Rain against the machine

I’ve been stewing, but also silencing myself a lot over the past few months.  I severed pretty much all ties to social media (I deactivated my Facebook in January), in part because I felt that my being on it wasn’t helping anything. Any time I’ve felt like I had something to say, it also felt like someone else could say it better and would make it more eloquent.  I guess you could say that I really sunk into the name of my blog, and realized just how much I don’t know, and that’s made it hard to write, because I’m pretending that something makes sense to me enough that it’s worth committing to type.  However, I find it useful sometimes to keep writing, even if it doesn’t make a difference, even if it doesn’t change anything, even if no one reads it, just because it documents how I’m thinking right now, and then I can see how I change over the years.   So here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about, and feel free to watch me try to spin a coherent story out of the muddled mess of my mind.

I’m searching for the story that will set us free, that will cause people to leave the caged system we’re trapped in now for actual freedom– where everyone’s worth isn’t tied up to their bank account, where people take care of each other and share because the whole is better off when people work together.  I guess I’m a socialist, but I’m more a democratic tribalist?  I think systems break down when there are too many people living in the same way.  Nature promotes diversity, not monoculture. I think a major problem with the world right now is that there’s a story that success is measured by what people own.  I think success needs to be reimagined as community bonds– have you participated in the world around you, have you loved thoroughly, have you brought joy into peoples’ lives, do you have people who will gladly care for you?  I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem about success:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded. 

…I don’t think there are many governments that I can think of that encourage this type of success.  GDP is the measure of success for a country, even though things like war and toxic waste cleanup stimulates production while endangering peoples’ lives.

A little-paid-attention-to fact about the beginning of the USA… The founding fathers wrote and imagined a different type of government than any of them had experienced or seen before, and it was more than two years after the revolutionary war ended that they came up with the constitution… Which means, for a few years, the founding fathers tried other types of governing that didn’t work as well as they wanted them to, and they wrote the constitution to address the problems that they wanted to solve.  Just because they found something that worked for a while doesn’t mean that they developed a flawless system. It worked if you were part of a specific group of people– I acknowledge that many groups were marginalized, discriminated against, or actively persecuted as a result of the development of the creation of the USA government, like First Nations’ peoples, African-Americans, basically anyone not white-cis-het-anglo-saxon-protestant-male. It doesn’t surprise me that the system of government that was created by a bunch of white guys ended up privileging a bunch of white guys– if it’s hard for people to not otherise people now, in an age of blogs and social media and skype, where people can immediately share their personalized experience of what the world is like, imagine what it was like back then, when communication took weeks and most people were illiterate.  My point being that it was hard for these few men to come up with a system that would benefit people that weren’t like them because they may not have understood why such a thing would be desirable (and when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression).  I know I’m not the only one searching for a different solution, and I get regularly frustrated by my inability to come up with something different.  Not feeling smart enough to sort something out is an unusual feeling for me, but this problem has me utterly stumped.  We clearly need a system that addresses the inequality that has stratified the gap between wealthy and poor, but how do we go about making it happen, and what should it look like? Continue reading

If you see the Donald, (compassionately) kiss him.

Every so often people (usually other white people) ask me “why do you care so much?” What they mean is that they’re confused that I’m a Privileged White American Female, so why should I care about Black Men, or Muslims, or Immigrants, or Transgendered People, or Drug Addicts, or The Poor, or Prisoners, or any of the myriad other groups that don’t necessarily describe me but I still care about supporting.  Intersectionality doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I see it this way: people are connected, and you can’t fight for one group without acknowledging that there are hundreds of different ways that people struggle, and that the people in your group have the lived experience of being in many others as well.  I believe that what hurts one group hurts us all– Gay rights, Women’s rights, Civil rights, etc., these are not struggles that are limited to the people who are most affected by their lack of support in society. Every conflict is people trying to assert their right to exist, to be supported, to be loved, and the frustration that comes when other people see it differently and deny them that validation and acceptance.

Personally, I believe that none of us are free unless we are all free. There is no other, there is only ourself in different skin.  If you hate any other, you hate yourself.  Love your self and love the other, for they are you.  This is the golden rule in a nutshell:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Treat them with compassion because you would like to be treated so.  Love them unconditionally because you would like to be treated so.  Give them your best, because you would like to be treated so.  Encourage them to be free, because you would like to be treated so. Continue reading

giving up punishment

I think I’ve mentioned it a few times on this blog, but I think it bears repeating, so I’m going to do so now: I believe that all people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got every single day.  Before you go “but Jenna, there are rapists and murderers and terrorists out there, how can you be so naive?”, I’ll append that statement with a modifier:  Sometimes, what they’ve got sucks and ruins things for themselves and everyone around them.  I actually believe that everyone is existing to the best of their ability at the time from moment to moment– Even the people who have raped, even the people who have killed, even the people who have terrorized– the decisions they make when they decide to do those things are decisions that they feel will be in some way helpful to them at the time, they are acting in a way that they think will bring them some form of safety or security or love.  We, looking at them outside of themselves, see them as “evil” or “fucked up” or whatnot, and we tell ourselves and each other that we would act differently in their shoes, but I honestly don’t believe you can guarantee that you wouldn’t do the same thing if you grew up in exactly the same circumstances as that person.

Even siblings, who you might point at and go “well, this one ended up ok and this other one didn’t, that one must have been a bad seed”, interact with different people, have different life experience, have different combinations of genetics, etc.   So, even if they’re identical twins who grew up in an abusive household, who went to the same school/classes and knew the same people, and one murders someone and the other becomes a priest, I think you could look back in their lives and find places where they had radically different treatment, where they did or didn’t make certain friends or mentors who did/didn’t provide stability, where they were or were not supported… and it’s possible that those differences contributed mightily to one turning out “good” and the other turning out “bad”.  I can’t say that either of them weren’t acting to the best of their ability at the time when they made the choices they did.  That’s the thing– it’s THEIR ability, not ours.

Because our world view is colored by our experiences, we can never truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, which means that our judgment is colored by our lives– makes sense, no? Sure, if we were put in their place we’d make different choices, but that’s because we are who we are, having experienced what we have– They’re not acting to the best of OUR ability.  But they ARE acting to theirs, and doing what they can with what they know to do what’s right for them at the time.  Too often people look at problematic behavior and think “oh, if they just did this then it would all be fine”.

The problem with this narrow view is that privilege is stopping them from understanding the finer points of the reasoning behind the behavior, and how to address those.  For example, if you’re a 40 year old suburban white guy, you might not want to write an article telling poor inner city black kids how they can get out of poverty, because you’ll miss a lot of points and piss a lot of people off.  Because you just don’t know what these other people are going through, and when you decide that everything can be reduced to a simplistic judgment that makes you feel better about otherising them, it’s probably not actually helping.

I realize the irony of writing an article about “the dangers in simplifying arguments and judging others” by making a simple argument and passing a judgment, and I’m laughing a bit to myself as I write this and hoping that you see that I’m talking from my own ever-developing perspective, and that this rings true for me right now, but it may not ring true for the person I am in a day, much less 10 years from now. I think my blog’s name rings pretty true again– I’ve got no idea, alright?  Believe me if you want to, or stop reading if you don’t… I’m an unreliable narrator, because I’m an imperfect human and I think and revise stuff ALL THE TIME.  But if you do decide to keep reading, bear with me, as I develop this argument against judging people…  And if you start to believe what I believe, then you may also look around and think that the criminal justice system is fucking insane.

Continue reading

How to be a love warrior

I’ve had a few friends tell me over the years that they think I’m unique… I don’t think I am (there’s at least 10,000 of me that shows up at Burning Man every year), but I am thoroughly committed to being a love warrior.  For those of you who don’t know what a love warrior is, a love warrior is someone who throws themselves single-mindedly into loving as richly and as deeply as possible, so that they are able to defeat fear with love.  How does one become a love warrior?  Practice and commitment, as far as I can tell, and I’m still starting out.  The following tips may help too:

  1. Work on loving yourself every day.  You cannot be a love warrior until you know the nuances of how love works; you cannot know love through and through until you know what loving yourself means.  Unconditional love for others must come from an unconditional love inside; loving other people seems easier than loving yourself, so we often put it off and ignore it, thinking that our love for others will make up for our own insecurities and weaknesses.  Loving yourself doesn’t mean you have to think you’re perfect, it means seeing that you try your hardest to do whatever it is that you do with integrity. It means accepting that you will do things that will blow up in your face, you will never have everyone like you, you will be human.  Eventually, you will see that everything about you is as it should be, and everything is developing as it must.  Once you love yourself, loving everyone else is easy.  If you don’t love yourself, stop trying to love other people and make you your priority.
  2. Work off the premise that there is something you can love in EVERYONE.  Not just the people you already like, not just the people you work with, not just the attractive people, or the well traveled people, or the people who go to the same bar as you, or the people who you go to school with.  Every person on the planet has something about them that you can love.   The girl who listens to Rick Astley has something you can love about her.  The homeless person on the street has something you can love in him.  The woman talking to herself on the train has something you can love in her.  The racist who shoots up a church has something about him that is lovable.  Your worst enemy has something you can love in them.  If you can’t find it, love them for showing you who you don’t want to be, showing you how you don’t want to act.  Don’t look down on them, don’t judge them, accept that their life has brought them to the space it has, and have compassion for their journey.
  3. Accept the fact that not all people will be able to love in this moment like you do.  In fact, most people will not understand if you tell them that you love them, and will not understand that they can love this way too.  Expect that they are on their own journey, and will decide to become a love warrior when they are ready.  Before you were ready, you could not do this either.  That’s alright.
  4. Nurture compassion within yourself.  When you find yourself thinking poorly of someone, look for something you enjoy about them.  Compliment people frequently on things that they have control over– their outfit, how they present a workshop, their cooking, the way they hug, etc.  Look for the good in people, not things you think are bad.  Ultimately, judgment becomes unnecessary.
  5. When someone is angry with you, step back and see that as a sign that they are in pain because they perceive that their needs are not being met.  Instead of reacting with anger, retreat (you can even ask for a pause or tell them you need a few minutes to give a response), breathe until calm, and see them as reaching out trying to communicate that pain.  If you can understand where the pain is coming from, you can react with compassion and address the meta message behind the anger.
  6. Encourage random acts of joy and compassion in your own life and the lives of others.  Give strangers hugs (ask their permission respectfully first, some people don’t like to be touched!), jump in puddles, connect with your inner child, pay for the meal of a random couple at a cafe and leave before they figure out someone’s paid for them.  Surprise your best friend with a handwritten note thanking them for being in your life.  Tell the people you care about why they mean so much to you, and do it regularly.
  7. Accept the fact that you now care about people that other people think you have no reason to care about.  Care about them anyway.  Recognize that each person wants love, but most people forget how to practice love.
  8. Make the golden rule your life.  Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.  If they can’t treat you back the way you want to be treated, forgive them; they are not your problem and you cannot control their actions.  You can control yours though, and you lose nothing by being a loving, generous person
  9. Be prepared to be hurt.  People will fail your expectations, people will accuse you of being insincere or childish or naive.  People will steal from you, lie to you, cheat you (or cheat on you), and worse.  Forgive them anyway.  You do you.  Most people can’t give as much as you’d like them to.  That’s ok.  They’ll learn from you, or they won’t… You’re acting with integrity for you, and that’s all that really matters.
  10. Practice love daily.  Love yourself even when you don’t practice daily.  Any time you fail to do any of the above, forgive yourself and start again.

Your moment of zen this week is a song I can’t get out of my head.  Yummy…. Elemental, by Willow Beats

Photo on 9-28-13 at 3.27 PM #2

confessions of an emotion exhibitionist

There is an apocryphal curse that goes “may you live in interesting times”.  Of a surety, we do; this is the first time humanity is experiencing a truly interconnected world, where people on one side of the planet can easily and cheaply interact with people on the other side in real time at the click of a button.  And yet, with the ease of communication across borders, there is still loneliness in the human condition.  And worse, when you expect that said communication will be simple because of technology and yet you still can’t communicate with or find the people that you care about…  It’s an interesting thing, love.  We all die alone, and yet go through such great pains to connect with others.  Maybe we ARE, because others see us.  Our existence is validated by observation.  We’re all trying to convince everyone that we’re ok and that we know what’s going on, that this adult thing is something we do easily.   However, I’m starting to think that no one ever has being an adult down pat; we’re all trying to assure other people that we’re successful and happy and mature and capable without ever truly feeling 100% so.  When I was younger, I thought adults knew what was going on.  Now, at 29, I look around and am still looking for someone to be sure of themselves so that I can emulate them or follow them.  Surely someone’s supposed to give you an award at some point, saying “this is it, you’re an adult now, you can stop feeling so unsure and curious and start doing what you’re meant to.  Go change the world now, yeah?”.  Continue reading

The good, the bad, and the beautiful

So, as many of you may know, I’m a moral relativist, although I’ve gotten into this mode of thought recently where I’ve tried to stop defining myself as “this type of person” or “that type of person” (“I’m a nice person, I’m a generous person, I’m a kind person, I’m a coward, I’m an idiot”, it all limits the way you see yourself and the story you believe about who you are) because I think it boxes me into behaving a certain way, so for the moment we will amend that statement to I believe that morality is relative.  This post is coming up for me now because I’ve been thinking a lot about “good” recently, and I’m taking a narrative therapy course, which is all about how the stories we tell ourselves about our lives shape who we are.  A woman steals a loaf of bread.  To the store owner, she is bad– She has cost him money and taken what isn’t hers.  To her child, she is good–she has taken steps to prevent him from starving.  To the system, she is dangerous– if everyone were to just take what they wanted, capitalism would fall.  She is imprisoned, and her child is put into foster care, where he is abused.  Does the good change for you?  Does the bad?  If the child is happy in foster care, does that change what is right and what is wrong?  What if it’s not a loaf of bread, but it’s 10 million dollars from a bank– Does that change the good?  What if no one is hurt and it’s 10 million dollars stolen from a drug cartel? The story changes each time, and people decide what is good and what is bad based on what they know and how they relate to the story.  Continue reading

Why to stop being “right”

This post is coming from nowhere, and as I typed the title, I wasn’t sure what would come out.  Let’s see how coherent it becomes… I promise nothing today.  Not a concrete story line, not a message, just letting what is emerge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about will and truth recently.  I have been spending time with some people recently who think they are the most important thing to happen to the universe, and it’s true– in their universe, they are gods, and life revolves around them.  Their needs are the most important needs, their desires are the most important desires, their knowledge is the most important knowledge.  They know, and they are right, and all I can do is watch and learn.  However, from my perspective, often I realize that they have no idea what they’re talking about– either these people lack compassion, or empathy, or are just blinded by their own egos, or something I haven’t perceived yet.  They think they know the way the world is, and their world is a set place with certain rules, and everything outside of their perspective is disregarded as immoral, or selfish, or idealistic, or misguided, or just plain wrong.  We let other people tell us what we should be doing with our lives and what we should think about something because we think they know something we don’t, that they have it right and are doing well for themselves and it’s worked out for them and so it will work out for us because they know what they’re doing and we don’t.  If we don’t know who we are, then we are ourselves by way of other peoples’ judgments.  If we don’t love and value ourselves, we learn to value ourselves based off of how other people respond to us. We get caught in cycles of people pleasing, giving away our power to other people and looking for anyone to validate us. Continue reading