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Posts Tagged ‘pragmatism’

It occurred to me today that I’m doing it again. I’ve hit a very busy and taxing time at work and at home, which means more stress and less energy. These are exactly the times I need to make sure to pull back for a bit at key points during the day, to stretch and relax and regroup.

Do you know what I tend to forget to make time for when I’m busy trying to keep up with a very taxing and stressful time…?

I’ve resolved to get back to my schedule starting tomorrow. It’s the only way I’ll be able to maintain the flexibility I need to get through this current time-tunnel and make it out fantastic on the other side.

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Okay, so if you take a look at how long it’s been since my last post, today’s post carries extra irony.  (See the comments from that post…)

You see, I had planned to follow up the following day with an admission that the de-stressing techniques that I’d learned are great… when I remember to do them.  And I hadn’t been remembering to keep up with self-maintenance and such.  These past few months have been terrible for me to keep up a consistency with… well, almost anything, really!  So near the start of the month I started to assess where I’d been letting things slip and where I’d hoped to get re-engaged, and made some notes on some steps I could take to get things back on track.

And here I am.  Creeping into the last week of the month, with none-too-much of what I’d hoped for actually accomplished.  So what am I going to do about it?

I’m going to apply another lesson I learned in my Summer Chrysalis phase: Be patient with yourself.  Take a look at what derailed you, and make some honest assessments on how you can do better from this point forward.

After all, as a wise man recently said, “Best to keep it all in perspective, otherwise the stress of forgetting to destress just makes us more stressed.”

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Today, Ed Kilgore posted a blog called No More “Enemy Turf”, about the importance of not writing off any potential allies in your fight for what you believe in:

Yes, certain demographic categories may be “lost” to conservatives if you insist on a winner-takes-all definition, and no, aggressively pursuing support among such voters isn’t worth it if it involves abandoning key principles or essentially adopting the opposition’s point of view. But reducing the margin of defeat on “hostile ground” is often achievable simply by paying attention and not wilfully repelling voters, and in the end a vote is a vote whether it comes from a segment of the electorate that progressives are “winning” or “losing.” […]

A vote’s a vote; reducing unnecessary losses on “enemy turf” has enormous political value; and progressives need not concede, explicitly or (by silence or evasion) implicitly, religious or military voters. It’s good to see these simple lessons are being taken to heart.

I think that’s a lesson that’s vitally important in all aspects of life, not just the portion of it labeled “politics”.  Where you think there are only enemies, you are missing vitally important allies.  They may not (and probably will not) always agree with you on things you’d really like to convince them of, and they may even try to convince you of some things you really aren’t on board with.  But so long as that doesn’t get in the way of coming together to work toward much-needed help for those who need it, the work itself will provide you with the common ground you need to move forward.

And that’s the sticky point: where we feel others’ actions or beliefs are antithetical to what we hold to be self-evident, it can be awfully hard for us to give up the habit of “I’m Right, They’re Wrong, and that makes this Their Fault”.  It becomes a default mental and even neurochemical response to throw up the barriers between “Us” and “Them”, creating an addictive feedback loop that works both ways.  So instead of taking responsibility for bridging those barriers and doing what we can to create new solutions, we either get bogged down in tracing blame or just abandon “them” entirely.  Gay Hendricks’ The Chemistry of Blame is a great article to read in full regarding how this works in terms of personal relationships and “becoming a conscious creator”-style approaches, but here’s the quotes I feel are most relevant here:

There is a great fundamental issue that overrides many of the things we can do to heal ourselves and the world: the human tendency to step into feeling like a victim and blaming others, instead of taking personal responsibility.

Usually in couples therapy, the first issue to be addressed is: Are you willing to make a commitment to solving the problem? One of the most typical responses is, “Well, I’d be committed if she were.”

“Are you willing to stay completely away from blaming anyone, and instead make a sincere commitment to resolving all the issues we confront?”

There’s only one solution, and that’s to take 100% impeccable responsibility – and create a space for the other person to take 100% impeccable responsibility as well. Responsibility has a contagious effect.

As a therapist, I point out repeatedly, “Okay, having said that your husband is a worthless piece of shit, tune inside. Do you feel happier?” The person begins to recognize that although they feel that “glee-gotcha” feeling that comes from assigning blame, they don’t feel happier.

“Do you choose being right or being happy?”

It’s the same with mastering personal responsibility. Once a person shifts out of glee and experiences the real joy of claiming responsibility, everything is changed.

Like it or not, “those people” are in this boat with us, and we’ll sink if they do.  It doesn’t matter if we think we’re the only ones trying to bail ourselves out while “they” are poking holes in the hull.  It doesn’t matter if “they” feel the same way about us.  Because in reality, there is no “Us” that excludes “Them”; there’s merely “We”, all in the same boat together.  And while we’re busy getting angry or despondent or vindictive or even just exasperated, the boat is slowly sinking.  It doesn’t matter who’s right, it just matters who’s getting their hands on deck to pull our ship out of the storm.

And the thing is, at the core, we generally want to steer our ship down the same basic course.  The problem isn’t that our values are different, it’s more that we’ve gotten so sidetracked by our different perspectives on why they’re important.  Once we can set aside those differences we can free our energy to finding ways to work together toward our shared values, even if it means taking our hat in one humble hand to hold out the other.  As I wrote in Fighting Fire with Water: The Christian Role in the War on Women:

[T]he answer to the War on Women isn’t to fight back against our perceived “enemy” with the same condescension, derision and dogma we feel assaulted by.  We can’t win by returning anger with anger, and fighting fire with fire.  Instead, we must fight fire with water, returning their anger with patience and love.  We must struggle to develop new ways to show them how we’re ultimately on the same team.  We want the same things: a peaceful world where families can grow up happy and healthy and complete, cared for by each other and their community.  We need to show them how their actions are preventing these values from bearing good fruit.  We need to find better ways of working together to make our shared goals real.

And we won’t build these bridges toward our shared goals by trying to convince them their values are wrong, nor by refusing to understand how they can be as sure of their rightness as we are of ours.  This is especially difficult because in today’s world, the strongest dividers of “Us” and “Them” are on religious grounds, with the American Political Theater cycling through nonstop reruns of The Righteous Religious Right versus the The Superior Secular Left.  Each side is constantly being poked and prodded with how dangerously unhinged the other side is, and how the only way to stop them from destroying our world is through political (or literal) scorched earth tactics.

But this story has worn thin, and more and more, people are waking up to the holes in it.  I wrote When Atlas Shirked to explore how this “Us Versus Them” plot is breaking down, and share the narrative of what happens when the characters are ready to fix it.  A very young, very patriotic Christian American learns from those of other faiths who are working to strengthen families and communities, bridging the gulf where others may have widened it.  Those of other/no religions find her Christian group to be staunch allies who tirelessly give of themselves for the hungry, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  After learning of all the many (very familiar) corruptions and injustices plaguing her Orwellian American dystopia, she and countless others set aside their differences to start the heavy lifting of building a better world.

It’s a fairy tale, sure, but it’s one that I sincerely hope could come true.  I truly believe that we each have the means to make our corner of the world a better place, simply by committing to finding ways to take responsibility for our place in it.  And we don’t have to storm a capitol or go all that far from home to do make this difference.  There are opportunities all around us to help those in our very own back yards.  The more we look for these opportunities, the more they’ll show us ways we can pitch in.  It doesn’t matter if we can give only a little at first; this is one of those times where every little bit quite literally does help.

Don’t be surprised if the opportunities might be with those that others might call “your enemy”, because there are no enemies when it comes to doing what’s right.  There might be good times and ways to gently share your perspective without having to call theirs wrong, but that’s not what’s important about doing good.  The most important thing right now is to make sure that good gets done.

People are hungry.  Children are being kicked out into the streets.  The sick and the hopeless are being abandoned.  They need our help, not our ideologies.  They can’t seek shelter under our philosophies, and they can’t eat our prayers.

So there we have it: it’s our job to do what we can, with whoever will join our efforts.  The task now isn’t to bar the doors against those “on the other side”, but to open our own doors, and knock wherever we think we see a light on.  Some will get slammed in our faces, and some will open for a while, only to slam shut again.  That’s okay, it’s not up to you to make anyone else do what they need to do.  Just keep taking full responsibility to do your part.

When you’re working to fulfill your part in all this, you’ll know it’s less important to convince people of what you think is right.  You know that what’s most important is to get out there and do what’s right.  The rest will follow.

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Note – I found this in my drafts folder from September 20, 2009. It feels applicable today, so I’m posting it unchanged.

I’ve got a few decisions pending up in front of me, on top of all the other information I need to be aware of and make a choice about. One of the paralyzing things about choices is the fear that we’re not making the right choice for the future that’s up ahead and around the corner. It’s too far away for us to see where it leads… so how can we tell where it will take us?

Actually, we generally can’t. So we’ve got to make the best choices for now, recognizing that we may well have to revise those choices as we get a better picture, or as the scene around us changes on its own. So it’s less about having all the answers, and more in howing to recognize the answers we do have, and do our best with them. And then making peace with the choices we’ve made, so we can keep working with and changing them as we go.

Wisdom consists not so much in knowing what to do in the ultimate as knowing what to do next.
– Herbert Hoover

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I’m currently in the midst of a phase where I try to consciously eat as well as I can, avoiding the things that I know from experience make me feel worse. This is an unofficial continuation from the lent thing this year, which means I can “stray” when I really want to without compromising anything other than my health.

So I wanted a chocolate chip cookie, and so first I ate stuff I knew would help me feel better despite the cookie.  Then I made myself a mug of Kaffree, heated the cookie up briefly so it was niiiiiiice and gooey, and slowly ate it.  And licked the chocolate off the plate.

I considered having another one, then I remembered the way I make it through junky cravings without making myself sick. So far it’s working, so I thought I’d share. 

Seriously, try savoring half the amount to get twice the enjoyment. Really and truly pay attention to the sensations and the pleasure of them to make them stick. As you’re enjoying the last bites, really drink in the flavor and texture to carry forward into the moments after it’s gone.

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So I’ve figured it’s time to practice saying ‘yes’ to things again. The idea is to accept whatever crosses your path for a few days. A ‘no’ is acceptable only when needed to avoid a truly bad idea.

The fun thing is that it seems like more good things show up once the welcome mat is put out. Whether the increase is in happenstance or happy attention, I don’t much care — more goodness is more goodness.

Besides, I’ve been cranky lately and could use the change of pace!

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I’ve never been Catholic, but I observe Lent every year. I figure I’m not too good for a good idea, whatever the source.

Each year, I try to think of something I should be working on anyway. Then once I’ve decided, I commit to trying for a long-term commitment, not just until Easter.

So this year I gave up something I’m allergic to as a “deliberate shopping choice”. I won’t be ‘freaky’ about it if there’s a little in something that’s my best option.  Also, if I’m feeling good and I’m offered food containing it, I’ll probably indulge.

Why the prewritten exceptions?  I know I’m not ready to give it up for long-term serious, so why pretend, even to myself?

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