Double edged sword walking in a kaleidoscope world

At 14 years old my mom secured a scholarship for me to attend a private school in an affluent neighborhood. Being Alaska Native probably helped secure that opportunity. Whatever it was, it was also an opportunity I would have never have had otherwise; we certainly couldn’t afford it. Tuition for my 8th grade year cost the same as a UW undergraduate’s tuition for that same year. Other kids were driven to school in BMW’s and Mercedes.

It took 2 buses and over an hour each way to get there. I had always had free lunch before that, because we had qualified for state assistance programs. When I got through the lunch line the first day and they asked for money I didn’t have any and the lunch lady quickly said “it’s ok, we’ll put it on your account”… only when I got home my mom explained that an account was still something she had to pay for and we couldn’t afford it.

That first day I didn’t know they had a mid-morning break about 10:15am. They all ran out of class, dumped their bags in a pile on the lawn and grabbed a snack in the cafeteria. I looked around and asked who was watching their bags and they looked at me funny. Half-way through saying it I trailed off as I asked “you’re not worried that someone will steal your bag?”. Who would steal bags at a private school filled with kids who had never known want? It never occurred to them because no one they knew had ever been remotely close to poor.

People asked me why I had a bad attitude, but I couldn’t relate with them. I didn’t have a dad, we didn’t own a house, and we rode public transportation. I had never felt as safe and secure as these people did everyday. I had grown up in a world where nothing was like this, and even that place was a cake walk compared to metropolitan inner cities.  But it wasn’t just poverty that separated me from them, it was my cultural heritage.

Sometimes I really hated being Alaskan Native. It is such a pain in the ass to explain. As much as I deeply and fully respect that being black is something no one can hide or take off, looking white can make things very difficult for me. I’ve been told I am not Native because I don’t look brown, but I’ve come to expect that over the years. The aggravating part is explaining myself every time my cultural heritage comes up. A black person doesn’t have to explain blackness to the outsider, and if they’re light skinned enough they may have to say they’re black, but that definition itself is typically good enough.

When I say I’m Native it gets confusing right off the bat. I’ve tried starting with “Alaskan Native” but it doesn’t register and they ask me to repeat myself. I start with Native American and they immediately assume they know what I mean, and for them that includes buffalo and tipis. So then I have to explain my people came from Alaska, and now they’re sure they’ve got it. Igloos and dog sleds and snow as far as the eye can see! Then I explain no, my tribe’s not from there either, we’re from the coast and our land overlooks the sea.

So then they realize they don’t know much about me, and are by then either fascinated or bored stiff. At bored stiff I’m relieved because now I can stop talking, but not so much with the other way around. When they’re fascinated I must then go on to give them some context to the people I’ve named and attempted to describe. Luckily I live in a place quite similar in terms of environment, enough to draw some comparisons.

But then I have to battle the age-old examples of persistent stereotypes. The fact that I’m Native does not give me any more connection to Mother Earth than white people should feel. Even if it did, they all seem to think that I worship the Earth as a personified deity. Just because I have Native ancestry does not mean I can see spirits in trees. The image people have doesn’t add up and I hate to be the one to disillusion them.  But it comes with the territory of having informed them of my cultural identity.

They sometimes think I have access to mysterious sources of income, which is based on rumors of a stipend provided by the state of Alaska, which is partially true, but other residents also get compensated because it’s not easy to make money in the state, there is almost no business development all told there. In both cases it is more of a token as it is not enough to really supplement living costs. My tribe has no casinos, and largely our holdings make no money; we are trying to maintain our ancestral lands which costs more than earning the tribe any income.

Some people assume that I know everything about every tribe in all of North America. And that we’re all related, which I just can’t fathom. Because my family wanted me to be a world citizen they taught me about many other cultures – including those of other continents as well as the denizens of our own. So although I know more than most, its just as feasible, likely, and reasonable that whites or blacks or latinos or asians would know as much as I would about tribes in the southwest, or the northeast, or anywhere else. They are nothing like my tribe, any more than any other cultural group is.

Invariably, teachers found out that I’m Native and that’s when it really got hairy. I knew that look when their eyes lit up, almost like seeing dollar signs. But it wasn’t greed that motivated them, they just wanted a free lesson for the class. They would ask me to make some sort of presentation or answer questions or get interviewed. At quite a young age I was asked my take on race relations and modernization. How crazy is it to be asked your opinion when you’re still too young to have formed one? They seemed to want some social treatise like I knew politics and current events at 12 years old. I sat on panels next to black and brown kids looking just as uncomfortable as they were.

And yet we actually had stored up a fair amount of experiences at our tender young age. Many times over I did have something to say in interviews, on panels, with group discussions or in presentations. Because I wasn’t “normal”, I was Native American. I got used to working with adults at an early age, helping develop material for curricula and rehearsing speeches or demonstrations. I was placed in front of classes or a whole school sometimes, or mixed audiences at public events.

The visions of hippies and freedom seekers of the ’60’s and 70’s was refined as they matured, had children to raise and wanted a lasting way to make the world the beautifully free and fair world they dreamed of. They pumped their dreams and hopes into their offspring, reshaping the world in a peaceful, respectful vision. It was great to be a part of these monumental changes to society and social interactions. But we had never experienced much real racism or bigotry in my little bubble and all of my experience and opinions were theoretical; it was in principle. I understood these things as they had been taught to me and my experience was limited to a layer away from the social ills my elders wished to combat.

I had essentially grown up in the world my elders had dreamed of for me, and as such participating in a change that had been made before my time was a little confusing. I hadn’t done any real combat; I was the product of those who had. My struggle was being dragged from meeting to event to convention to retreat, workshops and panels and meet-and-greets.

As the model of the evolved Native American, I am urban, know my heritage, and have participated in what feels like everything. I showed wisdom, moderation and poise on my public face before I hit puberty. I was an educator and facilitator, a volunteer coordinator.

It’s great that I learned all kinds of skills and had all kinds of experiences. It’s been a difficult journey to realize that this kaleidoscopic world I walked in was one made from combined efforts. Stepping outside of that climate and culture is a shift that bears no mention. The rest of the world lives in a dream of its own creation. If you don’t go to those seminars, panels, conventions, or meetings you don’t necessarily see the world of multi-cultural harmony.

This planet is full of people who float on the currents of popular culture, ancient culture, and everything in-between. Living life in the slivers where the circles in venn diagrams meet, walking in two worlds or three… it may seem to be a boon to me, but it turns out to be too much to ask of most anybody.

 

 

The herd is safe from conflict

I think I have begun to figure out what is going here. In conflict with white Americans (and oh so many other groups too) there seems to be this missing link for me that I may have recently found. Whenever a topic or issue comes up, and someone is visibly shaken, this person invariably wants to mitigate the feelings in question. They immediately jump to do everything they can to make that person feel ok again. When we put it like that, it sounds very reasonable and in theory it certainly is.

But the truth is that the person in pain has a real problem. The issue they have may be complex and varied; there may not be an easy solution available. It may be that right now there is no solution, but largely there are so many possibilities. When the white person continues to try to manage people’s feelings, they are, quite often missing the point. The person’s feelings were generated based on an issue that still currently needs solving. The issue is not that the person themself is currently experiencing emotion. If that were the case, then managing the feelings would be right in line with reality. Since the feelings are the symptom of a problem that is genuine, feelings are not the real problem.

Solving problems eliminates the need to be upset, at which point it’s a whole lot easier to calm down. Insistently trying to calm someone down in the outset of their problem makes no sense. But the reason it’s done so often is because it’s from a mindset that’s pretty specific. White people are taught to accept what’s in front of them no matter how damaging it is. They are taught early on and continually that almost everything in life is inevitable. When people believe there’s nothing to be done, they don’t have to give up, because they never try in the first place.

It’s not only white people although they are my prime example, it’s also popular throughout most of christianity. People believe it’s better to be complacent than frustrated. They regularly calm themselves and say it doesn’t matter. They put it out of their minds, avoid it if possible, and hope it just doesn’t happen. This deep level of avoidance is built into their lives, their hearts, and their minds. When confronted with dissonance from varying sources of info, they generally shut down emotionally. They withdraw and retreat and comfort themselves with repeating things they are familiar with.

This type of person has been taught no coping skills, and no problem solving skills either. They are disheartened early and they still feel pity, but believe there is nothing to be done. They use concepts like “our lot in life” and “the hand that is dealt to us”, which is funny because their inspirational rhetoric doesn’t act this way, but when they hear that stuff they are inspired in a more general sense. For some reason, they are inspired to dream and desire, but that too is matched with no physical commitment. Whether it’s good bad or neutral, white people are hands-off and don’t end up participating hardly ever.

They spend most of their time re-framing or reviewing, discussing and evaluating. If a solution is obvious, they may throw it out there, but for the most part, folks try first to make you feel better. Their strong desire to smooth things over and sweep them under the rug is a deep-seated form of compliance. These people are taught not to rock the boat or otherwise do much complaining. These are people who have suffered too, but been told they should still be grateful for what they have. The life they were reared in tells them everyone struggles and that’s all there is to it. These people have been told that being a good person means to take what life gives you with aplomb.

It never occurs to them that they have been led to be sheeple without independent thought.

Thing of the past

It’s important for us to understand the mental and emotional place that people are in before we attempt to change their hearts or minds. When someone is openly hostile, it’s easy to operate knowing that they have a definite and set view point. But some people don’t believe that they have a problem or issue, and it may only surface as discomfort in certain circumstances. It takes more finesse and diplomacy to help someone see that they have bias if they don’t believe it is there. Most American white people do not think they are racist or bigoted. But they may feel uncomfortable or act defensive when they are interacting with people from cultures not their own.

Some of the many reasons that white people remain untrusting of people of color is because they are different. But white people are not just frightened because something is different though, it isn’t just a matter of fear that they’re not the same. Part of the issue they have with someone not being the same as themselves is the rhetoric they’ve been told around different-ness. Many white Americans do not believe they have a culture, and do not make any connection between themselves and ancient people of any kind. They’ve come to believe that they have transcended culture, and that they simply exist, and the things they do they deem to be universal and modern. It’s why when they’re asked demographic questions like what is your race, gender or sexual orientation, they answer with terms like “regular” “normal” or “American”.

Because people of  color participate in aspects of white American culture, whites are often lulled into thinking that white culture is simply reality, and that other cultures are a subset or splinter, an offshoot or variation. They personally identify with this reality. Their identity is closely tied to their values and beliefs, and they don’t realize those are the core tenets of culture. And culture is complicated – there is white culture, American culture, and white American culture. Those alone hold differences that many people are typically unaware of. When they have such a tenuous connection to cultural identity and what it means, it’s hard to help them understand cultural differences, let alone similarities. It’s even harder if they don’t have much knowledge about a group or culture to help them understand where that other person is coming from.

When a person is engaging in cultural behavior unfamiliar to the white person in question, the white person will often respond defensively. The defense is often taken as offensive behavior when it is probably not intended that way. Whites are defending that they feel is their identity and since their self-worth is tied to their identity it’s highly charged for them to feel threatened in this regard. Largely, feeling wrong or bad about this has a lot to do with feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. They don’t like to admit that they don’t know what other cultures are like or how they operate, because it makes them feel inferior.

If someone else is behaving in a radically different way than what the white person considers to be real, normal, and correct, they can feel that the other person is inherently telling them that they consider the white person’s behavior to be incorrect. This triggers defensive behavior; no one wants to feel wrong or bad, so they defend themselves from that by making sure everyone knows that they feel they are right. Also, when someone is engaging in cultural behavior that the white person is not involved in, and the white person doesn’t have the cultural knowledge to understand the context, it can make the white person feel excluded. E.g., when someone speaks a language other than English in public. People don’t like feeling excluded in general, but American whites have also been told that they magnanimously allow all cultures to enter their space – they feel ownership in American-ness even if they don’t see it as a culture. As a result, being excluded when they feel that they are in their own space stirs up feelings of ownership and they attempt to enforce what they consider to be appropriate.

Not knowing about other cultures only becomes disruptive when the person still forms opinions and takes actions while being uninformed. Many people of color assume that whites purposefully remain uneducated. There may be some that are way, but many are open to new knowledge and new experiences. Unfortunately, the white person who is open but does not take the initiative to self-educate often turns to the person of color for insight. It can be frustrating for this person who now must educate someone who could be doing independent research to gather the same knowledge. It also relies on the person of color to not only be accurate, but may be asking them to speak for groups with which they are not affiliated. It also asks that the person of color use their personal time to educate, and be emotionally available during that education process. It’s a lot to ask someone who suffers disadvantage due to their cultural affiliation.

There is a twisted version of inclusion taught in the US that leads the white person to believe that they are accepting and accomodating when what they are doing is more like allowing or tolerating instead. This is tied to the American view that upon arrival in the US people need to shed a majority of their cultural heritage to be replaced by contemporary culture.  The white person expects the person of color to shed their cultural identity as the white person has already done themself. If the person participates in capitalism, pop culture and “progress” the person is American enough not to be treated differently. However, if a person wishes to remain in America and retain their cultural heritage entirely, the average white American is not ok with that. They may still deny having a culture, but that white American wants others to participate in American culture nonetheless.

Different-ness is seen as a stubborn obstinacy in avoiding letting go of supposedly antiquated mindsets. The “progress” I just mentioned is tied into the white American cultural value of advancement, which is partially accomplished by divorcing from cultural heritage. American culture devalues the past as irrelevant and inadequate. It relegates all things old to the realm of uselessness; vestiges of times gone past. American culture paints history as undeveloped or unrefined, as if for thousands of years people lived their lives as only a pre-cursor to real, actual things (the present). Like those people were already history during their own lifetimes. Like we’re not history already too.

The white American tendency to eschew any older cultural practices in favor of modern culture may stem from a desire to separate from ancestors seen as war mongering, colonizing, bigoted oppressors. Many Americans descend from colonizers, yet they identify only with the pilgrims who emmigrated looking for asylum, a place to practice religious freedom. This is one of the few historical groups they are willing to identify with as they are obviously victims of oppression. No one wants to be associated with oppressors and violent overlords. The only other type of acceptable connection with history is to co-opt and fetishize pieces of the past and show them in the light of progress. They heavily translate, censor and modify anything old, and re-issue it in endless variations. Americans love their versions, re-makes, re-boots, throwbacks, comebacks, sequels, and series.

The white American will probably not admit to or agree with the assessment of avoiding connection with oppressors. They will probably connect quite well with their definition of “progress” which is the term I chose to use here, but it isn’t in popular usage right now. The terminology currently swirling around this cultural value is “innovation” “growth” “development” “drive” “improvement”, and it is seen as advancement. This focus on looking ahead somehow necessitates not looking back, and of course it’s a shame to miss lessons best learned from historical mistakes. The rhetoric around endless growth and bounty is one that diligently denies current events in favor of focusing on what could be.

This hopeful vision of the future is dismissive of accounting for the past or present challenges with a broad and generalized insistence that things could be better, and thus demands we focus only on that inflated hope that things will improve because they could improve.

P.s., this possible improvement is supposed to materialize, yet whenever we ask the person at hand about specific actionable items to bring about the change necessary to overcome current challenges, it’s mystically someone else’s domain, yet they are firm in their understanding that this problem or issue is being worked on by that someone else.

 

 

 

 

Two letter two-step

When people look at me and say “I feel bad for how the whites screwed the Native Americans” it’s that little “ed” that I have to take issue with. It is the ending used to indicate the past tense that really gets me. Absolutely we all use generalizations and turns of phrase, or have slips of the tongue. We all do know in context what others mean, most of the time.

With that said, the view expressed by those two little letters shows that many people consider Native Americans and treatment of them to be in the past. They believe it happened, and that it is now over. When these people are reminded that Natives live in modern times, it becomes obvious that they think of modern Natives as somehow different than the ones in history, and think that they are no longer mistreated. Aside from my distaste for trivializing history, I need to take this time and space to say yes, Natives have always been and still are alive, continually dealing with oppression. They are children growing up, then having children of their own, and grandchildren, then growing old and dying, living generation after generation. They’re not separate, not gone, nor shadows of the past, but actually living – thriving in cities as much as backwoods, in courtrooms and classrooms and waiting rooms and coffee shops and beaches and everywhere.

Many misconceptions have been learned and spread and it’s not out of particular malice. It’s in how people have been taught. Everything is presented to them in historical terms, which makes it seem like it is done and gone; school curricula generally don’t focus much (if any) time on modern Native American culture. Thus, knowledge of modern Native culture is not just limited, but rife with misinformation and spread through community channels which enjoy strong trust from the learner regardless of accuracy.

People often romanticize the past; even, or especially, uncomfortable facts. It makes it easier to deal with when we see it as just a story – even if we use it as a learning tool. History is often reduced to basics and people from the past are painted as simpler, less refined or less capable. Putting things in the past helps people compartmentalize their knowledge and experiences in general. It also fosters emotional distance and learning is best done after the fact and with a clear perspective. As a result, many people do feel bad for what they see as a past tragedy, but they make no connection between that and anything in current events.

Problems begin when visions of future are colored by the past and the present is injected with assumptions, stereotypes, and generalizations, ostensibly just opinions, pity, or humor. These colors and shades throw shadows on faces. There is duality, paradox in the image of Natives and the space they occupy in history and contemporary culture. Thousands of tribes across a continent are handily wrapped up in one name, assigned one past and one demise, one resurrection and yet another downfall. In one little sentence with one little ending an entirety of countless people are reduced to an anecdote. That anecdote dictates the identity they are assigned and by extension their personal worth.

The romanticized martyr sits atop its pedestal looking down in the muck for the demonized delinquent. Just as the wind-blown innocent earth child unwittingly fell to progress, the homeless, drunk, and lazy welfare Indian is also a well-known trope. This is a one-dimensional view of the decimation of a continent of inhabitants that has managed to turn history into a Western movie, just a sob story, or soft poetry set to slow drumming. Past and present have been divorced, future relegated to a haze. In the narrow space in this narrative there’s no place for multi-faceted, dynamic characters.

But it’s not just that Natives themselves are seen as dead and gone, or just caricatures. It’s the deeply damaging view that mistreatment is a thing of the past that keeps Native oppressed today. It’s romanticized visions, and yes the strength to survive and overcome that manages to keep the truth from being told as it is. Today, right now, in 2017, Native people experience the same levels (and sometimes higher) of systemic inequality – like harsher prison sentences, mental illnesses, chronic health concerns, drug addiction, all forms of violence, and extreme poverty, as black people in this country. The difference is almost no one thinks it’s happening. They think it’s over, and that bad as it was, that was back then, or that we just have to clean up an old mess.

The problem with seeing these things as only past is that it means no one thinks they need to do anything here and now. They don’t realize that Native peoples are currently being mistreated by their teachers in school, prospective employers, bosses at work, landlords, judges, strangers at sporting events, and health care workers. Native elders are being mistreated in facilities and Native children are taken away from parents and put into the broken foster care system. Right now Native women are beaten, raped, stolen, and killed at alarming rates that outstrip other races by far. The faces dripping with pity and remorse do not seem to see that it isn’t done yet. It’s not time to cry for days gone by when we’re still living them out.

Like any group, many talented Native figures have come to the forefront of progress – we are not all broken pieces on the floor. Artisans and musicians, writers and activists are bringing us into the future. Native business professionals invest, develop, and compete in the marketplace. Native entrepeneurs start businesses, tribal casinos have become popular, and we have a presence in the media. It’s funny to me when someone says that Natives should get over the past. Natives are the ones who have moved up and on while they are still painted as historical relics or rejects.

The more we are known as complex individuals, the more we can begin to gain true respect. The more people know that we’re people too, the sooner they can treat us as such. Beyond power struggles and differences in values, Natives struggle to be treated as real. Not some construct of history, legend or mystery, Natives are as human as the rest. They put their pants on one leg at a time, wear jeans and old comfy t-shirts. Natives drink coffee, go to work, and pick up their kids from day care.  When they go home they cook on a stove, lock the door at night and wear bunny slippers. They read stories to their kids, tuck them in, and watch streaming movies on their tablets afterwards. Yes, many Natives hold on to their culture, practice and even share it. That doesn’t mean they don’t use a bathroom or wash up after they’re finished.

Knowing more about each other helps people realize that we are all the same in some ways.  When people can relate with one another, they can begin to see the human experience for what it is, and hopefully share it. Ever changing and growing, we learn by living. Each of us is born, takes in nourishment and seeks out love here and there. We dream of how we want to better ourselves or the world around us in some way. No more or less than anyone else we all came from somewhere, we all live our lives and go our own way.

When more folks realize we are truly alive today, we’ll be able to start turning the tides. When people realize we’re not just talking about yesterday they might be willing to reconcile with deeply complex realities. Natives are still getting screwed on the regular, in various and sundry ways. When we can get folks to open their eyes, we can get them to realize they marginalize people who did not just survive, but who are living each day one at a time.

The Hammer

No, I’m not sorry that I don’t know how to manipulate you.
I’m not sorry I don’t know how to socially engineer situations.
I’m not sorry that I have no idea what veiled and unsaid things are half the time.
No, I’m not sorry that I respond to the face value of what you said.

It’s difficult for most folks to communicate with me, no doubt. A majority of that trouble is my inability to build and maintain a high enough level of artifice. I don’t have masks or veils or a persona or a facade. I don’t hide parts of myself or smother them that much, and I have no desire to try. It’s not that I don’t understand subtlety (ok sometimes I don’t) or the need to tailor a message for the audience. But there’s a difference between refraining from mentioning something, and meaning something entirely different than what was said.

Subtlety, tact and discretion can be positive qualities. Loaded questions, connotations, implications and insinuations are, to me, insidious parasites. Whether it’s to include or exclude we know they are controlling, invasive, damaging and demeaning. Yet somehow, the honest people are the derided ones.

The mechanism of mutual understanding facilitates the reinforcement of social hierarchy that feeds bullying and systemic oppresion. People respond to the sentiment they recognize behind the front of fake niceness. They know when they’re being put down. But they hide their response in their own wretched falseness and internalize the damage done.

What’s worse to me is this way they act when when they see that I don’t exactly play along. People actually believe that I should not only know when and how to interpret coded language (and understand its specifics), but be able to operate under the continuing agreement that we both know, although no one is saying it. Then I am expected to reply with my own manufactured response that does not say out loud the agreed upon narrative, yet does further the unspoken agenda.

So, I am expected to assume I’ve correctly assessed a side eye or shuffle of the feet, and not specify my findings lest I be the crude one. So, let’s say I’ve managed to incorrectly read these non-verbal cues – people feel justified in being upset that I assumed I had interpreted them correctly when I hadn’t, or if I had specified my assessment I would have been wrong to be callously overt then too… if I understand this procedure.

I can’t really figure out why my complicity is needed in what’s already veiled and hidden anyway.  I guess they are looking for tacit ackowledgment. Like the guy I saw on the corner one time, his alcohol in a milk carton to look legitimate, but the carton in a paper bag (which could also legitimize an open container), so together they now form an obvious discrepancy between the surface and the reality.

The unspoken rules we play this game by are many and widely varied.
At this point, I could almost consider playing along.
If only I had an unspoken dictionary.

Winning Friends and Influencing People

It’s not that I don’t understand your social cues – I do. I see that you’ve shown me when you’re bored, irritated or uncomfortable. I get that somehow the conversation is or has become a drag you’d rather not deal with. Whether it’s looking away, rolling your eyes, facing away, excessive sighing, repetition of filler phrases out of sync with the rythm of the conversation, not answering at all, saying things out of context or off topic, or the classic pull out your phone and directly ignore me to my face, I really do get it. I know that you’ve lost or never had interest. I can tell, I see it, I can dig it.

Seeing your dissatisfaction is not my issue at all – nor is it an issue that you’re dissatisfied. I am perfectly glad for you to feel it and express that feeling to me with no uncertainty.

If you began speaking to me there’s generally some level of connection between us, no matter how tenuous it may be. There’s probably a reason you would choose to interact with me in the outset. So let’s say the reason has dwindled or left us, you could quite feasibly end the interaction and move on, releasing us both from the burden of socialization. Now let’s say you don’t care to end the interaction, but have shown me your very obvious signs of displeasure.

Please, feel free to take the initiative to change the topic or bring up a new one. I’d be happy to learn what you would prefer to discuss or prefer not to discuss, because it makes it a whole lot easier to engage you. I’d be glad to know what you’d rather be doing so I know which direction to go. If you were to suggest or even imply a desire, I’d probably entertain it. Your topics and experiences, your plans and dreams have just as much place as anyone else’s.

But no one can talk about your topic, join your activity or engage you without knowing what you’d like. If you don’t let others know what you’d rather be doing, how would we ever know what to try? I try to meet people halfway, to see things eye-to-eye. I want to get a feel for what they’re into and what really interests them. I’m to trying to give you your due and some undivided attention.

So, how is it up to others to keep you interested in the conversation anyway? When did it become everyone else’s job to make sure the topic was one that constantly entertains you or even speaks to what you like? Besides, I can’t seem to understand, when did you get to a place where the only time you’re having fun is when someone else pries out of you what exactly you want and gives it to you unconditionally, then vanishes to allow you unhindered enjoyment?

And why aren’t you running around trying to find out what the other person would like to talk about? Why aren’t you looking to avoid what others don’t care for? When did you think it would be your turn to participate in pleasing others? How is it that you can show us all how indequate this experience has been without any modicum of effort on your part to mitigate that?

Of course this experience isn’t satisfying for you, you aren’t bringing yourself to be a part of it.

Give it a chance, bring something up, be bold and suggest a topic!

Women and children live in the bad part of town

Let me be clear, I do not resent your affluence. I am not jealous or spiteful of what you have. I don’t want what you have because what you have is not what I need. And even if you had it I wouldn’t care, because I already have what I need anyway.  

I admit I do resent something about you, and I am sorry to say it so,  but I do. What I resent is that you know about your complicity in things you know to be wrong, while making excuses, reasons, and justifications for why you haven’t done more. You know the truths that others deny and yet put none of your efforts to action. You say many things and tell me you agree. You live in a society that tells you that you decide your level of participation. But despite knowing full well, you still allow yourself to be manipulated. 

What I resent is that you think what I want is your things, showing yet again your shallow upbringing. I resent that you don’t see all I want is for you and me too actually be free.  Money buys nothing but greed.

But let’s say I was actually resentful that you have more than I? What would that mean? Does it matter, does it hurt you, or doesn’t it mostly hurt me?

The Pursuit of Happiness

The notion that anyone was entitled to the pursuit of happiness came about recently in historical terms. Before that, the obligations owed to family, society, and the divine or honored ancestors decidedly superseded all personal goals and desires. But in those times happiness was defined differently too.

Happiness has been proven to be entirely subjective and relative, fickle and frail. The pursuit of happiness may well be a wild goose chase, but for many the chase is the best part.

My husband asked me once why we remember negative experiences so vividly while positive experiences are so fleeting, and I had a theory to offer. Negative experiences need to be avoided and human memory is largely recognition over true retention, thus we need our negative memories to guide us in the future. With positive experiences, we love them, but they are more dynamic, more variable and can be something we have not yet experienced. Rather than try to re-create a narrow set of criteria to be happy, we need to cultivate the sensation of being happy and remember to seek that sensation to achieve the broadest range of happiness possible.

Approaching the pursuit of happiness by seeking the sensation it evokes allows us to let go of sources that no longer provide happiness and seek previously unknown sources of happiness. It allows us to realize that happiness is a conglomerate of what we build, what we seek, how we see it and how we choose to assign value to what we see, it has as much to do with our reactions to a stimulus as the stimulus itself. It’s why we can be pleased with a challenge, and willingly work or suffer to overcome it: because the reward is a pleasure we are eager to earn.

Negative experiences are almost one-dimentional dangers or disruptions; they do not have the wonderfully complex connections that happiness has to benefits like need fulfillment, emotional closeness, achievement, pleasure and more. Creating or re-creating positive experiences is harder that seeking them out.  Avoiding negative experiences is easier than building happiness – a lasting set of positive experiences.

The happiest people are not those who have achieved or received the most. They are not the ones who run from negative or toward positive either. They are the ones who recognize their own agency in happiness. In what it means to be happy. That it has everything to do modifying their expectations, viewing situations holistically, overlooking minor issues and having the flexibility to approach what is happening rather than what they planned.

The heart of happiness lies in our definition of it, and how we assign value to experiences. That’s why pursuit of happiness is a misnomer – it’s not out there to find. It’s inside, just like all the cliches and sayings tell us.

 

I started this post with a different agenda, and have found myself far from it. So I’ll share that my original sentiment was that the pursuit of happiness has become an obligation with a focus on individual pleasure as the interpretation of happiness. I take issue with that definition and the push to achieve it at the expense of all else. That’s not genuine  happiness, it’s justifying selfishness. It’s ok to be selfish sometimes, and enjoy pleasure as well. But those are not the same as true happiness, and the proof is in the fact that people who define happiness that way are easily dissatisfied and continue a fruitless search for external validation and pleasing themselves which is never as satisfying as they wish it was.

Real happiness is everything from feeling secure, to overcoming challenges and the joy of discovery. It’s doing the right thing and pride in a job well done. It’s sacrifice for a worthy cause, learning new things and helping others. Defining happiness as only personal pleasure is limited, shallow, slightly immature. Bringing ourselves to create happiness amidst struggle is infinitely more meaningful than finding momentary pleasure.

 

Emergency Triage

In the emergency room the triage nurse must asses the danger to each patient’s life. He or she carefully considers the sum total of illnesses and injuries before them and sends the most urgent cases to get care first. In the emergency room it is not first-come first-served, because some need more help than others, and some need help sooner than others. No one on the staff with any knowledge of this procedure would argue, because they have been shown that some people are genuinely in need of care first, based on the severity of the problem.

At the same time, the health professional does not diminish one problem because another is worse either – all problems will be addressed in the natural course of events. Not one nurse or doctor would come into that room and tell those patients that all injuries and illnesses needed to be treated equally, fairly. Not one health professional would bring a patient into an exam room and treat that injury the same as the previous injury they had treated that day.  Each injury, and therefore each treatment, has its own features and requirements that may be similar to other issues – and as such the medical professional would recognize and use similarities to diagnose and treat the issue at hand. But they would not confuse that with treating all illnesses and injuries in the exact same way.

In short, no hospital treats a paper cut like loss of limb, nor do they treat the paper cut before the limb. Should the paper cut be cleaned and bandaged? absolutely. In due time.

In the realm of social justice, there are many injuries and illnesses to be addressed. Some injuries are worse than others. I’ll stand strong and long saying that because it is true. Some problems, some issues are just genuinely worse. That does not diminish the wrongness or badness of other transgressions. It does not mean that lesser problems should be ignored. But all in due time, and according to need would be better.

Oppression Olmpics is not going to garner more attention to smaller issues, nor will it treat the problems that cause any issues. Competing to be seen or known as the most damaged, hurt, offended or demoralized will not fix what is wrong. All that does is dilute the message and the efforts to address concerns.  Most importantly, oppression Olympics is a very basic and deeply damaging logical fallacy – it’s a false equivalence. Not all problems are created equal and addressing things according to their severity is mature and appropriate.

It would be great if we could point out each social and cultural behavior that is damaging, and make it disappear. Since humanity is not able to come to widespread agreements on what those issues are or how to address them, we need to triage the most important issues to address, and start with those. That is not to say that we should ignore or downplay smaller issues, but we cannot address those first in good conscience. We must address the worst and accept that when we can put the resources toward it, we will address the rest.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pretty logical and straightforward chart that expresses the nature of human needs and desires. It has often been misinterpreted as static and rigid, but the concept can be useful if interpreted wisely. The idea is that it is significantly more difficult to achieve healthiness and happiness if we are unable to achieve safety and stability first.  We should build a strong foundation in physical support because overwhelmingly populations that don’t have physical security resort to violence or fall into dysfunction.

Microaggressions, hate speech, exclusion and discrimination are horrible. Physical violence is worse. We must be able to gain appropriate perspective to decide where and how to put our efforts to achieve maximum effect. We’re going to need to address war, torture, slavery, rape, deprivation and subjugation before we deal with hurtful speech. Yes, hurtful speech is inappropriate behavior that builds toward physical problems, but speech itself is relatively protected in the first world and as such is not a great target on which to spend limited resources.

Let’s fry the big fish for dinner and we’ll be full tonight. Let’s leave the little fish for cutting bait.

Globalism

I used to somehow think that globalism was something that could possibly not happen… but that was built on some misunderstandings about what it means, what is happening, and its inevitability. Global communications have brought about an age where the first world has come to agreements on international law and commerce, ensuring globalism’s establishment.

We are all part of one earth, and there was never any way we weren’t connected to each other as denizens of the earth. The latest developments have simply afforded an awareness of our nature – we’ve always been one species on a globe living together amongst the rest of the species. I grew up as a world citizen and have always felt connected to my fellow humans – I’m a humanist. I am loyal to all humans to some degree, since I feel a connection in being of the same species, and I work toward human collaboration and cooperation for mutual benefit.

Since time immemorial, military power has reigned supreme as the mechanism with which power groups gain and maintain control over resources and populations. The only comparable mechanism has been religion – which still has been backed by punishment and military strength until very recently. Religion works so well because of its emotional appeal. It lost strength when education began to openly discredit it as not founded in verifiable fact. Despite its vestiges being widely honored, it does not hold the power it once did, and continues to suffer in reputation and strength as corruption is exposed. If religion had not hung its hat on occupying the moral high ground, then it would probably have retained more power for longer. Religious participation dwindles now, and the institution is steadily losing power in politics, economics and social circles.

As the global marketplace has grown, so has its power to persuade. Marketing has become so lucrative that the best and brightest new talent is moving into that industry, growing it further.  Modern marketing takes the emotional appeal to new heights – and is not any more based in fact than religion. But it does not profess to be wholly truthful nor morally sound. As a result, it does not have to live up to ethical standards, and in fact is widely relieved from that responsibility in the public eye.

Economic might has come to usurp the position enjoyed by military might for so long. Now, the elite around the world have come to recognize that control over resources and populations is more easily done and more profitable when achieved through emotional manipulation and social engineering (marketing) than in physical force (military power) or obligation (religious power). Economic power can be wielded despite or within legal forces as well.

The interpretation of Fiduciary Duty being solely financial as the prime directive behind today’s businesses has forced them to become career criminals. If a fine or fee levied from a regulatory body is less than the profit derived from the business decision, that decision must be made in order to comply with fiduciary responsibility – that responsbility supersedes all else as the sole directive of the business. As such, a company is essentially not allowed to comply with legal requirements in those circumstances. This directive is carried out throughout the world’s businesses and can even drive a business to change its country of origin, like maritime flags of convenience. Modern companies have no loyalty to any state – and in fact, cannot honor that loyalty if it flouts fiduciary responsibility.

Modern economics is the new warfare. Military warfare is expensive in losses and logistics, with little return on investment. Economic warfare is a viable way for power groups to gain power while retaining resources and potential participants. Economic strength is the new way to achieve security and control. The marketplace is a forum for groups to compete and win in which the loser is still able to participate, leaving more resources in the pool to be won. The power inherent in the marketplace is its malleability, its adaptability. Evolution in economics is what allowed it to overcome military strength as a powerhouse for social manipulation. Impoverishing enemies results in their subjugation just as the same as besting them in battle – yet it retains their production levels while lowering the producer’s value. Economics is a powerful tool of control.

Marketing has grown from meeting demand to shaping it. This industry now heavily relies on research in behavior and biology, in social dynamics and power structures. Today’s companies shape what people want and how they want it through highly tailored messages embedded in emotionally charged imagery, excited tone and so much more. Having control over demand is the key to aggressive market tactics. Demand is the only thing that truly drives sales, so demand is what must be manipulated to achieve success in the marketplace. Winning hearts and minds is easier done when they are paid for their services – and this professor has done the research to prove the lengths that the marketing industry is willing to go to in order to realize profits.

Economic strength itself is a neutral entity that can be wielded like any tool. As much as this tool has been used for domination and exploitation, it doesn’t have to be that way. Economic activity is a perfect way to engage other nations and groups that may have opposing views, yet agree on the mutual benefit of the global marketplace. The human rights and civil rights violations abundant within some groups can be diminished or eliminated when the group is engaged in a healthy global marketplace – this is potential we have not fully realized on a global scale, but it does exist.

Dominating another group with military strength would never convince them to honor personal rights. If powerful parties choose to punish, ostracize or isolate those who oppress others, the oppresors will continue unchecked within their own domain. Encouraging cooperation through engagement has better chances for success. Focusing on ethical economics by investing and buying responsibly can produce the kind of marketplace that would not exploit the weaknesses of an impoverished proletariat. It will build strength within the worker in recognition of the increased earning and spending potential that each individual can possess when they are not oppressed. In short, if there are limits set to prevent abuses, everyone could be making more money and be happier doing it.

As much as globalism seems like nothing but an opportunity for further inequity, it does not have to be. It’s an opportunity to build a broader community support network than ever before. The global marketplace has fostered intercommunication between groups that would otherwise never be connected, or certainly not as strongly. Evolution in media and communications around the globe have encouraged worldwide expansion in education and broader awareness of global concerns. Globalism has begun to shine a light in the darknesses where injustice breeds. Transparency is a key strategy to improve working conditions and compensation, as well as decrease corruption and excessive waste. Accountability is a powerful tool to ensure the end of exploitation and oppression in the workplace.

Encouraging cooperation results in better outcomes than punishing dissent, and sets the example of appropriate behavior. We all have free will; it’s up to each of us to use it respectfully. Globalism is our chance to prove that if we are part of the same market, the same species, the same globe – then we can have a world united in cooperation and eliminate the use of force and coercion so that all of us can earn a fair living.