. (An old video of Joe Biden resurfaced this week that visualized what I’m talking about.)
As I read all the responses from readers like you, I allowed myself to be touched by the words. I allowed myself to receive your kindness and gratitude for the idea, which wasn’t really my idea at all. It was the Pope’s! But, perhaps I presented it in a different way, maybe even a feminine way.
Several people also responded to the paragraph I wrote about bestowing tenderness on my tough mother. People told me those lines really took them aback. I’ve thought a lot about that in the days since. The truth is, I have spent many years trying to understand the towering warrior that was my mother. My quest has, in turn, helped me to better understand myself.
Better understanding myself is not why I wanted to understand her, but it is the gift I got from delving deep into my mother’s drive, restlessness, rage, pain, and determination. I learned a lot from seeking to understand the way she wielded power in the halls of Congress, in her extended family, and in my own immediate family with my father, my brothers, and myself as her only daughter. I could write forever about my mother, from whom I learned feminism, although I’m not sure the word itself resonated with her. But the concept of women being equal to men sure did.
But today I want to focus on the description of the hero or heroine’s journey at this moment in our collective journey. It is, in its own way, the realization of the divine feminine. Women of my mother’s generation were not seen or valued, much less understood. If they had an idea, they were passed over or silenced. If they wanted to compete, they had to be a warrior 24/7. They had to bury their tenderness and femininity and show they could out-men the men. And even then, they were often invisible to the people around them.
Thanks to so many women of my mother’s generation and my own since then, we have paved a way. Today, many young women are brave enough to step out and speak up without giving it a second thought.
Women today, like the men of today, have the opportunity to lead in a more evolved and humanistic manner than those of generation’s past. In fact, they must if we want to survive. Yes, survive. You see, I believe that our collective humanity is on the line right now, and that it will take tenderness and courage, coupled with the divine feminine to resurrect us all.
Today in our midst, there are record numbers of cases of anxiety, depression, suicide, abuse, and addiction. People report being bullied. Millions are desperately lonely and feeling anything but “seen or understood,” much less “included or valued.” It is time to reimagine the way we walk and talk in the world, as well as how we lead in our homes and places of business. It’s time to shift the old power balances that still exist around us, because it simply doesn’t feel like it’s working anymore.
It is time for the tender warrior: courageous in thought, word, and deed. The tender warrior is vulnerable in action. Compassionate in speech. Fully alive and fully realized. The tender warrior uses their eyes to see what is, not what the deluded mind says what is. The stories we tell ourselves and others are critical to moving forward in a realistic way. They are critical to know what needs reframing and reforming.
The tender warrior is an empathetic storyteller, one who is courageous enough to tell the story of where we are with honesty. Their mission is not to scare us, but to reassure us that the future we imagine is, in fact, possible for all of us. (Just look at New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her handling of the pandemic in her country.) They use a new language. They use words that we can collectively embrace, not hurriedly shove down our throats.
So, who is this tender warrior? Well, you can be one. Yep, that’s right. Each and every one of us can be a tender warrior. To become one requires a tender heart and a courageous spirit. It requires a commitment to compassion, empathy, and the journey ahead. Everywhere I look, tenderness is needed these days. Everyone I know can soften under its expression. Even the toughest of the tough.
I know this because I was one of those tough people for years. I felt I had to be tough to survive the family I was born into and the profession I chose. And yet, when tenderness touched my armor, the walls came tumbling down. Imagine that power. Imagine knowing that you have it to bestow on another. Think about that and let it sink in.
I pray we can jointly commit to stop the bullying in our public square. It’s ruining lives and damaging psyches. Expressions of hate demean us all and destroy the very fabric of our humanity. Racism. Sexism. Ageism. Any “ism,” really. Let’s put them to bed once and for all. They are beneath us. It’s time.
People are tired. People are scared. Who hasn’t had enough? A good friend told me that after watching the news the other night, she turned off the TV and wept. She said, “I can no longer tolerate the meanness. It’s destroying us all.” I said to her what I’ll say to you, “It will get better.” It will get better because the majority of us want it to get better. Now me must work to make it so.
There is light ahead, this I know to be true. There is a new energy coming our way. So, let’s each open ourselves to it. Let’s open ourselves to being tender, fellow warriors. Be tender and embrace the divine feminine that exists in you. Do not be afraid of what’s feminine, regardless of your gender. It is healing. It is nurturing. It is soft and vulnerable, and yet it is so strong and courageous. In its magnificence, it can mirror to another person their magnificence. It can show them their own divinity, which in turn will allow them to fly. How extraordinary is that?
It turns out that I know exactly the definition, values, and characteristics of the divine feminine. Now, will you join me in living them?
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, please let us all be brave enough to embrace the divine feminine that lives within us. May we all be tender and courageous and reimagine how we show up in the world. Amen.
Thank you for reading! It’s worth subscribing to her newsletter for more like this.
After spending the evening with friends, remembering a beloved community member who had passed, I tried to watch the US Presidential debate.
I’d had too much wine for it. I went out into the “quiet” in front of the house. As the night sounds hummer in my ears, I looked up at the moon, thinking of Lori and Dale, who are no longer with us. I sang my favorite hymn, to the waxing moon.
For the beauty of the earth, for the splendor of the skies, For the love which from our birth over and around us lies, Source of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
I sent up my wishes for healing and peace.
Then I looked around. Four dogs had come out with me. All four were standing quietly, looking in the same direction as me. I’d swear they were praying with me. It was powerful.
Oh my. Here’s a book you probably should read. I guarantee you won’t “enjoy” it, but you may well be a better person for having read it. You know how they say there are things you can’t “un-see?” Well, this book hammers you with things that you won’t be able to “un-read” even if you want to.
I had to stop reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson, for a couple of weeks, because I was having nightmares about lynchings and beatings. I was ignorant of how many there were in the 20th century, as well as how people came to see the lynched people, took photos with them, and even sent postcards of it, until the Post Office banned them. Nightmare stuff. This was in my parents’ lifetime.
That’s just one example of what Wilkerson shares as she lays out the history and consequences of what she defines as the two-caste system in the US, which is unique to this country. Oh boy, makes me so not proud. Makes me sick.
She also makes it frighteningly clear how similar the US caste system parallels the way Nazi Germany was set up. What horrified me most was learning that they based their system for de-humanizing the Jews and others on how the high-caste people in the US made people from Africa into non-humans, to justify how they were treated in the slave economy. I got sick to my stomach just typing this.
Yeah, it’s a hard book to read. But it’s so important to look at the way Black people have been treated here in the US and (most important) how they continue to be treated up until the present. Especially for those of us who just happened to be born in the high caste, if you don’t have this information presented to you, right in your face, it’s easy to assume everything’s just fine, because, heck WE like our black colleagues and friends and treat them well. Oops. Not true.
No, things are NOT better, and no, people have not stopped treating lower-caste people as less than human. Yes, progress has been made, but all you have to do is look at how panicked a large portion of the white people in the US got when a Black man became President. Preserving the status quo turns out to be more important for this group than many things that might help them as a group (and that’s all I’ll say about this; read the book).
In good news, not all the book makes you sick to your stomach if you have any empathy at all for fellow humans. Wilkerson does talk about interesting historical parallels in India and talks about ways to make things better. Like I’ve always thought, she concludes that actually getting to know people and seeing their common humanity, one at a time, is how ANY of us can work to break the caste system down.
People who show a greater sense of joint responsibility to one another when they see their fellow citizens as like themselves.
It’s just that we still have a lot of work ahead of us, and it will go way slower if we don’t actually LISTEN to our fellow citizens, even when it hurts.
The chapter of Caste that gobsmacked me was the one at the end, where she shares the consequences of the caste system and the fear and distrust it engenders in the US. When put in the context of the rest of the world, this is one weird place. Examples from the book:
Americans own nearly half the guns in the world owned by civilians.
If the U.S. prison population were a city, it would be the fifth largest in America.
I know this is not a popular thing to say right now, but I can see why so many of my friends are moving to other countries. I’ve just been conveniently ignoring a lot of things that are right in front of my face, passively watching fellow Americans support and encourage the caste system, and failed to do the work needed to make this a good place for all of us. I’m so afraid of the dominant caste and the masses it’s indoctrinated that I’m not much better than them.
Well, that is changing, thanks to what I’ve been learning this year, and I’m just going to have to deal with the nasty consequences from fearful fellow citizens. It’s not like I have to be on the defensive every second of every day like so many Black people, the ones I know and care about included, must deal with. Because, as Wilkerson notes:
There are thriving, prosperous nations where people do not have to sell their Nobel Prizes to get medical care, where families don’t go broke taking care of elderly loved ones, where children exceed the educational achievements of American children, where drug addicts are in treatment rather than in prison, where perhaps the greatest measure of human success – happiness and a long life – exists in greater measure because they value their shared commonality.
I don’t know for sure how I came out this way, having grown up in the American South. But I don’t want to see people’s potential wasted just because of what they look like or where their parents were born. We need all the contributions of all the brilliant humans out there…so maybe we can live in peace. I’m still gonna try, no matter how cynical books like this make me.
One of the guiding principles of my life is to assume that people have good intentions in what they do and say. That means that people are doing the best the can with what they know, and given their life experiences/culture. I’ve found that doing this allows me to easily straighten out misunderstandings, to listen with an open mind, and to learn from others. I find that almost every time I think someone is going something to be mean, unkind, or ignorant, they didn’t mean it the way it came across, or were missing some information that would straighten things out. It’s a good principle.
Is this hard to do? Why, yes, it certainly is. It’s very easy to mess this up in more than one way.
First, you can slip into the mindset that everything revolves around you, so anything anyone does or says that upsets you must be on purpose. I had a graduate school friend who did this. Once I had to talk him down from leaving school just because a professor didn’t say hello to him when she passed him in the hallway. To him, it HAD to be because she disapproved of him, his dissertation topic, or something. To me, she could have been thinking about the class she was about to teach, an issue with her children, or many other things…she could have been just daydreaming. The discussion was painful.
Second, you can fall into the trap of making assumptions about motives. That’s the one that gets to me. I have been known to assume that people have some agenda that I don’t fit in, so they ignore me, or say things that appear to me to reject my input. That’s often not the case, as I find out when I snap out of it and have a reasonable discussion (or say something unhelpful, which also happens a lot, just ask my family).
Third, you can put labels on people that over-generalize them and lump them together into some group you don’t have a high opinion of. That’s where we get racist, sexist, classist, and ethnic stereotypes that don’t give people a chance to be individuals with their own motives. I’ve lived around enough different groups of people that this one doesn’t trap me as much as the assumption one. However, it has taken me over 60 years to overcome some of the labels I put on members of certain religious groups. I’m very grateful to have met people who gently point out the fact that all religions have different factions and that I could probably find people very much like myself in all of them, if I’d just look. So, not all members of certain traditions don’t want to take my rights away or hate me because of my beliefs. I must remind myself of this!
What Makes It Harder
As you know (because you do not live under a rock) these are hard times to be reasonable people. All sorts of forces are conspiring to pit us against our neighbors in our towns, states, countries, and the world. We take our assigned label and cling hard to it, assuming that people we assign another label all have horrible intentions, are stupid, want to harm us, and are the reason everything’s so bad. Right? It’s not just here in the US. Check out the UK, for example, and yes, even Canada has its factions (read the news, you’ll see!).
I happen to know, live with, and interact frequently with people who are assigned different labels from me. I have to talk to them, work with them, and read their social media postings. Sometimes, since most of us don’t wear our labels on our lapels, the back of our trucks, or our speedboats, we get surprised to find out someone we like is one of “them.” Ooooh, noooo.
Well, they are still the same person you have something in common with, or you wouldn’t like them. Maybe they were brought up in a different community from you. Maybe they have had pivotal experiences that affect their thinking. And yeah, maybe they just follow along with their crowd, because it’s easier to do than pushing boundaries or sticking out. Hey, people on your side do it, too.
The challenge is to assume that they hold their beliefs, not because they personally hate you or your friends, but because the vast majority* of people you disagree with honestly think they are doing the right thing. They may be wrong, but for their internal value systems, it’s right for them. You (I) may be wrong, too. Confirmation bias and all that.
So, my plan is to work even harder on assuming good intentions for the next few months. This doesn’t mean I won’t work hard for causes I believe in, won’t vote as hard as I can for my preferred candidates, or won’t practice my own spiritual beliefs that work for me. It just means I’m going to try as hard as I can to remember the “other” side are people, too.
I will note that sometimes it will mean I can’t answer a question, because I can’t come up with a way to say things that won’t come across as insulting. And I’ll screw up. Some things really push my buttons. I bet you have buttons, too. And when I’m tired, overwhelmed with my work, or worried about things, I may be less than a sterling example of someone living their beliefs. But I’m going to TRY.
In the end, we all have to share our world. It’s the one we have.
*Yes, some people are mean. Some people are full of hate. Some people really fit stereotypes; that’s how they become stereotypes. It’s just that I firmly believe that MOST people I disagree with are not this way.