Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Work and mental health

There are all sorts of things I would like to do but can’t, because I know I don’t have the emotional resilience. It is, frequently, really frustrating. There are skills I have that I can’t always use to best effect because I can’t deal with certain kinds of situations. If there’s an aggressive tone to arguing, I won’t last long. I can’t cope with people who are controlling and like to run power-over – which does not make me easy to employ! If I need to stand up for myself, I can find I’ve got nowhere to go.

I’m fortunate in that there are a number of steady, small freelance jobs I do where I’m well insulated. I work for people who understand me, am left mostly to get on with it, and feel safe. I do some pretty good work in those contexts, too. If there’s nothing to trigger a mental health problem, I’m a good worker. I bring loyalty, dedication, willingness to go the extra distance to get things done. Frequently I also bring passion and creative thinking. What I don’t have is the capacity to fight people. I don’t have the means to deal with a lot of ‘normal’ human behaviour.

I hate how this makes me feel. I hate the feeling of inadequacy that comes from not being able to deal with more abrasive environments. I hate not having the emotional resources to face down someone who is being sexist, or unreasonably demanding, or domineering. I hate having to ask for help dealing with more challenging workspaces. I hate having to say to people that I know I am too fragile to do something.

I also know that mental health is fragile. We’re all breakable. We can all be ground down by too much pressure, by inhuman treatment, unreasonable demands, constantly shifting goal posts and toxic environments. There’s so much mental health crisis in the world today and it is in no small part because we insist on maintaining toxic workspaces. There is shame in saying ‘I can’t take this’ and so often the feeling that you should be able to, and that not being tough enough to handle the poison is your failing, not the failing of your situation.

I am too fragile for this. I hate being too fragile. I will however, keep talking about it, keep owning the shame I feel and the difficulty I experience. I don’t want to work in environments where any sensitivity gets you labelled a snowflake and treated dismissively, or further bullied for being in trouble. I know it isn’t necessary. There is no job, no working arrangement where efficiency is improved by giving people a hard time. There is no job where bullying makes people better at what they do, and having to fight every inch of the way ups your creativity. It’s a rather nasty myth that keeps certain spaces in the hands of the most aggressive and toxic people. Politics being a very obvious example of this.

If you can’t stand the heat, there’s something wrong with the kitchen.

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Labels, power and identity

Labels are certainly useful when it comes to finding people you have stuff in common with. The Druid, Pagan and Steampunk labels have served me very well in that way. When we give ourselves those labels and seek other people who identify with them most of what happens is good.

Naming things is essential if you want to talk about them. Finding descriptions we can agree about isn’t always an easy process, and the more personal and emotive the things that need naming, the harder it gets. When people are on an even footing trying to find language to communicate, the inevitable bumps in this process are, I think, largely worth it.

However, labels can also be stuck to people as an act of power-over. To have the power to label someone is to have the power to over-rule their self identification and replace it with your own terms. This may be backed up by notions of being ‘academic’ or more informed or having authority based on your job, or other forms of seniority. However, when you take away a person’s right to name themselves and put a label on them, you reduce their power and assert your own. When that happens, the basis of the authority needs questioning.

Labels can also be refused and taken away. There’s always someone keen to say who isn’t a real Steampunk, Pagan, Druid, Briton, Jew, to tell disabled people they aren’t really disabled… to tell people they don’t look poor so they can’t be working class, that their gender identity doesn’t exist… It’s nasty stuff. As many of those examples flag up, it’s not just a name you lose when this happens – it may be state aid, the right to self expression, safety, and other essential things. Miss-labeling is so often where we start when we intend to strip people of other things as well.

If we aren’t on an equal footing when labels are being ascribed, then labels are something that are done to us. Politicians calling refugees migrants is a case in point. That’s a re-labeling with massive consequences. Think about the kind of language used to label the LGBTQ community, or the habit of less inclusive Christians to insist that all Pagans are Satanists. Miss-labeling tends to disappear something of who you are and replace it with who you are assumed to be. It can be anything from annoying through to life threatening, depending on the context. It’s definitely not something to take lightly.


Seeking the handcrafted life

Creativity should be an option for everyone. Making and re-making, repurposing, and upcycing are skills we all need to reduce what we throw away. The pleasure of creating from scratch should be everyone’s right, not seen as the domain of the talented few. Whether that’s cooking or gardening, rag rugging, painting, dancing or singing or anything else you can think of, we should all have the time and resources to follow our creative interest. Not as a way of making a living, necessarily, but for the sheer joy of it.

As an aside, I think there would be much greater appreciation of professional creativity if everyone was engaged with it for fun as well. A culture of creativity would increase the value of original work.

Creativity is not just about obvious arts and crafts activities. It’s also about how much innovation we have in our lives. Do we just run through the same routines day to day? Do we do what we’ve always done, powered largely by habit and clinging to what’s familiar? Does life have scope for adventure in it? Is there room for surprise, for joy, excitement, novelty and pleasure? Can we make these things for ourselves or are we only looking to buy answers to those human needs for interest?

One of the things I’ve learned working creatively, is that inspiration requires space. You can’t be busy all the time and expect to keep coming up with great ideas as well. It’s the quite down time that hatches plots and plans. It’s the unstructured spaces where I can daydream, chew over things I’ve learned and wool gather that makes room for a lightning strike of inspiration. If I’m nothing but busy, I don’t have anything like as many good ideas – about anything.

The busyness of conventional western life doesn’t leave us much room to think. Most of us are sleep deprived as well. We rush from one thing to another, time pressured, money pressured, constantly getting messages about why we aren’t good enough. These forces can leave you living a life that is not of your designing. You can so easily end up running after money and then needing that money to console yourself for everything that’s missing. A slower, less economically active life can be both less expensive and more rewarding. Without the space to think creatively about how you live, this is hard to achieve.

Most of us have more time available than we think we do. The trick is to turn off the screens for a bit. Screens are addictive, and feed the fear of not keeping up, the pressure to be available, the sense of panic if we don’t know what’s going on and aren’t busy all the time. Turn the screens off. Remove small screens from about your person. Turn them off and leave them behind and go to a quiet place, and just breathe for a while. Look at the sky, or a tree, or the life in the grass. Sometimes it takes a while for all the chaotic, stampeding things in your head to calm down, but eventually they will, and once there is calm, there is space to ask questions about what you want, and what you need, and what just has you chasing your tail to no real purpose.

When you have time to think, you have the scope to think creatively. When you can think creatively, you can take much more control of your life and live on your own terms. A handmade life, imagined and crafted by you and for you. It’s well worth making the effort for.


If you don’t want abortions

No one actively wants an abortion. It’s just that there are times when not keeping that small bundle of cells is a better choice. It should be blindingly obvious that no one with a womb should be required to carry a child of rape or incest to term. It should also be blindingly obvious that women who need late term abortions are not baby killing monsters. A late term abortion is a tragedy – always. It means that a baby who was very much wanted has got into difficulty, or the mother has, and there is only pain and misery ahead. The abortion is the kindest choice available – which is a dreadful, heartbreaking place to be. Anyone needing a late term abortion needs care, support and understanding.

There are four main reasons why women get pregnant when they don’t want to be pregnant. Reason one is lack of education. If you haven’t had proper sex education, and don’t know precisely what leads to pregnancy and exactly how to avoid it, then your risk of getting pregnant against your will is much increased. Good sex education reduces the need for abortions. The second main reason is lack of access to free, or at least affordable contraception. This is also easily fixed.

Reason number three is economic. If you cannot afford a child, then raising one in poverty may not be an appealing idea. Women are less likely to seek abortions for economic reasons if having a child is not likely to throw you into poverty. Proper financial support for parents makes it easier for a woman to say yes to a baby she was not expecting.

The main reason women find themselves pregnant when they don’t want to be pregnant, is men. Without a man in the equation, penis, sperm and all, it is pretty much impossible for a woman to become pregnant by accident. If a man declines to use condoms, or takes them off during sex, or won’t pull out, the risk of an unwanted pregnancy is much increased. Power imbalances in relationships remain a thing. Imagine a world in which a man could be prosecuted for causing an unwanted pregnancy. Consider the implications.

The right to bodily autonomy for a woman disappears as soon as a man puts his sexual pleasure ahead of her safety. Our culture tells the story of the feckless woman who isn’t sexually responsible and goes out and ‘gets herself’ pregnant and then doesn’t want the baby. No doubt careless women exist, but the more you know about the implications of getting pregnant, the less likely you are to take those risks in the first place. Women who have had a decent sex education don’t tend to go this way unless what they’re after is a baby – in which case you won’t see them seeking abortion.

We do not talk about the role of men in abortions. For every abortion, there is someone who brought his sperm along. Again, education will play a big role here, but for the chaps I think it’s not just about sexual education, it’s the need to educate about responsibility. As long as pregnancy is seen as a woman’s problem, male responsibility for causing it is ignored and most critically, ignored by the men who are causing unwanted pregnancies. A woman does not get herself pregnant, there’s someone else in the equation. Someone who is not currently subject to legislation about their rights to get women pregnant and who bears no legal responsibility for the unwanted baby.

A culture serious about reducing the need for abortions would provide good sex education and free and affordable contraception for anyone who wanted it. That culture would not have a rape culture within it in which women’s safety is seen as less important than male pleasure. A culture serious about the idea that babies matter would make sure no child ends up in abject poverty. When you look at the policies of places criminalizing abortion, these other things are also in short supply too. The underlying idea is not that every baby is precious, it is that women should not be allowed to decide if they go through with a pregnancy. Carrying a baby to term is no small thing and it will change your life. The man involved may be made to pay maintenance, but he’s not obliged to change his whole life to accommodate this new person.

If abortions are illegal, knowingly causing an unwanted pregnancy should also be an offence. That it isn’t tells us a great deal about the real priorities involved.


Eco Justice

Sustainability and economic and social justice all naturally go hand in hand. Any project that doesn’t deal with all of these areas together may be setting itself up to fail.

There are two major sources of pressure on the natural world. One comes from the greed of people who have far more than they need and will destroy environments to take more. That’s what we’re seeing with oil extraction, fracking, palm oil plantations, industrial fishing practices, rather a lot of mining – anything where big industry goes in and clears out what’s valuable.

This happens not only at the expense of the environment, but also to the detriment of ordinary people living in the afflicted landscape. People may be persuaded in the short term with the bribe of jobs and money, but it is they who will deal with the flammable water, the flooding that comes from deforestation, the soil degradation and all the other long term consequences of big industry destroying the landscape. It is important to recognise that people who have been bribed and lied to about the implications are not wholly responsible for where that leads.

The second major pressure on ecosystems can come from the aftermath of the above, or be generated by war, climate change or other such challenges. People in desperation simply trying to survive become locked into unsustainable practices that further deplete the land and the wildlife. Environmental damage caused by hungry people can only be tackled if you also deal with the hunger.

We have a nasty habit of thinking in terms of nature as human-free and protecting landscapes by either ignoring the people in it or taking them out. It tends to be the poorest and most vulnerable people who are treated this way. If we want long term environmental solutions, we need the people in the landscape to be part of it, not something to drive off.

Both sides of this damaging process need dealing with. We have to curb the greed of people with far more than they need. We have to reduce the desires to consume of people who already have a decent standard of living. We have to help those who have little or nothing to live at a decent standard in a way that will work for their local environments. While there is any significant belief that those with great piles of resources are entitled to what they have and those with nothing deserve nothing, we won’t be able to sort out the way human activity impacts on the planet.

We need to find ways of being that allow us collectively to live within the planet’s means. We need to question the idea that it’s acceptable for many people to starve while a few have grotesque excess. Justice for the environment goes hand in hand with justice for people. We have to replace our long out of date feudal thinking that has the rich few at the top of the pyramid and the deprived many at the bottom, and create for ourselves social structures that are much more equitable. To preserve our environment and keep it fit for human habitation, we have to live more cooperatively, and more equitably.


Gender education

We’ve had issues in the UK for some time now about parents wanting their kids not to be exposed to LGBTQ information at school. Some teachers appear not to be keen either. Today I want to talk about what happens when we let kids grow up thinking that straight if the normal default.

I assume there are a subset of people who believe if you tell your kid that gay is a thing, it will turn them gay. If they don’t know, they’ll be straight. This is a perspective that assumes gay is a deviance that a person chooses, and can choose not to be. There are of course people who can choose – we’re called bisexuals, and we are often made invisible, even to ourselves.

A young person who does not know LGBTQ people exist may go through childhood aware they are out of kilter with people around them. They have no words for this. They will feel isolated, lonely, lost and all kinds of other distress. Eventually they will figure out who they are. Rather than growing up feeling secure and validated, they grow up without that. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Our sexual identities start to show up pre-puberty. No one should be frightened by the nature of their childhood crushes.

If queer is so abnormal you can’t talk about it, the suspicion of queerness becomes grounds for bullying.

If you grow up straight, with straight being treated like the only option, you’ll likely give little thought to your orientation. Straight kids don’t have to come out to their parents as straight. Now, if we bring kids up aware of diversity, they may all have to look at themselves along the way and figure out who they are. No one is default normal any more, and no one is the weird outsider, and everyone has to give it some thought – that’s a much more level playing field.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that straight kids who get to grow up feeling normal and never having to come out to anyone are advantaged – and indeed in some ways they are. But it also has a price tag, and that price tag is never having to think about who you are. I think there are a lot of benefits in asking questions. I also think there are bisexuals who are pushed into straight identities because they have no idea who they are. And if straight is normal and queer is deviant and you can pass as normal if you hide part of yourself – this is not a good way to live.

Kids are not led astray by knowing more about the breadth of human possibility. You don’t turn people gay by telling them that gay exists. What you do is save them from having to live either as outsiders, or trying to fake being something they are not. Anyone who thinks heterosexuality is so fragile that it can only be maintained by never letting children know about the other stuff, doesn’t really believe that being straight is as natural and normal as they make out. I wonder, with great discomfort, how many of the most vocal people protesting that kids who know about LGBTQ will be corrupted by it, are in fact bisexual people who have been cultured to hate part of themselves. As a bisexual person, this makes me uncomfortable, but we are the people who can choose whether to get into a queer relationship. It’s not a choice for other people. Just us.

If you are a straight person who has chosen to be straight, because you could have gone the other way, you aren’t straight. You’re bisexual and you’ve made choices.


Avoiding an echo chamber

We seem to be increasingly polarised these days. One of the ways in which the more antisocial and unpleasant factions get themselves into the debate is by telling the rest of us that if we don’t listen to them, we aren’t tolerant, and we’re just in an echo chamber. It’s a set of arguments that open hearted, well meaning people can find it hard to resist. I’ve talked about tolerance before – here’s one of those https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/abusing-your-tolerance/ An it harm none, do what you will – no tolerance required. If you cause harm, I’m not going to tolerate you.

As for the echo chamber, I think it needs poking. When we engage in discussion or conversation with others, we legitimise them. Now, I will cheerfully talk to people of other religious backgrounds, different cultures, different ages – there’s all kinds of ways of being open to different perspectives. If your perspective is well meant but different to mine I will listen to you and try to learn from you. If what you do is destructive, harmful, or intending to harm others or the planet, I really don’t care what you think. I don’t want to engage climate change deniers in debate because that’s acting like I take them seriously. I feel the same way about fascists. I simply want to thwart this where I can.

It’s usually (in my experience) folk on the far right who use the echo-chamber argument to try and get themselves a place at the table. As though there’s them, and the rest of us, two groups only, two perspectives and that to ignore them is to only listen to people you agree with. The world is bigger than this, it is more diverse and more complex. I can explore a great deal of diversity without having to engage with people whose notions I consider totally unacceptable.

Let’s take hunting as a case in point. I’m not personally in to hunting – I’m a vegetarian. I know many people who hunt for the pot, which I take no issue with. I know people who fly birds of prey – again this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations with people who hunt in these ways. I would not accept as a friend someone who hunted foxes from horseback because it is a cruel and appalling business and I have no interest in the justifications. I equally have no interest in the opinions of people who burn moorlands to raise grouse, and who raise obscene numbers of pheasants in order to kill them for amusement and leave their bodies to rot. These behaviours are reprehensible, and I have zero interest in why people might defend these actions. I do not think I owe it to them to hear them out.

Cars are another case in point. I’m anti- cars, as regular readers will know. But at the same time, many people are trapped in car use and would like to burn less fuel and use fewer resources but the whole way their lives are set up and the physical structures of the places they live and work make it nigh on impossible. These are conversations we can have – I want to hear about those obstacles, and I want to offer what solutions I can, and I think we’re all better off for talking to each other.

I’m a finite person with limited time. I want to have the conversations that are of most use. I can’t afford the time or energy getting bogged down in the opinions of people whose behaviour I find unacceptable. I don’t need to know what the justifications of white terrorists are. I don’t need that in my head and knowing it won’t enable me to do anything better, and it certainly won’t help me change their minds. We’re all finite. It’s essential to experience different perspectives but I think it’s also good and necessary to protect ourselves from perspectives that can only make us miserable and to step back from conversations that are clearly pointless. Trust that if you mean well, you’ll do a decent job, and that you do not owe it to every single person who wants your time to give that to them unconditionally. You do not owe it to anyone to hear their view. It is a gift you can choose to give. Do not be persuaded through the idea of the echo chamber that you have to take on things you cannot bear or that will harm you.


Working hours and mental health

One of the things I worry about, because I suffer from assorted physical issues and poor mental health, is not being able to work like a ‘normal’ person. This can mean pushing harder to try and do at least as much as I think a person in regular employment would do. Whatever that means.

Last autumn I established that I can do 40-50 hour weeks. I sustained that kind of workload for about five months. I watched it undermine my physical health and wipe out my mental health. On reflection, I don’t think is purely because I was fragile to begin with, but because long working hours are detrimental to mental health.

A long day leaves a person with no energy in the evening – or what’s left of it. You can only recover. If you can recover. You can’t do anything much to lift, cheer and sustain yourself. It is difficult being sociable or physically active when you are exhausted. The same thing happens with weekends – if you can take them. Being too tired to do anything much and not even having the energy to try and think of something it might be good to do.

In a counterpoint to this, I’ve seen a few articles floating about online regarding companies who have cut down to four day weeks without cutting pay. Productivity and enthusiasm go up. Sick days are reduced. Happier and more motivated staff turn out to be better workers.

When you are exhausted, it is harder to make good decisions. It is harder to plan for the long term or to take the time to examine your work life balance. Exhaustion as your normal state, is a toxic condition to live with. It sucks the joy out of life and turns everything into a chore that will take energy you can’t afford. Exhaustion makes it harder to engage with others, harder to care and harder to give. When you feel under-resourced, you are more easily persuaded of scarcity and the need to make sure you are protecting yourself from others. Exhaustion makes us easier to control.

When you have energy and time in which to deploy it, you can make more informed life choices. You aren’t just fighting for the next breath or staggering towards the next sleep. People who feel well resourced feel more able to share and give and are less likely to be frightened or persuaded by emotive, unevidenced arguments promoting hatred and division.

As the UK has shuffled towards the brexit cliff edge, I’ve noticed how many people I know are simply exhausted. I hear myself saying ‘just make it stop’, conscious that torture works by getting people to the point where they will do anything, say anything to make it stop. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Exhaustion works in much the same way. We don’t make our best choices when we are exhausted, and when we would do anything to just stop suffering for a little while.


Value Powerful Women

This is the final blog post inspired by Molly Scott Cato’s suggestions for resisting fascism.

How we treat powerful women is an interesting question. Unpopular powerful women tend to be the targets of a great deal of sexist language. There’s also often an assumption that women are supposed to be kind, tender, gentle and that women who aren’t that, have something wrong with them. When it comes to politics, there are a lot of women who are no kinder or nicer than their male counterparts. If you don’t like the politics, that’s fine, but it is important not to attack women whose policies you disagree with on the basis of their gender.

One of the things that fascism does, is try to narrow everyone’s options. Where women are concerned, what it tends to celebrate is staying at home to have lots of babies and raise them. Now, for some women, that’s the life choice of preference, but certainly not for all of us. Any woman who wants to be a domestic goddess should have the freedom to follow that life path. No woman should be obliged to do it. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis had no space for queer folk, and that gay people also ended their lives in concentration camps.

In a partial democracy, the people who can vote and the people who can be elected get their concerns taken seriously while everyone is considered far less relevant. People without representation can be easily reduced to the status of property. They can be scapegoated, ignored, oppressed, and there’s nothing they can do about it unless the people who have all the power can be persuaded to include them. We need diversity in politics because a narrow selection of backgrounds makes for very limited views of how the world works.

It may be worth pausing to remember that the time in history that defined modern economic thinking was a time dominated by men. We have economic models still in use that hark back to then, and that fail to recognise the value of unpaid work to the economy as a whole. The things that women were doing weren’t considered important, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that.

Value powerful women. Let’s overthrow the old fashioned idea that women are less able to wield power than men. Let’s have room for everyone in the domestic sphere, and room for everyone in the workplace, and political representation for everyone.


I’ve experienced oppression and that means…

One of the reliable mistakes well meaning people make is to assume that knowledge of one thing means understanding of another: I have endured sexism so I understand racism. I have endured workplace bullying so I understand domestic abuse. I’m a lesbian so I understand the problems of gay men. And so on and so forth. Less well meaning people take it a step further: I have experienced sexual oppression and therefore I cannot be racist. I have been a victim of abuse so I cannot be a bully. It’s easy to see how we get there, and the consequences are unhelpful through to harmful.

One of the things this does is let us not consider where we may be going wrong. A lifetime of dealing with sexual discrimination gives you pretty much no insight into the mechanics of race. If you are a white woman, a lifetime of sexual discrimination does not actually mean you are incapable of racism. The uncomfortable truth is that to be white is to be part of a system that upholds racial discrimination. If you want to change that, you have to find ways to be active about it. Imagining reasons it does not apply to you doesn’t help anyone.

Granted, experiences of oppression can give one group the scope to empathise with the sufferings of another group. That can be a productive base for mutual support. But it can also be a way of erasing the differences in power that exist. It can be a way of minimising your role in the other group’s problems. Sometimes it can leave people feeling entitled to speak for, and speak over those they claim to be helping. Speaking for other people is something to do with caution, because so often it turns out to be speaking over. Believing that you are qualified to speak for someone else is an impulse that needs scrutiny.

Suffering does not make you incapable of being an ass-hat. Experience of discrimination does not make you incapable of discriminating against others. Experiencing challenges does not mean that in some situations you don’t also have privilege. Thinking about this may be uncomfortable. You may feel a knee-jerk defensive reaction that wants to say ‘no, because I…’ and it’s ok to feel that if it’s what you’ve got. Feel it, sit with it, unpick it, understand it. Look at where those protective feelings come from. Do it privately where no one else can see. Own what you find there. It’s not an easy process, but if you do this quietly and alone, everyone benefits.