Tag Archives: respect

Knocking people down

There’s no surer sign that someone is in serious trouble than them constantly wanting to knock other people down. It’s also a really difficult thing to respond to in a helpful or positive way. Inevitably, people who deal with their own pain by trying to hurt and attack others, are not attractive. There’s not much motivation to move towards someone who is behaving in that way.

I’ve probably learned most about this through parenting. Small children crave attention, and will do anything to get it. Thus being shouted at, told off and punished will function as an emotional reward for anyone who is otherwise deprived of emotional rewards. Children who are praised, encouraged and given attention more kindly will focus on doing the things that lead to the praise. Give a child attention simply for existing and you’ll end up with a relaxed and confident person.

Adults want attention as much as children do, and social validation is a huge motivator for a lot of people. I wonder how often people who seek attention through spite are doing so because they are still playing out the patterns from emotionally neglectful childhoods. I wonder how much of it comes from not being able to seek attention in healthier ways, and what kinds of tragedies might be playing out in the lives of people who have no good ways of seeking attention.

I see a lot of this sort of thing on Twitter. I’m currently seeing an unusual spate of it in the blog comments – I’ve had quite a few lonely souls rock up lately. They are clearly people who are in pain and who only know how to try and knock other people down. I don’t honestly know what to do with any of them. This isn’t really the ideal space.

Everyone needs opportunities to be recognised and appreciated. Many of us seek that through paying work, through service and volunteering – which can be a decent enough answer. Feeling valued is vitally important for most people’s mental health. Praise and affirmation help people feel better about themselves, so creative outlets can also offer excellent opportunities for lifting and encouraging people. I used to spend more time running supportive spaces, and perhaps that’s something I should invest more time in. 

What I can say is that if you’ve got a project, a piece of writing, an idea… and you don’t have a platform you can use to put it out there, I’m always open to taking relevant guest blogs. If you feel like there’s no point being creative because it isn’t going anywhere, then I’d be glad to offer you some space where you might find an audience for your work. This is open to anyone reading.

Knocking other people down can feel powerful in the short term. However, it doesn’t answer any needs in a meaningful way and it does not lead to social recognition or feeling valued – it may well push the other way. If you need to be seen, to be heard, to feel valued and respected, then there’s far more to be achieved by putting something good into the world and asking people to respond to that. If you’re reading this and struggling, and in need of support and recognition, and if I can help with that by making this blog space available to you, then I’d be delighted to do that. Leave me a comment, or drop me an email – brynnethnimue at gmail dot com.

Invisible disability

For many years now, people with chronic illness, mental health problems and other apparently ‘invisible’ disabilities have been campaigning to raise awareness. Recently, I’ve seen a shift away from explaining and towards questioning, and I realise it’s long overdue. Most illness isn’t visually self announcing, and the bigger issue is around what people individually, and society as a whole prefer to ignore.

I have read so many stories about people having their disabilities minimised and ignored by others. This happens a lot to younger folk who are dismissed as too young to be disabled. It happens so often around mental health – the minimising, the dismissal and denial.

“You don’t look like you’re in pain’ is the most common form this takes. This is because when you live with pain all the time, you learn how to not have that on your face. It’s a necessary social skill if you’re going to do anything other than scream all the time. I got most of the way to being ready to give birth with medical professionals not taking me seriously because I wasn’t exhibiting enough distress. This is not an unusual thing to have happen. 

The problem isn’t invisibility, it’s the ways in which people habitually read each other’s bodies and faces. It’s the refusal to accept that a person can both need a wheelchair and be capable of standing up. It’s hearing a person talk about how crippling their anxiety is and then just assuming they are being flakey when they don’t make it to your party. Undertaking not to notice or recognise a problem is not the same as it being really hard to notice.

It doesn’t help that representations of ill people in film and television are written by able people, for the greater part. This tends towards stories full of drama, heroism and/or tragedy. The grind of living long term with a limiting disability doesn’t feature much. Alongside this we have a government and media inclined to shame and blame ill people as scroungers who want something for nothing. Unless it affects you directly, these are likely your key points of reference for thinking about what other people experience.

I’m not that difficult to see. I carry a cushion when out because my circulation is poor and hard seats do terrible things to me. Getting out of seats is seldom a smooth or graceful thing for me. I can’t always get in and out of clothes without help – this can be entirely publicly visible with coats sometimes. I get tired far too easily and it impacts on my concentration. But I still get people responding with massive surprise when I explain how much should mobility I’ve lost, or that I really can’t handle a late night.

Illness isn’t always about obvious drama. Long term illness is something people tend to learn how to manage, but this doesn’t mean that anyone who appears to be managing doesn’t have a real problem. The issue is not really one of visibility at all, it has far more to do with what is noticed, taken seriously, respected and remembered.

Inclusive thinking

One of the easiest and most problematic mistakes to make is simply to assume that everyone else we deal with is just like us. I’ve seen it in books and articles, in how people organise events and manage volunteers, and more. It tends to come from people who have enough privilege that they don’t have to pay attention to how privilege manifests in their lives. When you think you are normal, it’s a small step to thinking that anyone different is just being awkward or uncooperative and thus feeling no obligation to respond to their needs.

If you’re stepping into any kind of leadership /authority /author role as a Pagan, I think it’s incredibly important to consider how your notion of your own normality might impact on how you treat other people. It takes effort and empathy to look past your own experiences to learn about how the world works (or doesn’t) for other people. It takes effort and imagination to consider where your assumptions might make your efforts exclusive. It takes integrity and courage to look at how your beliefs might unwittingly have made you ableist, racist, sexist, classist. And it is so important to dig in and do the work.

If leadership is the comfortable acting for the benefit of the comfortable, while leaving the disadvantaged on the outside, it’s more about self indulgence than service. It is certainly the case that making everything totally inclusive for everybody tends to be both prohibitively difficult and expensive, because we operate within systems that are problematic. But that doesn’t mean you are free to not try.

This isn’t about the imaginary people who might want to get involved. Not being able to cater to the need of the imaginary people can just be a way of letting yourself off the hook. What matters most is to include the people who show up wanting to be included. The real ones who are in your immediate community.

Here are a few things you can do in this regard. 

  1. Be explicit that you are open to hearing from people about their access needs or barriers to attending.
  2. When people tell you about access issues and barriers, listen with respect and take them seriously.
  3. Try to find workarounds based on what you are being asked to do, trusting that the person asking you to improve inclusivity knows most about what would help them participate.
  4. Consider it your responsibility to enable participation.

If you aren’t acting as a leader in any capacity you can help by flagging up access issues when you see them, and by supporting people who ask for things to be made more inclusive. Amplify, affirm, take seriously and treat with respect people who need help around access.

Notes on parenting

I had a suspicion that how I parented my child as a toddler would have a lot of impact on how things went in his teens. There are similarities – the sudden increase in options and personal power, the need to test boundaries, the hormones undermining common sense… I thought how we handled that when he was small might be key in what came later. He’ll be eighteen this year.

I thought back to my own teens and to the things that made my friends miserable. It was all about the need to be heard and taken seriously, to have your feelings respected. How much we wanted not to be told that we did not know our own minds. How we wanted our emotional attachments taken seriously, our ambitions, distress and frustration as well.

So I started along those lines when he was small. I asked about preferences. I asked him what worked for him and what didn’t. I heard him out, and if he couldn’t have things his way, I explained why. I told him he was always entitled to ask questions, and always entitled to an explanation. I promised him that if I claimed I knew best I would produce some evidence for this. I made sure that what he felt was factored in, and that he knew he was being heard and taken seriously. I promised that I would only order him to do something if it was an emergency and he had to do what I said right then with no time for explanations. Which meant that if I gave on order, I expected it to be followed unquestioningly.  There have been a few instances of physical peril, and I have never abused that deal.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always been in charge because that’s what it means to parent a young human. He’s always had the definitive say on how he feels about things, what he wants and doesn’t want. Of course along the way we’ve had the odd strop over things that didn’t seem fair, and I’ve stopped and talked through why they might be fair after all, or why they might be shit but that’s how it goes sometimes. That being an adult means taking responsibility for the dull things, the crappy things, the things you don’t want to have to bother with and that your freedom and your responsibility are closely interlinked.

He’s never rebelled against me, because there was never much authority to rebel against. I’ve never claimed to know what was best for him, I just advise based on what I do know. We’ve got this far with no blazing rows, no angry outbursts from either of us. Neither of us has said anything we have any reason to regret. I’m really proud of that, and of the kind of relationship we have at this point in his life.

With university on the horizon we’re negotiating the next set of changes, working what he needs to know, clarifying what he’s responsible for and what backup will be available.

It would be easy to run roughshod over the ideas, feelings and preferences of a child. It is often more convenient to ignore that sort of thing. It may be satisfying to the parental ego to take total authority, demand obedience and assert control, but these are, I feel certain, the things that pave the way to an angry, fight-laden teenage. Respect is something we learn, and being respected is a really good way of learning how to respect others.

Join a Trade Union

One of the methods Molly Scott Cato suggests you can use to resist fascism, is joining a trade union. It is certainly a good way of resisting exploitation, upholding workers’ rights and connecting with something bigger than yourself. For many of us it’s also not an option. If you’re in the gig economy, working handfuls of hours here and there wherever you can get work, there is no union to protect you. This is no doubt why such work is on the rise. If you’re in the illegal side of the economy as a trafficked person or illegal immigrant, you are unprotected and likely to be massively exploited – sometimes in ways that will kill you.

As an author, and someone working in the comics industry, I have no union to join. I joined The Society of Authors because it’s the next best thing – they offer legal advice and they lobby on behalf of writers.

In the arts, there is always someone who will do it for less, or do it for free. You’re paid for the finished product (if you are paid at all) and not for your time, so the scope for even making the minimum wage often isn’t that good. There are always people trying to break into the industry who are persuaded that working for free, for exposure, for the portfolio, for a shot at a paying gig next time, is worth it. And why would anyone pay for what they can just take?

Online, our work is pirated and given away, or even sold by others who never pay a penny to the original creator. New laws against piracy look to be more for the big corporations, not for the indie creators. We may be hurt by the ‘protections’ coming in. If we can’t afford to sue, we have little scope to protect our work, and we can’t get a fair share of the worth, often.

More than anything else, what creative people need (I think) is solidarity from other working people. That means recognition that we are also working people, doing work that is just as real as anyone else’s and for which we deserve to be paid. We need other working people to stop telling us to do it for love, or that it’s just a hobby, or that them giving away our work is somehow doing us a favour, or that we should be grateful to the people who pirate our books to read them because at least someone is reading them.

This goes further than creative industries, too. Our economy depends on unpaid work – usually domestic, but also volunteers in other spheres. There are no unions for carers, for child raisers, for people who provide the domestic underpinnings that give others the freedom to get educated and to pursue careers. There are no unions for the grandparents who take on the childcare. No one is lobbying government on their behalf. This work is essential and without it many other things would be unfeasible. If you are interested in worker’s rights, it is important to include the people whose work is often both invisible and unpaid.

Don’t marginalise people who are not working, either. There is no trade union to join if you are out of work. There is also no trade union to join if you are too ill to work, or if keeping yourself functioning is such a big job that it doesn’t allow you the time and energy to be economically active. Being chronically ill is incredibly hard work.

Join a trade union if you can. Whether you can or not, stand in solidarity with workers who are vulnerable, marginalised and exploited. Don’t see migrants – even the illegal immigrants as your enemy – question the people who use and abuse them. Question the poverty that has driven them to migrate, and ask who caused it. Don’t see underpaid work as ‘fun’ or a calling and assume that makes it ok somehow. Don’t ignore the work of people who are not paid for what they do. We’re all workers. Poverty and desperation make people more vulnerable to fascist politics. A climate of exploitation makes us all more vulnerable. Solidarity and mutual respect are essential.

Shifting the boundaries

I was never terribly good at boundaries, growing up. Being a parent taught me a great deal about boundary setting. It’s no good declining to give a child boundaries, because that can leave them feeling unsafe and unable to navigate. Boundaries that are too limiting and rigid create resentment and restrict a child’s growth. The boundaries have to shift as the young person develops and changes. Those boundary shifts have to be talked about, so that they can happen in the right way, and be understood.

It took me a long time to realise that all the same things apply to adults. We need to have some sense of where the permissible edges are. We need the right to hold boundaries, but also the freedom to change them at need. Where we draw our lines in one instance cannot be taken as the rule for where our lines are. If I say yes to something once, I have not said yes to it forever.

Developing trust between people can mean a process of changing where the boundaries are. The process of interacting with each other can change how we feel and think, what we need and expect, and what risks we’re willing to take.

In some ways I’ve become a lot more guarded with my boundaries in recent years. I am far less tolerant of people who try to cross my lines uninvited. That’s about emotional lines as much as it is about physical contact. In some ways I’ve become softer in my boundaries because there are people I trust to honour what I say, and to still honour what I say if I need to change things.

We like clear and simple rules because they seem easiest to work with. But for every rule – religious or secular – it’s easy to think of times when breaking the rule would be the better choice. Lying isn’t good, but if Anne Frank is in the attic and Hitler is at the door, of course you lie. I’m not in favour of killing people, but sometimes this is necessary to save lives. If a shooter walks into a school, there should be no question about trained police taking them out in any way they can. And of course because people are difficult, this kind of argument can then be used to try and justify arming anyone who wants to be armed. Give people clear and simple rules for all situations and a subset of those people will always try and bend the rules for their own gain.

When it comes to dealing with people, simple rules tend not to work very well. What we have are massively complex social structures full of privileges and power imbalances. Our dealings with large numbers of people are shaped by rules, habits, social norms. These are not easy things to think about, which is why I think it pays to focus on the most immediate and specific interactions where we have the most scope to make change.

How do we recognise and honour other people’s boundaries?

Do we have any habits of thought that might means we’re not listening? Do we assume our own rights or entitlements trump someone else’s? Do we think a certain kind of person just makes a fuss?

What do we do when our boundaries aren’t respected? Do we have choices?

How we deal with each other’s boundaries is a fundamental building block for our societies as a whole. What we normalise, or ignore. What we undertake to change. What we refuse to back down over. What we demand other people take seriously.

Pot-lickers of the world, unite!

Like most people (I suspect) I was brought up knowing that there were rules about eating food. One of the rules was not to run your finger round the plate afterwards. Nor should a person sneak out to the kitchen and carefully run their fingers around bowls, saucepans etc.

I grant you that it doesn’t look charming, and ups the risk of getting food on clothes. But at the same time, it’s a manners system that tells us it is preferable to waste food by washing it down the sink, rather than run a finger round the pot and eat what’s there.

Every morsel of food out there exists as a direct consequence of the death of a living being, except perhaps for milk and eggs, where the death of living beings is indirect, but still part of the equation. Anything that had seeds in tends to be the death of future plant life before it’s had chance to get started. For me, this makes it difficult to cheerfully wash that life away. If life is sacred, then surely, the careful running of a finger over a plate to make sure none of that life is thrown away disrespectfully, is a sacred act?

Anything we wash away has to later be cleaned out of the water. Down the sink is not ‘away’ really, it’s just a problem for someone else to deal with.

My guess is that the underlying reason for the manners of not licking the pot, is not wanting to seem that desperate. Getting every last scrap off the plate might look like poverty and desperation, and humans will go to remarkable lengths to convince themselves, and each other, that they aren’t that desperate, even when they are. However, there are many ways of achieving a feeling of abundance, it’s not like food residue is our only option.

So, I am putting my hand up to say that nothing goes into the washing up with edible food on it when I’m around. I don’t care what it looks like and I don’t care if anyone feels moved to judge me. I feel very strongly that we need to change our collective attitude to food waste – because what we collectively throw out is obscene and we’re killing a lot of things just to chuck them in a bin or wash them away. We need to show our food more respect.

Do you know who I am?

We rate each other all the time. The criteria we use is an absolute expression of what we consider important. Thus for many, how much money you have, or earn, is an important measure. The size of your house and newness of your car, where you go on holiday and the shoes on your feet can all be used to place you on a scale. As we do that, we also place ourselves.

There are trickier measures around more subjective things –beauty and creativity, influence, skill. Not all of these things are fixed, either. Most are not. Today I may have less money and a bigger house. Today I may look even worse but have written a very good poem. All too often ‘meeting new people’ seems to be about figuring out what they value and then what we can say about ourselves that will impress them.

I am decidedly guilty of valuing people in this way. I try not to – I come from a folk background where there’s a culture of treating people equally regardless of skill and success. Nonetheless, I’ve struggled to put coherent sentences together on those few occasions when I’ve spoken to Ronald Hutton in person. I fear I would be equally unable to say anything if I found myself in the company of Neil Gaiman, and I was an entirely awed fan-girl when trying to talk to Peter Knight a few years back. Those responses are just as much about the value scale as any other ways of changing how we relate to people because of their perceived worth.

Mostly, no one around us knows who we are, what the best of us is, why we might be entitled to respect. The vast majority of interactions are fleeting and superficial. But we want to be known, to be recognised, valued and respected. The reality is so very different. If I do an event with a few hundred people and a couple of them turn out to have heard of my books and stop to say hi… that’s an epic achievement, in the grand scheme of things. For the majority of people at a gathering, the majority of others have no idea who they are.

We’ve evolved as tribal creatures. Look at herds and packs, and you’ll see complex social interactions where status does matter. Little wonder then that we can be so driven to find our place, and figure out where everyone else is. Our ancestors lived closer together, knew each other in multiple contexts, while we tend to have separate work, family, social, and geographical networks. So the people at work don’t know about your amazing garden, and the people you socialise with don’t know how important your job is, and your family don’t know how valued you are socially, and your neighbours don’t know how much your family depends on you, and so forth. So we get anxious about where we fit, and we respond by putting ever more emphasis on markers of success.

“Do you know who I am?” is the cry of the person who knows full well that the answer is ‘no’.  I wonder whether more recognition, more sense of being known and valued, would reduce our hunger for signs of wealth and importance. If everyone that matters knows you make the best cakes ever… (or whatever it is that you need your tribe to honour) maybe there’s nothing else to prove.

Intimacy and freedom

Depending on how you know me, I’m either quite a standoffish sort of person, or a very physically affectionate sort of person. I’m not keen on making any kind of bodily contact with people I don’t know well. This is partly because I don’t do much casually or lightly, and I don’t make gestures that are not meant.

I’ve commented before that I am uneasy about the culture of physical contact in the Pagan community. Being a fellow Pagan does not mean that I welcome your hands on my body, or your lips on any part of my face. We need to respect each other’s boundaries, not assume we’re all equally loved up and available, and not create a culture in which body contact becomes necessary social currency. There are few things I find more abhorrent around physical contact than people doing it because they feel like they have to, in order to fit in.

I’m not offended by physical contact, if it is meant. By this, I mean contact inspired by care, affection or desire. There is something very real and human about reaching out to someone from that sort of emotion. We don’t always judge perfectly how the other person will take it. I don’t measure people at all by the mistakes they make. I measure people by what they do when they find out they’ve got it wrong. The person who genuinely likes me, cares for me or finds me attractive, will respect my boundaries if I need to gently assert them. I’ve had rounds of that along the way. There may be some awkwardness, some embarrassment, but desire, affection and attraction are all underpinned by care, and that always wins through. I’m an odd and damaged person, the people who care about me care enough to work around that and to find out what I need.

Then there’s that other thing. People who put hands and lips on, not out of love or desire, but for some other reason. For power and control. To assert themselves over my body, space and mind. To demonstrate that they are flamboyant, exuberant types. Because they think the culture requires it of them. I am unsure, but these are my best guesses. That contact isn’t meant, and it feels very different.

A while ago, there was someone in my life in the habit of pouncing on me and kissing my cheeks. I don’t kiss unless I mean it and very few people kiss me, and I prefer it that way. I found this habit of cheek kissing unsettling, and I eventually found the confidence to say so. The response was to be told that it meant nothing, and said person kisses everyone. That was actually worse. Not just an invasion into my space, but a misuse of an intimacy. The person in question could not understand what was so unsettling to me, and I have come to realise what an impoverished emotional experience that represents.

Kissing is an intimacy. When you turn it into common currency, you devalue it. Like anything else, if you do it carelessly, meaninglessly, you make it that bit harder to have the depth when it is intended. If you say ‘I love’ over the slightest trivia that amuses you, what do you have left when you find your soul-mate?

Boundaries are not just about keeping people out. They are also about what you hold on the inside. The line between intimacy and casual acquaintance holds so much inside of it. Within the boundary, there is trust and openness, emotional honesty, there is meaningful affection. Your body, your kisses, your embraces are far more meaningful gifts if they are only given carefully and deliberately. That which is not given with care tends not to elicit care, either. The better I get at asserting my boundaries, the more able I am to see the treasures that can be kept on the inside of those lines. There is incredible power in deliberate limitation, in the consciousness that goes with choosing a limit. All too often we mistake freedom for being without boundaries, but I think increasingly that freedom is more readily found on the inside of the most carefully drawn lines.

Happily Ever After

I haven’t had a vast number of relationships, although there were some flings along the way that have not been terribly visible to those of you who know me personally. Most of my relationships have not lasted more than three years. Some just gradually disintegrated. We ran out of things to say to each other and things we wanted to do. We stopped being interested in each other. We moved on. Mostly that was fine, and seemed normal. One limped on in an undead state for far longer than it should have done, but the rot had set in by the three year mark.

Tom and I have been a couple for four and a half years now, and married for nearly three of those. I’ve been conscious in recent weeks that we’re into the time frame when usually things have fallen apart for me (assuming they hadn’t fallen apart way before then). Life has tested us, repeatedly and extensively. The initial challenge of being a long distance couple. Narrowboat life, poverty, a protracted period of horrendous stress with going to court, professional setbacks, work challenges, bouts of illness… it has not been an easy few years. Yet we’ve made the best of things through all of that, and in face of hardship have pulled together rather than pulling away.

I look at us, and I feel more confident than I’ve ever felt about any relationship ever. It’s not the big, dramatic stuff that seems most critical here. It’s the smaller, every day stuff. We like each other. We get on. We enjoy doing stuff together. We can laugh at things, and together, and we find joy in sharing the small things. It’s the little stuff, the hugs and warm words, the daily exchanges and the small tokens of affection that are the glue. Drama and passion we’ve had aplenty, but you can’t live there full time, and if there isn’t the gentler, day to day stuff, passion burns out.

I had thought myself to be a loner. I used to spend hours alone every day, working mostly. I can do bursts of intense social contact and extroversion, but on the whole need a lot of quiet time. I would have said there was no way I could spend most of my waking hours in the company of another person and not end up strangling them. But here we are, and hours I spend away from Tom are rare. I haven’t strangled him at all. This still surprises me; both that I could be so comfortable with another person, and that anyone could find me tolerable in large doses.

As a younger human I did not believe anyone would want me, and was ridiculously grateful for any attention at all. It did not lead to me making reliably good choices. I spent my twenties and early thirties thinking I was an awful, difficult person to deal with and that only some kind of saint would be able to put up with me. I thought this because I was being told how hard I was to live with on a very regular basis. I’d come to understand that I am unreasonable, demanding, difficult, moody, irrational, impossible to please, and a whole heap of other things that made it very hard to look at my reflection in the mirror of a morning.

Then in these last four years or so, I’ve had a totally different experience. Having it reflected back to me that I’m fun to be around, good to share things with, interesting, reasonable, not so demanding, co-operative, kind even. A whole other person. Someone I don’t have to hate and feel ashamed of. It’s a very different sort of life experience, feeling valued and loved for who I am, rather than grudgingly tolerated. Maybe I wasn’t so awful in the first place. I’ve not noticed any dramatic changes in my behaviour, except that I laugh more and cry less, because I am happier.

I spent most of my life believing that the onus was on me, to bend and shape myself into something other people would find pleasing, so that they would put up with me. All the time I was doing that, I wasn’t terribly happy, nor did I seem ever to be good enough in the people pleasing role. These few years of not feeling like I have to do that have been revolutionary for me. To be good enough as I am. Not needing to apologise for the shortcomings of my existence. To feel liked. The smallest, most basic and essential things, so easily taken for granted if you are used to them, but an absolute miracle and wonder for me, having mostly not known what that would feel like.

He’s not perfect, and he knows that. He doesn’t expect me to be perfect either. When things go wrong, we deal with it and move on. No big deal. There is trust between us, and respect, and mutual need and a deep, deep love that has been tested in all manner of ways and that does not crumble in face of adversity. I can easily imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I just wish someone had sat me down when I was fourteen and told me I was worth this, and that I should not accept anything less than someone who would love me as an equal, value me as I am, like me as a friend and respect me as a person. But I got there in the end.