Tag Archives: integrity

Studies in trust

For me, trust is everything, and it’s also something I find very difficult. It’s not especially the issues of practical trust – will people do what they said they’d do? I’m able to roll easily enough with the natural forgetting and error that is part of life for all of us. The critical balance for me lies around the trust-truth-acceptance dynamic.

Part of my problem is that I’ve been sorely messed about by people who were not truthful, and who did not accept me. Pressure to change, and rejection of how I am as a person whilst wanting either my body or my utility, having been reoccurring themes. I’ve learned a lot about how not to get caught up in that, and am doing better, but the legacy of it remains.

I find it really hard to trust people in any way. Most especially I find it hard to trust that I will be accepted. I am easily persuaded that silence equates to rejection, when probably it doesn’t. I tend to assume that my emotional openness will be unwelcome, and as a consequence I am less honest than I could be. I undermine the trust-truth-acceptance dynamic every time I lie by omission to someone I care about. Most often the thing I lie about in this way, is exactly how much I care. It says a lot about some of the people in my history that I have learned to be fearful around this one, and to feel that saying ‘you really matter to me’ is likely to cause affront.

It is so easy to cart victim/survivor status about, letting things that have happened in the past define what I do now and how I see the world. Holding the belief that I will not be acceptable and should not be emotionally open is actually a safe space, a cheat. If I stay in that view, I need take no emotional risks. I do not have to be vulnerable for anyone, or face my fears of rejection, or deal with the complexities of how other people feel and what they need. The more carefully closed I am, the less likely I am to invite emotional honesty and trust from anyone else, either.

Last year I ended up on my knees at one point, utterly convinced that how I am is fundamentally toxic to other people and that I should batten it all down and hide it as much as possible. It’s taken me a long time to think this through. Is it fair or reasonable to base all future relationship judgements on the words of one person? Is it fair to the other people who are in my life, or who come into my life, to assume that they will all, without exception think and feel in this way? Clearly they don’t. My husband Tom is an ongoing source of affirmation that I’m not some monstrosity that should be hidden away. Other versions of how I am perceived are available and I can choose which story to trust.

The bottom line in terms of why I find it so hard to trust other people, is that I do not trust myself. The reason I do not trust myself is that a very small number of people, half a dozen or so across my life, have really gone to some lengths to undermine my confidence. I know in some cases it wasn’t even personal, it’s how they treat everyone. In other cases its likely a consequence of being lost and messed up themselves. I realise that only if I can learn how to trust myself, to trust my judgement, my honour and my integrity, then I will be far less at the mercy of the people who want to take me down for the hell of it, and far more able to be open to those who might genuinely accept me as I am.


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.


Making Peace

The internet is full of things that will make you angry. Right now, someone is desecrating that which you hold most sacred. Someone is spouting rubbish so unbearable that you will think it dangerous. We can choose to seek out opportunities to be offended and upset, or we can choose to avoid them. In our personal lives, we can choose to dwell on wrongs committed against us, or we can tune them out. We can forgive, or not. At first glance the acts of ignoring would seem like the ones most likely to engender a sense of inner peace. I don’t think this is so. There’s a process to undertake here, and there are balances to strike.

Ignoring wrongs very simply condones them and facilitates their continuing. Turning a blind eye may assist our equilibrium in the short term, but if we are truly being abused in some way – be that by those around us, government bodies, institutionalised prejudice and the like, ignoring won’t fix it or make it go away. Usually the reverse happens. To get to a point of peace it is often necessary to tackle any external sources of difficulty. Sometimes the only option we have is to move away from the source of the problem, but this isn’t always peace-inducing. Leaving a festering pool of wrongness and pollution behind may well create in you a legacy of wondering what was harmed next, or whether it spread. The peace of knowing the problem is truly resolved, is like no other. The future is lining up a few opportunities for me to tackle aspects of my past. I mean to make the best use of them that I can. I want peace, and I want specifically the kind of peace that comes from having sorted things out and done the right things.

When confronting a wrong, it’s important to consider just how wrong it is, and whether it is, really speaking, your problem. If there is litter chocking the stream near your house, then there is something you can do. If atheists fill you with irrational rage, then maybe seeking out the places where atheists go on line in order to keep telling them what the afterlife is going to do to them, isn’t the best idea. There is a difference between tangible harm – being harassed, attacked, showered with chemical poisons from a factory, and taking offence at something someone else does. It’s that old if you don’t like thinking about what gay guys do, just don’t think about it, solution.

It gets tricky at this point because of course certain schools of thinking will understand certain kinds of behaviour as being dangerous and wrong. Someone less liberal than you may consider you dangerous. Part of the problem here is that fundamentalists of all hues (religious, atheist, scientific, political…) often have the belief that they are entitled or required to try and change you for your own good. If we could just let go of that notion of entitlement and requirement, we could solve a lot of problems. By all means, put your version out there, but if others reject it, you are not responsible for that. It is not your job to force it down the throats of the unwilling.

So where do we go with the people for whom climate change is a belief they don’t agree with, not an established fact? And if we say that the voice of sanity must prevail here, how do we handle it when the drug companies demand, claiming the voice of sanity, that all those quack medicines be taken off the market? (for which read herbal remedies and anything they aren’t getting paid for.) In my experience the majority of swords turn out to be double edged.

Sometimes, the answer is not to look outside and blame others for what causes us to feel angry, threatened or mistreated. Sometimes the answer was inside all along. Why should a straight person feel angry and threatened by gay marriage, for example? Work on the inside would be a better approach there for seeking peace. But the other side of the sword lops bits off us instead. If you are being bullied and you start to imagine that the problem is inside you (not an unusual reaction, I gather) then what you do is internalise the bullying, swallow the blame, and there is no hope for peace in that scenario, not without radical change.

True peace requires integrity and self awareness. It requires recognition as to whether the change needs to happen inside us, or outside. To find it, we have to be more interested in getting things right than merely appearing to be right. We have to be willing to change, to let go, to see with new eyes. We need compassionate thinking, both for ourselves and for others. That, I think, is the key. True peace is compassionate. If you are fighting for peace, if you are angry, what you get will not bring peace. Only compassion can do that, and in trying to find a right way through, compassion is your most reliable guide.


Finding Strength

So there I was yesterday, cycling into the wind, the hail in my face making it very hard to see where I was going. My waterproof coat wasn’t equal to the amount of time I’d spent in the downpour, I’m not convinced most coats would have been. Life throws physical challenges my way on a regular basis. Living in a rural area most of the time means nothing is conveniently to hand, many things require significant journeys. I’ve learned how to jump safely from a moving boat to the bank, how to tie decent knots, and lots of other things. These kinds of challenges are good for me. I’m stretched by them, I grow because of them.

 

I’m conscious that without challenges, it would be easy to stagnate. There are days when I think it might be nice to seek out my own challenges for a change, and maybe have a few days off from the process of being stretched though. When times are hard I try very hard to convince myself that this is another opportunity to grow, and to do better.

 

I’m a firm believer in having a positive attitude. I know how to make the best of things. At the same time I’m aware that this is a double edged blade. Knowing how to make the best of things can mean accepting a diet of crumbs while those around you feast. Embracing the challenges can mean not tackling the unfairness underpinning them. A stoical mindset can get you through hard times, but it can also encourage us to tolerate the intolerable.

 

Which leads to interesting questions about how to decide which is which. Some of those challenges are good, they make me stronger and more capable. Some of them are a bit much, and historically, there have been challenges in my life that I look back at and consider hideously unfair. There are times when a challenge is the consequence of someone else taking the piss. I know that I’m not good at telling when to tough it out, and when to challenge the source of the latest trial. No point arguing with the weather, but when the sources are human, there is scope to question what’s happening.

 

Fairness matters to me, and I recognise that fair to me needs to be part of that. Compassion to others can require a stepping up, a shouldering of burdens. Trying to act fairly in an unfair world, to deal honourably with people who have no honour, is an ongoing challenge for me. How much compassion should I show? How many challenges should I take on with calm equanimity, and when is it time to say ‘enough’? My best yardstick is whether my own behaviour remains honourable. That’s not an easy one to apply either, but more manageable than anything else I can think of.

 

Meeting the challenge of a wintery day is all about my own courage, strength and determination. Meeting the challenge of a selfish and unco-operative fellow human being requires similar things of me, but is a very different experience. I’m determined not to have anyone else’s lack of integrity provoke me into responding in kind. More subtle and harder to guard against are those things I am engineered into doing to myself, and when the act of challenging is not about the normal trials of being human, but instead about someone else trying to exert power or manipulate me. Of all the challenges I’m up against, the hardest by far is working out how and when to say ‘you are taking the piss’ and what on earth to do after that point.

 

Give me a hailstorm any day.


Perspectives of Druidry

I’ve recently read Kevan Manwaring’s excellent new book Turning the Wheel, (proper review coming to the druid network website soon). One of the (many) things it prompted me to do, was consider how druidry comes across to those outside the community.

Kevan comments on druid time (being 2 hours late and seeing no problem with this), drunkenness at druid rituals, and media whoring, adherence to scripts regardless of what reality is doing, and what really comes across as a lack of soul. I’d love to argue with him, but I know he’s right. Not all druidry is like this. I know plenty of individuals and groups whose work is underpinned by soul and integrity. But I’ve seen the other thing enough times. In fairness, it’s not exclusive to druids – other pagans can be just as pompous, camera craving and ridiculous. Other religions as well, for that matter.

Positions of leadership, or spots in front of cameras often attract people who desperately want to be important, but who do not necessarily have anything useful to say. Smudge enough incense over it, wave a big enough wand and someone else might mistake you for a wise elder. It is tragic, as are the people who can only find spirit in a bottle, and all the other many, heartbreaking variations on a theme of spirituality fail.

Part of the problem is that genuinely spiritual people (of any faith) tend to be inherently quieter. They don’t have much to prove or the same kind of hunger for attention. If a druid is dressed like a hiker, doesn’t hit a big site to celebrate, doesn’t send their photos to the press, or blog about it, no one will ever notice them. Most of the druids I know could be summed up very neatly by that description. They do beautiful things, privately, quietly, where the need takes them and the spirit moves them.

All of which combines to create an interesting mess of a situation. A quiet druid will avoid the cameras, not wanting to be mistaken for ‘the other sort’.  Sane, well balanced druids will not take on vast numbers of students and bestow ever more enthusiastic titles upon them. We run the risk of getting into a situation where sharing becomes commensurate with being a liability, and that would not be progress.

Good teachers have been an absolute blessing in my life. There haven’t been many of them, and frequently I’ve had to trail round after them, trying to elicit insight without seeming too much like a stalker. Quiet folk who undertake to share, are the life’s breath of good druid communities.

The only way to tackle public perceptions of druidry is to get quieter, gentler folk to make themselves known to the wider world. It’s difficult if you don’t want to dress up in eye catching gear and dance around a well known public monument on a very obvious calendar date, but there have to be other ways. There’s some really good quiet druid sharing on facebook, and across the blogs. That gives me hope.

Next year, armed with recent publications some of us will, hopefully be trying to stick heads above parapets. Probably me included. There must be a line to walk, between wanting a personal, private kind of spirituality, and being able to talk about it productively in public. Ways of bringing druidry to a wider audience that are not about flashing your funny bits for the cameras. Ways of not becoming a bad joke.

As a community, we are not comfortable with judging each other. We don’t point fingers and loudly observe that someone else is behaving like an idiot. Part of that is a culture of tolerance and non-dogma, and mostly that has to be a good thing. But at the same time it can mean that the guy with the silliest costume and the loudest voice will be the one people remember, and that’s not entirely fair on the rest. I would passionately defend any person, druid or otherwise, in their right to dress up and mess about in the manner of their choosing. An it harm none, etc. But at the same time, I don’t think that gives anyone else the right to speak for me, and effectively, they do.

Kevan Manwaring is an author who is likely to be predisposed in a friendly way where druids are concerned. We buy his books, after all. If someone only just outside the circle, and pagan friendly, can see our community is such an embarrassing shambles, what on earth are we doing? For me, it was a serious wake up call. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with it, much less how, but I can’t ignore it.


Whatever it takes

In the blog before last I suggested that people in survival situations do ‘whatever it takes’ and had a challenge  over that. It was one of those statements I typed out quickly as part of a different argument, so the subtleties of the issue just weren’t tackled. I really appreciate people catching me when I do these, because it requires me to think, to figure out ideas that I may have been taking for granted.

What I’ve come up with may be entirely personal to me, I don’t know. Usually when we talk about morals, ethics, behaviour we tend to assume that a given person has one set of values. On reflection, I realise that I do not. I have a number of levels within my ethical thinking, I’m going to simplify it to three for ease of explaining, but that’s probably not all of it in some instances.

I have ideals. These are the standards I would like to uphold, the things I think would be optimal. They include only buying organic and ethically sourced food, clothing and other objects, only using electricity I have generated myself by green and sustainable means, not using fossil fuels, re-using and recycling rather than throwing anything away, never losing my temper, never speaking or acting in haste, always acting with absolute care, thoughtfulness and integrity. There are others, but that’s enough to give a flavour.

In reality, I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if I stuck to those ideals, and I certainly couldn’t buy clothes on those terms. The realities of not having much money are just not compatible with my ideals. I’m stuck with the available levels of technology, and while I have very low fossil fuel consumption, I’ve not got that down to no use, yet. And of course the whole being human thing means I’m not always perfect in my self-control, speech and behaviour.

So, I have an aspirational level of ethics, and the reality. I push towards the aspiration in every way I can think of, but the nature of those ideals is that if I get close to reaching them, I’m going to shift the goalposts. Those aspirational ethics are not fixed, they exist to stretch me.

Then there’s the ‘whatever it takes’ ethics, and I suspect we all have these too. I don’t steal. If I genuinely couldn’t feed my child by any other means (postulate some apocalyptic scenario if you will) I would take what he needed. No question. But that doesn’t mean that I would consider absolutely any behaviour if I had the right justification. I don’t believe that rationalisation holds water, although I have the impression some people do think that way. I would not, for example, kill someone in order to escape from an extreme poverty scenario. I would not countenance doing anything that put my child in danger to achieve any other end.

The idea of doing whatever it takes has a connection with whether you see the ends as justifying the means or not. For someone who does, ‘whatever it takes’ is a very broad remit indeed. I don’t see the ends as inherently justifying the means, I think instead that the means must support the intended outcome. So there are definitely things I would not countenance doing.

For most people then I think ‘whatever it takes’ exists within a moral framework. No doubt there are people who can uphold their highest ideals no matter that happens to them, but I for one have a ‘bottom line’ ethic as well. They come into play when two ethical positions collide. Duty of care versus something else would be the most obvious. How far would I go to save a life, to protect a habitat, to prevent a worse injustice from occurring? I’m not sure, I won’t know until it happens.

I’m not going to die of cold rather than burn coal. That’s putting immediate survival before aspirational ideals. Whatever it takes, is relative. It depends a lot on how you define survival and how you craft your priorities.