Category Archives: Community

How to trust

I admit I am not naturally good at trusting people. As a consequence, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the terms on which I might be willing to trust. What qualities is it that make a person trustworthy? If my trust is going to be partial (it usually is) then to what degrees and in what ways does it make sense to trust people?

I think too often we go into situations assuming other people should trust us. The flip side of not trusting, is not expecting to be trusted and expecting to have to earn that.

  • Backing up words with actions. I don’t expect people to take me at my word until I’ve demonstrated that I can and will do what I said I’d do. However, I do get annoyed when I’ve repeatedly demonstrated I can do the things, and am still treated as untrustworthy in those areas. At that point, refusal to trust becomes a way of reducing and controlling a person.
  • New and different mistakes. We all make mistakes. I don’t find errors to be a barrier to trust unless a person keeps making the same mistakes after they’ve been flagged up. When someone persists in causing the same problem in the same way, it looks a lot like intention, not incompetence.
  • Thinking things through: I tend to trust people who demonstrate a willingness to work things through and reason things out. What I trust here is that this kind of process shows willingness to see things differently and to seek solutions rather than blame. I can trust the integrity of someone’s reasoning without needing them to agree with me or see things as I do.
  • Physical trust. This is a hard one for me – to trust another person both to be kind to my body if I get close, and to trust them not to have a problem with me. I’m an emotionally intense person, and it is hard to hide that when being hugged. Trusting people to accept me as I am and not to take physical advantage is hard. It takes time.
  • I do not trust people who don’t listen to me. I do not trust people who show signs of treating me like a resource they can use. I do not trust people who take me for granted, or people who treat any emotional expression from me as though I am a massive drama queen. It’s taken me a long time to trust that I’m not a massive drama queen and do not deserve to be dismissed at the first sign of emotional expression.
  • In terms of trying to earn trust, I offer honesty and clarity. At least with words. And enough honesty to make clear that I habitually lie with my body. I don’t express pain, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion if I can help it. I hide those things because this helps me function. But I will speak honestly. It means asking people to trust what I say, not what I look like. I am more inclined to trust in turn people who take me at my word rather than seeing how I present and how it doesn’t fit their expectations around what a person in pain should look like. In turn, I will trust people’s words. If someone tells me something, I will assume that is the more substantial truth than any appearances that seem to conflict with it. I can’t say this always goes well, but it is a deliberate choice to do for others what I am often asking for myself.

Trust is a process. It is something you have to build between people. Granted, most people are good and well meaning. The trouble is, that you cannot immediately see the ones who are narcissists, abusers, assaulters, rapists. They tend to be good at passing themselves off as ok, at least in the short term. It’s how they get to do their stuff. The percentage of people I’ve known who have turned out not to be good, or been thoroughly vile, is a small percentage, but they have had a large impact on me. As a consequence, I do not tend to trust the people who treat my innate lack of trust as a failing of some sort. My lack of trust is protective.

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The healing power of kindness

When faced with someone in difficulty, it’s very easy for any of us to minimise what we’re seeing or being told. We may well fear that if we are helpful, or cut them slack, we will be taken advantage of. And of course in some instances, this will prove to be the case. However, when we can be kind to each other, we can have powerful effects on each other.

Workplaces often make people ill – they are a massive source of stress and anxiety. People who are overworked and falling behind can seem like a hazard to those who are keeping up. One person’s shortfalls are another person’s escalating problem. It can be hard to push back against that, and it may well carry risks. If we can be kind to each other, we can resist the work culture that will run us all until we collapse. Kindness is a route to not seeing each other as disposable and replaceable.

With kindness, you can find the options that allow people to participate. Reliably stopping the meeting when you said you would stop the meeting can radically improve inclusion. Listening to what people can manage and factoring that in is really powerful. Support and enable people to do the best they can, and more often than not, they’ll do that. When we treat each other kindly, we’re not usually going to open the floodgates for people being exploitative and taking the piss.

When we look after each other, we open the way to being recipients of care as well as givers. We create a culture of care, of watching each other’s backs and helping each other out. We stop counting the cost to us of everything we do when we don’t feel reduced by that. In a culture where support flows to where it’s needed, when you are resourced, you can better afford to be generous. If enough people are prepared to embody the idea that what goes around comes around, they will turn it into a shared truth.

Healing takes time, rest, peace, less stress. It doesn’t really matter what you’re healing from, if the people around you are kind and supportive, you’ve got a better shot at it and will do it sooner. If we are kind to each other, not only can we help with individual healing, but we create a scope for cultural healing, for community wellness and for relationships based on trust and doing our best. Kindness is the key to dismantling exploitative systems that treat people as disposable. Kindness is the key to building something better.

It need not be dramatic. Small injections of kindness into your normal day will have a significant influence on the people around you. It’s also a self-empowering thing to do. When you give with confidence, you also get to feel better.


How we connect

Once upon a time, there was a much bigger divide between ‘ordinary’ people and ‘famous’ people. The internet has largely ended that because many of us get opportunities to enter into conversations with people who are more famous than us. Sometimes this is wonderful, and sometimes it brings out the worst people are capable of. People online are, basically, people, with all the diversity that implies.

My background includes a lot of folk music, and in folk there has never been that hard line between performer and audience. You can go to a session or a singaround and be sat next to someone whose name is on the posters. I think it’s a lot healthier for all involved when we treat each other as people and approach each other in a more equitable way.

One of the things I find really entertaining is the people who aren’t famous, who attempt to use social media as though they were. They just come in and talk about their writing, and their book. It does seem to be novels more than any other thing. Although a surprising number of people calling themselves social media experts seem to do it as well! Why anyone thinks that endlessly shouting about their own work will engage people and sell books, remains a mystery to me.

I’ve nothing against people trying to sell their own work – it is a challenge. We accept adverts from big companies with little question, where lone creators trying to promote their stuff can be given a hard time for it. If your job doesn’t have a marketing department or a sales team, you have no choice but to promote what you do in order to make a living. But there are questions about how to do this well.

Being social is not an optional extra. If you are a human trying to deal with other humans, being social is key. It’s how we get things done. To be social, you have to engage with other people. You have to be both interested and interesting. Have you ever bought a book because you accepted a friends request from a stranger and they sent you a direct message about their book straight away? Anyone?

We don’t think about things enough, often. We don’t think enough about other people’s motivations and inclinations. We don’t think about how to connect with each other – not if we’re bombarding each other with sales material. As someone who does a lot of promoting and marketing in the day job, I can say that this is a thing. If you think about what people might want from you, it’s a lot easier to sell stuff. If you don’t assume that of course they’ll all want your thing, it is easier to sell stuff. If you treat everyone like they are at least potentially valuable and interesting, you are on a better footing.


What we enable

There’s a high profile man locally who makes a habit of putting hands on women and does not hear when women tell him they don’t like or want it. He tends to be a toucher of arms and shoulders, so a lot of people feel it’s no big deal. He doesn’t do it to men. I’ve talked to plenty of women who find it an uncomfortable invasion. I’ve also had a fair few people tell me (mostly, but not exclusively men) that this guy is ok because they think he means well and is harmless. I want to talk about the consequences of this.

Everyone should have the right to say no to being touched. Some of us are in pain and can be hurt by apparently innocent gestures. Some of us are dealing with the aftermath of trauma and can be triggered by unexpected or unwanted contact. Some of us just don’t want to be touched. The right of women to say no to contact – any contact – and have that heard and respected is fundamental to consent culture. When people decide that small infringements are ok, that a bit of ignoring consent is no big deal, it makes other infringements that bit easier.

If a woman tells you she doesn’t like a man persistently touching her, and you tell her why she shouldn’t mind, it has consequences. It makes it that bit harder to flag up worse encroachments. If you know that a person with enough power and status will be totally excused when he makes you uncomfortable, what support can you expect if he takes it further? What response is likely if you need to flag up serious abuse, bullying, harassment, groping and so forth from the same man, or another man? If there’s a culture of letting people off the hook, it’s harder to deal with bigger things.

As it happens, my local invader of space goes in for a lot of sexist behaviour, and mostly gets away with it. The touching is one facet of this, not the only issue.

In balance to this, I’ve had conversations with men who, when I’ve talked about this, have recognised that it isn’t ok and have had heard me out. I’ve talked to men who have questioned their own assumptions and beliefs, and reconsidered their own behaviour. Men who have been willing to be uncomfortable and realise that what they thought was fine, maybe wasn’t.

If you’re a man in a position of power, and you touch women socially, are you confident they feel able to tell you if they don’t like it? Have you ever asked them? Would you respect their wishes if they said no to it? Or would you, as a number of men have done to me, tell them why your social touching is ok and they should accept it?

‘It’s just…’

Except if it makes a person feel sad, anxious, insecure, afraid, imposed on, compromised etc, it isn’t a small thing. Just because the touch is no big deal for the person doing it, doesn’t mean it must also be no big deal for the person experiencing it. If we assume that a man’s experience of touching a woman is what defines the encounter (no big deal) we make no space for the fact that women are often having radically different experiences in the situation.

 

(This has been a rather gender binary blog, in part because this is a problem that most often occurs in the most hetronormative situations.)


Lessons in letting people go

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I’ve always cared what other people thought of me, and whether they thought I was good enough. Demands (implicit or explicit) to give more, do more, be more useful, ask for less, make less fuss and so forth, have tended to impact on me. I’ve spent much of my life trying to be good enough for other people. As a consequence, I’ve spent more time than was a good idea in the company of people for whom I could never be good enough.

One of the things I’ve done this year is to ask at every turn, what’s in it for me? I’ve found it massively helpful as an approach. On a number of occasions now, I’ve identified situations where there really was nothing in it for me, but I was being asked to give rather a lot. I’ve learned to say no to that, and to walk away.

In the past, I would have felt guilty about not being good enough for someone. No matter how preposterous the situation, or how impossible the hoops I was being asked/told to jump through. Failing to do what other people wanted of me would leave me depressed, anxious, guilt ridden and trying to cut bits off myself so as to better fit through the endless hoops. It’s taken me a long time to learn that some people can’t be pleased. It’s usually the most demanding people who are the hardest to actually make happy.

Alongside this I’ve learned that I can have people in my life who just like me being around. People who don’t need me to do anything in particular for them. People who enjoy me being happy. It makes a lot of difference. Unsurprisingly, the more time I spend with people who accept me as I am, the happier and more relaxed I am.

The people who want me to be things I am not, have, with hindsight, wanted some weird and incompatible things. They’ve wanted things on their terms that should never be entirely one sided. They’ve wanted all the consequences of being unconditionally loved, while being free to act like they have no obligations. Conditional love is never enough for some people. The idea of reciprocal love, care, affection and support offends them. They’ve wanted the devotion that gets the work done, and the freedom to pretend that the devotion does not exist. They’ve wanted absolute care and attention while making it clear that it must never be apparent that I’m making an effort, so that they don’t feel awkward or pressured by it. And so on. Some games are not winnable.

I have learned this year that I do not have to feel guilty about the people I am unable to please. If I’m not good enough for them, they should let go and move on. It’s no good standing around telling me how rubbish I am, or how problematic, and expecting me to fix everything. Also, I’ve never yet got into one of these where it seemed possible to really fix anything or ever be good enough. The people who treat me as though I am the villain in their life story while at the same time asking for saintly levels of tolerance, forgiveness and indulgence, are people I don’t need. Onwards!


Big fish, small pond

There are a lot of personal advantages to being a big fish in a small pond. It’s good for your self esteem, your feelings of worth, usefulness and recognition. It is of course rather challenging to come out of the small pond and suddenly find you are a pretty small fish in a much bigger pond.

Many people are very good at creating small spaces in which to be big fish. I see a lot of it around me where I live, and I see it in the Pagan community too. It’s not so difficult to be big in your local Pagan community. Of course often that means in the rest of your local community, you’re insignificant.

There are all kinds of ways this can cause a person problems. An inflated sense of self worth can trip you up and invites massive embarrassment. The person who has to say ‘do you know who I am?’ is a fish out of the pond that validated them. Frustration at not being a big fish in the small pond can make people insecure, cranky and a problem to themselves and others. Being able to see the bigger pond in which you would be a small fish can do all the same things. Getting caught up in this does a person no good at all. The desire to be important often proves a barrier to getting anything worthwhile done, as well.

We weren’t designed to exist in a global community of billions. We evolved for small groups. Most of us see more people in a year than a mediaeval peasant would have seen in their entire life. We seem geared to deal with a larger network of a few hundred people at most. When we deal with other people in such numbers as these, it’s a very different experience.

In a community of a few hundred people, everyone knows everyone. No one is irrelevant. Any skill, or significant action will stand out and be noticed. Everyone can shine at their own thing. It’s unlikely anyone will cast such a long shadow that they cause a lot of other people to disappear.

In comparison, most of us will never be more than statistics, and most of us will disappear from history and memory when we die. Most of us will not have our centenaries acknowledged, or our legacies discussed.

For our own sanity, we all need small spaces where we can exist as people and feel valued. Alongside that, we all need to be able to deal with the issue that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t count for much.

It was Stroud Book Festival this weekend. I was doing venue work, not there as an author, but my being an author came up in a couple of conversations. “Should I have heard of you?” someone asked. I said, “no, I’m pretty niche.” And that, mostly, is the size of it.


Love and the drama llama

Drama llamas are creatures who feel a desperate need to be centre stage, and who will whip anything up into a whirlwind if it means they can stand in the middle of it and draw attention. People who create drama, or amplify it are exhausting to deal with.

I’ve watched on a fair few occasions now as people doing drama have spun their whirlwinds and pushed away the people who were close to them. It’s easiest to do drama with your nearest and dearest and to cast people you know in whatever roles best suit your needs. Most often what the drama-addict seems to do is cast people who were on their side as villains, attackers, abusers and so forth. I note with interest that drama llamas are more likely to assume victim roles than cast themselves as heroes of their own stories.

While I was pondering the mechanics of being a drama llama, it was suggested to me that all drama llamas really want is to be loved. This may be so – it’s such a fundamental human motivation. However, the process of creating drama tends to drive people off rather than drawing them in. If the desire is for love, then the method is inherently self-defeating.

It is easy to mistake attention for love. This is a thing to watch out for when dealing with small children, who are motivated by attention, and will keep acting out to get attention even if the attention isn’t pleased with them. If we don’t get attention for being good, or just for being ourselves, we may seek it by other means. Patterns for life can be set early on, and if you’ve learned this as a way of being it will take some unpicking. The person who seeks attention in ways that elicit less love may be stuck in a cycle of attention seeking, love-damaging behaviour and be unable to break out of it.

I don’t know how anyone stood on the outside of this can make a difference. You can’t save a drama llama from themselves by pouring love over them. I’ve yet to see a drama llama respond well to love from any source.  It may be that this can only be changed from within, that a person with these patterns has to see them and want to change them, and that from outside all you can do is feed the story. You can stay, and be an actor in the drama, you can leave and be a villain and reinforce the feeling of victimhood. You can ask the drama llama to step up and be a hero, and you’ll be manipulating or mistreating them. I have no idea what a winning move is, I’ve never seen one.

We all have stories about who we are and how life works. Often, it is the most dysfunctional stories that we all seem to cling to the hardest. Perhaps because these are stories grown out of suffering, that in some way serve to make sense of an original wound. We cling to the story because we prefer it to challenging the story. We may be protecting someone else. Or, if we’ve worked with a story for long enough, we may now be protecting ourselves from feeling the shame that would come from admitting the story was useless or wrong.

There is no saving someone who does not want to be saved. There is no healing someone who does not want to be healed. You cannot change the story of someone who does not want their story to change.


Let me tell you what you’re really like

If we seek out a professional person, the probability is that we want them to tell us how they think things really are. That will include measurements of ourselves. We may also turn to friends, family and colleagues for feedback on how we’re doing. We might invite criticism. We’re allowed to do that. We’re also allowed to speak plainly if someone asks us to.

Misjudge, and an unsolicited compliment can be creepy, patronising, or even a put down. I’ve blogged about that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/swimming-metaphorically-with-the-social-jellyfish/

However, what’s interesting to me at the moment is what happens when people feel the need to give unsolicited criticism. ‘Let me tell you what you’re really like’ is seldom the prelude to a compliment.

Shit happens. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. Most of us are dealing with this kind of thing in small ways on a daily basis. It’s important to identify what went wrong, it may be relevant to identify who was responsible or what could be changed to improve things.  When we’re focused on action, choices, behaviour even, we’re talking about things that can change. It’s not terrible to be told that something needs to be better or could be worked on. We’re all flawed and human and we all need to be able to talk to each other about these things.

However, it’s a very different business when we want to tell the other person who they are. You are this, you are that… It’s not a big problem with compliments – you are lovely, you are kind, you are considerate, you are generous, you are brilliant – most people don’t object to hearing things like this. You are useless, you are horrible, you are stupid, you are creepy – no one wants to hear this.  I’m not convinced it’s a helpful thing to do, either.

Firstly it makes the problem intrinsic, it doesn’t invite change or tell the person much about how they could change. ‘When you do this I find it difficult’ is more useful. ‘When you say X I feel Y’ can be a place to start a process. But when we say ‘you are’ in critical ways, it comes across as judgement and rejection. If you are terrible, how can there be scope for change?

If we talk about how we experience each other, there’s room to talk about why. Projection and historical baggage can so easily be part of the mix. We may use words in different ways, or have triggers or anxieties. If we can share what we experience, we can negotiate with each other, and learn to co-operate more effectively.

‘You are’ statements can be a form of power over. The person speaking has given themselves a status, an entitlement to label and categories the other person, to judge them, and to say what is going on. It puts all the responsibility for the situation onto the other person. It denies even the possibility of a problem being collective, not individual.

It’s not something I often do, but it is something I’ve done in states of rage on a few occasions. For me, it marks the end of a dialogue. It’s something that doesn’t come up often in my life, but that I’d like to handle more effectively. On the whole I think the only ‘you are’ statement I want to use henceforth in a critical way should go ‘you are not someone I can continue interacting with’ – give or take.

The desire to make someone understand an uncomfortable truth can, at the time, come from a place of wanting justice, recognition, or fair treatment. But in practice, when I’ve got to this point with someone, it’s because those things were entirely absent. There’s nothing I can say that will change anything. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in dropping a truth-bomb like this before walking away, but how much good that really does anyone – myself included – I am uncertain.


Who dictates the shape of love?

“Ye’ll have to accept that part of being loved means ye’ll have to accept that folks have concerns about ye as well. And have the right to does so. Ye cannot jes’ want the parts of this arrangement that ye likes…” (From Dance into the Wyrd, by Nils Visser)

It’s a quote that jumped out when I read it and that has stayed with me because it nails so many things. I’ve been round this one repeatedly and seen it play out in all kinds of situations. People who want some part of the love and care on offer, but want to say exactly what form that takes, and reject the bits that don’t work for them. In my experience, the care and concern of other people is often rejected. It also seems common that resenting people who care for you for wanting some of your time and attention is normal, too.

There’s often a gender aspect to this – what I mostly see is male rejection of female concern. Female concern is labelled smothering and restrictive, it is treated as an imposition, and intrusion, a limitation on the freedom the man feels entitled to. The man in question will usually want emotional labour when he wants it, sex, food, and other domestic benefits – if it’s that kind of relationship – but not to have to say when he will be back…

Of course we all need the freedom to decide what shapes we want our relationships to take. No one is obliged to do anything because someone has said ‘I love you’. However, if you are willing to take what you see as the benefits of someone else’s love, while demanding they don’t do the bits you find awkward, that stands some scrutiny.

It is easy to use apparent concern as a form of manipulation. However, simply wanting to know that someone is ok is not an emotionally manipulative activity. It’s a need to ease real anxiety. On the other hand, shaming someone for their concern is horrible. Wanting some time from a person who benefits from your love is not unreasonable, otherwise you just end up feeling used. If they take your work, your money, your support and disappear off once they’ve got it, it doesn’t look much like love returned. In a parent/child relationship, you may decide that’s just how it goes. In a sexual partnership, it may be part of casting one partner as the parent and the other as carefree and without responsibility. Again, there tends to be a gender bias here.

For myself, I have decided that I’m not doing this again. Anyone who treats my care like an imposition, does not get second helpings. Anyone who wants my emotional labour on tap, or any other forms of service from me is not going to get away with acting as though they have the right to have the whole relationship purely on their terms.


Visible Women

Life is easier when you can see people at stages ahead of you doing things in the sort of ways you hope to do them. If you don’t have role models, and are obliged to make your own path and map as you go, that’s exciting, or terrifying, or both.

Older women tend to become less visible, through to totally invisible. It’s something I’ve seen some women describe as a relief – no more male gaze, no more pressure to be beautiful, or sexy, far less harassment because you’ve become irrelevant. I do not wish, as I age, to become invisible. I don’t want to go down the botox and plastic surgery route of trying to stay forever young. I have little inclination to age gracefully into some gentle, unassuming grandmother figure, all aprons and baking. If I end up wearing an apron, I will be doing my best to channel Nanny Ogg.

Looking around me, I realise there are some fantastic examples of women aging in the way I want to – in the folk scene. This is particularly on my mind because I went to see Steeleye Span last night. Maddy Prior is seventy one at time of writing. She’s still gigging, touring, singing, fronting a band. She’s clearly not trying to be a younger version of herself, and she most certainly isn’t fading gently into old-lady-obscurity. She still dances on stage. I can think of a number of other folk women who are also carrying on, on their own terms, and I feel inspired by them.

Curiously, things I’ve read about research into hunter-gatherer communities suggest that the survival of children in that kind of society has a lot to do with the competence of their grandmothers. Humans did not evolve to have ‘little old ladies’ be some sort of harmless background feature. Humans very likely evolved to have kickass older women and this in turn is likely why we have women who survive long after their fertile years. An experienced older woman can increase the odds for her gene pool doing well.

I note that my non-binary identity gives me a feeling of resonance with the kickass approach to being an elder, that the twin set and chintz grandma doesn’t. Not for the first time I find myself asking if my feelings of non-femaleness are a rejection primarily of social conventions.