Tag Archives: control

Clothes, poverty and identity

Sighted people read each other visually, and that means for most of us, how we look will have a huge impact on who other people think we are. People will judge you if you don’t look clean and smart – neither of which is always easy if you’re dealing with extreme poverty. If you are presenting as poor and you don’t look poor enough to the people judging you, that won’t go well for you, either. Many social groupings expect people to conform to visual standards – you have to look the part if you want to belong.

Like many people, I grew up wearing hand me downs and clothes from charity shops. I did not get to choose how I looked, I had to wear whatever would do the job, and fitted. In my mid teens, I started taking scissors and needle to clothing in the hopes of finding something that felt like ‘me’.  I was seventeen when I bought my first new dress, with my own money. I liked how that felt.

I’ve never had much cash to spend on clothes, and I’ve mostly bought in sales and I still buy second hand, and I do a lot of upcycling. Being able to choose how I’m going to look is something I really value. I feel more in control of my self, my body and my life if I can choose what I really want to wear rather than having to make do with what fits. As a tall and broad person I’ve struggled to find second hand clothes that fit. It is not a happy thing having to wear clothing you despise because that’s all that fits you.

I’ve talked to other people about this and I know it isn’t just me. There’s an emotional impact in being able to choose how you look when you’ve grown up, or spent much of your life unable to do that. While we’re talking about the impact of fast fashion on the planet, I think we need to talk as well about how the long term experience of poverty can impact on people’s clothes choices – and not in the best way. When you have very little control over your life, cheap, throwaway clothing means you do have control over how you look. Not wearing things until they are ragged means not looking poor. It takes a certain middle class confidence to wear worn and patched clothes – if you’ve got money and don’t need help, you won’t encounter the same problems around this.

To deal with the impact fast fashion has on the planet, we need to identify and deal with the things that make it attractive. My guess is that control is a really important part of this. It’s a rare thing that you can control with very little money, and that might give a person with very little joy in their life an emotional boost. New clothes give people confidence and help them feel better about themselves, and unless those needs are met in other ways, fast fashion will remain attractive.


Permission to cry

If there was a time when it felt safe and reasonable to cry when hurt, I do not remember it. The further back I go, the patchier memory becomes, but I’ve no sense of crying ever being ok. I learned early to mute how I was feeling, to hide the tears of pain and frustration at school when I was teased, hit, humiliated. Sometimes I lost it, but I managed more stoicism than not.

Crying has too often just made things worse, and over the years I’ve added new reasons why I am not to do it. I might hurt or embarrass someone else by revealing that I’m in pain. It might feel like emotional blackmail. People might think I was faking it to get attention. Last year I broke down in panic when a group of kids charged at me and I was already in a lot of pain and couldn’t bear to be touched. Their first reaction to my tears was to tell me I was faking it. Better not to be seen than to be put through that, I have felt. Better not to make someone uncomfortable, not to implicitly demand care, attention, or something different by being so inconsiderate as to cry. Other people’s convenience has always seemed more important than whether I am in pain. Add to that the telling off for crying, the accusations of melodrama, and manipulation, and I don’t express if I can help it.

I’ve gone dry eyed through many a funeral. I can spot when the urge to weep is rising and I will lock it down, turning everything on the inside into stone if I can, so that nothing of what I’m feeling gets out. Sometimes the body pain, the fear, and panic attacks, the distress is too much and the tears get out, but the urge to hide it remains, and I’ll be silent, and I will keep my body still so that the motion of sobbing does not give me away. Failing that, I’ll remove myself and hide. If I’ve cried in front of you, then either I really, really trust you, or I was so broken at the time that I failed to maintain control.

It always feels like failure to cry, or to succumb to a panic attack. I feel ashamed of it. It’s a natural bodily reaction to pain and distress, but unless I am entirely alone and it goes unnoticed, I feel ashamed of my own tears.

In the last few days I have come to recognise how dehumanising this is. It’s a denial of my basic animal self, my natural self. To treat my own pain as unacceptable, to not allow myself the freedom of grief when I am hurt, is doing me a lot of harm. I’ve taken the decision to cry when I need to, regardless of the consequences. As a self employed person I have the luxury of not needing a brave face for work. In the short term, to have the space to handle my own distress, (and there’s been a lot to distress me this last month) I will mostly be stepping away from people. I need to feel safe about crying, and I need not to be worrying about how it’s going to impact on other people. That feels very selfish, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m going to see what happens if, for a little while, I let how I feel be more important than anything else for me.

There will be people who find me too difficult, and no doubt there will be people who again call it emotional blackmail and bullying on my part. They are allowed to feel that way. The right answer is for anyone who feels that way about me to spend no time with me. I’ve decided that no matter how much I love someone, if they have no space for me when I am in pain, they have no space for me.

I’m interested to see how the process of allowing my emotions – because I also intend to change how I handle panic and to totally shift my relationship with my own anger – impacts on my depression issues as a whole, and on the issue of body pain. I’ll share the results of the experimentation, because I think there are other people who will find they get similar outcomes, whatever those turn out to be.


Druid authority and ownership

On facebook a couple of days back, a chap remarked that a group we were in was not moderated and it was down to individuals using it. This made me realise that some awareness raising might be in order. Pretty much every space you encounter as a Pagan or Druid, online and in the real world, is owned by someone. Often there are layers of ownership with various different degrees of authority and responsibility associated with them.

Take this blog. I have the power to remove comments, and I can probably block people from making comments too. However, wordpress owns the site, not me, and they have the right to boot me if I do something that breaks their terms and conditions, or I do anything more generally illegal. Then wordpress are buying their website space from someone to whom they will be answerable, and that could impact on me in ways I have no power over.

Every facebook group has admins, and that’s true of any other space online. Someone has set it up, has control of it and can, at least in theory, moderate, ban, report and otherwise wield authority. Choosing not to use the power you have does not make it cease to exist. Every online space is managed by someone, and owned by a company who have authority over the space-manager, and probably owned again by the website host.

Offline you’ll find much the same thing. Every group, moot, grove, event, is run by someone. Not knowing who they are doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That person probably won’t own the space, so again there’s that second layer of authority – the pub landlord for the moot, the local council for the public land you do your rituals on and so forth.
There is nowhere Pagans get together that is not owned and in theory, managed. Some facilitators choose to be more active than others, some are better at it than others. In the best space, you don’t notice the manifestations of authority because they are good enough to be smoothly invisible.

Now, most of the time, the people who look after Pagan spaces – hold those facebook groups and blogs, run the moots and the rituals, are not paid. They put in their own time, money and energy, for the pleasure of making a thing go. I think this is worth bearing in mind. Any time you get into a public Pagan space, you are stepping into something that someone has made, put their energy into, and cares about. Think of it as walking into their garden, or their living room, if it helps. None of us would walk into someone’s house and deliberately crap on the floor, I assume, but we do it all the time in virtual spaces and I’ve seen a fair bit of it in actual ones (not literally, I hasten to add!).

We take the organisers for granted. We assume we have a right to demand things of them and that we are entitled to the service they provide, and so if we don’t think it’s up to scratch we hassle them. Remember these are unpaid volunteers, usually, and doing it for love. It is a different scenario when you are paying and someone is profiting, but it’s very easy to tell if you are paying and what you are paying for. Mostly you are paying for the venue hire. When we go into someone else’s space (and unless you are the one with the responsibility, it will be someone else’s space) and we are rude, inconsiderate, aggressive and so forth, we are not being fair to the person whose space it is. Now, maybe someone else was already being rude and aggressive, but, I go back to the pooing on the floor metaphor. The answer to someone taking a dump is not to take a retaliatory dump yourself. It just doesn’t work.

Every space, potentially, is sacred to someone. Every space, potentially, represents an act of love, service and devotion. That deserves respect, always. Not every space works. Not every space is free from problems. The question is, do we choose to trek in more muck, or do we offer to bring a bucket and mop and get our hands dirty actually putting things right again?

If you don’t support the people who run things, eventually they burn out, becoming so depressed and demoralised that they quit, and the space usually vanishes at that point. A little care of the people who are working on your behalf goes a long way, and makes more good things possible. What you do as a visiting individual really does matter.


Considering Power

Often, what having power means, is being able to do to other people things they are not able to do to you. If that isn’t actual violence, it will still be something that creates and environment for violence. Pagan communities abound with opportunities to get power over other people. The teacher-pupil dynamic can readily confer the wrong kind of power, as can being a ‘leader’ of events and activities. It all too readily it becomes a justification for making people do things your way. Once you start down that route, inflicting your will upon others, it’s a slippery slope. We stop listening to what other people say they want and need. Most dangerously, we decide we know better than them, and thus we get to the mindset that can announce it may be hurting you, but it’ll be for your own good in the long run. It may feel like rape, but that’s because you’re not able to properly express your sexual needs. Trust me, you don’t know how to manage that money, and you don’t know what you should be eating… scary stuff.

We can enter this kind of power dynamic in family life – the parent/child relationship is laden with opportunities to turn responsibility into despotism. When someone has far less power and knowledge than you, it is painfully easy to manipulate them, to ignore their feelings and preferences and force them to exist in-line with your designs. The damage this does is colossal. Again, while it may not manifest as physical violence, it is a violence against the spirit.
What happens to us when we adopt this approach? It isn’t good for the perpetrator either. This kind of power-over serves to entrench fear. After all, you want that power for protective reasons. You want to prevent them doing something to you (quite probably that which you are doing to them). You fear everyone is as unreasonable as you are and that only by having power over them can you stay safe. Do unto others or they will do unto you. Holding this kind of power means never giving yourself chance to find out that it might be different. Not everyone wants to control and manipulate. Letting other people hold different opinions is not going to take you to the hell you secretly fear. Let’s pause to consider gay marriage issues in light of this one. What are the bigots so afraid of?

When we force our will upon others, we don’t make things better for ourselves. We reduce our options, cut ourselves off from alternative perspectives that could have been really helpful. We also make it impossible to have real relationships, because nothing meaningful or truly loving can flourish in that kind of power-based scenario. To seek power over other people is to lose, and to keep losing, in more ways than you are likely to be able to see. It’s when we live and work co-operatively and with mutual respect that the good stuff happens.

The other kind of power, the power to get things done, is a whole other bag of squirrels. If you seek power in order to enable not just yourself, but others, you won’t get into this power trap. If you want power to fix something, to heal, to improve and you’re doing that co-operatively, then power is a good and useful thing. It’s when power becomes an end in its own right that the problems start. When holding power is more important than doing the right things. When appearing to be right becomes more important than actually being right.

Seeking power is a dangerous business. Power is seductive. If you care about yourself, it’s worth approaching any opportunities for power with a great deal of caution. I’ve also noticed that I haven’t met a single awful person who believed they were evil. Outside of fantasy fiction, no one believes they are evil and everyone will have a story about how what they do is perfectly reasonable. Even if they know the behaviour is wrong, they know that there is a special exemption clause that covers their unique situation. Most people who are very wrong, are entirely convinced they are right, and are unable to countenance different perspectives. This is probably the biggest trap of the lot.