Behavior is not dictated by Affiliation

Social currency is real, and people need enough of it to be accepted by others within cultural groups. Survival largely depends on social recognition for safety, whether it represents stability that decreases volatility of resource accessibility, or is essentially a “protection” racket. Aside from survival though, humans need enough acceptance by others to be able to carry enough self esteem to go on. They want to feel needed, loved or at the least, allowed to be around.

Modern sentiments have begun to apply cultural ownership through affiliation. This affiliation can be offered by the group or assumed by the individual, with the loudest voices in the group generally determining access or eligibility to participate. Credibility within the group is becoming associated most strongly with participation levels – meaning quantity over quality, however there remains a quality threshold to meet with most groups. The participant is also obligated to self-educate if the group does not provide training already, but either way, affiliation requires playing by the rules and meeting the standards of the group that the individual wants to be a part of.

Yet there is still a strong sense of ownership through genetic heritage present in cultural membership – the original determinant in belonging to any group. Genetic heritage bestows automatic, unimpeachable ownership (with few exceptions). It is also unavoidable, unlike affiliation. That’s right, there are some things we simply may not disavow ourselves from, and genetic connection to certain cultural aspects is one of them – whether or not it is deemed just. This conflict of basis for cultural ownership causes cognitive dissonance within the modern person, generally leading to guilt and/or anxiety over the definition and use of “true” cultural ownership. And a sense of belonging is critical to our success in life – again, if we don’t get it, the void that remains is detrimental to the individual, and by extension society.

We cannot rely on genetic heritage alone to define cultural ownership any longer, thus the rise of affiliation based acceptance. Whether it’s due to prevailing heterogeneous heritage, or simply acknowledging the power to include others based on affiliation for mutual benefit, cultural ownership is not simple or straightforward. And I think it’s of note that folks want to allow others the ability to disavow affiliation from cultural groups. But of course, genetic heritage retains a hold that can’t be fully severed in all circumstances. I feel like the affiliation aspect may be historically based in religious behaviors, as these groups are outside of genetics-based cultural heritage and they participate in recruitment/conversion techniques, but, as with everything I say, that’s largely my conjecture.

When there is no central regulatory body governing the ownership of cultural affiliation, mob mentality arises. It latches on to key tenets of a group’s ethos and enforces them via peer pressure, or threat of rejection. The fear of being ostracized is freakishly compelling and most folks will make sure the group sees them as valuable or harmless in order to maintain their affiliation. Most folks won’t give up membership in a group without access to a new group that will accept them either, causing defensive behaviors to arise if they feel their affiliation is threatened.

In the modern aesthetic, participation in the cultural norms of a group now include collaboration in the constant re-evaluation and evolution of the cultural norms themselves. Basically, it’s no longer good enough to be included in a group. Now, if you’re not driving the cultural behavior within the group, you can quickly fall out of favor being seen as not committed enough, or improperly aligned. This constant re-adjustment could be coincidental or superficial, but I suspect it comes from feeling criticized and seeking to avoid that criticism entirely, which necessitates constant change with the tides of fickle public opinion.

The cultural boat is caught in a maelstrom of self-defeating behaviors as it’s sucked into the vacuum caused by the breakdown of moral authority – without absolute control over definitions and priorities, moral values have become fluid and subject to fad patterns. No one is willing to acknowledge any authority as absolute, but unfortunately they miss the part about how much humans prefer a structure they can rely on to feel confident about themselves and how the world works. Without it we’re just seeing incoherent combinations of the remains of what we once trusted.

I don’t have the answer to a conundrum that has none – folks feel that genetic heritage can trump cultural affiliation, but only in some ways. We want to be able to shed trappings of the past and assume what we want to be. But it’s awfully difficult for me to let people do that when they pin cultural ownership on others based on genetic heritage, via visual cues, or assumptions, while wanting to eschew those interpretations for themselves… it’s hypocrisy at its finest (and as mentioned, myself included). It’s hard for humans to let go of historical connection to culture, with good reason; it’s our basis for our worldview.

It seems absurd to me to when I hear someone say they were born in one place, but then name a different place that they’re “from”.  I can’t even wrap my mind around a mentality that allows someone to continually redefine their heritage. Maybe you can change where you are now, or headed next, but how can you change where and what you come from? But more importantly, why would you? How can you shed the old let alone don the new (*in terms of heritage*)?  I mean, I get not being stuck in behavior patterns, but we can’t actually change our origins even if we choose not to live by historical standards set by our originators.

Funniest is I think many folks think that’s what’s being asked of them – I’m referencing the white shame/guilt complex that drives them to disown their connections to any genetic heritage they have. The narrative that indicates this is even a possible solution is misguided at best; culture is how we behave. That narrative and game plan to disown the past attempts to deflect or protect against responsibility for historic injustice. It’s sweet to think there’s a solution by divorcing from the group, but it ignores the fact that injustice does not live in the past (complaints are not just about the past, they are current), and that we cannot actually divorce completely from genetic heritage anyway, even if we try. Separation from the group does not create any goodwill or offer any support to victims either, it’s a symbolic gesture that can’t make up for anything.

Not to say that anyone is responsible for the past transgressions of another, but if we want the benefit of cultural ownership we do need to take some responsibility for ongoing group behavior, especially in light of the current policies obligating each of us to participate in driving the group cultural dynamic as I mentioned above.

I’d love to throw off the shackles of the past entirely, but it seems delusional. People care strongly about being part of a group and accepted, so they should feel a sense of personal responsibility as strongly as they feel their cultural ownership. It’s beyond disingenuous to act like you don’t share any responsibility for a group you are connected with, whether you automatically were a member based on genetics or affiliated by choice. Again, folks may not like it, but some cultural aspects are connected to our heritage, which we did not choose yet remains real. Like siblings or our parents, we don’t get to choose everything about our social connections in life.

Modern folks are notorious for “cherry picking”, and it’s an untenable policy of self serving denial that’s an insult to true commitment. You can’t have your cake and it too, as they say. If you serve yourself up another slice, it comes with calories and unmitigated they will make you fat. If you exercise enough though, you can eat all the cake you want. So go out and do good and it will be like exercising, you’ll be a thin cake eater who has the best of both worlds. You can never say you didn’t come from cake bakers, but you can say you make low-sugar cakes, or that you don’t make cakes even if they did, or choose not to eat cake, etc. You can say, yes I came from this evilly fattening background, but I don’t have to let it make me fat too… anyway I’m sure this metaphor has met it maker. Basically, you can live through ongoing cultural ownership without succumbing to its downfalls or predations. You don’t have to stop eating cake to be thin, you just have to exercise more. You don’t have to stop being/admitting you’re enjoying the benefits of the first world, just make sure you’re not perpetuating bad behavior out of historical habit.

But there it is – what I’ve been searching for in this whole writing – if we can change behaviors yet retain identity (and we can) then there is no reason to ever need to “adjust” identity or even affiliation, because feeling that need is based in the faulty association between a cultural group and certain behaviors. That association says that cultural groups behave a certain way, but culture is not static or regressive, it’s always changing. That faulty belief in a lack of ability to change is used as basis for bigotry, which is unconscionable. Any group or individual has the ability to learn and change, to accept new things or get rid of old.

We are not only what we do, nor are we solely representatives. We can take pride in who we are. I’ve actually never been offended by the concept of “white pride” – I’m offended by REAL miscarriages of justice, regardless of the group the perpetrator hails from, or identifies with.

Our personal behavior can be separated from our identity and our cultural status, thus allowing us to develop and flourish within cultural groupings. What I’m saying is that your cultural citizenship may define your relation to others, but the cultural group does not determine your behavior – you do not have to behave as others do within your group. You are free to have an individual identity within a group, and behave differently than other members do. As part of that policy of driving cultural behavior I mentioned, go ahead and take the reins; you are not just responsible for group behavior, you are a force of change and growth within it simply by choosing to behave as you know to be right and appropriate.

The bonus is that if you retain your membership and help the group overcome biases or bad behaviors, you’re helping the world significantly more than you ever could by separating yourself from the group for the sake of not being associated with people who probably just didn’t know any better anyway. I know, you’re probably thinking, but what if the group is continuing to behave in a way that I disagree with? I’m not saying you can’t do your best to extricate yourself from a hurtful environment if they’re not respectful of your right to make your own choices, but typically people see you making your own decisions and it helps them realize that they don’t have to behave exactly like others just to avoid rejection. And typically there is not as much rejection or backlash as people fear, but I’ll get off the confrontation soapbox and save that for another post.

We can retain core moral/ethical values, priorities, and focus to overcome bigotry and separatism from inside our groups – and more importantly, we need to. Washing our hands of perceived stains by association will never eliminate the bad behavior we disapprove of. It’s critical that we recognize that shunning a person or group will never shut them up or make them disappear. Not only that, but it’s more difficult to help them develop from afar – people who have an intimate acquaintance with them can help people change far more quickly and deeply. The best way to help your group escape criticism or derision is to stand firm in helping that group become the best it can be. Besides, a certain amount of criticism is not just inevitable but healthy. We all need to be able to examine our decisions carefully in avoidance of bias, and to help keep ourselves on track.

 

 

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Leftist Blasphemy

I know this will come as blasphemy to some if not many, but I’ve got to explore something I feel and see how it pans out in written form. I could never quite put my finger on why transvestite behavior bothered me when I’m good with all forms of sexuality and gender identity. And look, there’s not enough time in the continuum to make you believe I’m genuinely good with something if you’ve set your mind to thinking I’m not – but I’m the decider of whether or not I’m good with something and how, so we’re going to need to at least say it’s that way for the sake of argument, if nothing else. In the same vein, I don’t need to prove my cred for speaking on this topic to anyone (whether or not I’m qualified). So if you think I shouldn’t be talking about this then read some other blog post. Moving on….

My problem is layered or faceted or whatever you want to call it, so no, I can’t have a short definitive thesis here in the beginning. It’s simply a complex issue, which is oxymoronic again, so we’ll move along.

A main issue I take with transvestism is that it inherently reinforces restrictive gender norms. By nature, dressing like the opposite gender reinforces that genders dress differently. And taking on behavioral affectations bothers me even more. It’s bad enough to pigeonhole dress code, or associate make up and such with a gender. But to then take it a step further and “act” like a person of the opposite gender reinforces gendered behavior patterns.

Basically, when you dress “like a man” or “like a woman” you are stereotyping that gender and objectifying them. You’re telling us that women act a certain way, and that men act a certain way, that they dress and look a certain way. It’s divisive and it supports the narrow minded conservative views that state there are ways in which we should or should not act, based on gender (perceived or otherwise).

When a man dresses and acts like a woman he’s showing everyone that this is how he thinks women are, and vice versa with FTM. (Even if he doesn’t think that way and it is intended to highlight how “dominant culture” behaves, it still acts as reinforcement). It’s that show of gender that not only confines what we do, but puts focus on gender and sexuality in a way that is not necessarily the show of freedom some claim it to be. It’s bowing to conventional gender roles while qualifying your humanity. It perpetuates what it intends to disrupt.

Just like most black people would rather be called people than qualified as black people, I’d rather be called a person than be qualified as a woman. It’s not to say I do or do not deny any connection with gender, but rather that gender is not relevant to most of my day to day life, job, or actions except for some minute logistical differences, and that injecting it into non-sexual parts of life is unnecessary at best and inappropriate in many circumstances. Western society finds bringing sexual behavior into the workplace largely unacceptable, just as we feel the same around children; just to name some simple examples. That’s because sexuality does not need to be a component of every aspect of our life any more than any other trait or interest – biological or otherwise. I don’t read with my genitals, and neither do you.

If we are truly all human and free to express ourselves, choose our identities, and display them as we see fit (which we are) then a woman may wear anything and act any way she likes, as can a man, or someone in between. I think what I’m drilling down to is if we claim true equality and freedom as human rights, then it shouldn’t even really be called cross dressing, or transvestism or be anything. It’s simply a human that put on an outfit today – there is no real relevance to what color or cut of fabric it is, nor the material it’s made out of; that’s all subjective and preference based.

I have more written on “acting” feminine in another post, in case you’d like to get some depth on gender identity and what it means to me in specific. But I’ll give a short bit here to keep the context going in this post. Behaviors considered “feminine” are usually associating femininity with traits from sexual dimorphism – meaning that statistically females of most species are smaller and weaker than males, as well as more prone to difficult issues associated with child bearing. That weakness and volatility translate into submissive behaviors, like avoiding eye contact, toes turned inward, shoulders slumped, excessive apology, low speech volume, etc. When hatred is poured on transvestites, non-heterosexuals etc., it is usually a manifestation of misogyny , and calling a man anything related to womanhood is a well established insult that is used in other sexualities almost as much as heterosexual culture. It is automatically demeaning and belittling because of the cultural valuation of strength and forcefulness over weakness and submission. Aggression is praised while cooperation is seen as distasteful at best.

Part of the problem with reinforcing those gender norms is that it makes it that much harder for our overall equal rights movement’s progress. Women have been working for generations to be seen as equal and capable, while the visions of us remain qualified as a burden or distraction, and yet somehow simultaneously an object of desire to be sought after. When we are portrayed as these characters that are dominated by our gender and what it supposedly dictates, it chips away at our platform to be considered truly genuine equals, aside from the detrimental emotional consequences that are part an parcel of any restrictive doctrine.

I get that many consider this behavior to be self expression and displaying identity. I used to know someone who wore dresses and makeup because they wanted to, although being born “male”; it fell under the self expression and displaying identity categories. I am and was cool with that, for what it is, which is to say this person is welcome to have their own style. What I’m less cool with is grossly exaggerated versions of gendered behavior or clothing that appear to be intended as rebellious or lampooning the status quo – which means not to express self but as a tool to drive social change through a form of protest or satire.

I get the mentality of wanting to make people question assumptions about gender, and expression of what we feel is reflective of our inner selves. Yet when gender issues are put in that satirical light it is unfortunately not a light that drives meaningful change in those who do maintain true inequality institutionally. Satire is also not being appreciated as such or its role is not being understood as completely as it could be in these modern times, leading to a lot more misunderstandings than viable solutions when this method is used.

No, I’m not saying I want to do away with transvestite or transsexual identity, behavior, or culture (not that I could) – they’ve been a part of humanity since always – there’s evidence of it far back in history. But because of that history these practices come from a binary gender culture norm, and they are reinforcing that same binary definition, rather than displaying representations of the spectrum of possible identity, behavior and expression without qualification.

Cross dressing has its own cultural identity and I’m glad for it, but that doesn’t mean the practice makes social improvements in the arena of gender equality, social justice, or anything else in society. I can say what I want here and I’m going to say it, I feel like the practice of exaggerated transvestism diminishes my struggle for equality, and makes it harder for me to be a woman who isn’t effeminate, isn’t delicate, isn’t weak and doesn’t conform to gender norms as it is. It tells me that if I want to be myself in that case, that I must eschew femininity in favor of “acting” like a man or constantly live outside of what are portrayed as the only two choices available.

I’m on the same spectrum as everybody else which is an infinitely variable gradient – not stuck with one of two choices that were never adequate enough to begin with.

 

 

 

Fruit of the poisonous tree

It’s not even really that new, and to me, it’s always been the more insidious version of the two… but there’s a different type of discrimination than the obvious, and it’s worth noting if only to better understand the scope and breadth of what this really is, that it’s not all black and white (pardon the pun). I know someone who would (in bad taste) joke that racism is different in the south… that walking down the street is like “mornin’ nigger” “mornin’ sir”. Bad taste or not, that type of discrimination is wholesale, and upfront; it’s obvious. I almost prefer that method, so there’s no confusion or period of adjustment – this person has made things clear from the outset, so we’re all on the same page about their views. But that’s not the only type of discrimination, and it’s certainly not the one that makes my lips curl up as my skin tries to crawl off my body and my insides scream to get out the hard way. That feeling is reserved for a different kind of experience.

My grandmother is dark skinned because she’s half Filipino and half Alaskan Native, but she was raised in Seattle and has never spoken another language aside from English… she was raised catholic, and attended Holy Names Academy. My uncle has a quarter from each of her sides, and his father provided some European genetics so my uncle is light skinned. My uncle was a teen in the ’80s, tried eyeliner and New Wave music like any kid of the day, and then got married in the ’90s, had kids, and maybe someday in the future he’ll be a grandpa, but not yet. On a road trip with his family when he was a toddler he fell ill. My grandfather was a postal carrier and had full health insurance coverage for his family, but he wasn’t with his wife and son at the moment. When she entered the small town clinic nearest by, my grandmother explained that she had full medical coverage and that her son was sick – that he needed medical attention.

How long do you sit in the waiting room of a virtually empty clinic, watching appointment after appointment go by before you realize they’re never going to serve your child? that they’re not going to call your son’s name because you’re darker skinned than the other people in the room? how long do you sit and wait and wonder about coincidences and schedules before you come to the conclusion that no, they’re not going to tell you, they’re simply never going to call your name? Whether they don’t believe you can tell if your kid is sick, or they don’t believe you have insurance, or anything else… discrimination is not always flagrant, it’s not always obvious or straightforward, and it may not be intentional in a conscious way – more on that soon.

So, aside from perceptions and realities, if she had known of the issue, maybe my grandmother could have taken him to another clinic, or another town for that matter. This was a child who needed medical help, and please let me assure you my grandmother is a ridiculously patient person – she waited more than long enough, this was not a case of her misinterpreting or misunderstanding. I’ve seen plenty of this type of discrimination in action. Frequently the culprit believes their discomfort lies in some other aspect of the recipient of the discrimination, like my peers who were told it was their youth that roused suspicion, despite us all knowing and seeing the proof that magically, well-to-do children were not cause for extra vigilance;  just the ones who appeared disadvantaged, regardless of race.

Perhaps that first story was too vague, too easily misinterpreted to be counted on as enough proof though – maybe my grandmother misunderstood after all. To put an even finer point on unspoken discrimination that is real and specific (and more impactful than denied service), I’ll share something that has haunted me since I was told about it. My grandmother’s auntie gave birth to her son around the same time my mother was born, give or take a few years. She gave birth to him in a modern urban hospital in liberal Seattle, after the civil rights movement. Yet when she was done, and went home, there was something she didn’t know. She tried for a while to have another child, but no pregnancies arrived, not even miscarriages. She had never been told by her doctors or husband that they had decided to sterilize her after giving birth to her first and only child. She didn’t misunderstand the intent or nature of this action – it isn’t up for debate as to whether or not this choice could have been happenstance, it was deliberate. Whether it was racism or the sexism of asking her husband and not her, they did this to her without her consent or her knowledge.  How long do you wait for a baby before you start asking what’s wrong?

We can say these are stories of time past, but they certainly happened well after the civil rights movement had secured assorted rights and assurances for minorities, including women. There’s droves more anecdotes I could research and present and we all know that too, so I’ll let you look them up should your sensibilities require more timely or pertinent proof than my own family’s experiences. These aren’t intended to be the only stories or even wholly representative of the newest manifestations of discrimination either, but they are intended to highlight behaviors well after supposed equality was reached (on paper), and to illustrate that they need not be upfront or harassment oriented. It’s not always about petty micro-aggressions or who goes first in line. It’s about a fundamental lack of respect for certain parties based on pre-conceptions or assumptions about their fitness to make decisions in their own lives and that of their families.

The problem with the upgraded version of racism is that it isn’t about public displays of domination and control, it’s now about subtler feelings, finer tunings. The receptionist or even the health care providers who denied a child service weren’t throwing him out of the clinic appalled that he came in through the front door with a brown person. They were more likely uncomfortable with or unsympathetic to someone they don’t know how to relate with (his mother). They saw someone who looks different enough that they assume they can’t interact with this person comfortably, and thus they avoid what they perceive to be an upcoming confrontation. Despite the fact that the minority person at hand may have no intention or awareness of possible confrontation, the authority figure feels discomfort associated with confrontation, and acts from a place of defensiveness.

Discrimination has changed in the wake of legal changes eliminating institutional support of bigotry. Now, it’s not necessarily with purpose or structure that people discriminate, but out of a place of unfamiliarity with the other party, which carries a lack of empathy and shows the emotional distance placed between the well known and the unknown. It’s no longer about asserting open boundaries between groups as much as representations of how we instinctively prefer those who we relate with, and feel discomfort around those who are different from ourselves.

But to finally get to my battered and ignored thesis: discrimination is now connected to a matching type of experience – favoritism.

Favoritism is the new manifestation of discrimination; it’s the other side of the same coin. It’s convenient in many ways, and offers an alternative that makes perpetrators feel significantly more comfortable with their own decisions. People feel free to engage in favoritism because it’s seen as inherently inclusive rather than divisive, and is less controversial, but also harder to identify and even harder to prove as discriminatory. They don’t see it as “favoritism” though, they simply feel feelings of comfort, familiarity, acceptance or agreement with the person they’re favoring. They feel a connection through shared experience or history, they relate with the other person in some way, so they feel some small sense of loyalty to this person over others who can’t or won’t work on that emotional connection or don’t already share overt genetic/cultural similarities. The receptionist probably felt like she was prioritizing existing clients rather than discriminating against a child (in my grandmother’s case). The doctors and nurses (or her husband) probably assumed that they knew what was best for my auntie based on their own understandings (rather than consider her judgment as fundamentally different yet still valid). I’m not defending those cases of discrimination, I’m illuminating that they probably did not see their actions as discriminatory.

It can become very difficult to get people to understand, let alone admit or change the fact that they’ve been engaging in favoritism at all. To their way of thinking, they have simply been operating based on what they feel – they haven’t acknowledged that their feelings are biased even when they’re aware of the concept and attempt to keep it in mind. Many folks don’t just happen to think that they never had bias (which happens, and is challenge enough). Many truly believe they have been able to cast off bias… especially because feelings of comfort and agreement do not seem suspicious so we don’t examine them, we accept them as correct and base our decisions on them. People trust their “gut” on this stuff.

If we were only dealing in interpersonal relationships, it would be more than fine for someone to only choose to interact with people who they can relate with or have some sort of shared connection with. However, when dealing with the provision of services, hiring and firing, etc., this type of behavior is inappropriate, despite how common it is. Of course when people insulate themselves with like minds they get more entrenched in feeling connection with a limited segment of the population and draw further from the center, regardless of which direction they head.

But if they don’t think they are biased or bigoted, then they will never absorb or accept messages aimed at bigots – because they don’t identify themselves that way. Just like opening up a letter with “Dear Jerks,” will never garner much change from jerks who have no idea it’s even directed at them, the same is true for bigots. More importantly, in the same vein as jerks, if someone is self aware and continuing that behavior then they don’t care and they are choosing their actions with purpose, which means it’s going to be monumentally difficult to change their mind – shaming them probably won’t work as well as we wish it would.

This is why we need to have strict guidelines for the provision of services etc. that are not based on how we feel, because our feelings are subjective and relative and irrational. As long as people like to feel favored and participate in giving special treatment, favoritism will keep its stronghold on decision making. And we do like receiving special treatment, so we issue it when we have the power to do so. It is up to each of us to realize that we can’t make rational decisions if we are unaided by structure that ensures adherence and accountability. Without it, we will continue to have pockets of bigotry;  microcosms that perpetuate favoritism and discrimination. I’m going to call them whiners when people want to complain about being forced to comply with evenhanded protocols, because doing so indicates some level of unwillingness to fully respect others, as well as a desire to skirt rules for their own benefit, be that direct benefit or the power of bargaining in social currency.

If racism is the root and discrimination is the trunk, then favoritism is fruit of the poisonous tree.

 

Much Love

Hey, I’ll be taking a step back ’til January, to prepare for assorted traditions this time of year – namely checking out mentally for far longer than is expressly offered by the occasions in specific :p Anyhow, upon my return I may take a step sideways (toward music) but I had been able to keep up here and get significant work done in music prior to now, so we’ll just have to wing it and see how things play out. I look forward to at least sharing some progress elsewhere if I flag here, if that’s any consolation. Life’s seasons take us far from where we began. Here’s hoping we walk the same roads together for a lot longer yet – may our paths diverge only as needed.

Hoping your lives lead you in wonderful directions, close to me or elsewhere, it’s all good. Much love!

It is what it is.

We begin all understandings of things without judgment, but almost immediately we learn the most important judgment: existence. Does it exist or not? This is the foundation of how we understand what something is. Either it exists or it doesn’t. This concept is what we use in binary coding because it’s clearly defined; something is or it isn’t. It’s not actually opposites, it’s about presence and absence. So, I read a fairly cheesy sci-fi novel once that I absolutely adored, and in it, the author compared or related this concept to Adam and Eve’s gaining of understanding through eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. That the mind blowing concepts they had come to understand were the differences between things – the concept of difference, the basis for “not”. Once we’ve left our child-like acceptance of all things without judging them, we can’t go back. We as a species or as individuals come across the concept of being able to differentiate, and it naturally brings with it the practice of curating preferences.

To me, it makes sense that prior to being able to differentiate between things and ideas, humanity was not really humanity yet, we were still primitive animals. As long as we accepted all in our reality as manifestations beyond our control or judgment, we were innocent – we had feelings that were driven by instinct, which were dripping with inherent acceptance, even when they were feelings of discomfort. So when we learned to differentiate it also became a way for us to disagree, resist, control, manipulate. When we learned that something is or is not, we also learned that it can exist, but also that its existence can be disbanded. So all this is wrapped up in the way we are able to form consciousness, make decisions, and engage in abstract thought. Because in order to create ideas and thoughts that are new, we need to be able to imagine something that does not exist, or imagine something in a way that it is not (yet). If we do not make a difference between things in our own minds then we are not able to consider change, which is what conscious decision making and frankly, verbs are all about.

Animal instinct is like a type of habit. It’s driven by things like “muscle memory” and smells that trigger responses; all that has to be done in primitive life is a little refining for the times – ideally. Our feelings are meant for the basic concepts of survival, like winning, or relief in hiding. But it’s not a set of behaviors that handle dynamic situations well. They lack the depth needed to be able to respond to circumstances that fall outside of known parameters that were never questioned. In instinct, the rules are not abided by as impositions over will, they are seen as immutable laws – like physics. Which is why, for so long, nothing was questioned – because physics is pretty set in its ways. But not everything is. Will is the name of the force we use to resist or change definitions. Our free will is the step beyond response or reaction – it’s anticipation and coordination, it’s analysis and planning. Once we were able to prepare, we were able to more quickly develop as a species. No more waiting for something, now we could be ready.

The fundamental understandings that we have come to inside ourselves, or as a species, all stem from one simple concept in how we learn. That all things are binary, and anything beyond that is a new concept that hasn’t been fully formed. Like multiplicity in electron states, we as a species once thought something could only be or not be, but now we are figuring out that perhaps there’s a few more options. The use of binary in its current form is taking advantage of 2 electron states we thought were the only ones, and one of the angles working toward supercomputing is attempting to harness the concepts of more like 6 different electron states. Which uses 4 states of being aside from being or not being. When we as a species can both understand and reproduce those states in coordinated efforts… If feels like we may just pass an evolutionary threshold.

I always felt this strange way when people would say “it is what it is”… and I’m not sure why, entirely. But I feel like it has to do with this dichotomy between someone implying that external judgments don’t change the nature of a thing, and the reality that often, they are using this phrase either to reinforce a judgment, or to dismiss our human agency in an attempt to cope with limits to our power. I think for me, it’s caught up between instinct and consciousness. It’s being torn between the comfort of only responding to feelings primitively vs being asked to use critical thinking and come to our own analysis, which  carries risk or responsibility. It’s tough out there, feeling responsible for our own actions.

Reinforcements

We all want to feel validated – we want to feel right. But it isn’t just about being right. It’s about others confirming, affirming, reaffirming, validating, supporting, agreeing with, and standing by what we have said or done, and by extension, us. That’s right, it’s about ourself again. We want others to tell us that they find us valuable, and being seen as right is a great way to get there. We want to know our efforts are worthwhile, and prefer they be appreciated by others; emotional efforts being chief.

I’m not opposed to needing to feel like we’re doing the right stuff, but like anything the more is not always the merrier. Folks can become reliant on external validation to the point of excluding their own judgment almost entirely. People look to those they respect and admire for reassurance, in absence of a solid foundation. Self-esteem and confidence are not easy skills to maintain. They can flag, flounder, especially in the presence of perceived strength and power. It’s easy to give in to intimidation and insecurity. It’s hard to stand up for ourselves inside as well as out.

I’ve written a few things on identity and self respect. We don’t always notice the issues we may have putting enough stock in ourselves. It comes out in many ways, and fishing for reinforcement is a sign of needing to build or show inner strength and resilience, self esteem and confidence, etc. It’s not that we can’t make sure that others had a good time with us or want to share some part of themselves with us. We should, however, try to notice when we keep asking others to agree with us lest we question our own judgment or our right to make decisions – which is an unhealthy pattern.

If it seems that others are not agreeing through silence, so be it. Same thing if we’ve offended or disturbed them in some way. If they’re looking at the situation and choosing not to respond or to omit some feeling it may be due to agreement after all, despite reservations, or shame at their previous stance, or anything else that’s none of our business. It’s time for us to recognize when we read too much into other people’s minute gestures and silences and think they must mean active disagreement or disapproval.

We can come to our own conclusions, make our own decisions, share them with others and even support them in conversation. Without open displays of shame and regret to secure or retain social status and group sympathy. We don’t need to ensure that every last person is on board before we proceed. This isn’t just about our over analysis of other’s reactions or basing our self worth on them either. It’s also about the other person, who magically had no play in this post til just now. But the truth is that we aren’t being respectful of their ability to come to their own conclusions, take action and share it with us. It’s up to them to disagree or agree, support or inform.

If we keep trying to get from them this thing by asking, the most unfortunate part is that we cannot attain this thing through that method; not authentically, anyway. We need their praise and affection to be genuine and self motivated. When we fish for compliments, sniff around for pats on the back… we can’t get the real glow we want from the real feeling of the person’s mutual respect and admiration. That doesn’t come when asked for. We must wait for the real thing, or receive a hollow shell instead.

But the great thing is we never ever needed their buy-in to be us. We need to live what we know is good and right, regardless of what we’re seeing around us.

Identity Crisis

If you don’t know who you are, you can believe almost anything that you’ve been brought to relate with. If you are lost in the sea of culture, and don’t know that everything in the sea is a part of the waves, then you start to think you’re water instead of a clam, or a shark. Or from a different angle, you can end up drawing the conclusion that you’re part of the solvent, rather than the solute. And once the reactions are all done, the new solution is homogenous. You can’t tell yourself from the chemicals that broke you down into your smallest components and assimilated you like robot cyborgs into their deadening fold.

People who seek power, collect it, and use it as a tool in construction of their goals and ambitions have latched on to a momentously pivotal concept that has and will continue to change the face of everything we know and do. They have to come to realize the sheer power, the force that unmistakably drives instant, committed action. Like the sellers of sophisticated fish lures that have succeeded at tricking fish into biting every time despite not being hungry, there is a new way to get people’s goat and ensure they will react every time. Like a baby crying, like a flash or loud sound, it is possible to jerk a reaction from our basest instincts – whether we want to respond or not.

The issue is identity: who you are matters. It’s been said that “traditional” marketing techniques are becoming ineffective as time goes on. Those traditional techniques often employed emotional appeals, stirred up feelings like jealousy, or excitement, in efforts to get those affected to buy. However, it’s fairly easy to be desensitized to emotional appeal – which is deeply saddening and honestly tragic, but it’s where we stand. As a result, desperate power hoarders who are obligated to participate in a never ending growth pattern have begun to drive action through personal identification.

So to come around to my thesis late in the game, others are manipulating your definition of yourself – for their own gains. Like kids on the playground needling you about little insecurities, you may feel like conforming is easier, and it is, but it hurts our hearts more than we admit to make ourselves fake for the benefit of others. And you may feel like striking back is the answer, yet the truth is giving them that reaction is giving in, it’s giving them the win they were after.  They got what they wanted cuz what they want is your goat. Goats buy more impulse items.

They want your complete, undivided attention, and if you’re not careful you’ll give it by accident. But it’s no accident what they’ve been up to, it’s taken quite deliberate planning and execution. When you respond with force and strength, you’re giving them the keys to your emotional bank. You’re telling them “this is what I care about” and if you think they won’t exploit that then you haven’t been paying attention.

Who you are is up to you, it’s fluid and dynamic and yet simultaneously immutable. At the core of who we are there is a self inside, and that’s the one that needs to stay strong. But staying strong is relative, and doesn’t have to mean fighting. Wisdom tells us we can go with the flow without getting lost in it. We can be a difference while remaining surrounded by seemingly endless similarity. Like my first simile above, you can be a clam or a shark and they may move with the waves, but they aren’t water nor will they be. Clams burrow their way to security while sharks dominate to survive. Seaweed may move with the slightest swell, but it remains itself regardless of its travels.

It may be overwhelming to feel like we’re in a zone with high swells, and it is easy to get sucked down by riptides in the shallows. Knowing how to swim certainly helps. Getting our bearings is not always easy, but being ourselves should be the foundation. As any good sailor knows, we can sail anytime, but it’s up to us to know the tides and look out for weather. It’s up to us to navigate rough waters, know when to hunker down and ride out the storm.

Just because we agree or relate doesn’t mean that it’s part of our identity by nature. Same thing with the reverse, if that makes any sense. Basically it’s fine to align with others in some places or not at all. But the fact that we like or find similarities with something doesn’t mean we need to hang our identities on it, nor our hearts or our wallets. Our identities can remain unchanged even if our minds are swayed – we can be ourselves and still grow and change.

We are still ourselves even if we’re never supported or agreed with or validated, we’re still good inside no matter what, cuz we’re human. That means we don’t need any trapping to adorn our identities, there’s no need to buy or acquire a single souvenir of our  self – we represent ourselves without a single shred of corroboration needed.

The products we buy, the values we have, the hobbies we do, the people we know… these are things we engage, not who we are. We are purely ourselves naked in the wind, we don’t need to show off a single thing to establish or protect who we are, to ourselves or anyone else. We are not lesser for any reason, no one can tarnish the identities inside us.

Keep yourself close to your heart and remember agreement is not needed for peace to be had. There’s space for differences in the grand scheme of life. No one needs to prove themselves, but even if they did, it wouldn’t mean much to do it with cheap tricks.

 

Holding on too tight

One time a friend described someone as “holding on too tight”. I wasn’t familiar with the term at the time, and it’s probably of his own design. He said it’s when someone has gotten to the point of being deeply emotionally invested, and in a general way – not like obsessing over something specific, but more like holding on too tight to life itself. He was talking about the kind of person that has lost sight of things and is just emotionally volatile because they’ve come to care about everything so much that they’re overwhelmed by the slightest of events.

Caring is important. We need more people to care. But we can’t care enough to make up for anyone else. We can’t care enough to change something with our care alone either, that takes action. We need to care enough to take action and make meaningful, lasting change for the better. Holding on tight enough is critical to being able to navigate this world and its struggles.

However, if we care so much that we lose sight of the bigger picture, can no longer prioritize, or are unable to look for solutions, then we are holding on too tight for our own good. This is not only unhealthy for us as individuals, but as a society comprised of those individuals. When we’re so emotionally charged about everything we can get to the point of being unable to even articulate our concerns let alone overcome the challenges they represent.

Of course it can be disheartening to see some folks check out inside – seeming to not care about anything, or at least not enough to do something about it. Again, it’s not possible for our caring to make up for their lack (which is also probably perceived more than actual lack). But, whether or not we could make up for others, let us not rob them of the opportunity to step up to that plate. Let’s leave them a place to belly up and eat well at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood of caring for each other.

While we’re checking our expectations of each other, it’s a good time to reflect on what we ask of ourselves. Hoping to save the world is honorable and noble, but it’s a tall order for a short order cook in a diner. Sometimes we dream like our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and we bite off more than we can chew, let alone swallow. Chewing the fat don’t make for a great dinner, we need to know when we’ve had the meat of the matter and when to push the gristle to the side of our plates. We can’t solve every problem, but even if we could, some of them don’t need our solutions. Some things need to pass as extraneous, superfluous, outside of our concerns.

Let’s narrow our focus on things of importance and lay off of the pressure to perfect the whole of existence. There will be more messes and disasters than we could possibly clean up or address in lifetimes uncounted. Giving our best is no less than we should offer. But, no more than we should falter should we push ourselves harder when we’re already on the right path. We can’t travel any faster than our legs will take us down the paths of life, be they well beaten paths or weak and threadbare. No need to fret about how far we get when all we can do is carry our own load and try to be there for others carrying theirs as they walk beside us.

There’s no use kicking people when they’re down on the road of life. Surely if they can’t find the strength to carry enough, it’s not out of spite as much as they’re tired, pulled a muscle, or never learned how to center their load for long hauls. For whatever reason if they can’t help out, we have to remember that we don’t have to carry everything anymore than they do. Sure we care, and it’s important to us, but hurting ourselves or each other won’t get the job done. (Besides, who are we to decide how much anyone else should carry on this road?)

Let’s hold on tight enough for a sweet hug of comfort, not a bone crushing bear hug of destruction.

Praise be to chemistry especially in anatomy

Humans love feelings, and yet the masses largely know little about the chemicals that cause those feelings. This lack of knowledge places feelings in the same mystical category as magic, religion, or the otherwise unfathomable. Biology and chemistry are closer than kissing cousins. We love to feel feelings about biology and because of biology, but it’s chemistry that defines many of biology’s boundaries. And feelings can be a beautiful thing. But we sometimes attribute incorrectly more substance than is due. Sometimes feelings are really not feelings as much as symptoms of lack of feelings. And all feelings are the result of chemical reactions.

Like darkness is not a thing, but rather the absence of light, in the same way, some sensations like depression are evidence of the lack of certain neurochemicals – not necessarily the presence of any.

There is an important pair of industries that have done their research in this field – mental health providers, and medical suppliers. They’ve thoroughly and exhaustively tested and plundered data to determine what makes us happy, sad, and everything in between. Now, stimulus triggers physical responses for the most part. I won’t get semantic about every trigger and will just stick with solid generalities here. Once something has set our mind in motion, things tend to happen quickly.

Neurochemicals are released into the brain, then receptors receive and use each chemical, because each type of receptor is designed to chemically interact with a specific substance. The reason we are able to feel the whole pantheon of feelings we have as humans is a small set of neurochemicals mixed together in various proportions are used as signals in our body to tell it how to respond to stimuli. For our topic today we’ll say the mind is a kitchen, or, a restaurant. Like any good metaphor, there’s varying parallels with a kitchen atmosphere that will help get a rudimentary understanding how our minds work.

It’s great to understand that different mixes of ingredients will lead to different results. But for my purposes, I’d like to talk about materials, ingredients, tools and equipment as well. If our brain’s the kitchen and the goal is to have a steady stream of food ready for the table at mealtimes, it needs raw ingredients and the means to prepare them well. If we have a faulty wiring system for our electricity, none of the kitchen appliances will function as intended, nor will the lights work for the chef. If the pots and pans we have are warped, handles loose, or improperly suited to our projects in size or character, our product will suffer. Even if we had the best ingredients, a chef in the dark with inadequate equipment cannot make the best meal.

If we have imbalanced levels of water, salt, sugar, proteins, etc… these weaken or strengthen the dish, and they can increase or reduce the volume of food we can produce. Ideally, we have a kind of soup with little varied parts floating around our brain, they would all be high in nutrients from different food groups, all necessary for a healthy functioning body. When we have a good diet of enough nutrients, water, and genuinely restful sleep, our healthy body can use all of that to make our brain’s neurochemicals like the best souffle, sushi, roasted pig, green beans, tamales or anything else, and serve it up in just the right proportion at just the right time.

However equipment or materials can be limited, which in turn limits results either way – but of course both together is worse yet. And sometimes the chef is untrained, misinformed, or bad tempered, which are all threats just as real to overall success in the brain’s kitchen as faulty supplies or facilities. Even without any issues with all of the variables covered therein, too much pressure, timing issues or even bad luck can be of detriment to the mind’s abilities to cope with and respond to stimuli. Because stimuli are like orders in a restaurant, they may often follow patterns like busy times in the day, or that in the winter people eat more soup and want holiday favorites, whereas in the summer cool drinks and salads prevail. But sometimes we want ice cream in January, and sometimes we run out of it in July, and sometimes we want it at midnight.

Speaking of running out, that’s where the rub lies. A well stocked kitchen will serve a hearty breakfast, and a lean one will serve rations. A kitchen in poverty conditions will gorge on new stock leaving little to be saved, or will horde every precious drop while still starving. The conditions of the kitchen drive the product, setting the menu. Some of us have a five star restaurant, while others have a bare a soup kitchen.

Some of us are frugal in using our mental resources, while others are frivolous. Some of us serve the same thing with regularity while others, no set menu at all. Being able to adequately parse out and use mental resources effectively is not a matter of willpower, fortitude… it’s a skill not acquired by all any more than fiscal responsibility or social graces. Most of us would like to believe there is an unending font of happiness, but that’s not true – any more than there’s an endless supply of cakes. Cakes are made and eaten, and run out – thus the phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. Because, once you’ve eaten the cake, it’s gone.

Our mind uses dopamine like ice cream, it makes us happy, excited, and feel accomplished. It’s a treat. Our mind uses seratonin like comfort food, making us feel safe and loved. We rely on it to feel alright. Our mind uses norepinephrine like coffee for a thrill in the beginning, or for maintenance after long enough use. Our mind uses endorphins like medicine to kill our pain, except that’s where the metaphor breaks down because actually pain medicine just mimics or triggers those very endorphins, that’s how they work. We need enough building blocks to build our mind’s menu, so we can order a steaming hot plate of job well done satisfaction, or a cold dish of revenge, or egg on our face or humble pie or anything else and get it just like we want it. If we’re out of ice cream, we’re going to feel bummed out about that.

If our brain’s receptors are the patrons of our mind’s establishments, then those in the five star restaurants are seated in an orderly fashion, disruptions are ejected, orders are made and meals are served up with relative smoothness. These nerves can end up showing small signs of wear when overworked at peak periods or during unusual circumstances, but typically maintain their composure. With enough time to clear the tables and refresh the area, ongoing business can proceed with minimal inconsistencies. However, if we have soup kitchens open limited hours to a rowdy, demanding crowd that eats all the food quickly, fighting over scraps, then of course the area is either in complete unhealthy disarray, or is locked down to a grim efficiency to maintain a minimum stability.

With shortages in food leading to malnutrition, resources and commodities are highly traded and manipulated to best advantage, with no waste or lavish display. People need to maintain every bit they can to try to continue to feel ok, let alone great. With so many stimuli causing our minds to order up feelings, it’s no wonder we’re frantically scrambling eggs just to throw half of them away after a distracted yet dissatisfied customer wanders off again. That’s due to so many people not knowing that they don’t have to order up feelings based on stimuli or expectations alone or at least not enable them further. They can decide when and how they make things – what they put on their menu, and what price they set.

Setting our range of expectations, norms, limits, and goals can go a long way toward achieving judicious use of our resources in efforts to better our lives. Setting working hours, conditions, and minimum standards for our minds are healthy ways of making sure we are producing adequate food that hasn’t been contaminated. If we allow our mental health to deteriorate, we can easily set back any success we hope to achieve. We need to keep our priorities and processes in good working order to make best use of the resources we have and to seek better if needed. Food, water, restful sleep and feeling safe are just a few keys to our mind’s abilities that allow us to achieve and maintain happiness or satisfaction. Taking note of when we have depleted or overworked our bodies and minds is critical to avoiding complete burnout. Just like when babies cry they are telling us in their own way that they are tired or hungry, so too is our sadness or grief telling us when we’ve run out of supplies, or need to close the kitchen for repairs and maintenance.

 

 

 

Frienemy

Sometimes it’s hard to be our own best friend when we’re also our own worst enemy. We’ve been taught we need to regulate ourselves, but we haven’t been taught how, so we do it in all the wrong ways. We don’t need to curb our enthusiasm, we need to know when to employ it. We have somehow forgotten that of all the people in this lifetime we will meet and get to know, only one is sure to stay here from head to toe.

We can be our own best friend, and it’s well worth the effort. Not just because we’re stuck with ourselves – since no matter where you go, there you are, but because we’re the best resource for others who want to know us as well. No one can know us like we know ourselves, but we don’t automatically come knowing everything, since we’re inside of our experiences and living them out organically while we discover the world and ourselves within it. It takes time and effort to get to know ourselves, and then project ourselves outward.

Building our identity and growing into it is not just a selfish gesture. We occupy space and time in our communities, our jobs, our relationships – in this world. We absolutely affect those around us with our choices, even when we choose inaction or retreat. Whether or not we’d rather be noticed has no bearing on the fact that we are. Humans aren’t playing blackjack with the world as some authoritarian dealer – they’re playing poker and they trade off being dealer in turns.

As we have no choice but to be part of our surroundings, it’s up to us to define who we are and what we’re doing. It’s up to us to recognize our shortcomings, weaknesses, oversights; our failings and fears. But it’s not just our mistakes we need to learn about, since those tend to linger malignantly picking away out our confidence and self respect anyway. There’s something far more important and often neglected in our sense of self, in who we are.

We need to learn what’s best about ourselves: our strengths, our skills, our abilities, our greatness. If we don’t sufficiently find those out then how are to help them grow and flourish? We’ve got to see them as our keys to making ourselves who want to be, and by extension, remake the world into the better place it could be. It’s up to us to see and share the best parts of ourselves for the greater good, just as much as we need to own our faults in efforts to overcome them.

Loving ourselves has become an onus though, some sort of terrible obligation. Many of us have been taught to hate ourselves, or simply disregard ourselves as irrelevant. Most of that comes from disempowerment through manipulation from outside forces like the marketplace and the media (kissing cousins to say the least). But those pressures are very real and have dire consequences in the form of a highly unstable, emotional populace that is confused and scared about everything.

As much as loving ourselves has become a fad, it’s disingenuous often, or misunderstood. Defensiveness is not the same as pride or respect. It has become commonplace to see people joking about self hatred, even suicide and declaring “don’t judge me!” – both online and in public settings. These are clearly cries for self love in a time when it’s still not being achieved effectively by the masses, despite clichés and platitudes being tossed around extravagantly. It’s understandable and part and parcel of loving ourselves to accept ourselves as we are – but that means actual acceptance, not loudly expressing something we still judge as inadequate.

True self love is very difficult to achieve, I’m not going to minimize or deny that. But recent trends have led to a disturbing mix of defensive self loathing and wretched insecurity that are derived from a number of sources, notably broader societal pressure to seem “well adjusted” when we’re simply not. Or to avoid being burdensome to others, seeing ourselves as damaged or broken. In fact, that narrative of being broken or damaged has been woven into the stories and culture that are passed along to our next generation as well. We see it in in memes online, hear it in songs, and tragically, it’s been wrapped up in our visions of love.

So many feel like they are incomplete, because that’s what they’ve absorbed from messages in their surroundings. When we discount and dishearten ourselves that way, we take the pain handed to us by outside forces and re-victimize ourselves with it regularly. Each one of us may have struggled in our time, and may show scars from trouble along the way. But that’s the best part about being human, we’re malleable – our parts cannot truly break like things mechanical. Our hearts do not break as we’ve been told, they get bruised and battered but each still holds some grain of hope, even in a sea of confusion, no matter how despondent we get.

But there is someone still there in the bottom of that well of doubt and misery we can fall into. It’s the only person who can remind us that messages may abound, but it’s what’s inside us that counts in the end. We may drive others away, or tell them we’re fine, or they may even leave us behind on purpose. Yet still there remains in the darkest of places, one person we can always count on. Maybe we’ve kicked this one while down, maybe we’ve left ourselves hanging out to dry, maybe sometimes we forget or give up for a little while, but there’s still one person we haven’t yet managed to get rid of despite it all.

We can and should and desperately need to turn and look at the person inside each of us. We’ve got to hold on tight and never let go, and love that one like we love comfort and fun.

I used to think it was just another pop song, but I’ll turn it into my anthem now.
I couldn’t say it better myself: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”