Friday, May 10, 2013

Eight stories, and many thoughts

Eight stories

There are a number of things swirling around in my head.  These are things I've heard about or read about or experiened in the past few days.  Some seem unremarkable.  They seem unrelated.  And yet, they struck me.  I feel as if they have something to tell me, that I need to pay attention to these things and figure out what they are telling me.

No, I don't believe in the universe giving me messages.  I believe that's it's all within me, that I recognize things that have something to do with what I'm trying to figure out about how to live.

So, here are 8 stories or ideas that made an impression on me:
  1. At my job, someone at the top often expresses his displeasure with those beneath him.  They hasten to debase themselves, to do whatever he demands.  
  2. I found these "10 Top Tips to End Rape at

  3. I read some theory about how Barack Obama must secretly be a Muslim.
  4. I read the blog post Depression Part Two.
  5. A family friend passed away.
  6. I heard Carol Gilligan interviewed on the radio.
  7. I read a blog by the mother of a transgender teenager.
  8. I watched the video 700-member time bank in central Vermont.
What is it that struck me about all these things?

Theme One

One theme is about being too quick to put people into categories.  Carol Gilligan was talking about that.  She talked about someone looking at art, and saying for each painting, "Oh, that's a Cubist."  Once the painting has been classified, the person dismisses it and moves on.  They don't look at it and see it for itself.

I've seen doctors like that.  They very quickly decide what your diagnosis is, and prescribe you a pill for it.  They don't want to waste time hearing the details of your life. Once they have enough to information to decide what box to put you in, they want to dismiss you and move on.

The same thing happens in day to day conversation.  If I tell anyone about some problem I have, they quickly decide that they understand it and they tell me what they have decided is the solution.  They act like it is now solved and we should move on.

For me, that connects with the depression article.  I don't have depression in the way that is described in the article.  I think that the article is really good in that it conveys what depression is really like to people who don't get it.  I think it's appalling that there are still people who don't know what depression is.  There are some illnesses, like cancer, that get a lot of sympathy, and then there are some illnesses, like depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple chemical sensitivities, which people often think aren't real.  They think that the people who have these illnesses are just being wimps.  People who have these illnesses learn to be quiet about it because they know the responses they get from others will make things worse.

The parts of the depression article that struck  me were the parts about trying to discuss the illness with other people.  What I can really relate to is trying to talk to someone, and then having them respond in ways such that you just want to stare at them like they are from another planet, because of the way they have so grossly misunderstood you.

For decades, one of my pet peeves has been the way that people assume that other people are the same inside.  If something is easy for me, it must be easy for everyone else, right?  I hate that way of thinking.

My friend said he was afraid of needles.  His friend told him, "Needles aren't so bad."   I hate that. Maybe needles aren't so bad for you, but that does not mean they aren't so bad for everyone else.

When I was in college, I had a friend who got good grades easily.  He did not study much.  He saw other people studying a lot and not earning as good grades.  His conclusion: studying too much causes lower grades.  One of the things he was missing in that assessment was the understanding that different people have different abilities.

The interview with Carol Gilligan and the blog post showing how people respond to people with depression showed the negative side of trying to make things fit your pre-existing ideas, rather than seeing things for what they are.  The writing by the parent of the transgender child showed the opposite.  She had this child who fit her pre-conceived ideas as being a girl.  The child told her that he was a boy.  She accepted him for who he was, and helped him to flourish.

In my dance team, in every dance, there are different positions.  For the most part, any of us can dance in any position.  There is one person who doesn't change position.  For each dance, she has a certain position that she dances in for that dance.  There is another person who for most dances will dance anywhere, but for one particular dance, she likes one particular position.  There is one person who mostly will dance any position for any dance, but there is one particular dance which she does not like and won't do.  There's a certain type of step that appears  in some but not all dances, and one person does not do any dances that include that type of step.

We know each other's quirks, and figure out how to put it all together.   That's what the time bank Onion River Exchange does too.  A quote from the video:
You go down this list and you think you can't do anything, you don't have any expertise, and then you realize there are plenty of people that whatever reason they can do A, B, C, D, and E but they can't do F, G, H, I,  and J and you might easily be able to do that.
So, some of the 8 stories that made an impression on me -- #4 about depression, #6 about Carol Gilligan, #7 about the transgender teen, and #8 about the time bank -- come together on this theme.  The reason these stories made an impression on me is because it bothers me when people assume that we are all the same inside, or that we can be easily classified.  I believe it's important to see people for who they are, to see their differences, to respect their differences, and to build a community based on fitting together all the unique things that we each have to offer.

So that's one thing.  What else?

Theme Two

There's an administrator at my job who habitually goes on rants, telling people they did things all wrong.  It seems to me sometimes that his goal is to lash out at people.  He seems to make up his own interpretations of policies, or to make up policies that don't exist, and then to condemn people for not abiding by his fantasy policies.

People have concluded that the best way to handle him is to apologize.  If you apologize, he stops yelling at you.

People schedule meetings to figure out how to do things in a different way, a way that won't incur his wrath.  People develop policies of their own, policies they don't really believe in, just for the hope that following these policies will result in practices that don't incur this guy's wrath.

I think it's futile.  I think his goal is to pick on people, so it doesn't matter what you do.  I think it's wrong to try to appease him.  I think trying to appease him means buying into a blame-the-victim mentality.

That's why I like those rape prevention tips.  I hate the traditional kind, like the ones at

They place the responsibility on the victim.  I like the ones that turn it around and place the responsibility where it belongs, with tips like, "Use the buddy system.  If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public."

It's not just the egregious cases, the people who are physical or verbal abusers.  It's also the people who are determined to "help" you by telling you what "solutions" you should adopt.  It's living in a world that rewards outgoing, energetic people, so you feel like you have to try to be an outgoing, energetic person.

All around us, we are surrounded by people telling us who to be.  It brings to my mind Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey.  So far that's the only book I've read in her Five Hundred Kingdoms series, but I believe the others have the same concept.   In those books, there's something called the Tradition, which pushes people to live out fairy tales in their lives.  In the books, the characters resist that pressure and choose their own destinies.

In these books, people feel an external pressure from the Tradition to shape their lives in certain ways.  In the same way, I feel external pressures telling me how to shape my life.

If you tell me that I should stop feeling this pressure, that I should stop worrying about what other people think of me, then you are still telling me to change, you are still telling me it's my fault.  I'm not going to listen if you telling me how to live. My life is my own.

Theme Three

I think the third theme has to do with the fact that sometimes I think people are really stupid.  Sometimes I hate people.

One of the things that people do is to choose which ideas to latch onto based not on which ideas are supported by facts, but based on which ideas best fuel their hatreds.  I wrote about this in my post Stories that fuel hatred.  I think that people feel hurt and belittled, so they try to make themselves feel better by putting others down.

This is where the part about people thinking that President Obama is secretly a Muslim ties into it.  It also ties in with what a jerk the administrator at my job is.

I can write all this idealistic stuff about people working together in my dance team and in time banks, but at the same time, people are horrible in all sorts of ways, and it's way bigger than I can possibly fix.

And it's not just when people are actually horrible.  Sometimes I just hate people for no reason.  I'll be out in public and see all these people around me, and I'll hate them.

One of the things that Carol Gilligan talked about in the interview I heard today was that people don't talk about what they really think.  She mentioned a teenage girl she described as "radiant," and described the surprise she felt when the young woman said something like, "I can't tell people what I really think.  They wouldn't like me.  They would think I'm too loud."

I wrote about a similar sentiment a few months ago in my post Harry Crewe. I wrote "I contain myself, because I know they don't want to hear it. They don't want to know how annoying and stupid I think they are."

So, I hate people.  I know it's wrong to be hurtful.  I see how the administrator at my job acts, and I know it's wrong.  I don't want to be that.  So I contain myself.  I can't say what I really think, because what I think is that people are stupid and unkind.

I can't say what I really think, so I must be contained.  I can't open up, blossom, and flourish.  I can't become who I am.

Theme Four

One thing remains.  Of the 8 stories I listed, the one that I didn't yet write about is the fact that a family friend died.  I had not seen him in decades.  When I was little, he was just out of college and looking for a job.  There he was, looking for what he was going to do with his life.  And now, what's done is done.  He had his chance, he did with his life what he did with his life, and no more chances to do anything else.  And all that happened within the span of my lifetime.  It's not that long, the time we have.  My time is probably more than half over.  I feel like I've been squandering it away.  I feel like I haven't even started yet with doing what I want to do with my life.  I haven't started because I don't know what it is that I want to do.

There's so much bad stuff in the world.  It's more than I can fix.  But couldn't I just take on one project and do something useful? Kari Nadeau took on food allergies.  Pete Seeger took on cleaning up the Hudson River.  The people of Pedal People  do hauling and delivery by bicycle in their community.  None of these fix all the problems in the world, but they are all steps in the right direction.  Can I contribute something to my world?

I have this once chance at life.  What do  I want to do with it? How do I seize this opportunity?  What do I want to create?
  • I want to live joyfully.  I want to ski and rollerblade and dance and laugh and sing and feel free.
  • I want to live with integrity, true to my values.
  • I want to treat others with respect and kindness.
  • I want to help my family and friends to flourish as the unique individuals they are.
  • I want to live sustainably.  I want a solar house.
  • I want to live a life of beauty.  I want to see trees and shrubs and ocean. I want to decorate my home.  I want to wear clothes I like.  I want to listen to music.  I want to dance.  I want to choreograph dances that express my soul.  I want to play musical instruments.  I want to photograph nature.  I want to create videos -- as in choreagraphy, a way of giving visual expression to music.
  • I want to preserve and pass on knowledge.  I want people to learn to think critically.
  • I want to create a world in which people are treated with respect and compassion.  
What's wrong with this picture? Sometimes I think it's wrong of me to dream.  I'm deluding myself, to believe that I can do things like this.  

One problem is that I have to earn a living.  Food and shelter are necessary for survival.  Everyone always tells me that if I don't like my  job, I should do something else.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  I'm so tired of people telling me what to do.  I'm so tired of people telling me that the reason I'm in a job I don't like is that it's my fault for failing to earn my living a different way.

The other problem is that I live with fatigue.  I can't be doing stuff.  I just want to sit in the sun and read books.

I had a dream the other night.  In the dream, I was there in one spot, like a captive, though I did not feel in the dream that I was there against my will.  There was someone there who accepted me as I was, who did not press me to do anything, but who welcomed anything I chose to do.  My feeling about the dream was, what a relief it would be.  I'm tired of working so hard all the time.  I work hard at my job, and then I come home and work hard at everything else.  I have to work hard in order to be accepted.  I don't like my job, so I have to make connections with people because networking is the best way to get a job.  I have no family in the area, so I have to make connections so that there will be people to help me when I need it.  I want to be liked, so I have to talk to people.  But in the dream, I had all that I needed. I did not have to do anything.  I was already liked.  I didn't have to talk.  I didn't have to go places.


So, the conclusions from this lengthy and ranging blog post are:
  1.  We should see people for who they are,  respect their differences, and build a community based on fitting together all the unique things that we each have to offer.
  2. We should not blame the victim and tell people how they ought to change.
  3. I hate people.  I think people are stupid.
  4. I want to live with joy and make a positive contribution to the world.
  5. I want to withdraw from the world.  I just want to sit in the sun and read a book.  I'm tired of having to talk to people.  I'm tired of working hard all the time.
And that's where my problem lies -- my conclusions do not mesh well with each other.  And don't tell me that you see a way to make it all work, because if you were reading this post, you know that I'm really sick of everyone claiming there's an easy solution to all my problems.

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