Tag Archives: kindness

The contradictions inherent in virtue

Every virtue has the seed of its own destruction inside it. Taken too far, or taken the wrong way and things that should have been virtuous and brought good into the world become dysfunctional or damaging. The problems come when we get too focused on practicing the specific virtue and stop putting it in the context of a bigger picture.

Tolerance that tolerates intolerance sows the seeds of its own destruction. When you accept that all views deserve to be heard and all comers are due a place at the table, you empower those who will take power from others. Tolerance needs to be conditional on excluding the truly intolerant. When we’re so invested in our tolerance that we’ll tolerate anything and anyone, we enable Nazis, fascists and other haters.

Modesty and humbleness, and avoiding pride can in itself become a form of pride. These are particularly Christian virtues, and the way they seed their own destruction can often be best seen in those who claim Christianity as their faith. When people become enthusiastic participants in their own martyrdom, and keen to announce how humble, modest and good they are, it’s pride in a different hat. But it’s more problematic than simple, honest pride, because it’s also self deluding.

Being kind can become profoundly unkind when it supports people in doing harmful things. If we’re too kind to tell someone that what they do isn’t working. If we’re too kind to call out an abuser, question dodgy thinking or protest at inappropriate behaviour, we enable all those things. The kindness that lets someone carry on destroying their own life isn’t very kind at all.

Often the wider frame we need for navigating here, is honour. But even honour holds the seeds of its own destruction. If we focus on how to appear honourable and how to put ourselves forward as the best and most honourable people, we won’t always do what’s needed. Sometimes what’s needed is a lot more complicated than personal honour will allow. When the laws become toxic and the leaders are false, it ceases to be honourable to hold up laws or dutifully follow leaders. When the truth around you is evil, lying can become necessary. When the system is unfair, cheating can become essential.

At every turn, you can use the seed of destruction within a virtue to act badly while claiming the moral high ground. At every turn, you can use the knowledge that every virtue has its limitations to justify not even trying, or to protest that virtue itself is meaningless. It is a difficult thing to meaningfully practice virtue in a dishonourable age.

Advertisements

Work does not save us

Today is not going to plan. Pain and other issues in the night kept me from sleeping, and it’s not the first time in recent days this has happened. Normally I’m working by about 7 in the morning. Today I took the decision to start later in the hopes my body would cope better. It’s not a choice everyone has the luxury of being able to make.

This leaves me wondering what life would look like if health and wellbeing were social priorities rather than work and profit. Wealth without the health to enjoy it isn’t a great deal of joy. But then, the people with the wealth tend to be healthier, the people without as much money tend to have poorer physical health. The stress of poverty causes mental illness.

Working when ill isn’t very efficient. I’ve noticed that in the last year, where I’ve been taking more time off and resting more. I work faster. I get far more done in far less time. The idea of work as an inherent good is not upheld by exploring what happens when I work less. If we’re measuring quality or quantity of output, less time working equates to more and better work done.

Yet we treat more work as the answer to all social problems. We treat it as the answer to poverty, even though the single biggest issue is rent costs and unaffordable mortgages. In the States, the crippling cost is health care, often. Most of us can’t hope to earn our way out of those traps no matter how long or how hard we work. Here in the UK our government seems to have decided that work is also the answer to disability and chronic ill health. Make people work and they will magically get over it. I’m not sure which planet they come from, but I do wish they’d go back there.

We all need the space, time and resources to be kinder to ourselves and kinder to each other. Relentless work doing nothing of much use, just burning up finite resources, is something we need to get rid of. Making things that benefit no one, half of which go rapidly towards landfill, is not an answer. A marketing culture of disposable everything where you throw it away to get the newest one is eco-suicide, and it’s also make-work. There have to be better ways.


Gratitude and perspective

It’s been a week. The lows were alarming – stressful things bad enough to give me panic attacks, and the distinct possibility that, due to a technical malfunction, I’d lost all of my photos and older work. Alongside that, a whole array of smaller trials and troubles that, by Friday, had me almost at screaming point.

Today, journeys in perspective. This time a year ago, and for years before then, panic attacks were not a noteworthy event. They were a daily occurrence and I was really ill. That I’ve come to a place where a panic attack is something to notice, marks a huge change in quality of life for me. Yes, the panic attacks are still horrible, debilitating and demoralising, but I am so glad that they are now rarer. I am better at managing them than I was, better at keeping going. I did what needed to be done.

I’ve lost a lot of things, and people along the way. I’ve lost homes and sanctuaries. Death has taken people I love. Life changes have put physical distances between me and too many people I care about. There were times when I had reason to believe that I could be deprived of the people who mattered most to me, and when I thought I’d probably lost everything I owned. I’ve been deep in debt, to degrees that terrified me, but I came through and got it sorted. I’ve been threatened with homelessness by the ‘charity’ The Canal & River Trust. I survived their bullying and they did not get to take my boat from me on the flimsy pretexts they use to intimidate liveaboard boaters into quitting the canal.

There’s an odd thing here though, because that experience has not toughened me. Other, smaller loses are just as alarming. Perhaps more so. The thought of losing all my photos cut me up. The thought of losing my work, the same. It’s not like losing a home or a person, and I would not have been so grieved; I have some sense of proportion, but life experience to date has not brought me to a point of being able to shrug off the smaller losses. Perspective does not always mean being able to shrug things off. That which I still have from former periods of my life, is really important to me. Books and clothes that date back to my teens. Kitchenware that was once my grandmothers. I smart over a large, earthenware pot of my grandfather’s which I left behind. Small friends lost along the way. The experiences of coming close to losing everything have made me value even more the things that have travelled with me.

The choice to let go of most of the cuddly toys this year, was a stinger. I’d given mine to my child, and we have run out of room. We picked the ones to keep, we let the others go. It was surprisingly difficult. Some of it may be to do with animism. I do not see inanimate stuff as irrelevant. Objects become imbued with stories and history. They become a part of life lived, and many seem to me to have a presence of their own, that is not easily dismissed. I do not give away, or throw things away easily or lightly. I do not discard people lightly or easily, either.

I have my files and photos, thanks to the awesome people at Webworks in Stroud. I shall express my gratitude to them by going back there to source all future technical things rather than searching online for bargains. They are an independent local retailer, and as I want to make sure they are around to rescue me next time, they get my custom. I find myself awash with gratitude to people who have just been lovely to me through the stresses and hassles. Small acts of kindness, fellowship, encouragement and hope. It makes worlds of difference.

As was pointed out in the comments yesterday, every setback is an opportunity too. A chance to learn something and be wiser for next time, if nothing else. A chance for other people to be noble, generous or heroic. A chance to get a different perspective. Most of this week has been shitty and hard, but I come to the end of it with a heart full of relief, deeply grateful for all the small gestures along the way, and for the good bits. Sun on a winter’s morning. Sleeping well. Mostly having the things that matter most to me. Glad that I know how to love fiercely the tiny things that are lovely. Glad that I know how to appreciate a quiet day, an easy day, a small win.


Peace one day after

Yesterday I started out in a place of pain and confusion. I don’t usually blog so directly from what’s going on in my life, but there are times when it seems productive to share. We spent time for Peace One Day, sitting on a hill with likeminded folk. I had about 4 hours there of walking, talking, sitting, sharing bread and ideas about both peace and conflict. Then afterwards, more talking and sharing insight. There is no peace until the pain has been addressed, but there is also, as was pointed out to me, a violence in the healing, and that’s hard to face.

Today I am actively seeking the things that leave me feeling better: Time in my lover’s arms, time on small jobs around the flat. I’ve set up some wine. There will be a walk and jam making along the way as well. Just being with my family in our little home and letting myself feel held and protected by that. It’s often the smallest and most practical things that help me feel peaceful and secure. It’s not big speeches and grand gestures, but a friend’s hand on my shoulder, a warm word online, extra time in the duvet.

I am an intensely emotional sort of person, and it is easy to let that turn into a focus on the large and dramatic stuff. Passion, inspiration, rage and rapture are attention demanding. They take over. I’m starting to see though, that while these intense things bring colour and a sense of direction into my life, they aren’t what holds me together from one day to the next. These are not sustaining forces. Far too readily overlooked, and perhaps far more critical, are the influences of kindness and liking. No one can sustain passion or lust full time. It’s exhausting. Having that in modest and manageable bursts is glorious, but what happens in between?

I started asking myself why this relationship I am in works so much better than anything else ever has for me, and I think the answer is, because we also like each other and care about each other. On the tired, scruffy, lacklustre days, care will keep a relationship warm, tender and close. A default position of kindness means that even when we disagree or misunderstand each other, we don’t end up hurting each other. It makes worlds of difference.

Liking and kindness go together well. These are sustainable things, feasible for the long term, creating threads of emotional engagement you can hang the whole rest of your life from. Equally, for me it is the spaces where that warmth and gentleness are lacking that I really suffer. I know there are people who believe in vigorous debate, in challenge, who take a combative and macho approach to all aspects of relationship, interaction and creativity. It makes me very sad. So I have come to the conclusion that if other people want to be strenuous in their debates, ruthless in their creative approaches, tough and hard-nosed in their beliefs – they’re entirely welcome to that thing but I won’t be showing up for it.

I like deep exploration of subjects. I enjoy the interplay between barely compatible ideas and exploring outlooks different to mine. I am open to being challenged, disagreed with, told I am mistaken, but I need that to be done by people who also care about me enough as a fellow human being to treat me with kindness at the same time. Or at least not actively be unkind to me. This, it turns out, is the price of peace in my life, and where I find what I need is unavailable, I’m going to move on. There is no need for anyone else to do differently, I don’t believe in asking people to change for me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a right not to be in spaces that make me miserable and ill, and that the only answer is to quietly leave them.

My thanks to everyone who shared yesterday with me, who offered wisdom and insight, kindness and friendship. Let’s keep doing those things.


Overcoming fear

I’ve blogged a number of times in the past about the challenges of living with anxiety illness. It’s been with me for years, and has considerable impact on my functionality, and my quality of life. But I’m winning, and aware of having made some progress, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how and why this has happened.

The biggest development is that I’m not waking up into panic attacks most mornings. I’d endured that for years, and it does not make for a positive start to the day or set you up to cope with anything else. Some days I wake up feeling apprehensive or worried, but this is now a much more manageable thing. This change is because both my circumstances and the way I understand them, have also changed.

During the darkest phases of fear, what underpinned my difficulty was a feeling that I could not win. A ‘you can’t get there from here’ scenario. Everything seemed to be stacked against me, and I had so much hostility and genuine difficulty to field in my life that I started to feel that was normal. That’s the dangerous bit. High levels of trauma are much more manageable if you think they were one-off problems. Smaller but ongoing distress where it becomes normal to be attacked, (verbally counts) normal to be barraged with criticism, to be humiliated, disbelieved, maligned and so forth, creates longer term psychological problems. It’s not always possible to step away from the source, either, although that’s probably the best solution if you can.

What I’ve been doing for some time now, is quite simply building a new reality. As far as is possible, I’ve stepped away from negative, hostile influences. It’s easy to let a few nasty, loud voices drown out the rest, but making that space for myself, a thing has become clear to me. Most of the people I know do not think I’m an awful waste of space. Most of the people I know do not feel the need to tell me off, put me down, nitpick my faults and tell me I am bound to fail.

What really brought this home to me was the weekend at Asylum in Lincoln. We had people coming to the table who had already seen the webcomic, already knew who we were. That was incredible. Lovely, wonderful, brilliant and talented people that weekend responded to me like I was okay to be around, often more. To be in the company of people I really look up to, and to find I pass muster… that means something. The warmth, kindness, encouragement and loveliness of everyone – it was like a huge, weekend long hug. Quite simply, it drove a lot of the fear away.

Yes, I do have a place to belong. Yes, there is a community where I fit in. Actually, more than one. Yes, there are people who value my work. I wrap those thoughts around me like a big, snugly comfort blanket.

Fear and self esteem turn out to be deeply interrelated things. The person who thinks they are worthless and unlovable, is isolated and exposed, at least in their own mind. The person who feels hated and denigrated can hardly ask for help or support. When the world seems cruel and hostile, being afraid is a very sane sort of response. But not everything is cruel, or hostile, and seeking out places to be and people to be with who reinforce my sense of self, who value me and uplift me, has been a big part of the healing process.

There’s only one bit of this I’m sure is relevant to everyone – what you do, counts. The small things, count. Those little acts of meanness, being snarky, point scoring – they really can destroy people by slow attrition. And on the other side, the smallest acts of warmth, community, kindness, inclusion and respect will heal wounds and trauma, will give back self esteem to people who have been trampled. It’s all about the details and the nuances of how we treat each other. There are a great many people whose small kindnesses, and large ones have contributed to me getting to the point of not waking into a panic attack every day. Thank you, all of you. The odds are, you have no idea what your ongoing expressions of human decency have achieved. Most of the time we don’t know how we impact on others, but we can all choose whether to take people apart, or help them hold together, and that choice makes very real differences.