The best bit about that last video? This screenshot:
Dontcha just love the interwebs?
One of the things I have always struggled to understand is this grip of fear that paralyses people. Racism is blamed on fear. Religious bigotry is blamed on fear. Police brutality is blamed on fear. The inability to listen to another perspective on life is blamed on fear. It’s all different kinds and degrees of fear, however still equally and potentially dangerous.
Cognitive Dissonance (this is a term I’ve heard several times over the years, not the least of which is during my recent Bachelor’s program) creates a kind of fear. I remember the fear of realising I no longer believed in the God of my parents. I was so scared that I wouldn’t find another god or gods to replace him with. I searched incessantly for a belief system that “fit” because I needed one— we all need a belief system, right? And if we don’t have one, we’re lost — right? Yes, I remember that fear well. At the time, I didn’t identify it as fear; I told people I was “searching”. Every so often I head off on another search for something to believe in and each time I do that, I end up in the same place: realising that the time I took to search I could have been doing something far more sustainable. (Like learning to make candles, for example.)
Just the other day, I read with interest and growing horror the statements of “that Duck Dynasty dude” (I think my mind is deliberately making me forget their names because … ugh!). My thought was that in all my godlessness, I have never dreamed up that kind of horrific scenario for anyone. And with all the ills I have lived through, I would wish that on no one. Of course, it could be argued that I haven’t lived through any ills. Nothing that would make me really want to hurt anyone. No one has murdered anyone close to me (that’s a lie; I wish him no harm though), no one has deliberately discriminated against me or mine (that I know of — they may have but it wasn’t overt), I’ve never been raped (also a lie), and so on and so forth.
But here’s the thing: I fancy myself a writer and I have some of the most horrific of fictional scenes running through my mind. Somehow it’s ok for those things to happen to my fictional characters, but not something I’d think of doing to anyone. “That Duck Dynasty dude”, if I remember rightly, placed himself as the doer of those evil deeds. If I had been him, I would have at least divorced myself from those actions and said “someone”. The literal takeaway is that it is his God that is preventing him from committing some evil shit against some other human being. How sad is that?
But I am straying from the topic … and what I want to say is that I guess I have always understood on some subliminal level what that fear can do to a person. Cripple, paralyse, cause one to be stuck and not be able to move forward. There is a panic and you think, “Oh no! My whole life is a lie!!!! Where does that leave me?” You think, “But … but … this is what I’ve known to be true forever. Everything I ever knew confirmed this truth. This new upstart of a person/thing/event trying to convince me otherwise is EVIL! Ah! Get away!”
Dramatic? Maybe. But deep down you know that it’s a verbal description of what goes on your head when the very definition of yourself and your life and your beliefs are challenged on fundamental levels.
I have suddenly come to this realisation on a very conscious level myself. While it isn’t your typical fundamentally challenged belief, it is still a fear that I am having difficulty letting go of — that of flying. I’ve never been afraid to fly in airplanes. In fact I have often said how ironic it is that I so love aircraft and flying when I am so cripplingly afraid of heights (and depths). A chance to ride in a plane, even if it is from Montego Bay to Kingston (about 15-20 minutes in flight — 10 minutes on each end for ascent and decent). “Yay! Plane ride!!! Whoohoo!” Never mind that the reason was because our car was stranded in Montego Bay and that was why we were flying home.
This Germanwings crash, though, is seriously challenging my love of flight. Seriously … I am thinking that knowing my rotten luck (don’t we often tell ourselves that we have rotten luck when we want to avoid doing something?), I would be on one of those flights that crashes and leaves no one alive. I saw an article on Vox this morning that tried to rationalise why that would never happen. Of course it started out with the point that aircraft crashes are still far less frequent than automobile crashes and exposed all the statistics that support that concept (I’ve used that one myself several times). Yet I found myself going “Yeah yeah. I ain’t flying again anytime soon if I can help it”. I slapped myself, of course. “My parents and many of my friends are still in Jamaica. That’s like abandoning them somehow! Stop it! You don’t mean that!”
Long story short, I get the “grip of fear” thing now. On a very visceral level. Sure I know that my sudden and paralysing fear of flying (maybe?) isn’t the same as a fear of the uprising of black people or the fear of godlessness and the void that creates; but it’s still fear that could get out of control easily in my head if I don’t cognitively and very deliberately talk myself out of it … every. single. time.
See what I did there?
I like to read. From the age of 6 when my mother, irritated at my constant interruptions, pointed at the bookcase behind her and said, “Look. Go find something there to read and occupy your time and mind, while I finish typing out these minutes.” I found Nancy Drew and The Quest of the Missing Map and I don’t think I’ve lifted my head out of words since. I think my mother secretly regrets introducing me to reading. She would often come to my bedroom door to check on me because, as she now says, she never heard a word out of me after that.
That bookstand had all kinds of books and I remember seeing these books all my life. Even on my last visit home, many of those books still remain. A few them have remained dominant in my mind. One that confused me much growing up was the swastika on the binding of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich It wasn’t until I was much older that I recognised the intellectual interest my father had in much of these subjects. The Book of Mormon was there too. (Our family’s bibles were kept in our nightstands and bed-heads – not the bookcase. I suppose that was because we referred to them more often.) There was a book on economic systems. That also confused the 6 year old me. Still it became a valuable resource when I hit my first year in sixth form (in the US, that would be like pre-college learning; not quite equivalent to high school because the style of learning and the depth of content is far deeper than high school subject matter) and started studying grown-up things – like economic systems theory. I was 17 and learning the differences between communism, socialism, and capitalism and using that theory to learn that no country in the world has ever practiced any of those systems in the intended way. On my last visit, I discovered an original print in that same bookcase. One that coincidentally is on a subject I am also interested in, Buddhism and Zen. A print from the days when books cost .95c apiece.
To get back to that bookcase, though… There was the irony of the title Pocket Oxford Dictionary on the binding of a book so big I was afraid to pull it out on my own. And then there was the even bigger Webster’s dictionary (it’s no longer in print; I think Merriam Webster is what that dictionary became) that I used to love to pull out and thumb through on the floor right there beside the shelf. The copy of Webster’s my Dad has is littered with illustrations and in a lot of cases those illustrations provided context, if not pronunciation. For example, I learned to pronounce the word “cretin” with a short “e”; a friend of mine recently corrected me (not the first time I’ve been corrected) that it is in fact pronounced with a long “e”. Later on, I remember noting that Roget’s Thesaurus was always nestled comfortably nearby those two dictionaries.
Reading is so much a part of me that I think I would be crushed if I was no longer able to do so. Thus, the fact that I am finding myself less inclined to read on my Kindle Paperwhite is extremely anxiety producing. I have a jolly good reason, though – I have notes to make in Evernote (my chosen note-taking and writing app) that I can’t do from my Paperwhite. I suppose this is an indication that I am reading less fiction these days. Still, the reason it is a problem is I like to read at night in bed before sleep and reading on the phone is bad for sleep, worse than the Paperwhite. So, instead of reading on my phone, I’ve stopped reading as much. Which is just as bad, I think. Maybe worse.
All this hit me last night as I was getting ready to sleep. I am not reading as often because I have notes to make and I can’t do that on the Paperwhite unless I highlight it and go back to it during the following day and type or write it out elsewhere. And I find it so much easier to highlight in the iOS Kindle app, copy, switch to Evernote, create a new note, and paste.
I guess what I may need to do is split my reading. Read my non-fiction on the computer or phone during the day making my notes as needed. But pick some fiction to read at night before sleep. That sounds like a plan, right?
I went to meet a friend for coffee and catching up a while back. It was great because this is someone I love and admire very much. Without going into too much detail, and like so many of my other friendships, I met this particular person online. So, it’s a wholly “accidental” friendship – had the stars not aligned perfectly at a particular point in time, we may never have “met” at all. I find these chance meetings intriguing and oftentimes extremely rewarding.
That said, this particular friend is overweight. In my head, she’s not fat. And I’ve said so on more than one occasion: “You’re not fat”. And I think this friend corrects me because she wants me to be ok with the term. But I am not ok with it, and after thinking about for weeks … I now know why. The reason is entirely my baggage and nothing to do with popular culture, society, or prejudice. It’s a construct in my mind that I can’t get away from and it’s almost as bad as prejudice.
You see, in my head the word “fat” is associated with people who deliberately indulge their own sloth and gluttony. People who know their habits make them overweight but continue to perpetuate those habits especially because it makes them overweight. The class of people I call “wilfully ignorant”. People who know better but don’t do better. And in my mind, my friend does not belong in that class of people in any way shape or form. It is most decidedly a bias and one that … I am still processing. I don’t like the connotations that the word “fat” creates for me because they are vile and disgusting. Thus, I avoid using it at whatever costs, especially as it relates to people who I respect and admire. To do so would mean I am inadvertently associated those connotations with them. And that is uncomfortable for me.
When I look up the word “fat”, I find that the word itself seems to have been coopted to mean overweight. Somewhere along the way, the “natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies” became the state of someone who weighs in at a weight over and above what modern medicine considers normal. My bias isn’t so much wrong as it is outdated. I am finding that out about much of my biases these days. Good to know.
Still – if that friend is reading, I want to say that my reluctance to admit what you see as fact isn’t about offering up platitudes but about avoiding a particular bias and stereotype in my head. Gosh darn those introverts anyway who take forEVER to think things through – right?
I’m reading a book that I was introduced to during my 40-hour mediation training in late-January. The book addresses some very important aspects of conversation that have been haunting me for near 6 years. It has always fascinated me that human beings are gifted with the ability to speak, yet we almost are never able to have a conversation that yields useful results. That may sound ridiculous to you being that you have conversations everyday … but think about the last time you had a serious conversation with anyone and tell me whether you came away from it feeling completely satisfied or whether there was this slight to urgent feeling of not quite having addressed everything in one sitting. If you can tell me “Sure I came away satisfied!”, then let’s talk. There is clearly something you’re doing right and I want to know what it is.
It shouldn’t be surprising to me that I ended up in the fields of communication and conflict resolution (if even on a volunteer basis). There are aspects of communication that have always been of concern for me. Even if I had a peripheral interest before, after moving here to the US that interest has grown into the forefront of my thoughts. And most specifically on how conversation happens around “race” which is a topic I never had occasion or need to discuss before moving to this country. “Race” is a gargantuan issue in the US – in spite of what people might tell you, the issue of how people who look different is a central and underlying aspect of every single interaction. Many of you will disagree and many more will nod and say to themselves “Amen sister!”. To those who disagree, here’s a thought: if even one person in a room think it’s too cold in that room, then there is a conversation to be had around temperature; if even just to acknowledge that Yes, they are less tolerable of cooler temperatures than anyone else in the room.
So anyway – back to that book I started talking about … it’s called “Crucial Conversations” and in short, it takes us on a journey through conversations that have a tendency to turn bad quickly and without notice just based on the fact that each participant has high stakes on the outcome of that conversation. And when we say “high stakes” we just mean that each participant wants to be heard and understood, each participant feels their point or points are integral to the progression of said conversation on race, or that without their perspective there is no conversation to be had. Right or wrong, everyone has the right to be heard and this book helps us understand how we can keep those high stakes conversations moving forward without rage and recriminations that inevitably derail the whole effort.
I can’t wait to finish it. I wish I was less distracted by other pursuits (cough World of Warcraft cough) such as the job search and whatnot … but I’ll get there – I know I will; I have to because it will certainly help me become a better mediator.
Because oh yeah – that is still a thing. I am working on my exam (well, sort of – haven’t touched it in a week or two because distractions and illness) and I am hoping to start on my practicum real soon. More on that later … in the meantime I heartily recommend that if you find yourself in discussions that turn ugly real fast over key issue, “Crucial Conversations” is an important book to have read. Trust me; go get it and read it.
I am fascinated by the manner in which language meanings drift and change hue over time. The intellectuals among you might know this because you have often argued with people over the meaning of a word that has had its meaning change with the generations. My father and I often had discussions where he would tease me about how my generation described something utterly fabulous as “wicked“. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s happened with just about every generation since we started forming words to communicate with one another.
This morning, one phrase kept gnawing at me because it seems a rather innocuous phrase but is said with such disdain that I had to google the term. “American exceptionalism” is a term that is used quite derisively these days. According to Wikipedia, the term started out very positively. It was used to describe the attitudes and approaches of the new nation of the United States – particularly in the early 1920s – and encompassed the concepts of “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, and laissez-faire”. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there are several contradictory terms in that summation. Can one be egalitarian and still hold to the tenets of individualism? But that is a side issue and not the one I am attempting to make here.
Wikipedia goes on to say that the term has become, in the late 20th and 21st century, far more derisive and used to describe the “neoconservatism” that began to rise in that period. That it now is used to describe the notion that is “less concerned with justifying American uniqueness than with asserting its immunity to international law”.
Overall, the whole thing reminds me of something my mother drilled into me (and still preaches about even today). “Everything in moderation” she always said. And she said it a lot. It seems to me based on the descriptions that in the beginning it was a positive reinforcement and support mechanism but that it was taken so far that it became an emblem of superiority. Of course, that’s my interpretation. I am sure the term means many things to many different people.
The point is, though, that a significant part of communication well with each other is the conscious recognition that the words we use when we speak have the potential to mean entirely different things to different people. Thus, the interpretation of our words is largely coloured based on their own perspectives and world-view. There really is no black and white. It is all shades of grey.
Where have I heard that before …
I really need to start blogging again regularly. You never realise just how much you’re slacking until you make one post you really want people to see and comment on and no one does. And you realise that part of the reason is because you haven’t blogged in so long that everyone who used to stop by have just stopped because you’ve stopped writing.
Yes – I was particularly proud of yesterday’s post because it signalled to me the return of what I thought to have been my completely stagnated creativity. A couple of people have said to me that that is what school does. It stifles creativity. One person went as far as to explain that school forces you to think in one way, and when you’re used to thinking in one or several other ways, it serves to stifle the voice you once had. I want to believe it … it would explain why I’ve felt like an empty bucket for the last year or two.
Anyway … one of the thoughts I had this morning is how utterly alone I am in this country because no one I know seems to have any grasp on how things actually work in this country. People just tend to believe what they hear without question. It angers me. I want to have a drove of people I can turn to and ask “Hey … this seems this way to me. Is that how it really works?” Back home, there were several sage individuals amongst the masses to whom I could turn and ask that question. It was mostly as a result of having grown up there and made friends of friends and friends of parents over the years, gathering a community of expertise and skills and talents into my extended family. I haven’t had that kind of opportunity here.
Another thought I had upon awakening is how much the military community is lacking for people who are really in need. Oh yes your neighbour is a good person to call on if you want to talk or share recipes. But when you’re sick and you don’t want to ask strangers for help, would rather ask close friends to help because of the sensitivity of the situation, you are completely and utterly fucked. Military service? It’s isolating. It isn’t as welcoming and tight knit as they want it to be. It can’t be. There are far too many differing personalities and world-views coming together in one place to give the sense of security and family most of have grown accustomed to over the course of our lives.
And even more especially for those of us from the Caribbean with an immensely strong sense of community.
On a positive note, some of you may not have heard this yet: last week I completed the 40-hour professional mediation training. Not yet a professional mediator; that takes practice and after I am done with an exam, I will enter into the practicum to become certified. But that training is a milestone – one I have been looking forward to for almost a year. So congratulations to me!