Category Archives: Contribution

The Tyranny of Trying

This week’s blog is suspended between two stories. The first one is the old Greek myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was a crafty and deceitful king who craved complete power. In his pursuit of power, he offended many men and gods and was eventually punished by being sent to the underworld and forced to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. The boulder was enchanted, however, to roll back down the hill (over Sisyphus, in some versions) just before it reached the top. Thus, Sisyphus was doomed to repeat the same unending and futile task forever.

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Sisyphus has captured the imagination of many writers, philosophers and artists, and there are several variations and interpretations of his story. If you’re interested, you can follow the link to to Wiki and read more.

Sisyphus is on my mind this week, not only because his story suggests to me the inevitability of rising and falling cycles, but also because his punishment was to forever try and fail.

His punishment was to forever try.

Huh.

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I’m a product of a culture that taught me certain core truths about life. One has a responsibility to help others. Everyone has to do things they don’t want to do. One must never give up. One must try one’s best. We’re all in a train behind a little engine that puffs, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and that’s the right place to be, the admirable, ethical, moral, adult, acceptable, responsible, side-of-the-angels place to be. Good people try and try and try. They don’t despair, they don’t give up and they don’t say it’s too hard, I can’t or, most unforgiveable of all—I won’t.

No is not an option.

The truth is one of the things I least like about myself is that I can always be counted on to try my best. I don’t mean work hard. I mean try hard. Trying is certainly hard work. It’s sucked up most of my life in terms of time and energy. A lifetime of trying, though, has produced less of value to me, and I suspect to others, than an hour of work at writing, dancing, gardening, making love, playing with a child or even scrubbing the kitchen floor.

In the last ten days, I’ve been living right alongside Sisyphus. In the last ten days, I’ve meticulously gone through headlines, articles, links, petitions, news and requests for action in my email, not once but two or three times a day, because I want to help. I want to do something that matters. I want to make a difference. In the last ten days, I’ve intentionally and consciously been present, engaged, interactive, interested in what my partner is thinking and talking about, which has been largely political news, because I want to be a good partner. I want to demonstrate that I’m brave and strong and intelligent enough to be part of the conversation going on in the world.

In the last ten days, I’ve privately and quietly despaired, lost sleep, felt inadequate, lost my center, lost my peace, felt gnawing anxiety and been deeply ashamed of who I am.

I’ve tried so hard.

I’ve failed so hard.

It’s not working. I can’t live like this. I’ve been pushing that rock up the hill as bravely as I can, but it just keeps rolling back down. I’m exhausted, bruised, battered, my fingernails are torn and I’m quickly losing any desire to be engaged with life.

However, oddly, one thing is working.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a self-defense class at a local community center. The activities director happened to be there, and on an impulse I introduced myself and asked him if he’d be interested in working with me to start a community dance group. We fell into conversation, one thing led to another and as I write this, advertising is in process, flyers are getting printed, and somehow, I’m scheduled to start up a dance group in March, a thing I’ve long wanted to do in order the create the kind of healthy, inclusive community I’m starving for.

I didn’t try at all. It just kind of happened and I went along for the ride. I’ve spent hours and hours building dance playlists, but that wasn’t trying. I wanted to do it. I loved doing it. Music instead of current news? Lead me to it!

So what is it with this trying thing that’s driven so much of my life? I can’t remember a single time trying hard resulted in an outcome I wanted. It seems to me whatever happens, happens. Things always and inevitably turn out the way they turn out. I may have occasionally bought some time. I may have kept things glued together with my frantic trying longer than they would have otherwise, but was that a good thing, or in the end did I just make the cost higher for myself and everyone else?

All the really good things I can remember in my life just happened. I didn’t plot, plan, manipulate, force or otherwise try. I was just living my life.

And what about the punishment piece? Sisyphus, by all accounts, was not a nice man, and I don’t waste much pity on him, but what about me? Endless, futile trying certainly feels like a punishment. Why have I always accepted that? Why haven’t I been able to choose to stop?

The truth is that I try so hard because I feel like I have to make up for what a difficult, noncompliant, hypersensitive, disappointing, needy, dramatic, sensual person I am. I know I’ll never please or get it right, so all I have is knowing I tried as hard as I could. The world is filled with talented, creative, loving, generous, kind people. They don’t have to try to make the world a better place. The world is a better place because they live in it.

I’m not like them. I’m broken.

It’s not like I can just not try to make up for being broken!

If I don’t try, then what is there?

Which leads me to the second story, which I can’t find this morning, but I know is here somewhere in my library!

A student approached the master and said, “I work with disabled children and their families. Master, there’s so much difficulty for these people! I want so much to help, to make things better for them! What should I do? How can I best relieve their suffering?”

The master replied, “With no thought of help.”

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All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Going On From Here

I haven’t enjoyed this week much. It reminds me of the week after 09/11, when I thought I would drown in the hate and despair around me.

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I’m not on Facebook, but my partner is and I hear more than I want to about what’s going on there. I’m developing a pathological hatred of the news in any form, even as I obsessively read the internet. I think about friends, family, acquaintances and a world full of frightening strangers with the power, strength and willingness to hurt others, including me.

I work at home as a medical transcriptionist, a fact I don’t talk about much because I respect the privacy laws in this country around medical information. My book of business is presently in Illinois, but I’ve also worked extensively in New York, Ohio and Alabama. I spend twenty-four hours a week typing dictated stories about strangers, a significant number of them experiencing physical and emotional pain and suffering from the current situation.

Here in central rural Maine Native Americans in our community are victims of hate crimes. Their people have been in this place for thousands of years.

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It seems to me in the last week we’ve put on the table an infinite number of ways in which to divide ourselves from one another; an infinite number of ways to express hate, intolerance and blame; an infinite number of labels to weigh ourselves and others down with. None of it feels useful

I want to find ways to support what I believe in and reach out to other people. I want to do something, no matter how small, to make a difference in this, but I’m noticing something interesting about that. As soon as I communicate about some kind of action I’ve taken, someone cuts me down. I’ve been told wearing a safety pin is patronizing and indicates privilege; I’m not welcome in America; I’m going to burn in hell; and I’ve joined a hate organization (that would be MoveOn.org).

Maybe no one out there needs support, or wants to make a contribution to unity and respect, but I don’t really believe that. At any rate, I need support and I do want to make a contribution, so here are some thoughts about what would help me.

Here’s a graphic to contemplate as we go on:

Enough with the labels. We have to stop this. One thousand labels can’t define the complex creature a human being is. I maintain that what’s happening now is NOT about race, gender, religion, politics, immigration or socioeconomics. What’s happening now is about power—how we define it and understand it, how we use it and what we’ll do to gain it or overthrow it. I think the most important question to ask ourselves is if we support power over others or power with others. That’s really the bottom line. It’s at the heart of all the disagreements. The rest is just inflammatory and dangerous distraction.

Enough with the apocalyptic stories and predictions. The fact is nobody knows what’s going to happen now. We’re in uncharted territory politically, economically, socially and environmentally. Many people think that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s scary. The unknown always is. On the other hand, politics as usual wasn’t working very well for most of us in this country and change is an inevitable part of life. Blessing or disaster, the point is none of us know the future and we’ll all have to deal with whatever happens as best we can.  Terrifying ourselves and one another with dire predictions, threats and stories won’t help anyone. Fear is terribly contagious and terribly ineffective in decision making, but it’s a useful tool for manipulation. I encourage you not to allow anyone to use it on you.

The best defense against fear and misinformation is to do your own research. Don’t let your favorite news station, radio station, astrologist, movie star, blogger, drinking buddy or social media tell you what to think. Don’t let your lover, spouse, parent, church, tribe or fear control what you believe. You’re not a sheep! Think for yourself. All the people in the headlines right now are real people. They have lives, histories, Wiki pages, on-line organizations, quotes and podcasts. You can read all about them. Look at the news organizations in other countries and what they’re reporting for a contrast to domestic news. Don’t just blindly believe every rumor and fearful whisper! Try to discern between fact and opinion. Collect information. Educate yourself. Research. Check out opposing views. Take responsibility for your opinions and beliefs. If you need help with this, find a librarian!

Stop worrying about everyone else and clean up your own act. Sit down with yourself and figure out who you are. Think about what you say and what your actions are and notice whether they’re congruent. What do you believe, and why? What are your priorities? What kind of outcomes do you want for yourself and for your community, however you define community? What is your agenda? Do you feel you have a right to make choices for others? Are you willing for others to make choices for you? If you feel disenfranchised, are you willing to accept support from someone outside your group, or are you going to savage every hand held out to you?

Stop trying to change other people. It does nothing but divide us more deeply. No matter how right you think you are, no matter how powerful you believe your reasoning is, you’re not going to be able to change someone who’s deeply invested in a differing view. It doesn’t matter if it’s climate change, diet, politics, gay rights, reproductive rights, religion, racism or anything else. Accept that not everyone agrees with you and stop wasting their time and yours spinning your wheels. We don’t have to shoot one another in the head and throw scorn at those who disagree with us.  We can just walk away, use our energy to work for what we believe in and allow others to do the same.

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You don’t have to accept an invitation to fight. You don’t have to read an ugly comment, thread, tweet, twitter or blog. You have a delete button, a trash button and an off button. Use them. If you’re upset by a news story, a meme, an image or a quote, control your media and tech exposure. Make choices about who you engage and discuss with. Block people. Don’t go there. Don’t take it in and don’t pass it on. Find communities in which respectful conversation and debate take place if you want to discuss an issue. Many of us don’t feel safe verbalizing, revealing or defending our views, but everyone can vote with their presence. If you’re uncomfortable or scared in a conversation, leave it. Don’t come back. You can’t stop it, but you don’t have to be a part of it.

Learn to communicate. It’s a powerful tool, and most of us don’t learn how to do it well. Learn to express your thoughts, feelings and opinions in a way that allows others respect and dignity. Learn to listen. You don’t have to agree with people, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing important to say. Take a self-defense class. Don’t forget that most communication is nonverbal. Whoever you are, you have a right to be. Speak up for yourself. Protect yourself with good boundaries. Don’t allow others to make you feel ashamed. Here’s an excellent resource to start with: http://www.cnvc.org/

Root out your assumptions. All white people are not living a life of economic privilege! All patriots are not Christians! All Muslims are not terrorists! All blacks are not criminals! All Latinos are not undocumented immigrants! All men are not rapists! All gay people are not child molesters! All Christians are not militants! First graders think in these black and white ways, not adults. Grow up! We shackle each other with these assumptions.

Please, readers, help me build this list. Help me find things we can do for one another. If you feel disenfranchised for any reason, what would make you feel supported? What can I do or say to send you a message of solidarity? Does the fact that I happen to be white mean I have nothing to offer someone of another race that’s not patronizing? I feel disenfranchised, too! What can we do to help one another understand our respective stories and experiences? What can we teach each other? What does the hand of friendship look like? How can we unify and lend each other our strengths? What works to build healthy connection, and how can we do more of it?

Can any of you suggest organizations to volunteer for, join or find news on? Who is doing work you admire? How can people find candlelight vigils, protests, marches and church-based activities? Not everyone is on or has access to Facebook.

There’s a lot of talk about privilege right now. It’s a slippery term, and I think the perception of privilege is really in the eye of the beholder. Here’s a very interesting little self-test you can take. Some of the questions will help you appreciate the difficulties many people face. In case any one wonders, my score was a 44–NOT privileged, according to this tool. Certainly very privileged in comparison to some people. https://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/how-privileged-are-you

Allow me to create a resource for positive action and individual empowerment on this blog. Add your voice and ideas to mine. Help me support you, and lend me your support.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Reciprocity 2: What It Is

Last week I talked about balance as a first step to understanding reciprocity. This week I want to refine my focus and discuss the term itself.

A few years ago I was in the car, either listening to an audio book or the radio. I was in the off phase of a painful and confusing on and off relationship. Whoever I was listening to asked the question: “Is he crying about you?”

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This was a real Aha! moment for me, because I myself was crying all the time and the answer to the question was no. I didn’t even need to think about it. I’d given him all the power. He was calling the shots. I wanted to be with him but he didn’t want to be with me—at least for the moment.

That was my first introduction to reciprocity. It didn’t come with context, language or tools, but that question was like a piece of grit in my eye and it continues to pop up in all my relationships.

Before we discuss it further, let’s define reciprocity. A 3-second internet search yields: “Exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.” Good enough.

What I understand now is that reciprocity is at the core of healthy connection and relationship. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, it matters. I see the presence of reciprocity as an indicator of equality. No one has power over anyone else. The playing field is level. Giving and receiving happen in balance. We see the needs of others as being as important as our own. Reciprocity is the old Golden Rule in action.

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It sounds so easy. In fact, it is easy. A reciprocal relationship is a delight. Trust and respect are present. Drama and trauma are absent. Both parties show up with an intention to create healthy connection. Communication is loving, respectful and honest. Both parties take responsibility for their words, actions and choices. When we walk away from a reciprocal interaction we feel valued, understood, respected and connected—and so does the other party.

Reciprocity in relationships cannot be achieved if both parties are not internally balanced, which is why I started with balance last week. This is like boundaries. If we can’t manage our own boundaries within ourselves, we won’t have effective boundaries with others. If we don’t function well enough to self-care, make choices that reflect our priorities, and control our time and energy in a balanced way, we can’t create healthy, reciprocal relationships.

“Exchanging things with others” is not limited to concrete things. In fact, a commercial exchange doesn’t imply reciprocity at all. Reciprocal exchange means he heats water for my tea while I’m in the shower and I dry his socks in the dryer instead of on the line because he likes them soft. Reciprocity implies an equal but not identical contribution of time, energy, expression and caring. In many ways, it’s a subtle kind of dance. It’s a gift of ourselves to others.

Reciprocity is flexible, affectionate, creative, curious and cooperative. Reciprocity says: “What can I do? What do you need? What would be useful? What would create connection? Reciprocity requires that we allow ourselves to be seen and we’re open to receiving as well as giving. It requires that we communicate about what we want and what we can give.

Photo by Kevin Quezada on Unsplash

Sadly, I think many people have never experienced a truly reciprocal relationship with a human being, although many of us have with animals. If that’s true of you, then there’s an important question to explore.

Is it you or is it them?

What’s been true for me is that it’s both. I’ve only lately begun to truly self-care and develop a sense of being valuable in the world. Most of my life has been defined by my sense of failure. What this means is that I’ve been a people pleaser, which is to say inauthentic and without good boundaries and balance. Naturally, that created problems, as well as attracting all kinds of people into my life who were also dysfunctional.

I have no power to change the behavior of others, but I can certainly learn and grow myself. Having language and context for aspects of relationship is enormously helpful. Being able to ask the question “Is he/she crying about me?” forces me to take a wider view and keep an eye on reciprocity. It empowers me.

It’s a great mistake to assume everyone wants reciprocity. I always forget that piece. I can’t quite get my head around the fact that some folks have no desire to be in a relationship like this, but I know it to be true. I can’t explore that effectively, having a great longing for it myself, so I’ll leave that aspect alone, except to note that it’s not effective to make up stories or have expectations and assumptions about another’s desire or intention in this arena. Reciprocity doesn’t exist without mutual consent and a willingness to share power. The good news is that after you run into the absence of reciprocity (for whatever reason) enough times, you stop trying to force it.

It’s also worth noting that there are many different forms of relationship, and lack of reciprocity doesn’t mean there’s no value in the connection. Not at all. The quality of our relationships declare and define themselves pretty quickly, it’s just that sometimes we’re so focused on our determination that things be a certain way, we don’t pause to consider what is actually present—and what is not. Denial is a powerful thing, and we can stay stuck in it for years.

Reciprocity is a high standard. If you decide you want it, many possible relationships will be disqualified in the early stages. On the other hand, if you accept nothing less than reciprocity in close relationships, the ones you do find will be joyful and vibrant, and you won’t have to cry alone in the first place, let alone wonder if your partner is, too.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted