Hiatus.

I’m taking an indefinite leave of absence from regular blogging. I’ve bene going for nearly five years, it’s spring, there’s a circus in town, and I want to go out and play. I will continue blogging irregularly; stuff’s bound to come up and get my goat. If you subscribe to this blog by email, you’ll get notifications when it happens. If not, there’s always the Facebook page. Anything that happens on here will be linked on there.

If anyone has any queries, they can message me via the comments section or through Facebook. Comments are moderated so they don’t automatically get published. I may not have an answer, but I’ll try and get back to you. (Hint: acquiring a basic familiarity with words like “please” and “thank you” will facilitate that process. I’m not a public service.)

I will try to finish the “Creepology” book, but I can’t promise anything. If I do, I’ll post it on here and on FB, and it’ll come up here. I have no plans to quit the fiction, but hey, I had no plans to quit scheduled blogging either, or to start blogging, or to ever write books, or to ever even think about writing fiction, so what do I know?

I leave you with artwork from Chiara Bautista, who’s my favourite artist ever:

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One of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands:

And a quote from one of my favourite authors:

“Let’s blow this pop stand!” shouted the Beer Fairy — and from the yippee and wahoo exuberance in her voice, anybody could tell it was one of the Beer Fairy’s favorite sayings.

 

 

 

 

Nothing new under the sun.

Over the last few months, I’ve accidentally ended up accumulating an assortment of KidsOfToday© within my cybersocial circle. It was genuinely an accident; I didn’t set out to pick up random infants to experiment upon. I just bumbled around, as I do, occasionally bumping into people I think are cool. After repeated interactions, it turned out that some of those cool people were unseemingly young. By that point I’d gotten to like them, so I wasn’t keen to ostracise them solely because of their age. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. They were just born too late. They’re working at getting older every day, so there’s still hope for them. So I’m keeping them around, letting them scamper all over my newsfeed full of whatever-it-is KidsOfToday© get hyped up on (these days, it seems to be a combination of bowel-clenching terror and existential uncertainty).

 

It turns out that there are several advantages to having a mixed-age social group. First and foremost, it’s significantly cut down on the amount of moaning I’m subjected to. Millennials are often pegged down as whiners, forever complaining that things aren’t as they ought to be while doing nothing to change them. Yet most of the whining I’ve been exposed to is by older people, who’re making a hobby out of complaining about Millennials complaining. Whining about whiners is kinda meta, I guess, but I mostly find it vexing.

And as per having an effect on things, evidence suggests that if most of your sentences start with variations on the theme of “the problems with people like you is…”, those sentences will fall on deaf ears, or no ears at all. The vast majority of the people you’re talking at won’t make time to listen to you. There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re talking to yourself, or to those who already agree with you.

There’s another advantage to keeping KidsOfToday© around. When something new and exciting comes up, like a new fandango term, I can go “yo, friendly infant: what is this thing that everyone’s on about?” And, without fail, I get a useful answer.

Yes, I know how to ride the Google Machine. I could do my own research. But that would often mean wading through a whole sea of new fandango terms, or critically analyzing a ream of articles to find out if there’s actually any truth hidden behind the clickbait. It’s not just that I’m lazy, or unmotivated, although those are definitely factors. It just seems more sensible to go straight to the source. For instance, if I want to know what the hell is going on in universities these days, I could read articles by people who left education sometime in the last century, like me… or I could have a chat with some of my friends who are still studying, have recently graduated, or are teaching.

There’s another advantage to this. I have a congenital aversion to cryptic, grandiloquent neologisms; a.k.a., I don’t like new big words I don’t understand. My friends are aware of this, so they automatically translate the necessary information into AnnaSpeak: short words & sentences. They’re nice people, and they don’t seem to mind doing this kind of outreach work. In fact, they seem to relish opening my eyes to all these new, wonderful things… until I burst their bubble, because the way my brain processes information is by connecting it to existing information. Turns out that the vast majority of the time their Brand New Thing is actually A Very Old Thing With A New Fancy Label.

Take “ableist language”. I was told I needed to consider the issue, and I couldn’t be bothered to research it, so I asked my friend P about it. P explained what it was and gave me a bunch of examples. Turns out that its practical application boils down to avoiding the use of words that would have gotten me a clipped ear from my grandma. Now, my grandma was born in 1901 and never had any truck whatsoever with stuff like “equality,” but she was pretty damn hot on things like “having good manners” and “being considerate”. The final results, language-wise at least, are pretty much the same. It also turns out that avoiding that kind of language is not such an impassable barrier to communication. Frankly, if you can’t state your point without calling someone “stupid” or “crazy”, then your silence is probably not depriving the world of anything it desperately needs to hear.

The funniest conversation of this kind I’ve had to date has been one about “safe spaces”. I kept reading posts by older people bemoaning those feeble young kids with their safe spaces and their Play-Doh, and presenting them as sure proof that our civilisation is going to hell in a handbasket. I didn’t know what the hell they were on about, so I asked P, again.

Turns out that “safe spaces” are not, as the older people in question seem to believe, some kind of padded play room. Play-Doh is not generally involved. A”safe space” can be any kind of situation, be it a room or a forum or anywhere else, where a topic won’t be mentioned. Sometimes, when people are forced to interact, it’s just easier to get along when everyone agrees that certain issues won’t be discussed. It doesn’t stop the issues existing; it just parks them out of the way for a period.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like my grandma saying that we weren’t to discuss politics, religion, or football at the dinner table?”

“Not quite,” said X. Sometimes safe spaces are places where certain issues are discussed, but they cannot be attacked. Making something a safe space for X issue means that within that “space” people can’t shit on those issues.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like church?” My mom goes to church every Sunday, as do lots of other people. I don’t much agree with a lot of what is said there, but it’d be considered pretty poor form for me to stand up in the middle of the sermon and give a lengthy explanation as to why what’s being said makes no logical sense.

“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. People choose whether to attend church or not. But, for instance, university students don’t always get to decide whether they have to live in a dorm, or attend a lecture. Making the dorms safe spaces means that students are safe from threats, abuse, and discrimination while they’re under that roof.

“Oh,” I said to X. “So is it like all those obligations towards guests? Yannow, like those you find in Greek and Roman and Viking and Celtic and Jewish and Hindu and probably all other kinds of traditions and mythology?” I live like that. Guests in my house are required to be civil to each other. They can disagree as hard as they like, but they cannot insult or injure anyone. Anyone who does will be shown the door. Is my house a safe space, then?

“Not quite,” said X. There’s more to it than that. The kind of topics that are normally included in safe space agreements tend to be controversial, and affect people personally. For instance, a LBGTQ group may want to meet and discuss LBGTQ issues without being drowned out by a chorus of people telling the participants that they’re going to hell. In essence, some safe spaces allow persecuted minorities a breathing space, a chance to be; a chance to exist unchallenged, however temporarily.

“Oh,” I said to X. I didn’t know what else to say at that point, because I was busy imagining what it might be like to be an LBGTQ teen growing up in a community where LBGTQ issues are seen as so shocking that a significant proportion of people can’t even tolerate the thought of people discussing them in peace.

I mean, seriously: doesn’t the fact that some people object so strongly to those safe spaces existing, however small and out of their way they are, kinda prove that they are needed?

 

Bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy

So you’re a human person, perhaps young, perhaps male, and some self-styled self-defence ElderOfTheTribe© has told you in no uncertain terms that your opinion does not count, because you don’t have enough Experience©. That you cannot even begin to comprehend what you’re failing to understand, because you haven’t seen RealViolence©. That until you do, you will be sitting in perpetuity at the kids’ table, because you’re not a proper man/grown-up/person.

So you’ve thought about this Experience© that you need to get, and where one goes to find RealViolence©, and looked at your options. Army’s a bit too involved, really, because it would require you to turn your entire life upside down. You might not be that committed to levelling up. Maybe you wouldn’t manage to get in there anyway, because you’re not that big or that strong or that gung-ho. Police would be more practical, really; at least you wouldn’t get sent off to strange foreign places where the food is bad and the water is worse. But the police also has tight recruitment standards, and you’d still be under orders, which isn’t really your style, and maybe you’re not so sure that being an LEO is all that cool, these days. Some people will look up to you for it, but some will look down, and whether the two looks will balance out is debatable.

What you really want is a way to get Experience© without giving up everything else… A way to encounter RealViolence© part-time, while still keeping up your job and hobbies and relationships and everything else… A way to earn your place at the grown-up  table without losing everything you’ve worked towards up to now…

And then the answer becomes clear. What you can do is become a bouncer/doorman. That ticks all the boxes! You’d be a modern White Knight, but evenings and weekends only! You could get your fill of RealViolence©, gain Experience©, but keep whatever else you’ve already got! And hey, Geoff Thompson did that, and look at him now! He went from being a nobody to being a total badass and famous and respected! It was a totally transformational experience for him! And, hey, if it doesn’t work for you, at least you’d still have your day job.

So you might be sitting there wondering about whether to apply, fantasizing about taking the step that, if it all goes according to plan, could totally magically turn you into a Real Man.

I’ve got a suggestion for you:

FUCKING

DON’T.

Being a bouncer is not a fucking game. More than your ego is at stake.

Yes, you will probably experience RealViolence©. And, guess what? If you fuck up, someone’s gonna get hurt, and it might not be you.

You might take to bouncing like a duck to water. You might find that it releases your inner badass, someone more competent and confident and strong and blah blah blah than you ever thought you could be. Or you might find that it results in you putting yourself into a scenario where you get the snot beaten out of you. That might be formative. There’s something you learn from a serious beat-down that you don’t learn from anything else. But, you know what? Every single goddamn bad experience you will ever have is like that. You would learn something uniquely special from getting terminal cancer, or watching one of your kids getting hit by a car, or having to wear a colostomy bag. But sane people don’t go racing towards that kind of experience just to earn extra Adulting Points, because you don’t , because… Honestly, I can’t get into explaining it; it’s too ridiculous for words.

You know what, though? I don’t care enough about your well-being that I’d try to persuade you away from bouncing just because you might hurt yourself. You’re an adult, I’m not your mom, and if you want to feed yourself into a mincer it’s your prerogative. Just don’t get any splatter where I have to clean it up.

There’s more to it, though. If you don’t have physical presence or a winning personality; if you’re not the kind of person who commands respect, or at least the kind of person people instinctively want to get along with; if you’re not confident and competent at the lower levels of Rory Miller’s levels of violence from “Violence: A Writers Guide” (Nice > Manipulative > Assertive > Aggressive > Assaultive > Murderous); if the reason you’re wanting to do this is that you know that your Big Boy Pants don’t fit you yet; then you’re probably going to end up having to hurt somebody, unnecessarily, and it will be on you.

When you’re a bouncer, you don’t have the option of walking away from a situation. You have to sort shit out. If you’re the kind of person who can talk nicely to someone and get heard, that may be enough. If you’re not, you’re going to have to go up the levels. If nobody takes you seriously unless you smack them one, then you’re gonna have to smack a lot of people. If you’re not very good at smacking, and you have to actually injure people to get them to take any notice of you, then you’re gonna leave a trail of damaged bodies; bodies that people better suited to the job may have been able to just talk out of the door.

Oh, btw, those EldersOfTheTribe©? They’ll never respect you, let alone treat you as one of them. This isn’t about showing you a way to grow up; this is about finding a way to keep you down, to keep you beneath them, because that makes them feel all big and mighty. This is a way for them to rig the game; they’re setting up the standards for adulthood to match what they’ve got and you don’t.

 

Revisionism.

One of the advantages of hanging out with KidsOfToday© as opposed to looking at them from a safe distance is that it cuts down on a hell of a lot of historical revisionism. I mean, I’m still perfectly capable of turning my life upside down and sideways on, but the days when my definition of “interesting” was “Oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die” are mostly over. Almost certainly. I think. Young’uns, though, they’re still at it. They run around as if the really ‘interesting’ parts of my life had not magically converted themselves into their own experience set. They seem to actually need to learn by doing, like wut I did, and my mother before me, and her mother before her, and so on ad infinitum. They carry on as if the relevancy of certain lessons was affected by the world around them; as if the skills and knowledge that met my needs didn’t meet theirs, solely because the world they live in is different in many key respects. They also behave as if certain hurdles in life (negotiating career options, securing access to basic survival and security resources, finding a mate, dealing with Bad People) were things you actually have to do; as if they were real hurdles that really exist in real life, rather than the unfortunate fallout of the twerpery of young age.

It’s loathsome, really: young people insist on living their own lives as if they consisted of a series of steps taken one after the other, often with only partial knowledge of where the entire journey is going to take them (or, even more iniquitously, with a different destination in mind from the one I followed). And when they approach a new situation, they do so without knowing how it’s going to go down; as if the fact that I know how my stories ended didn’t magically convert itself into guaranteed endings for theirs.

If it sound like I’m being ridiculous it’s because I am. Yet the attitude I’m describing is incredibly common, and doesn’t just affect how people behave towards the younger generations. It affects, perhaps more importantly, the way in which they judge their younger selves.

It’s easy to forget that while we were going through certain life events we had no idea of how they were going to pan out. We know now, because we can look back at them, and it may all seem damn obvious. We can see clearly how A led to B, C and D; we can also see how we really ought to have aimed for E instead. And yeah, perhaps we don’t know what E would have led us to but we know that we don’t like D and that enough, thankyouverymuch.  Or we know that D kinda followed automatically and easily from C and B, so we look at all our past efforts and concerns and have the luxury of classing them as pointless. From the comfort of our porch, we can look back at our younger selves making all sorts of damn foolish mistakes, and despise them for the idiots they were.

Except that those idiots were, way back when, the people fighting for us. Maybe they were the only people fighting for us and maybe they weren’t; but they’re the people who brought us here, to were we’re at now. They’re the people who gave us the knowledge and skills that we believe entitle us to condemn them now. They’re the people who kept us alive long enough to give us a chance to bitch about them. Without them, there’s no us.

Maybe we don’t like where or who we are so much. Maybe we resent our younger selves for getting us into this, for trying too much, or not trying hard enough, or trying wrong. Maybe we could have done better; but I’m willing to bet that we could have done worse, too. It’s easy to forget that the only consequences we’re fully aware of are the ones we have experienced.

I see people running this kind of game on themselves, and it’s pretty awful.I also see people running this kind of game on other people, and it’s probably even worse. It’s particularly egregious when their right to run this game is based on them being “experts.” This kind of attitude makes it way too easy to conflate wisdom with meanness, and to forget that this kind of wisdom is often little more than a data set of anecdotal evidence. There’s a tendency to confuse “the way it went” with “the way it goes,” and forget that each of us really only controls a minuscule proportion of our lives.

Yes, it’s obvious now that I shouldn’t have bought a house right before the house market crash… Only back then we didn’t know the crash was coming for sure, or when it was going to hit, and I needed a place to live, and I didn’t know that I would be forced to sell the house while the market was still down. Yes, clearly that lady shouldn’t have married the guy who went on to rape her… Only when they first met and during their months of courtship and their cohabitation and their engagement and in the first X years of their marriage she had no inkling that he’d ever do such a thing, which is how he ended up in the position to be able to do such a thing. Yes, we all should have known then what we know now, except that the bulk of that knowledge is anecdotal, and the only way we gained it is by actually going through that process.

TL/DR: It’s easy to sit and bitch about people making “bad decisions” and forget that every single new decision is an experiment. It’s easy to take the view that what makes a decision obviously bad or good is its final outcome, and forget the myriad factors that went into causing that outcome. It’s easy to make ourselves feel better by crucifying other people, or feel worse by crucifying ourselves, because people should know better. But it’s all rather silly, and not very helpful, and doesn’t make us very good company for ourselves or others. So maybe it’s about time we collectively stop elevating this to an art form.

 

Let it go.

 

I routinely get asked questions I can’t answer. Something has happened to somebody, they can’t make any sense of it, so they tell me about it in the hope that I can. Most of the time, I can’t. The situations described fall into grey areas, and making an assessment would require me to be able to evaluate what motivates people’s actions. Alas, I am a very poor oracle; I can’t see inside people’s heads.

As a result, I tend to shy away from grey areas issues. It’s so damn hard to produce clear-cut answers I can trust enough to dish them out. All I’ve got is a series of maybes, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Other “experts” are much better at this kind of thing. I’m not entirely sure whether their assessment skills are better than mine, or they’re just less concerned about making a mistake, but that’s a whole other issue.

The problem with avoiding grey areas is that these days they are often the main battleground. In mainstream Western society, we’ve criminalised or made sanctionable a whole load of behaviours we regard as unacceptable. The more certain behaviours and attitudes result in a punishment, the less people are willing to openly display them. That doesn’t mean that the beliefs that underline those behaviours and attitudes have magically gone away, though, particularly at the individual level. People don’t abandon their beliefs just because they’ve gotten unpopular; they’re just quieter about them.

An abundance of grey area issues is the natural result of stomping over more overt issues. That’s what’s happening with sexual harassment. 50 yrs ago it was ok in some settings to slap a server’s ass and ask her to come to your car for whatever. Now that kind of thing would get you arrested, so people choose sneakier tactics to get the same result. The same kind of adaptation applies to a whole host of other issues. If doing X thing is going to get me arrested, I’m going to go for the next best thing, the thing I can do that will give me a similar result without putting me at risk.

That’s the fallout of winning certain battles: the fight is taken into situations that become murkier and murkier. That’s a good thing, in many respects. Problem is that a lot of well-meaning people tend to label things as “not so bad”, “not as bad as they used to be”, or “not as bad as they are in X place”, and determine that the right thing to do is to let the whole thing slide. This plays right into the offenders’ hands. I’m not well-meaning, so that kind of approach just bugs me.

It’s interesting to see how common that point of view is in self-defence. It’s even more interesting to see how often experts are willing to take a “let it go” approach on certain issues while advocating early detection and intervention in other settings. It’s frankly mind-boggling when the same instructors advocate both things at the same time.

For instance, a bunch of instructors are super hot on telling women that they need to spot the early warning signs of sexual misbehaviour. If anyone is being overtly sexual and that feeling is not reciprocated, you need to manifest how disinclined you are early and clearly. If anyone is trying to skirt around your consent, you need to spot that and stomp on it.

…but if you’re at a con or a festival and someone’s decides to follow you around declaiming sweet nothings, they’re just trying to establish a human connection. If someone sticks a camera in your crotch and takes a photo without asking you and despite your protestations, you should see that as a compliment. If someone tries to touch you up, hey, how much on display are you, really? Anyway, it’s just a bit of fun. That’s why people go to this kind of gatherings; to befriend other people. Don’t be such a hard-ass!

This is one example, but that type approach is ubiquitous. I find it particularly interesting when it’s applied outside of the sex & violence settings. What it boils down to in practice is that if you can’t justify punching your way out of an issue, literally or metaphorically, then it is a non-issue and you should just get over it. So if your boss is being sexist, but it’s nothing bad enough to get HR involved, let it go. If someone’s being racist, but they’re being subtle about it, let it go. If any kind of issue is developing but it’s not bad enough yet that you could justify taking physical or legal action, let it go.

I can’t make any sense of this. Letting small problems grow until they’re big seems a recipe for trouble, as well as going against everything I know about boundary setting. It can also make for a very sucky life; small portions of shit coming at us day in, day out, can add up to a large manure heap. This kind of approach has to work for those pushing it, though; otherwise they’d stop pushing it. My guess is that I’m looking at it from precisely the wrong angle.

I occasionally think unkind thoughts about people whose skillset is so limited that they need to redefine what issues are worthwhile. Limiting their efforts to those situations for which they are equipped means that they’re more likely to prevail. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; you won’t see me volunteering to get into a fistfight any time soon, because I suck at that kind of thing. I appreciate that other people may have the same feelings towards formal debates. The mechanism goes beyond that, though. If I really want to make sure that I won’t find myself ill-equipped to deal with a situation, what I can do is try and prevent everyone else from creating that situation. That not only reduces my chance of getting dragged into something I suck at and losing, but it also means that I don’t have to admit to be less than all-capable, all-powerful. If I define as worthwhile issues only those issues I can successsfully manage, then I’m suddenly bloody amazing.

Maybe this attitude sucks at dealing with issues, or stopping people from getting hurt by those issues, because it’s simply not designed for that purpose. Maybe it’s sole goal is to prevent some people from having to come to grips with their inadequacy.

 

One size.

For the longest time, I’ve been meaning to write a blog or three about the fact that one size, more often than not, does not fit all. I don’t mean just clothes; the same applies to a whole bunch of things, from tools to chairs to conflict resolution styles to self-defence techniques.

I guess I’m lucky in having the opportunity to experience that issue  in a variety of settings. The more different you are from the average intended user of a thing, the more obvious the misfits become; and I’m a small foreign neurodivergent somewhat disabled woman who’s always favoured traditionally male endeavours. I’m used to the fact that certain things that work for “everybody” don’t work for me, and I don’t generally see it as an issue. I’m not expecting the world to adjust itself to suit me, because then it’d probably mean that it wouldn’t suit the majority of people. I do, however, tend to expect people who don’t share my characteristics not to immediately jump to the conclusion that I must be completely full of shit when I try to explain my situation.

I don’t know why I expect that, because experience has proved otherwise.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had to prove to someone that something didn’t and couldn’t fit me, because my word wasn’t good enough. The situations in which this occurred have ranged from the highly entertaining (no, Mr Airport Security Person Sir, I can’t level my retinas with your scanner and stay still because it’s pointing half a foot over my head) to the severely frustrating (no, I’m not ‘too chicken’ to ride this motorcycle; I just think it’s important that my feet can touch the ground, in case I ever want to stop riding it). I’ve had numerous arguments with people as to why I wouldn’t even try doing something, the “why” being stuff like “because I know that it wouldn’t work and I don’t want to break my back again just to prove my freakin’ point”. It  gets tiresome.

Sometimes it’s amusing to watch people watch me trying do to stuff, and having to readjust their view of the world; it’s amusing to see them factor in something they’d never contemplated before. It feels good to think that maybe, in future interactions with other people who are non-standard-fit, they may be a bit more cautious, a bit more caring. Most of the times, though, this doesn’t seem to happen. What tends to happen instead is that people make an exception for me; “this fits everyone but Anna, because she’s a freak”. I become the exception that somehow proves the rule.

…or they decide that I’m just being difficult about the whole thing and making stuff up for my personal entertainment. That’s fun to deal with, not.

I’ve been meaning to blog about it for ages, because that attitude is fairly pervasive in self-defence and conflict management. I honestly don’t understand how that is even a thing: how is it hard to comprehend that I might need different solutions than, say, Kasey? He’s a foot taller than me, two foot wider, and male. He benchpresses three times my weight. I think there’s bear in his ancestry. Those differences have huge impacts on our lives; we face different problems with different resources. People respond to us differently. We can pull off different strategies. We’re just different. That’s how it is.

Yet so many, many times, people try to sell us the same products; the same solutions to the same problems. Too many times, for too many people, “bettering myself” translates into “being more like Kasey,” even though I can’t be him any more than he can be me. Too many times, if I can’t do what Kasey does the way Kasey does it, then I’m judged to be failing. (Too many times in general, what is sold as “empowerment” for women actually means “enmalement”, but that’s another story.) And if I fail at being Kasey-like, then it can’t be because I’m really not built for that. I must just try harder to ignore or shed my limitations, regardless of whether they’re rooted in reality or not. Regardless of whether that’s the best way for me to get the job done.

Nobody in their right mind would ask Kasey to wear my shoes; but I’m routinely asked to put his on and run in them; and when I trip up, it’s seen as the sign of a personal failing.

An alternative to Forgiveness – 6

In the last few blogs, I’ve gone on about forgiveness, crossbows, Dillon, and dogs.

There’s an exchange in “Eat, Pray, Love” that has nothing to do with forgiveness at all; but it does have to do with moving the hell on:

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it.”

So you can’t forgive someone, and you can’t send them love and light; but you can still drop it. When it comes back up, which it will, you can drop it again, and again, and again. Chances are that over time it will come up less and less, or at least you’ll get better at dropping it faster, and eventually it may disappear off your mental landscape altogether.

The same applies to self-forgiveness. I’ve mentioned self-forgiveness briefly in my first blog, and then ignored it completely, but it’s not because it’s unimportant. It’s just that the same process, or lack thereof, applies regardless of who we’re forgiving, including ourselves. Self-forgiveness issues can be just harder to see at times because everything is internal, and too close to us to get a clear focus.

Self-forgiveness is an interesting concept. I’ve read a lot about it in various guises, and never really got anywhere with it until I read Matthew Stover. It’s particularly important for children who grew up in abusive households, because that kind of environment can seriously mess up the connection between actions and punishments, but even the “normal” connection can be bent in unhealthy ways.

Children are generally raised to see a connection between their behaviour and parental responses. A child does something good, and that behaviour is rewarded. A child does something bad, and that behaviour is punished. Whether the punishment is severe or mild, whether it’s a beating or a sharp word or a disappointed look or a boring lecture, a connection is form between the original behaviour and the punishment. Children aren’t born with a rule book; in a very real sense, they only learn what actions are bad and what are good by looking at the responses of the people around them.

Problems can arise when that line of thinking is never abandoned growing up, or when children are subjected to suffering that has nothing to do with their actions. A belief can take root that if bad behaviour leads to suffering, all suffering is the proof that we must have done something bad. That belief doesn’t have to make sense to us. We might discount it rationally, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not affecting us subconsciously. And just because our adult self considers the whole thing laughable, it doesn’t mean that inside us there isn’t a child who firmly believes that, whatever it was that happened, we must have somehow deserved it.

For children who grew up in abusive or dysfunctional households the problem can be even worse. One of the characteristics of toxic parents (and difficult people) is that they don’t differentiate between a child and their behaviour. Rather than attack the behaviour (please get off my toes), they attack the child (move, you clumsy oaf!). Abusive parents also don’t always wait for the children to genuinely misbehave in order to punish them; that’s not always convenient. However, that’s not a problem, because it’s remarkably easy to convince children that they are being punished not because they’ve done something bad, but simply because they are bad. Whatever punishments the parents throw at them, the children deserve them because of some deep-seated badness inside their hearts. It’s remarkably easy to internalise that kind of belief, particularly when we’re exposed to it at a young age.

So, when someone does something awful to us, it can be easy to see it as a punishment. We must have done something wrong, somewhere. We must have played a part in this. And what we originally did caused us to get hurt, so we have a right to resent ourselves for it. Lo and behold, we can end up engaged in the judgement-forgiveness trainwreck at ourselves, unable to forgive ourselves, unable to forgive ourselves for not forgiving ourselves, resenting ourselves at multiple levels, and generally giving ourselves a terrible time, indefinitely. Given that we spend 100% of our time in our own company, this is hardly the recipe for a happy life.

The good news is, we don’t have to do this. The same kind of thinking that can get us moving on from not-being-able-to-forgive others can help us deal with ourselves.

We’re under no obligation to put ourselves on trial, pass judgement on ourselves, and then forgive ourselves for our trespasses. We can choose to assess ourselves instead – to carry on a factual evaluation of our actions and our likelihood of committing those actions again. Then we can put into place whatever mitigating measures we think are required so we don’t get trounced again. And then we can drop it.

None of this is easy, but practice makes it easier. It doesn’t much matter who we practice on, either; the skills are transferable. Obviously, we don’t have to do any of this. We can just carry on as normal; though we might find it hard to forgive ourselves for that, too.

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We interrupt the current drone fest to bring a free e-book to your attention. It will only be free until the 8th of Feb (Amazon makes publishing free books hellishly hard), so there’s a level of hurry to grabbing & sharing it. It’s blissfully short (under 3500 words).

An alternative to Forgiveness – 5

So, in the last blog I went on about risk assessing people instead of judging and forgiving them, and compared Dillon to a crossbow (which, if you know Dillon, is actually not as weird as it sounds). The point I was trying to make was that I can make a reasonable, fact-based assessment of the way he’s likely to carry on based on the way in which he habitually carries on without needing to pass a moral judgement on the fellow.

That’s more easily said than done. If Dillon punched me in the mouth next week, I’d have a whole bunch of feelings about it. It would be very difficult for me not to think ill of him for doing it, of me for “allowing it to happen”, of humanity’s potential for evil, of the universe at large for being such a cold, uncaring place, and so on. But I don’t have to latch on to those feelings as if they were important; they’re not. Left to their own device, unacted upon, the only part of the world they affect is my own head. That doesn’t mean that I should ignore them or suppress them. I can take due note of them; they’re a data point, too. But I have no obligation to fight them,  punish myself for feeling them, or turn them into pets and feed them forever.

I don’t have to make myself forgive Dillon if I’m still angry at him. I also don’t have to feel guilty about that anger, or forgive myself for it, either. I don’t have to stack feeling upon feeling upon feeling in a desperate bid to make them somehow cancel each other out, until I’m drowning in an emotional soup and entirely incapable of thinking about anything else, or thinking at all. I don’t have to play that game. This is more easily said than done, too, but most things worth doing tend to be.

This is about the time where someone cleverer than me may go on about Socratic ideals, or the Buddhist concept of suffering, but I’m going to quote Einstein instead: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” My point is that I think a lot of the time we get stuck on “Forgiveness” because we’re stuck in a multi-level mental trainwreck that we make more and more complicated the more we interfere with it. We’re trying to think ourselves out of situations we’ve thought ourselves into, when actually the solution may be to think less all round; or, at the very least, to think along different tracks. Ridiculous comparison: if having two cars smack into each other is a problem, that problem will not be lessened by sending more cars hurtling down the same road. The same can be true of thoughts.

So you “can’t forgive somebody”? Don’t. Do something else instead. Paint your toenails, go for pizza, phone a friend, cry until you’re cried out then make yourself a cup of tea.

That doesn’t mean that you have to “unforgive” them, though; to sit there deliberately festering in your resentment and hurt and anger and whatever else is flowing, stirring the emotional pot to prevent yourself from letting go. Active unforgiveness is a sucker’s game. Clint Overland has written about it:

Unforgiveness is like a neurotoxin. It eats away from the inside of you. Steals your joy, hope, faith. Keeps you angry bitter and frustrated. Enhances depression and anxiety. Raises your worry and stress levels. What it doesn’t do is affect the person who you refuse to forgive. It doesn’t matter to them one little bit.

Even when it does matter to them, when living with your unforgiveness is a burden to them, it’s probably never as big a burden as it is to you. You have to feed it and keep it and live with it all the time. Chances are that they don’t.

 

An alternative to Forgiveness – 4

In the last blog, I put forth the case that moral judgements are not a required part of any risk assessments, using the example of a crossbow. The same kind of mental process can be run about a person; my buddy Dillon, for instance.

Dillon’s potential to cause harm is probably greater than that of the crossbow; the crossbow needs to be manually reloaded, whereas Dillon is an automatic weapon. It is easier for me to neutralise the crossbow than Dillon; locking crossbow bolts in a drawer is an easier task than amputating Dillon’s arms and legs. The likelihood of Dillon to cause me harm, however, has been proven through experience to be lower than that of the crossbow.  The crossbow is cheap and nasty, has a pretty shoddy safety on it, and I’ve already had an accidental discharge; my aim is not great; and there’s always a possibility of bolts ricocheting. Dillon, on the other hand, doesn’t go off by accident and his targeting system is very accurate. I am absolutely sure that I could do things to make Dillon go off; but experience has shown that he has a pretty good warning system; I would have to deliberately ignore those warnings in order to cause him to explode. Overall, I judge Dillon to be safe even when he’s “armed”, which is just as well because I can’t disarm him; I can’t say the same about the crossbow.

That doesn’t make Dillon a good person. Or a bad person. Or any kind of person at all. I could spend a lot of time passing that kind of judgement about him, but I don’t in fact have to, not for this process. All I need in order to risk-assess him are data points as to his behaviour in various circumstances, and experience has given me that. By inputting that information into a risk assessment process, I can reach what I consider to be a reasonable conclusion as to Dillon’s likelihood of causing me harm.

I might read in the news tomorrow that Dillon got high snorting Coco Pops® and went on a rampage through the town centre, with great damage to property and people. That kind of data point is significant, and would require me to revisit my assessment. I would have to include a proviso that “Dillon + Coco Pops® = Danger”. I would have to work out a series of steps for preventing either the combination of Dillon and Coco Pops®, or the combination of me and a Coco Popped® Dillon. Wilfully ignoring that data in order to preserve the sanctity of my initial assessment wouldn’t be terribly clever. Kicking myself because of that initial assessment wouldn’t be terribly clever either. My assessment was not inaccurate at the time; it was based on the available data.

No part of that process requires me to pass a moral judgement; not on Dillon, not on modern cereal manufacturers, and not on myself as a risk assessor.

I don’t have enough information to judge whether Dillon is A Bad Person, anyway. Did he snort the Coco Pops® on purpose, or were they just crushed in the bag? Was he aware of the possible consequences? It doesn’t matter, though, because I don’t have to pass judgement on him. All I need to know is “Dillon + Coco Pops® = Danger”. That’s it.

If the event happens again, that’s yet another data point, and yet another situation in which my moral judgement is not required. I don’t have to know whether the Dillon chose to re-expose himself to Coco Pops® or has a medical condition hitherto unknown to science that makes him unable to resist sugary cereals. All I have to know is that this was not a one-off event. That should inform the steps I take in preventing such events from impacting me.

All the way through this, I don’t have to forgive Dillon, or condemn him. I just have to let his actions guide my assessments, and let them inform my future behaviour around him.