Tag Archives: kindness

Stranger Things – some reflections

This isn’t exactly a review. I’ve watched two series of Stranger Things now, and there are aspects of it that I’m really impressed with.

One is that the emotional lives of the teenage characters are taken seriously – by the adults in the story, and also by the writers. I’ve never liked things that treat the feelings of young humans as silly, insubstantial or trivial. The feelings and experiences we have in our teens can have a huge impact on our lives in all kinds of ways. For most people it is a time of finding out who you are, with all the implications that brings.

The second thing I’ve really appreciated is the vulnerability and emotional honesty of the characters. They’re all flawed and messy and they get things wrong. There have been a few instances of this turning violent – especially with the teenage boys. However, there’s a stunning amount of people owning their shit, apologising, and explaining where they are coming from. These are characters who want to understand each other, want to make sense to each other, and want to work through their problems and do better. I love that.

My third big source of delight is the impact of horror in this story. Characters who have been through terrible things together do not become jaded or more violent or convinced that the world is a terrible place. They become kinder to each other. They try harder to fix things. 

We’re a storytelling species, and the kinds of stories we tell each other matter greatly.


How to change things

Knocking people down is easy. Knocking people down to make yourself look good is really easy, and a low effort ego-boost if you aren’t careful. So, please hear me as tongue in cheek as I mention how those other people are doing it wrong, blogging their complaints about the greed and selfishness of others while I have the moral high ground over here talking about the importance of bigging people up.

Anger and frustration are entirely natural emotional responses. There’s certainly plenty out there to get angry with, and nothing wrong with feeling it. No emotion is wrong. But, we then get a lot of choices around what we do in response to any given emotion. Knocking someone else down can feel like power. It can feel like taking a significant, meaningful action. However, politics in recent years has demonstrated that often when you try to knock people down, they’re more likely to dig in with their position. Feeling humiliated and got-at doesn’t tend to bring out the best in people.

There are a lot of stories out there in which evil characters do evil things because they are evil. It’s one of the most unhelpful stories we habitually tell each other. People do things for reasons, and at the time they tend to think their reasons are good ones, or justified, or necessary. When people seem to be acting badly, it’s worth stepping back and asking what might be underpinning that. Often the roots can be found in fear – we live in insecure societies with most people in debt and a paycheck or two from utter disaster. Individual coping mechanisms for this can often add to the problems as well as distracting from them. Scared people seldom make good choices.

As social creatures, humans are motivated by the approval of others. When this goes wrong, it can drive a person deeper into the embrace of a toxic relationship, or for that matter, a toxic community. If everyone else is calling you stupid, you’re going to cling that bit harder to the people who tell you that you’re very clever. Cults and conspiracy theories alike thrive on this.

Knocking people down doesn’t reliably persuade them that you are right. But it does fuel the kind of anxiety that pushes people towards the things that offer them apparent uplift. A lot of populist politics depend on this. It doesn’t help that money, and the display of money through rampant consumerism is one of the few routes most people are offered towards being socially respected. It’s a precarious path, and it doesn’t get the majority where they want to be so it feeds resentment and dissatisfaction as well.

If we want to make real change – socially or environmentally – we have to persuade people to engage. People who feel belittled by a minority aren’t going to step away from a culture that promises to reward them for being selfish. It is essential to lift and inspire people rather than just criticising them. We’re all flawed, we all have things we do badly and competitive virtue signalling isn’t reliably virtuous. When it comes to making change in the world, I feel strongly that kindness and compassion are the key virtues to cultivate. Even if you do that primarily to try and impress people with your performance, it still works. If everyone is trying to perform kindness, we can get some good things done.

Kindness and compassion do not require us to be uncritical, but presentation can make a lot of odds. It’s possible to dismantle ideas without attacking people, and I think it gets more done to offer people ways of feeling better about themselves.


Inclusion and Commitment

Many people who suffer illness – including mental illness – and disability find that their lives are unpredictable. What we can do this week is not what we can do next week, but we don’t know the details right now. It makes commitment difficult.

One of the easiest ways to exclude ill and disabled people is to require high levels of commitment. This is often an issue around closed working groups, but it can be an issue in all sorts of organisations, even social gatherings. It can impact on who you chose as a speaker for your event, as well.

There’s also a question around how much humiliation a person may have to endure around this. How much personal information is a person going to have to hand over to be cut the slack they need to participate? How much detail are you going to demand about their health issues and the possible implications? Making someone justify why they need adjustments so they can participate can be a really humiliating process and not everyone is keen to go through that, oddly enough.

What’s the humiliation toll going to be if a person has to drop out at short notice? Will you treat them kindly? Or will you get angry with them? That happened to me earlier this year, when I was suddenly extremely ill and had to drop out of an online event. It’s as well I was too ill to be online, because I didn’t see the nasty messages until after an apology had also been sent. I’ve also had some experience of being publicly treated as useless and flakey because my health issues create limitations. Oddly, that was around work that I had done well and on demand. It takes a particularly toxic sort of person to want to publicly humiliate someone for the fact that they have some mental and physical illness to contend with.

Disabled people experience bullying and abuse in all sorts of contexts. Often this is underpinned by an actual belief that the person is lazy, faking it, getting something for nothing, making a fuss or seeking attention. Our media are greatly to blame for creating a culture where this happens, but we all have individual responsibility. I would rather indulge a few lazy people and thus protect the emotional wellbeing of disabled people. I would rather choose kindness where possible, and seek to accommodate, include and enable as many people as possible. Starting from the assumption that people may have genuine issues and no desire to tell you the details is a good first move in this regard.

When we create inclusive environments, we create kinder, gentler spaces for everyone. When we work in ways that support all kinds of participation, we don’t support a culture of martyrdom and burnout – that capitalist approach to life that has us buying, not living. Making a deliberate attempt not to humiliate people is a great way of being more inclusive. People have all kinds of limiting problems, and when we are able to treat that kindly, the world is simply a better place.

The outcomes may not always be ideal. But, given the choice, I’d rather sacrifice an event and save a person than destroy a person’s health for the sake of an event.


Druidry and the body

One way to honour nature is to honour it as it manifests in our own bodies. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because capitalist cultures are set up to have us not doing that. We work for too long and don’t rest enough. We’re sold allegedly convenient foods that are harmful to us. We dose ourselves with chemicals. We don’t spend enough time moving around, or being outside. Consumer culture makes it hard to honour nature within ourselves.

This week my body has made it clear that I have to figure out how to be a lot kinder to it. My body is no longer prepared to go along with the demands I make of it. This animal self needs more that as healing, comforting and restorative. I note that I think of my body as something separate from ‘me’ and that I’ve been in a running battle with my body for most of my life. What I want to do and what I expect of myself are not compatible with what my body can actually sustain, and this has always been an issue for me.

Currently I’m experiencing menopause issues. I have been for a while, and every now and then I get really knocked about by it. Where menopausal stuff intersects with problems I already have, the results can be desperately unpleasant. One thing that is clear is that I need more slack in how I organise my time so that if I get in to trouble, I can focus on it. I’m going to have to give my body more priority and I’m going to have to be kinder to it and take better care of it.

There are ideas that come up around Druidry, around other spiritual paths and in other aspects of life that don’t help with this. Discipline is one such. Discipline doesn’t encourage us towards listening to our bodies or treating them kindly. There are all kinds of ideas out there about what we should be doing in relation to the wheel of the year that doesn’t take into account how the seasons impact on our bodies. Notions of spiritual routine and daily devotion may not give anyone enough flexibility to handle a body that just can’t do the things right now. An approach to Druidry that begins with practicing kindness towards your own body might work very differently.

At the moment I am simply trying to figure out how to be kind. It goes with trying to figure out how to be this body, rather than just inhabiting it. This flesh and skin is also part of the natural world. It is a soft mammal that craves rest and peace, gentleness and sleep. It’s time to stop making this body fit in with capitalist notions of what a person is for. This is no longer just a philosophical consideration for me – I can’t face being in so much pain that I can’t function, and that seems to be where I’m heading if I can’t make enough changes.

It’s taken me far longer than usual to write this blog, and I’m going to be fine with that. Everything is taking far longer today. I need to slow down, to prioritise rest, to sleep more and do less. I know I’ve been saying all of this for years, and I have been (ironically slowly) moving in this direction, but I need to embrace it more fully, and let this body call the shots more often.

For the time being, I’m going to make listening to my body the focus of what I’m doing as a Druid. I’m going to dedicate myself to learning about nature as it manifest within my own skin, and treating that piece of the natural world with more care and respect.


Self Harm

People who self harm do so for all kinds of reasons. From the outside, there is often no way of knowing what’s going on. It may be tempting to think that stopping the self harm is a good thing to do that will improve the situation, but this isn’t always the size of it.

Sometimes people self harm as a way to not kill themselves. It may be a survival skill that enables them not to do something far worse. For some people, it is a way to vent otherwise unbearable emotions – and in the short term that can also be a suicide-avoidance strategy. For people who are numb, it can be a way of feeling something, and feeling can be a lot better than not feeling – extreme numbness makes some people feel suicidal. It can be an act of reclaiming control over body and self.

While it may not be optimal, it may be necessary in the short term and just trying to get someone to stop won’t deal with the underlying issues and may put them at risk in other ways. It probably isn’t a cry for help, although it can be. It probably isn’t attention seeking – although just occasionally, that’s part of it. Most usually the self harming person is someone in great distress, although there was a boyfriend in my distant past who used it for emotional control of others, which was grim. These are unusual things, and it is better, safer and kinder to start from the assumption that a self-harming person is in a lot of distress.

Not all self harm is obvious. It can be about not eating. In fact, if you starve yourself and lose weight the odds are that people will emotionally reward you. It can take the form of alcohol abuse or drug abuse. Self harm can be about intentional acts of self-sabotage. For the person who has internalised worthlessness and who is full of self hatred, self harm can be about delivering the punishment you’ve been taught to expect. It isn’t always obvious to the people doing it what it is for and how it is supposed to work.

There are no easy answers to helping someone who is self harming. Don’t disempower them – whatever is going on, making them feel powerless is going to make everything worse. Don’t assume you know better than them what is going on. Don’t let your discomfort over what they are doing be the most important thing – the distress prompting the self harming needs to be the most important thing. If you’ve no experience of this kind of thing, don’t imagine you already have the tools to help someone who is doing it – educate yourself and get support. Be kind and be patient and don’t get cross with them – that isn’t going to fix anything. Don’t make your feelings about the self harm their responsibility – the odds are that guilt and shame are already part of what’s making them hurt themselves.


Not Punching Nazis

Realistically, I am never going to punch a Nazi. I’ve never punched anyone, I’m not especially strong, and in an emergency, it is unlikely to be my first response. If it was a case of fighting for my life or trying to protect someone else, I’d be more likely to kick than punch, but in a scenario where there is violence, I am going to be injured, or die.

What I can do more usefully, is put my body in the way. I’m large, white and female. Some of that might function as privilege in some contexts. Some of it might make another person pause for a few seconds. And also, I have size. I can do a fair bit of getting in the way. I’m heavy enough that I can be a nuisance to remove. I can put my body between people who are more vulnerable than me, and possible threats. It’s something I’ve already explored a little bit and is one way I am confident that I can be anti-fascist in a physical context.

I’m openly queer, openly polyamorous, openly Pagan, openly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, openly opposed to fascism. These are not things that can automatically be identified by looking at me. But I have no doubt that if the fascists took over, I would be on a list fairly quickly. I am exactly the sort of person to be disappeared in that kind of scenario. I would like to think I’d manage to put up some kind of fight, but it would also depend on whether I would make other people safer or more at risk by so doing.

The state of the world frightens me. But, resistance is important, and there are many ways to resist. Kindness is resistance. Putting love and beauty into the world is a good way of pushing back against hate and intolerance. Make good things, share good things, take care of who you can, speak up when you can, amplify whoever you can. Vote, petition, march. Share, gift, feed people, help out. A culture of kindness and inclusion is the only thing that will work for the longer term. Punching a Nazi doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of fascism, and we need to deal with those underlying causes.

One of the key things that takes people into far right thinking and the desire to hurt and harm others, is lack of empathy. We can learn empathy. One of the most powerful teaching tools for building empathy in others is in fact the novel, as through novels we can live many lives, understand different perspectives and learn how to empathise with others. (There is science! The novels-empathy thing is evidenced.) Buying books for people might be more effective than punching them. Writing books and telling stories turns out not to be some kind of self indulgent silliness that has no place in the revolution… art may in fact be the revolution. It may be our best way of saving ourselves from the worst parts of each other. And if all else fails, I guess hitting a Nazi with a really heavy fantasy hardback is always going to be worth a thought.


What is love?

It might be more obvious to talk about love in terms of emotion, but it’s a subject I think benefits from a more philosophical approach. What is love? A body chemistry event that gives us the desire to seek pleasure with another person. The chemical bonding effect that enables us to parent small children. It is easy to reduce love to evolutionary functions.

We tell stories in which love is rare and scarce and you are supposed to only really love the one person, forever. We can choose to love. We can choose who and what to invest in emotionally – people, places, creatures, ideas, objects… there are no limits on how diversely we can love or how much we can love. There are limits on the time we have to deploy, but that’s all.

Love as a feeling can just evaporate, especially if we treat it as something that happens by magic. When love is what we choose to do, it doesn’t mysteriously go away, because we do things that sustain it. The everyday choice to love brings feelings of love to a person in a way that they have a lot of control over.

The stories we tell about love tend to focus on events and drama. In practice, love has far more to do with the small, everyday choices. It’s what we do in our lives. It’s how we approach other people, or places, or beings. Love is taking your litter home and picking up someone else’s. Love is what we have when we take care of each other and make a point of being kind to each other. Love is the decision to invest time, care and energy somewhere – and that can include ourselves. There’s certainly nothing wrong with including our own bodies, lives and feelings in how we take care and put kindness into the world.

You don’t have to be able to love yourself to love others – that’s a lie that kicks people who are already down. But, one of the things you can do for the sake of love is model how you want people to live, and not beating yourself up can be a gift you give to others. If people care about you, then taking care of yourself is an act of kindness to them. When we make networks and communities of kindness and mutual support, we hold each other, lift each other and help each other.

Love in moments of drama can seem intense and important. Without the day to day stuff, it is more fantasy than reality.


Down Days – Further

Yesterday I posted a review of Down Days by Craig Hallam. I read the book a little ahead of that and have had time to think about it beyond the reviewing process. It’s taken me some interesting places. I’ve only had dealings with the medical profession in the last decade about depression, and only in that time frame have I used the term confidently with regards to myself. I didn’t get much help, which played into my anxieties about how I make a fuss and over-react.

Reading Craig’s book, several things struck me. That he’s talking about down days, with some longer patches of being mired in depression. One of the blocks for me, to taking my mental health seriously is that I’ve always been able to keep going, to get out of bed, to push through and do whatever was important. So I’d been taking that to mean that in the grand scheme of things, I probably wasn’t suffering that much. I don’t have down days. I rarely have days where depression isn’t with me – perhaps only as a low level hum in the background, but definitely almost always there.

I’d not really treated that as meaningful.

Craig talks really well about living with depression, that it is something he’s going to have to manage for the longer term, not something he might ever be truly free from. I realised I’d been holding the belief that I should be able to fix this. If I try harder, make better choices, do the right things… that it is a failing on my part and something I ought to fix. Reading Down Days made me consider that perhaps this isn’t the size of it, and that I might treat myself more kindly if I put those beliefs down. And also that treating myself kindly might be more helpful than pushing for a fix.

When was I not depressed? Thinking about the symptoms, it goes right back for me. When was I not anxious? And when did I ever feel like my discomfort, my fear and my distress actually mattered? Even since I started trying to sort myself out and acknowledging that there’s a problem, I’ve not thought about it in terms of being entitled to feel better than this. I’ve thought about it as being less of a nuisance. And that’s probably not helping. In the background noise remains the fear that I’m making a fuss, being unreasonable, and if I act like any of this matters, it would be fair to tell me off and put more pressure on me.

For the last ten years or so, it’s been about trying harder. Being more mentally disciplined and controlling my thoughts. Risk assessing my anxiety to stop myself taking it seriously. It came as a bit of a shock to me to consider that being kinder to myself might be the key thing to being more mentally well. That maybe it would be ok to be kinder to me. That this would not make me a horrible, selfish awful person. That I might be entitled to be passably comfortable, not deserving to drown in misery. These are big thoughts, it’s going to take a while to adjust to them.

More about Down Days here – https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/down-days/


Understanding the mechanics

One of my key coping mechanisms is to try and understand how things work for me. It’s the approach I take any time I’m digging into areas of dysfunction. Why am I like this? How did I get here? Why am I responding in these ways? What can be changed? Once I’ve figured the mechanisms for something, I often blog about it in the hopes someone else will find that useful.

I’ve used these approaches to unpick beliefs and assumptions. I’ve dealt to some degree with an abuse legacy this way. I’ve pulled myself out of patterns of self-harm and self hate. It’s not easy work, but it definitely gets stuff done.

I try it with my body issues too, with varying degrees of effect. By experimenting on myself and paying attention, I’ve identified that I need to keep an eye on my iodine intake. I need to watch for electrolytes when my gut packs up. My gut packs up less often now I’m vegetarian – being an omnivore didn’t suit me. I can’t eat a lot of refined grains or my gut malfunctions. I can’t ingest cloves. I’ve got coping mechanisms in place for my cranky lymphs, and for the things that leave my body stiff and sore. So long as I pay careful attention to a lot of different factors I can, for much of the time, feel more in control of myself.

And then there are days like today, when many of the things that can go wrong have gone wrong. I can’t pin down any triggers. There are problems with conflicting solutions. I’m exhausted and need to rest. My lymphs are cranky and I need to get on the trampoline. My muscles are painfully sore anyway. I’ve got crazy hormone stuff going on. All of this has mental health implications. There’s no winning here.

I go round this repeatedly, studying the mechanics of my body, gaining some ground, managing better. And then, sooner or later, I get hit by a combination of things I didn’t manage to guard against and can’t easily fix, and then there can be some very tough days.

I find it difficult to accept that there might not be a solution. I suspect one of the kindest things I could do for myself would be to accept that there might not be a solution. There might not be a way of avoiding this. There might not be some perfect combination of foods avoided, exercises done, supplements taken, relaxation practices and so forth. It may be that this is what happens to me.

Talking about it is difficult because there’s usually someone who wants to tell me what they think I should change. That I should be gluten free, or not eating anything from the tomato family, or that I need to take something, or not take something, do more or less of something. I find this exhausting. I find the assumption that I would be well if only I did the thing depressing. I do try really hard with this stuff, all the time. I pay attention, I experiment. There’s only so much control I’ve ever been able to get.

No doubt, offering advice feels like being a good and helpful person. But, for the person who is struggling, it can be just one more thing to have to carry, or fend off. It’s a way of saying yes, this is your body and you live with it day to day but I reckon my two minutes of thinking about it means I understand it better than you do. That’s demoralising at best. Unsolicited, unwanted ‘help’ can have the effect of grinding a person down. And if you don’t know all the details and aren’t a qualified medical person, the ‘help’ can do more harm than good.

It would be more helpful to me to have affirmation that it is not my fault that sometimes my body malfunctions. What I do find helpful is the emotional support to take things gently. The encouragement to not blame myself. Permission to just have some time off and not have to be all the things. Kindness is good. And letting me be the one to say ‘no, there’s nothing I can do with this today’ is far more empowering than trying to fix me.


Buying your needful things

So much of what we need is for sale. If you want someone to touch you kindly and be affirming, there’s always the hairdresser, or the nail technician, or a paid-for massage. If you need to talk to someone sympathetic, there are counsellors, therapists and life coaches. Any human need you have, you can pay some other human to answer. Some of the options of course being more legal than others…

I’ve been thinking for a while about the way in which commerce and human relationships intersect. Money is our primary expression of valuing people, so when we don’t pay for services rendered, we don’t always value what’s done for us. But, when we put a price tag on things sometimes we lose that sense of duty to each other. Natural and non-financial modes of caring and sharing may become distorted by the dynamics of seller and client.

With loneliness known to be on the rise, there must be increasing numbers of people who could only hope to meet their basic needs for human contact, by paying for it. And with poverty on the rise, paying to meet your basic needs becomes ever less feasible for many people.

I have no simple ‘we should be doing this’ answers to this area of experience. It bothers me that if you can’t afford to pay someone to meet your emotional needs, you may struggle to have those needs met in other ways. It bothers me that we are often so isolated from each other that some of us have to pay to have people touch us kindly or listen to us carefully. At the same time I’m deeply grateful that there are people who have taken these areas on professionally and can bring training and experience to bear when we need them.

What do we give? What do we assume others should do for us? What do we willingly pay for? What do we think should be done for free? What worth do we ascribe and how does that connect with what we pay? Answers to such questions are of course always going to be personal. I am certain they are questions we need to ask ourselves.