Tag Archives: radical change

Breaking free from what’s normal

When something is normal, it is all too easy not to notice it. To change something, we have to know it could be changed – that it is not inevitable, or inherent, or intrinsic to how the world works. The things we think are normal are the hardest ones to see or do anything about. This is why people who are normalised to abuse stay in abusive relationships. It’s why changing our lives to be more sustainable is so difficult for many people. It’s why making the most useful personal changes can be so hard.

So, this is a story about overcoming something that was normal. I’m sharing it partly because it’s what’s going on for me at the moment, and partly because it illustrates how powerful normalness can be and how hard it can be to resist what we think is just the way things are.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had a major breakthrough and have started using supports, splints and making other changes to reduce the pain in my hands while I’m working. That all sounds obvious – you experience pain, you do something to alleviate it. Except… my hands have hurt for as long as I can remember. Learning to write, I couldn’t hold the pencil properly because it hurt too much. I found a work-around and spent my childhood being told off for my bad handwriting and bad pencil hold. At 11 I spent time in remedial classes where someone tried to teach me to hold a pen properly. That it hurt me to do so never came up and I never mentioned it because it had never seemed important.

Hand pain was there when I played the piano, and when I held a violin – the bow and my little finger especially. It’s there for typing and crafting, long stints working with the mouse are painful. Last year there were pages I coloured while crying because it hurt so much, but I didn’t stop doing the work, and I didn’t look for workarounds because for most of my life, hand pain has just been part of how the world works.

In the last few years I have, thanks to friends sharing experiences of hypermobility, started to realise this is something I need to take seriously. I have a massively hypermobile body – this is no doubt a large part of why so much of me hurts. My hands are intensely hypermobile. I can spread my fingers wider than is good for my knuckles. I’m now using hand supports, and taping to stop this happening. I’m using a splint when working with pencils so that I don’t push the knuckle on my right hand sideways. It’s a bit of a faff, but the difference is huge.

I am inevitably feeling a bit foolish for not having got into this sooner, but for me, hand pain was just normal. I did not believe that it could be changed, so I ignored it as best I could. What’s shifted for me in the last year is I think a consequence of doing Tai Chi and learning to better manage the hypermobility in my ankles and hips. Learning to make changes there, and getting so that I can walk longer distances without ankle support from a boot, has opened me up to change. That I have tackled the problems with my ankles makes it thinkable to change how things work for my hands. That’s changed how I’m able to think – which was the block to changing what I do.

One of the best ways to identify and challenge apparently normal things, is to talk about them. When we test our experiences on other people, we get a chance to query what might seem intrinsic. I’ve got to where I am because someone else talked about hypermobility and I realised the same things were true of me. What had been normal suddenly looked rather different. This works across the board. When we talk about coercive behaviour and abuse, there’s scope for other people to realise where they are. When we talk about cultural ideas that trap us in certain ways of living, there’s scope to break out. Dismantling what we think is normal is hard, and also key to making radical change and it is a project best undertaken collectively.

Of Cars and Celebrations

New Year’s Day was wonderful. I walked into town in the morning to go to the cinema, and there were almost no cars on the road. It was so much quieter. I could hear bird song. Roads that normally have too heavy a flow for me to cross were suddenly safe to saunter over. The whole atmosphere of the centre of town was massively improved. Usually the roads around the middle of Stroud are full of cars at that time of day.

As the majority of people had partied into the early hours the night before, they were at home, sleeping it off. By the afternoon, the roads were still significantly quieter than usual.

We need, for our own safety and the wellbeing of the planet to drive less. Air pollutions kills something like 40,000 people a year in the UK alone. Car accidents kill. The climate crisis kills. Sedentary lifestyles kill. Social isolation is an epidemic. More people walking and fewer people driving would have an impact on all this. However, people are reluctant to give up cars when they see them as necessary to daily life, or intrinsic to their quality of life.

So I’m thinking we need more parties.

Imagine if we had more regular festivals (8 a year? One a month?) when it was socially expected that you would party. Many people enjoy parties and the social engagement is good. And then we have the day after the big party when it is socially expected that most people will sleep until midday and then not do much. Meanwhile anyone who wants to live quietly can give the party a miss and have a wonderful quiet and much safer walk on the day after the party.

Part of the reason we’re struggling to make radical lifestyle changes to avert climate disaster, is the stories we have. Car = freedom. Driving=adventure. Happiness comes from owning possessions. If we had a party culture and it was normal to be involved in a huge community party each month and then sleep it off the next day, then the party could be the exciting, liberating thing, not the car. We’d have a day each month when driving wasn’t the thing, just as currently happens on New Year’s day. One day a month of change isn’t enough, obviously, but I bet we would see a culture shift.

Obviously this is a silly idea. Obviously more partying won’t happen. Obviously in our work-orientated culture, the idea that parties might be what we need, is preposterous. Having a good time is not the most sensible approach to making radical change. Because we’re so bought in to our work-earn-buy-consume narratives that it’s hard to imagine anything else.

If we’re going to change everything, we do in fact need to radically re-imagine things.

Make radical green resolutions

This is the year to make radical green resolutions. Change your life, and help reduce the amount of harm we’re doing to the planet.

The most important areas to look at are energy use, transport, your home, your plastic use and your diet.

Where possible switch to a greener supplier or source.

However, many of these things can’t be dealt with by just buying a greener option. If for example we replaced all the single use plastic packaging with some other material, the scale of use means there would still be a massive environmental impact. We have to cut back, radically. All of us. Those of us who have most have to cut back most.

We have to question everything we do, everything we use, everything we buy. If you’ve been justifying to yourself something you know isn’t sustainable, now is a good time to re-think it. If you can’t give it up entirely, cut it back as much as you can. If it’s something you can’t solve personally, make a commitment to campaigning for change.

Make a New Year’s resolution that involves radical lifestyle change. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself. Do it to start building a better and more sustainable life. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Women being nice

Being nice is seen as feminine, and there’s a lot of pressure on women to present themselves as nice, and to act nicely. Men can be celebrated for being ambitious, good leaders, and changemakers, but women who do the same are often called pushy, demanding, and unreasonable. I’m writing this post about the pressures I see put on people who present as female. If you identify with it for whatever reasons, I’m not going to argue with you! (not because I want to be nice, but because its not a good use of my energy.)

Being nice is a passive sort of state. A nice woman is not too sexually active or enthusiastic. She isn’t sweaty, or dirty. She doesn’t smell of alcohol or cigarettes. A nice woman is physically clean, and pleasing for others to look upon. She has no strong opinions or passions. Her voice is soft and quiet. She is a care giver and nurturer but doesn’t draw attention to that. Her home is nice. Her children are nice. She’s a fantasy figure for everyone obsessed with controlling female bodies and going back to an age when women knew their place.

There are things you can’t talk about while still being nice. Nice women don’t talk openly – and especially not in front of men – about sex, menstruation, menopause or pregnancy. These are dirty things that nice women know to hide, and thus don’t educate each other about. Nice women don’t talk about sexual assault, rape or child abuse. They don’t talk about abuse by men, they defend men, because it isn’t nice to suggest that men are abusive. Nice women are quick to say ‘not all men’ if they do have to deal with not-nice topics. If you are a nice woman, male comfort is more important than talking about things that aren’t nice.

The pressure to be nice is used most unpleasantly against black women, who often have the greatest need to speak up about abuse and oppression and are often characterised as aggressive and unpleasant for doing so. Being nice is proportionally harder in relation to how little privilege you have. It’s not so tough being nice when you’re comfortable and life is easy. It is a massive burden for people who are struggling. Making it the priority that disadvantaged women should be nice is an easy way to try and shut them up or ignore them.

Even in all female spaces and relationships between women, the pressure to be nice can cause a lot of problems. Nice women can’t easily talk about problems they have, and this can make them excellent facilitators for bullies and abusers – of all genders. Toxic women can be greatly enabled by nice women who won’t hear a bad word said about anyone. Nice women are likely to try and silence women who need to speak up about male abuse. Nice women minimalise abuse, encourage each other to see the best in people, to assume the motives were good, the intentions kind. ‘I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that’ is a staple of the nice woman.

Nice women don’t deal in problem solving. They deal in soothing noises and emotional support. This often functions to avoid changing anything. Nice women soothe each other over the behaviour of their men and children, their colleagues and families. Nice women are often made uncomfortable by people offering solutions. The point is not to challenge or change things, the point is to help each other cope with things as they are. Emotional support is nice. Radical change isn’t.

Being nice is a trap. It’s something we so often do to ourselves and each other. When we value it as a quality above all others, what we’re really valuing is people who don’t make a fuss, don’t change things, don’t speak up about what’s wrong. We don’t deal with social inequality by being nice and only saying nice things. We don’t deal with domestic violence, sexual assault and rape by only saying nice things to and about men. We don’t get to be complete human beings fully engaged with our own lives if all we can be is nice. In fact, nice can be pretty disgusting when you stop and look at it.

Politics without borders

I thought I’d write about this because it’s something cheering and hopeful, and I think we could all do with a bit more of that!

Not so long ago, I shared a petition relating to UK politics, it was shared by someone not in the UK with a comment that they might have online friends to whom it would be relevant. I see this all the time. I’ve signed petitions to challenge coral reef destruction, and rainforest logging and many other things of that ilk. I’ve signed LGBTQ petitions to try and defend the human rights of people in other countries. All over the world, politics is crossing borders.

This is a wonderful thing. It’s a recognition that our shared planet and shared humanity are real, whereas borders and countries are just ideas we had. The great evils cross borders – pollution, climate change, loss of resources, extinctions, oppression, exploitation – these are not issues for single countries, but for all of us. What happens in one place can and does affect us all.

The internet is a mixed blessing, but without a doubt, the power to connect with activists around the world, to share issues that aren’t on our own doorsteps, to support causes and actions without borders is an amazing thing. Funds can be raised internationally to get things done – be that adverts, paying for lawyers, answering aid needs or anything else productive. Information, knowledge, tactics and successes are shared, because those cross borders with ease, too.

Increasingly there are people who are citizens of the world, who will challenge injustice, exploitation and destruction any place that needs fighting with whatever means they have to do so. That’s exciting. That’s a radical change with massive implications. It’s worth taking a moment to pause and savour it.

All the World’s Woes

If you’re paying attention, you will know that everything is terrible right now. War, and threats to human rights. Climate change, species loss, fracking, hunger, homelessness, inequality, injustice. I assume that you, dear reader, are much like me, and will be nodding along to that list, probably adding to it in your head, in a state of quiet despair. And then there’s Trump, and a victory for mean minded, bullying, prejudiced, planet killing, self serving greed.

What can we possibly do? In face of all that, anger is a natural response, leading us down the path into violence and more war, if we aren’t careful. Haters are fuelled by hating them. Despair is a natural response – these problems are so big, these people are so powerful. There are stories about exhausted people in treacherous conditions who start to think that the snow looks like a bed, and who lie down, and do not get up again. Hold that image.

Tyrants are only allowed to rule when, out of fear, or despair, or apathy, the rest of us sit back and let them. And yes, standing up to tyranny is dangerous, and can get you killed, but the more people find small ways to do it, the harder it is to suppress.

But we have to be careful in doing this, because ‘fighting’ can just have us turning on people whose misery and despair made it easy to manipulate them into making bad choices. The Brexiteres here who thought they were saving the NHS are a fine case in point. Good people can make terrible choices. Right now, we need all the good people we can get, and the people who are being frightened into supporting fascists need our help not our hate. Not everyone voting for the right is voting for the things these ‘leaders’ have done and will do. They’ve voted for empty promises, false hope, and out of a desperate need for change. Do, if you can, call specific people out on any specific acts of prejudice and hate you encounter – there’s a lot of it out there. I’m not writing this to play down real threats, real harassment, violence and bigotry. However, what’s empowering those people is the belief that they are the majority. They aren’t, and we have to make that clear.

We most certainly need change. We’ve got change, but it wasn’t the change we needed. We can take this is a call to start building what’s actually needed, instead. But how does one small person, with no voice, no power, no media machine make a difference?

Cultures are made out of people. Movements are made out of people. Start from the assumption that the people around you are good people – maybe misinformed and frightened, but still good at heart. You’ll figure out who the actual bigots and haters are, and you can withdraw energy from them as best you can. We need to tell each other better stories, and the story we most urgently need to tell each other right now is that the vast majority of us are better than this. The majority of Americans did not just vote for hate any more than the majority of Brits voted for racism when they voted out of the EU. We have to ignore the loudest, angriest voices on all sides, and start looking for the good intentions and the good hearts and the desire for something better.

It’s easy to blame people for ignorance, lazy thinking, being easily led. We have a shared responsibility here – and a media that seeks to misinform. If people aren’t taught critical thinking, if they aren’t taught history so they can learn from it, if they are taught to suspect experts and resent thinkers, they aren’t well placed to make good choices, and the whole democratic process is undermined. A nasty minority easily uses these tricks and vulnerabilities to manipulate people, and this has always been an issue for any kind of popular uprising. If it isn’t rooted in knowledge, in education, and compassion, things will be nasty. But, a popular uprising can have a Ghandi at the front, not a Hitler. Hold that thought too.

So, right now, no looking around at the snow we have to trudge through and thinking it would be better to lie down and have a sleep. Don’t do that. Don’t give up, don’t let the struggle for humanity’s future be lost in the small space that is you. This is a specific fight you can win, just by refusing to be defeated or overwhelmed.

Don’t blame easy targets, don’t pour your energy into getting cross with people who you think have made bad choices. That’s like blaming a domestic abuse victim for not having the means to get away from the person who keeps beating them. (It happens, due to failure to understand the mechanics, good people make bad choices.) People stay in abusive situations when their self esteem is crushed and they feel worthless and hopeless. Getting cross with those who are victims of this process, will keep them clinging to the real aggressors. We can do better than that, because most of us are better than that.

Tetchy Tuesday

I’m a big fan of Thankful Thursday as an idea, and of practicing gratitude, but I’ve come to the conclusion this isn’t working. We need to stop with the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mentality, and we need to put militant ingratitude on the political, and spiritual agenda.
Talk of scroungers and the underserving, alongside talk of hard working families keeps us running on the treadmill. If we dare to say we are unhappy with our lives, we run the risk of being called ungrateful, or unreasonable. We may be accused of feeling entitlement, of not working ahrd enough, we may be told we are scroungers and frauds. This is keeping us quiet. We keep our heads down and our mouths shut, and we soldier on, stoically, trying to maintain some dignity. It isn’t working.
We practice gratitude. We tell ourselves that like attracts like and if we think positive thoughts, good things will come to us. Then, when that doesn’t work, (sooner or later, it mostly doesn’t unless you are independently wealthy) we feel guilt and shame. We weren’t positive enough, or grateful enough, we did not have good enough karma. This keeps us quiet and stops us from protesting about the shit.
I’ve learned a thing during my small meltdown this week. I’ve learned that a lot of people are struggling, hurting, frightened, exhausted, miserable, ill and do not feel able to speak up. My owning these things made it easier to admit, for a lot of other people, that they too were close to having had enough and wondering where to send the resignation form. It’s not easy to resign from being a grownup. Now, if you think you are the only person who is failing to be stoical and hard working enough, you’ll keep calm and carry on and try to fake it. If you know that the vast majority of people around you are feeling the same way, it becomes obvious this is not personal failing, this is a sick and broken system that is grinding people into the dust.
We can change that. All of the problems that exist could be tackled, with enough political will. All of the things that are hurting us could be changed, but to get to that point, we have to stop co-operating and start protesting. We have to stop being grateful that we have jobs, and start being bloody ungrateful for having to work fifty hour weeks and still not being able to afford new clothes. We have to stop being grateful that we’re fit enough to work and start being ungrateful if we spend our Sundays in a morass of misery about the looming Monday hell. We have to start saying no, and enough. If enough of us do this, we can create change.
So what I’m asking for is this – own the problem. Name it. Talk about it. Tell people if you are exhausted, depressed and struggling. Tell people if your financial situation terrifies you, or your work culture is making you sick. Tell people if you see others in the same mess. Talk about it.
There will be bumps. There are a lot of people in denial out there and admitting to the problem may make others angry, resentful and fearful. Try to be patient with them, they are terrified. Some of them of course are making a lot of money out of the suffering of the majority, and those few do not want things to change. They will have to get over that. We need to end exploitation. We need to end the parasitic culture that puts most of the world’s wealth in the hands of less than a hundred people. We have to practice ingratitude, with total spiritual dedication, and we have to be ungrateful about the right things. Don’t blame the disabled person next door, or your partner, or the immigrant family across the road – because when you do that, you support the system and you oil its cogs. Blame the system, and the people who put it there, and start asking how we can change everything.