Tag Archives: compassion

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

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

Boundaries 3: The Chaos of Transformation?

I’ve been thinking about this week’s blog for a couple of days now.  There’s a lot more to say about boundaries, and maybe someone else can shape the many complex pieces into separate, coherent blogs, but that person isn’t me.  I can sort out a few points, but the rest is just chaos, and that chaos contains all kinds of inflammable issues, such as parenting, corporal punishment, our justice system, religion, sexuality, morals, ethics, rape culture, racism, entitlement and patriarchy.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these are important discussions and ideas for all of us, but the purpose of this blog is not to have a shouting match or explore the different ways we can criticize, judge and belittle one another.

I suspect that most of us agree that boundaries are necessary, but after that point I see potential for endless violent disagreement about how and why we create and manage them.  I do believe it’s safe to say that our understanding of boundaries is heavily influenced by our experience of childhood, by our culture and family, and by technology and media.

I have no answers.  I notice that what I call my boundaries don’t work very well at times.  I notice the conflict between what works for me, what others expect and what I’ve been taught.  I notice a generation gap around boundaries.  My 20-something sons see the whole issue differently than I do.  I think some of this is due to differences in our relationships to technology, but I don’t know how much.

I also notice that a lot of my boundaries are around fear.  As a single woman, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being hooked into GPS and map information via technology.  It doesn’t feel safe to me.  Likewise, I’m uncomfortable discussing my spirituality, my parenting beliefs, my political beliefs, my dietary choices and the color of my underwear.  I’m not ashamed of who I am—I’m afraid of being victimized.  I don’t want to deal with mean people, hateful people or dangerous people.  I don’t want to attract the attention of a psychopath or a sociopath.  I don’t want to lose connections and relationships over something like religion.

Then there’s the part of me that simply isn’t interested in what I call oversharing.  I mind my own business—why can’t everyone else mind theirs?

On the other hand, surely we have a right to be who we really are.  But where is the line—the boundary, if you will—between that right and violating someone else’s boundary?

A highly topical example of this is the debate over Native American team names in the public school system.  Many Native Americans find this offensive and racist–and say so.  The other side hotly denies they’re racist and cites tradition and their intention to honor the Native American people.  It’s a ding-dong argument.  I’m hurt and offended and this feels racist versus I am not a racist, back and forth, on and on, with both sides becoming further divided with every iteration.  Broken connection, broken relationships, divided communities, hurt and rage are the result.

At bottom, it seems to me these are all boundary issues.  Our boundaries don’t appear to work well.  What do we do about that?

This very morning, I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons about this.  We were talking about privacy in regard to technology, and he suggested that soon we may have to accept the idea of 0% privacy because of our increasing reliance on and use of technology.  Everyone (at least in this country) will be equally exposed and we’ll have to figure out how to live with that exposure as a culture and move on, or we’ll simply self-destruct.  I’d never considered this point of view and I’m fascinated with it, as well as slightly appalled.

Perhaps the chaos around boundaries is present because, as my son suggests, we’re in transformation.  Transformation is inherently chaotic, after all.  Maybe my generation’s ideas and beliefs about boundaries aren’t working because they’re outdated.  Our world, our culture, our understanding of things, technology and science are dynamic, always changing, always correcting and expanding.  Perhaps the world we live in today requires different boundaries and we’re struggling to shape them.

At the risk of sounding like an old granny, however, I think healthy, effective boundaries must contain elements of respect, compassion, authenticity, dignity and kindness, not only for others but also for ourselves.  I think it’s important to remember that boundaries are about ourselves and what works and doesn’t work for us.  It’s not our job to choose boundaries for others.   We may have to defend our boundaries and others will certainly try to violate them, but that’s the only place our power is.

Interestingly, I’m reading a book right now that relates to this.  It’s called Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.  It’s a great book—well written, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.  The reason I mention it is that so many of our rules, expectations and yes, boundaries, are based on our beliefs and we have a tendency to make our beliefs universal laws.  We all do this, one way or another.  But take one of your central beliefs, a hot one like politics or diet or religion, one you argue about on Facebook, block and unfriend people for disagreeing with.  Now just imagine, if you can, for one minute, only 60 seconds, that you’re wrong.

Pretty uncomfortable, right?  Now everything changes, including your rules, expectations, stories and, inevitably, your boundaries.

In other words, effective boundaries need to flex and change as we learn and grow.  Otherwise, all we create is a jail cell for ourselves.  We can’t change, we don’t admit new information and we keep ourselves small and rigid.

On the other hand, if we have inadequate boundaries our power is leaking all the time.  We fall prey to all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, our integrity is broken, we fail to take care of ourselves and our lives don’t work very well.

I’ve been talking with people about boundaries lately (in the real world) and reading about them online.  Here’s the best article I’ve found, along with a really helpful table to aid in discerning what healthy boundaries look and feel like.  If you know of helpful resources around this subject, please share!

http://lifeesteem.org/wellness/wellness_boundaries.html

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

The Limits Of Our Power

In the last week I had a discussion with a young friend who’s going through a hard time.  I made myself available out of concern and compassion, telling my friend if she wanted to talk I would listen.

So I listened, and asked questions, and did my best to enter into her experience.  My agenda wasn’t to rescue, to fix or to advise, just to let her know I cared and help her think about options.

My intentions were good, but I walked away feeling as though I’d only irritated her and made things worse.  Ever since, I’ve been questioning what I said and how I handled this interaction.  Was I patronizing?  Condescending?  Obnoxiously optimistic? Aggressively parental?  Didn’t I listen well?

Or maybe my questions were the problem, not because they were bad questions but because they were good questions.  I’m reminded of people in my life who have approached my distress with the kinds of questions that made me want to hang up the phone or slap their face.  Not because they were bad questions, but because they challenged me to break out of the shrinking cage I was in.  They challenged me to take control, take responsibility, face my fear or think outside my usual box.

I’m not sure why, but when I’m good and miserable, or at panic stations, or swept up in powerlessness, I want someone to agree with me.  It’s hopeless.  I’m helpless.  It will never get better.  I made mistakes, bad choices, stupid decisions and now I’m paying a price I deserve to pay.  I’ve dug a hole so deep I can’t get out without some kind of divine intervention.  I need to be rescued.  I have to wait for someone to help me.

Sitting here writing this it sounds silly, but it’s not silly when you’re in it.  We’ve all had times like this.  What I know is that my best friends in crisis are the ones who metaphorically kick me in the butt.  They won’t walk down the pity path with me.  They won’t agree that I screwed up and made bad choices.  They don’t admit the past was apocalyptic and the future will be catastrophic.

These people keep redirecting me back to what I can do right now to help myself, and away from everything else, and sometimes they’re not gentle about it.

This is tricky because it’s counterintuitive, at least to me.  When I’m faced with a problem, I want to square right up to it, obsess, throw myself at it, beat my head against it and leave the rest of my life unoccupied.  It’s either an all-out wrestling match or I eat ice cream out of the carton (a big carton!), stop taking showers, binge watch ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ all night and sleep all day.

Neither of these approaches has worked for me.  The only thing that has ever worked is to identify where my power is right now and let the rest go.  I don’t know why that works, I don’t know how it works, but I know that it does.

When I was a low-income single mom, what this meant was realizing that summer was ending and the boys would need new winter coats that I couldn’t afford, and we would need groceries a lot sooner than that, but I had no money.  And yes, I was working.  At one point I worked two jobs and attended school.

Anyway, I developed a habit of shaping the day around what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.  I tried not to think about the next day, the next week, the next winter.  I figured out what we’d eat that day from what we had, and I did what I could do—all the things that can be done without money.  Like playing with Legos on the living room floor, or taking a walk, or reading aloud to the boys, or doing laundry, or working in the garden, or scrubbing the kitchen floor.

Some days were so hard I just lived five minutes at a time.  It was all I could handle.

My kids are in their twenties now.  All those five minutes, all those one-day-at-a-times passed and we weren’t homeless, we weren’t without food and we always managed winter coats, thanks to Goodwill.  I have no idea how it all worked.  I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.

Now, it’s true that I found jobs, got trained and educated, did without things like cell phones and cable TV.  I did what I could to help myself through those years, and I had a lot of outside help, too.  But my point is I tried not to get stalled with my nose touching a brick wall.  I tried to look in another direction—in a direction where I could make choices.  Doing that didn’t make the brick wall disappear, but somehow it allowed me to move past it.

Getting back to my friend, I tried to ask questions about where she did have power, but she felt powerless in every direction and the questions only reinforced the feeling instead of helping her reconsider her situation.  I left the conversation feeling upset and frustrated and decided I needed to take a step back, give my friend space and let it all unfold.

Interestingly, in the time between that conversation and this minute, my friend got what she needed from someone else, made some hard choices and now sees her way ahead, at least for a few steps.

What I’ve learned from this is that no matter how much I love and care for someone, no matter how much I want to share what I’ve learned in life, sometimes I just can’t be useful or effective.  That doesn’t mean, however, that my loved one won’t get what they need from someone else.  I’m trying hard to persuade myself this doesn’t make me a failure, but it’s uphill work.  Additionally, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of what I feel is nothing more than injured pride.  As long as I’m confessing, there might be jealousy in there, too.

I’ve also relearned the thing I wanted to teach.  It was clear to me I couldn’t be an effective support to my friend, that I couldn’t make her feel better, that I had nothing to offer that she could use.  However, two cords of wood were sitting in our driveway, so my partner turned on music and we stacked it in the barn.  He and I cleaned out a closet and I got my fall/winter clothes handy.  I was scheduled to work on Labor Day weekend and the day after, so I showed up for work and did my best.  I wrote a few pages of my current book and I wrote this blog.  Today I swim.  It was in the middle of all this that my friend came to me with the beginnings of her own solutions to her own problems.

Maybe my love and concern were only an added pressure for my friend.  Maybe the most helpful thing I did was step back and live my own life.  That, after all, is where my power is.

I just wish it didn’t feel so inadequate.

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