Tag Archives: humanity

The need to be useful

When you’re ill, it is important to rest in order to recover. However, the need to feel useful can be a real barrier to this. I think it most afflicts people whose self esteem is tied to their output. If being useful to someone else is how you get to feel ok about yourself, then stopping is really hard. The lower a person’s sense of self worth is, the harder it is for them to feel that resting and recovering might be more important than doing the useful things.

The result can be that if you do stop in order to try and get well, you end up mired in panic and feelings of worthlessness, none of which helps. Especially not when what you’re trying to recover from is depression and/or anxiety.

It certainly doesn’t help that we have a government intent on making us believe that we are either workers or shirkers. We are to believe that hard work is the only thing that can save us from economic ruin (such a big lie). We are told by media and ministers alike that if we aren’t useful, we aren’t worth anything to anyone. Ill people are treated like scroungers and criminals. In that context, who wants to admit they are too ill to work? And so many people end up working when they should not, and making worse the health problems that might have been fixed if they’d felt able to stop.

If you are unable to fend off the idea that you must be useful, but you are also in need of time off, here’s a thought that may help. If you are well and rested, you will be better at doing the things. Your mind will be sharper, you’ll be faster, more efficient, and more effective.

Mostly, the time to tackle the pernicious idea that the measure of our lives is our utility, is not when you’re in a crisis. This is an every day sort of problem. We can challenge it by affirming each other’s rights to rest and to good health. We can remind each other that we should not be cogs in someone else’s profit machine. We can look after each other, and we may at times need to support and take care of those who are being let down by the system. We can campaign for change, and resist the lies of politicians and media alike, overcoming their bile to recognise our shared humanity.

We all need rest, time off, and time to recover when we are ill. Without a doubt, we will all face serious illness at some point – either our own, or that of someone close to us. We need to gently educate the people who are lucky enough not to be really ill, and who are buying into the lies about effort and scrounging. Of course it is tempting to believe it when you seem to be winning, because it means it is your effort keeping you ahead, not pure chance. It gives the illusion of being in control, and that’s a hard illusion to let go of.

We are soft and fragile things, our bodies damage easily, our minds can be broken. We cannot ask ourselves to function like pieces of machinery. We should not have to work ourselves into the ground in order to survive, or to be socially acceptable.


Questioning the toxic people

The internet is resplendent with memes about getting the toxic people out of our lives. It sounds simple, and of course in some cases is true. If you’re feeling miserable or anxious, before you assume you’re experiencing mental illness, it’s always worth checking to see if your feelings are largely caused by arseholes. Anyone who is ‘stealing your energy’ and bringing you down seems to be fair game in this process, but life isn’t as simple as memes.

It’s certainly true that if we successfully surround ourselves with people who only tell us how great we are, that we will, in the short term, feel better. If this is because we’re largely awesome, then getting rid of the haters may help us continue to be awesome and happier with it. Most of us, it has to be said, are significantly flawed. It’s part of what makes us human. We aren’t saints. Sometimes, it’s the people who love us most who will tell us what we most need to know about our own cock-ups.

Are the toxic people really toxic, or are we just experiencing them that way for our own reasons? It’s easy to get annoyed by people who share our failings, or possess qualities we dislike in ourselves. They are no more toxic than we are, and learning to tolerate them, can help us be more at peace with ourselves. Throwing them out of our lives can increase our discomfort with those shared qualities, it can do us more harm than good.

Are we finding people draining simply because we don’t have much to spare right now? Recognising our own shortages and insufficiencies, and perhaps a dash of guilt for not being able to do much to help others, we can be kinder to us, and perhaps a bit more tolerant of them as well. They aren’t toxic, we aren’t toxic, we’re all a bit stuck right now – this happens.

Do we find people toxic because they fail to be who we wanted them to be? Did we have ideas and expectations and needs that they’ve not magically fitted in with? Did they turn out to be flawed, human and possessed of their own agenda? Are they not our soul’s reflection, guru, glorious leader, saviour, hero after all? We don’t have to hate them for that. We can get over it and get to know them for who they are.

It’s important to consider that other people make honest mistakes, or have different ways of making sense of things, or different beliefs about what would be useful. That’s not necessarily toxic, just unhelpful.

When we can recognise and honour each other’s humanity, many of the things that might otherwise look like the toxicity of others starts to wear a much more acceptable and human face. It might not be great, but it doesn’t need running away from. There are people for whom this isn’t true, and they become more obvious when looked at this way. The people who keep doing the same things even when they’ve been told those things aren’t good. The people who always put themselves first regardless of the cost to others, who kick you when you’re down, demand, take, blackmail, manipulate and keep doing it. The people who trade in endless put downs and humiliation, power trips, ego trips. These are the people to move away from.


Trust

There is a form of trusting that puts faith in the imagined perfection of another human, and then gets crushed by the inevitable reality. We are all flawed, we mess up, misjudge, and misunderstand even when we’re doing our best to get it right. For trust to be meaningful, it cannot be based on any anticipation of perfection.

I found myself thinking this morning about the handful of people I trust most. You’re an interesting set, let me tell you. All of you are damaged and troubled people, to some degree or another. All of you are a bit wild and unpredictable. I don’t trust you to turn up and do specific things, to remember, or even reliably to be gentle with me. Some of you are pretty challenging when the mood is upon you. You people who I love and trust the most, are a difficult bunch. So, what am I trusting? Nothing in there suggests what trust is normally considered to be about. It’s not about your reliability or predictability, that’s for sure.

Although in fairness, some of you are reliable about some things.
You are the people I can and do go to when I am in trouble. You are the tiny number of people I can cry in front of and feel safe, and feel no shame. I can let you see me when my body doesn’t work properly, when my mind is flaky, when my heart is breaking and all I can do is whimper.

What I trust, is that you have accepted me, flawed and messy as I am. You know what I’m like and you’re ok with that, and it doesn’t matter what facet of myself I put in front of you, you’ll know what to do with that. Probably because things in your chaos resonate with mine. I trust you because you are passably able, or in some cases remarkably able, to accept your own nature, whatever that is, and in accepting who you are, you have room to accept me.

Then there is the trust that comes from knowing that if there was a crappy way of interpreting what I said, and a well-meaning way, you’ll assume it was the second one. You won’t look at what I do when I’m ill, or tired, or in pain and assume I’m just trying to get out of something, or that I do not love you any more. Part of why I am able to trust you, is that you reflect that same kind of trust back to me. I don’t have to explain, and you’ll take me at my word. If I say I am ill, you will not worry that really I was bored and didn’t want to be honest with you. Or any of that crap.

I’m pretty good at liking and accepting people. I do it as much as I can. I try to see how the world looks from other people’s perspectives, try to take people on their own terms. I want to learn, and understand. Mostly I am not very good at trust, and that definitely isn’t because I seek impossible perfection in others. I’m coming round to thinking that a lot of it, is simply that I am tired of dealing with people who do not trust me, and this is a two sided thing.

Don’t trust me to be awake, or clever, to know or be able to do. But you can trust me to care and to try, to give it what I’ve got, and not to bullshit you.

Do not trust me with cake, though.


Being Hateful

We all get angry, that’s just human. Right now, a lot of people seem to be angry, especially here in the UK, with groups of angry people marching to protest about other people. We see the racists getting their banners out, and then we see people who want to “smash the racists” and that doesn’t help at all. I think we all know, if we stop and think about it, that venting our rage on people will not make them change their minds. It will, however, entrench the hostility and give them more reasons to hate us.

When we are full of hate, we quite often feel a desire to make people do things our way, or think the way we want them to. We feel urges to use force to push our desires onto others. Perhaps they have done something awful and we are righteously angry with them. We want to make them pay for what they did, show them the error of their ways. We want to hurt them like they hurt us, in the hopes that they will then understand something. It’s not just about bodily violence, either. There’s the desire to publically shame and humiliate those who have wronged us. Sometimes, there may be a place for that. If a professional person acts unprofessionally, there should be consequences. People who break laws should not walk away untouched.

I get very angry sometimes – with specific individuals, aspects of modern culture, politicians, big business, idiot drivers who seem unable to indicate or perceive bicycles. Idiot drivers who routinely kill wildlife… There are a lot of cruel, stupid and pointless things that humans do, and I get my share of fury over this. That feeling – that if I could only knock some sense into them things would improve. That treacherous, lying impulse that says forcing people to do it my way would make things better. It’s a little voice we all seem to have, and it is a dangerous one. However, culture reinforces it. We treat it as ok to respond with rage and violence to rage and violence. Entertainment seems to be full of people shouting at each other, trying to force their opinions through. We tell ourselves its perfectly reasonable to shout, hit, maybe even kill, if we are cross enough. We justify our own hate as a response to someone else’s hatred, and all we get that way is more hatred, and more, with a side-order of violence.

I started thinking about this blog a few days ago, when I was bloody furious about the way racist elements in the UK are using one awful incident to try and make a few more awful incidents, as though that would balance things somehow. I didn’t write, because I realised that my angry responses were no better than anyone else’s. My hatred is no more reasonable, no more helpful than any other hatred out there right now. Mine is not the magical hatred with the special power to put things right. I’m glad I didn’t post in haste, or in anger. It was as much luck as judgement.

People are full of hate because they are afraid and they want something, someone easy to blame. Hatred comes when we are full of hurt, anxious about what will be done to us, defensive, and vulnerable. Hatred is the easiest thing to manipulate and steer. It worked for Hitler, and for pretty much every other mad dictator you might care to think about. The politics of fear are the politics of slavery. If we succumb to them, they will be used to control us.

Be angry. You are human, anger is one of the things we do. Let it run through you, and don’t act until the anger has run its course and you are able to think. Look to your own fear. Do not let that fear warp your perceptions of other, frightened human beings who are making poor choices right now. If we can get past the fear and the hatred to a bit of mutual tolerance, a bit of patience and compassion, we might avoid a total meltdown.

I’ve been through the long, dark corridors of hatred. It’s not a fun place to be. I do not want to go there again, and that simply means I have to deal with my responses, because I know I’ll still get to heft dead animals out of the road, and dodge stupid drivers, and listen to news items that make me want to scream.


Of failure and compassion

I re-read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun recently, and one of the themes has stayed with me. There’s a young, female character who is so pure and innately virtuous for most of the book, she has no capacity for feeling compassion for the failure of others. Believing that all should be as virtuous as she is – by the standards of the day – she can’t relate to the short comings of others, cannot empathise, and is of little help as a consequence.

The more I think about this, the more I realise how easily done it is. Those places we have not been, can so readily look like weakness, shortcoming, lack of proper effort… Mental health is a case in point. From the outside, depression can look like an ailment of not getting your act together, a failure to try, an excess of self pity, a lack of work ethic. From the inside it’s all very different, but for people who haven’t been there, it can be hard to understand.

Many of the same things can be said of poverty. The sense that if only poor people made a bit more effort, they wouldn’t have all these problems. When you’ve grown up in an educated, well off enough and aspirational family, the impact, both practical and psychological, of living in total poverty is hard to understand. We are collectively slow to recognise the existence of things we don’t really understand, and quick to judge. Crime is another one, we blame it on lack of moral character, greed, laziness, an unpleasant nature, and don’t look hard enough at the diets, mental health and education levels of so many people who end up on the wrong side of the law.

The person who has never messed up, never acted in desperation, never succumbed to temptation, probably doesn’t exist, and if they did, they’d be vile. However, it’s all too easy to refuse to acknowledge our own failings, holding a sense of importance, perfection and justification that leaves no room for compassion – either for ourselves, or others. It’s always easier to see other people’s shortcomings, to turn the blame outwards and not to recognise what we do ourselves.

There’s incredible emotional power in failure. It’s a great teacher of how to get things right, a great test of determination and dedication. If we face our own mistakes, shortcomings and stupid moments, it’s easier to be more accepting of the ways in which other people do those too. We’re all human, we all mess up. The person who can admit it, can move on. The person who has to hold an image of perfection in their own eyes, cannot progress. Worse yet is the person who needs everyone else to believe they are faultless and excellent in all things and who will reshape the world to meet their need, at least in their own imaginations.
Falling down and getting up again are part of the journey. If we ask each other to be perfect, we are asking each other not to be human. That seems true in so many workplaces right now, and it’s not workable. We fall, we fail, we make the wrong call. Acceptance of that enables experimentation, real progress, and scope to haul each other up again when needed.

In the meantime, Gods save us from the shining ones who imagine that they are superior and incapable of error, and who crush mere mortals under their boots for imagined shortcomings, much less real ones. As Oscar said, we are all lying in the gutter. Some of us are looking at the stars, I’d like to add that some of us have eyes shut and fingers in ears, la la la I am not in this gutter at all. You miss the stars that way, and the gutter, and everyone else.


Dissecting the work issue

I realise it may sound like I live in an ivory tower/boat, doing only fancy things, and that as a consequence that post about being totally demoralised may have sounded a tad self indulgent. I do all sorts of things, many of them mundane, banal, unexciting. This isn’t just a justification exercise though, I’ve sat down and thought hard about the nature of work, and figured out some stuff I think has far wider relevance, so let’s test that and see…

I write under other names too, and in a wide range of genres and forms. I’m not precious about that, I’ve written pub quizzes, custom erotica and reviews of household products along the way. I have worked tills and stacked shelves, I’ve washed glassware and spent long days doing stalls. It’s not all poncing about in celebrant gear and dabbling in philosophy! As a volunteer I’ve painted fences, picked litter, done long data entry sessions… I also edit for cash. And sometimes, for love.

The money aspect is simple. We all need money, and to be paid for your work is generally necessary, and also contributes to self esteem. I had no problem writing pub quizzes. I’d do it now if it came up. When the pay per hour is so low that you can’t live on it, that’s both deeply impractical, and in our cash driven society, does seem like a value judgement. I’d like to support anyone whose work was valuable enough to be paid, but who wasn’t being paid enough to live on, and there’s way too much of that out there.

I can bring a sense of meaning and soul and integrity to any job I do, based on experience to date. That’s about my attitude to work, that I know how to bring those things to the most mundane tasks. I think back to the paper round, and other low-brainers. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and I know if I want to feel something is innately valuable, I have to invest the right things. You can do it on a checkout, you can do it cleaning toilets. There aren’t many innately useless, meaningless jobs out there, and if you find one, there are always issues around how the money is deployed. Supporting a family is meaningful. Financing your planned studies, or your bardic work, or travel; there are many paths to meaning, and that’s down to the individual.

So that isn’t the problem either.

I focused my thinking on the volunteer work, because it takes the money out of the equation, and because when you’re volunteering, the innate worth is a given. Some of those jobs made me happier than others. I was happiest picking litter and painting fences. I was least happy in the job that came with a title and apparent status. Why? It all boils down to how I’m being treated. I spent a month working evenings to get the fences painted at my son’s school. It was a huge job, and although I had some help, it was exhausting. But, teachers, and the head, would stop and talk to me, and they kept telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing, how it cheered them up in the mornings seeing the painted fence. I felt wanted, needed, appreciated, and that enabled me to do a long, hard job for no pay, and to take pride in doing it. The two volunteer jobs that gave me a title came with a side order of never feeling trusted, always feeling inferior, no praise, nothing to sustain or enable. It burned me out, and I saw the same organisations burn out and demoralise a number of other good volunteers too. It’s not enough that the work be rewarding. A little respect, praise, recognition and encouragement make a world of difference.

I took this back to my current working situation. There are places where I feel like a loved and valued member of the team, and places I don’t. There are places where communications have been poor and I’ve been demoralised by this, but, those are fixing so hopefully I will feel better about what I do there. Working for someone who values me is a joy. There are people for whom I would happily wash dishes and fetch coffees if that was where they needed me to fit. I don’t need to feel super-important, I need to feel that my bit, whatever it is, matters, has a use to someone, and is recognised. That comes through, or doesn’t, in the smallest nuances of interaction. Recognising what’s going on here, I shall vote with my feet, where I need to.

It’s all about getting to be a person, and being treated like a person. I’ve worked in a small production space that was fun and happy, even though I was just washing and packaging. The culture of a workplace may be the most important thing. Places where they time and restrict loo breaks, constantly monitor, harass and demand, these are soul sapping. Such employers ask you to be a machine, not a person. There are some people who, seeing writing purely as a ‘product’ want authors to be well behaved little machines that make product. Any employer, in any business who in any way wants their worker to act like a machine, is an abomination. Human respect, human dignity, human expression are, I think, what makes the differences between workplaces that are good spaces to be in, and workplaces that grind you down and make you feel like shit. With the right employer and the right people, the most mundane job can be a joy. And with the wrong person, the most lovely and heartfelt project can be turned into a miserable act of drudgery. Been there. Not doing that again.


Can I have your attention?

For a while, attention deficit disorder, sometimes also called ADD or ADHD has been a fashionable sort of diagnosis, with ever more drugs for unruly children. This worries me, along with quite a lot of other things. I’m sure some of it is driven by a pharmaceutical industry that wants to sell cures. I also think we have a culture more than keen to pathologize difference. Those of us, adult and child, who do not fit neatly into someone’s boxes (whose boxes are they, I’d love to know…) will get labels. Now, where labelling leads to useful support – like giving dyslexic kids more time in exams – fair enough, but I am wary of putting anyone on long term drugs for any reason. I’m wary of labels that seem to be more about marginalising difference than helping people. We might pause here and think about the kinds of labels folks currently identified as having ‘learning difficulties’ have been given through history.

My soap box for today is about attention though. I’ve never been tested for ADD, but this may have a lot to do with my knack for self preservation around the issue. I can’t tune stuff out. Noise, movement, information – it all comes in. I choose my environments carefully, and as the issue seems to have got more pronounced over time, I’ve learned to stay out of spaces that mess with my head. More than a couple of days in a big city makes me feel like my head is going to explode. This is a spectrum ailment, and I’m functional enough to have sneaked beneath officialdom’s radar. Being a quiet sort of girl and not prone to acting out at school, no one would have considered me a candidate for an issue generally associated with disruptive behaviour.

But is there anything actually wrong with me? I think not. Millions of years of evolution designed us to survive in a reality where a rustle could be all the warning you get of a predator. Being alert to the environment used to be a survival skill. We used also to live in much smaller groupings, with far less stimulating surroundings. What we’ve manufactured, especially in our cities is an overcrowded, noise laden, information dense space that our millions of years of evolution have very precisely equipped us not to be able to handle.

The only way to survive is to turn off as much of your awareness as possible. You have to squash the inner mammal that sniffs at new smells and tilts its ears towards sounds. You have to tune out the human self that can handle about 150 people and cannot cope with thousands. To survive in the environments we have created, you have to be not animal, not human, not present or feeling too much or caring too much.

Therefore your normal, functional, twenty first century, western, urban human must cultivate apathy and obliviousness as primary survival skills. You learn not to look, and not to hear, an all the while the adverts get louder, brighter, bigger to draw you back in. It’s a psychotic arms race that we cannot win because we are doing it to ourselves.

In woodland or in fields I don’t experience overload. I don’t feel shocked and jarred by noise and excessive input because there isn’t any. I am increasingly convinced that the ADD folk are probably more like historical humans in their humanity than those who are willingly entering zombie states in order to survive. Most of us are somewhere in between. I can’t help but feel it’s the environments that need to change, not the people.


Dear politicians,

I know most of you won’t read this, but I’m writing it anyway because then at least I will have said it. It does not seem to have occurred to you that the greatest assets a country possess, are its people, and its natural environment. Arguably, people are part of the natural environment, but that’s a whole other story. People are one of your most valuable assets not because of what they might do for GDP, what they might produce, the tax you can raise from them or anything else of that ilk. People are your most important asset, because they are living, thinking, feeling beings. A country should take care of its people, and take pride in taking care of its people.

The health of your nation is one of your greatest potential assets. It is worth spending money one, because without health, happiness is much harder to achieve. And, knowing how much you care about money and productivity, now might be a good time to mention that well people are going to be more productive. This does not mean the solution is to tell everyone they are well, and stop supporting those who aren’t. This, between you and me, is a bloody stupid approach bound to make things worse. Stop it. Ill people are not lazy, are not scroungers, they represent incidents of your most precious resource needing support. Treat them accordingly.

Compared to the tax dodges of big business and the financial abuses of the money markets, benefit fraud really isn’t that big a deal. Get over it. I know it’s very easy to whip up hatred against the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society, but this is not ethical and once again misses the point that these people too, are part of your biggest asset.

We only have the one planet. Our water, air and soil are precious resources that we damage at our own cost. And yes, I do mean the kind of financial cost that you are capable of understanding. If we do not take care of our physical resources, we are doomed. This ought to be a no brainer, but too often you put short term money making ahead of long term viability. You might not be in office ten years hence, but you’re still going to have to breathe the air. Think about it.

We have a system that has evolved gently out of tyranny and feudalism. It’s a system that has always put the financial needs of an elite few first. If you want to carry on being the elite few, you might want to try practicing a little enlightened self interest. We are facing epidemic level obesity, anxiety and depression, along with a great many other illnesses. We are in financial crisis. We have an environmental disaster hanging over our heads the potential cost of which is beyond your wildest imaginings. You need to do something about this.

How about we stop worshiping the gods of GDP and profit for a little while, and ask ourselves what actually matters? Does it matter whether the excessively rich get to give themselves million pound bonuses this year, or does it matter that all our young people should be educated to a standard that will allow them to survive whatever the future throws at them? Do we need a few more expensive toys, or would we be better off making sure that our food chain is not loaded with dangerous poisons? People, and the environment should, by any logical measure, be the two most important considerations of any government. Not the income of the few, but the welfare and viability of everyone.

And please, stop with the bullshit about trickle down. It doesn’t. The super rich do not cause much by way of life improvement for others. If you doubt this, look around. Look at the Middle East where extreme wealth lives along side abject poverty. Wealth comes from the roots and it goes up, and currently it accumulates with the few at the top, to the detriment of the majority. If there is no one at the bottom, at the production and purchasing end, making all the small cogs go round, there is no system. Look at how any eco system works. Take out the bottom, the least powerful, most predated aspect of a food chain and watch how the big, dramatic predators die off. Nature tells us that you do not get high level predators without a healthy system supporting them.

To you who would be those predators; the tigers, eagles, sharks of the world, I say this. With nothing to feed on, you die. If you can’t buck up your ideas for any other reason, you might try doing it for that.


The valuing of people

We all make value judgements about people, and we all act to some degree based upon those. It’s a pragmatic necessity. Time, energy, resources are all finite and life requires us to pick and choose. We inevitably pick the people who matter to us in some way – those we need for practical reasons, those who share our blood, or a lot of our history and to whom we feel a sense of duty. We give more to those we admire, whose work we value, who we consider useful or anticipate may become useful to us. How much do we judge the value of another person in terms of their power, status, income and usefulness? How much do we each judge ourselves on those terms? How do we treat the people who do not live up to our value judgements?

Many Druids are animists, understanding spirit to be present in all things. This means all people, too. A little bit of something sacred in every one of us. Often it’s easier to recognise that spark of sacredness in a tree, or a bird, than it is to see it in a drunkard, a loudmouth, a layabout, or whatever else it is that seems worthless to us. Most of the time, most humans do not treat each other as though they see a spark of the sacred within. Even though monotheistic faiths have us created in God’s image, we don’t collectively honour God by honouring that which is divine within each other.

What makes a person worthless? What attributes make a person beyond care or respect? And if we feel the worthlessness of another keenly, should we express that in some way, or keep it private? Our politics are full of the langue of dismissal and denigration – the unworthy poor, the frauds, the scroungers, the cheats…. It’s all about the devaluing of those who lack money, power and status. How much do we believe that, buy into it, support it? Do we only value other humans in terms of their economic power, or their potential for having power over us?

If I tell you that I earn very little, will you value me less? If I tell you that in person I am scruffy and shabby looking, would that change things? What about my work this week, does that matter? If I’ve worked hard, am I a better person than if I took a few days off, or was too sick to do much? Is there anything I could do that would convince you I was a person of particular value and merit? (Or that anyone else could do, for that matter).

I think life is precious. I think the life flowing through any human is just as important as any other kind of life, although in practice, to eat, I have to kill things. They were not less deserving than me of life, to my mind, but this is one of the more challenging facets of how nature works. There are life choices I don’t agree with and ways of being that I don’t value – cruelty, and malice heading up the list there. But I think spirit is everywhere.

Give me any kind of chance, and I will try and see what is best and brightest in you, what is most worthy of praise. Give me chance and I will like you for who you are, not what you earn, or what you might do for me. For my own sanity though, perhaps there are value judgements that I need to make and act on. I’ve spent most of my life jumping through hoops trying to please people. I’m starting to question whether some of those people are capable of being pleased. I can say ‘I respect you as a manifestation of spirit, but frankly your behaviour and attitude suck so I’m not sticking around.’ It’s an interesting theory. If I ever have the nerve to try it in practice, I’ll let you know what happens.


Druidic arts: Compassion

Memes like ‘survival of the fittest’ ‘do unto others before they do unto you’ and the whole outlook of the economic rat race discourage compassion. It’s not a good idea to care too much about whose fingers you stand on as you climb, whose dreams you trample, whose future you destroy. Caring is all about slowing down, because if you don’t hang around to hear it, you’ll never know what others think or feel.

Bothering about others, human and creature, plants and places, is precisely an art of engagement with the world. Even the art of being a little gentler with ourselves encourages us to look outwards. When we recognise our own fragility and shortcomings, give ourselves a break for being human and flawed, and stop trying to imagine we are, or should be perfect, it becomes possible to treat everything else that bit more gently too.

So much of how we treat people and the rest of the planet has to do with expectation. What we think we ought to get, how we think we ought to be treated, what we think things are worth, and the sense of priority we carry with us. And so getting the job out of the door starts to seem more important than who has a heart attack making it happen. Forget wrecking a landscape, we’re going to create jobs, that’s the priority! We’re going to generate wealth, so it’s silly to say we shouldn’t dismantle a community to make that happen. A non-compassionate culture puts wealth, assets, job creation and ‘progress’ before the wellbeing of the individual.

What on earth is the point of ‘progress’ that pillages as it goes? We mistake benefits for the tiny minority for a good thing. Compassionate thinking doesn’t consider a bank balance, or GDP. It looks at living, feeling, breathing entities in their own right and values them for existing. It sees webs of connections, communities and landscape and knows that they have a wealth in them far beyond money. A compassionate perspective is one which, pretty much by definition, does not seek to exploit. It’s all about what is sustainable.

We learn to care by being a little bit more open to all that is around us. Taking the time to listen, to empathise, trying to imagine how it looks from the other side, what it could mean. We don’t just assume that our own desires should be paramount, we put them in context. Recognising the humanity of other humans, the spirit and the sacredness of all that is not human and around us, we can start to treat all of it like family.

It is impossible to live without consuming. The more we love our food sources, the more challenging that becomes. The person who squashes their capacity for compassion can act far more easily, feeling no pain over waste, ruin and wanton destruction. Our society endorses this very approach. That doesn’t make it right. Caring exposes us to pain. Compassion will lead us towards a desire for action. Compassionate action. Work in the world that makes things better, that lightens the burden for others, minimises suffering, avoids using, does not defile or exploit.

There are so many things to care about that it can be threatening indeed to open the self to what is really out there. I am tempted to compare compassion, as an art, to striptease. Imagine that you start out swathed in layers of clothes. So many layers that you can barely move your limbs. No outside bodily sensations get through to you. Taking off a layer of clothing will be technically challenging, and you’ll hardly notice the difference. Why bother? Take off another layer, and another. There will be an audience, and they will wonder what you’re doing, and they may stare. Take off another layer, it may be by now that you have some freedom of movement, and are noticing how everyone else still has far too much insulation wrapped around their bodies. You may be down far enough now that you can dance where others cannot. For a while it may seem easy, but you’re now wearing far less than anyone else. Bits of your skin are visible. If you keep going, all of your skin will be on display, there will be no where left to hide. Everyone will be looking at you then. There will be no protection between you and the world. Nothing to keep off the cold wind or the rain. Nothing to keep you warm. If what you find is agony, you no longer have a comfort blanket.

There are days when it’s not just about feeling naked, I don’t even seem to have skin on either. The news makes me cry. I didn’t consciously choose to walk this path, it happened as a consequence of life experience, and it hurts. I can’t and won’t step away from it though, because it is real. Painfully, precisely real. It makes me cry a lot.

But I also know that if more people dared to strip off even a few layers, then so much would change. What’s making the world such a dangerous place so much of the time, is our devastating desire to keep ourselves safe.