#70 - what if we're not good people?
On accepting harm
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THANK YOU, LOVE YOU.
Since landing back in Toronto on Sunday, I’ve been having a feeling I have not had in years (pandemic + portal = roughly 700 years): FOMO. The ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ has typically been framed as a consequence of social media, and the discomfort of constantly seeing that which you desire but do not have, which at extreme proportions can definitely trigger distress and episodes of depression and anxiety. It’s not good stuff in general but at this moment it feels more like an indicator of life and energy - and of a kinetic life energy returning to the city. Tonight, there are three things I want to do happening at the exact same time. Tomorrow, I have overcommitted and on Sunday I had to give away tickets to a Plant Walk. A walk! With plants! It’s all so thrilling.
I am flooded with gratitude to be excited again. To get my dopamine from the world and not an app. To feel full from theatre and video installations and to see who we are now IRL and in costume. I know this feeling will last approximately three weeks before I become overwhelmed by scheduling but I am riding this wave.
And even though I am cherishing this feeling, it is confusing. There is no shared consensus if we are still in a pandemic or endemic. Two people in Ontario died yesterday and 670 people have been hospitalized. I know a handful of people with COVID, which feels at odds with a bright and hot sun. Communities with disabilities and chronic illnesses are still under self-preservation lockdowns. My entire Twitter feed is a PSA for the risk of reinfection and long-COVID. The headlines are an opera on how much power hates women, Ontario continues to devalue anyone without money or an able-body and the heat, hurricanes and water shortages across the world are legitimately killing people. And we keep losing people, sweet young people to gun violence and the carceral state. It’s all a bit much, but in reality, crisis, conflict and harm have always been held side by side with art and community and connection.
I think I have held this fantasy that crisis, conflict and harm will end at some kind of utopian time and place. These fantasies are helpful because they keep me from becoming hopeless - which is a pretty terrifying place. I’m assuming this is a common fantasy but I have no idea because daydreaming has been my coping mechanism for as long as I can remember having thoughts. It’s sort of difficult to describe how discombobulating it has been to accept that crisis, conflict and violence do not end. It has been less an intellectual process and more an allowing of my body to imbue a very uncomfortable truth about human nature.
There has and there always will be crisis, conflict and harm to tend to.
I know this sounds like a hopeless statement and could be triggering to those who are currently in these flames but hear me out. We are doing ourselves a disservice by identifying as ‘good people.’ My friend M brought this up the other day while we were having one of our long and meandering hangouts - which is not surprising because they wrote and narrated a whole manual on how to address harm and accountability. The attachment to a puritanical and moral version of self and society is hindering our capacity to confront it with humility and map the ways we can do crisis, conflict and harm better.
Is it safe to say I don’t think we are doing it very well? I don’t think I have done it very well. But I could only begin to get better once I allowed a reality where I was harm-full to be true. That kind of acceptance leaves no room for story, for justification, for denial, for reframing. It just is a fucking hard truth. And when something just is - you can begin to examine it, dismantle it, reimagine it, reshape it. Until then, it is a very elusive and fidgety child that gets passed back and forth between people and power structures.
The state is violent. ‘Men’ are violent. Capitalism is violent. Fear is violent. We are all violent. Accepting this has been the only way to get closer to my wholeness and choose peace and play in more sacred and intentional ways. It has allowed me to not feel guilty for being excited and joyful during crisis, conflict and harm - because I know my capacity to do so is not because I have turned away from reality, but rather because I have turned so deeply and sincerely towards all the parts of it.
I’m not sure exactly how we do crisis, conflict and harm better (though again, this manual is a good place to start) — but the pattern of reacting, shutting down, burning out and forgetting does not seem to be working. If structures won’t take accountability and if people in power (the rich, the male and rich, and white male and rich) won’t take accountability - how do we reshape our relationship to crisis, conflict and harm in our communities, our families and our intimate relationships? How do we create laboratories in our homes? How do we use the micro to shift the macro?
I have been thinking a lot about the Buddhist notion that life is suffering. There are obviously large texts devoted to unpacking this topic, but I’ve been considering what it means to me, and where it lands in my spiritual anatomy. *Also lately, I’ve been having a bit of a reading block and feeling tired of consuming knowledge in text form, so you dear reader, are getting the fruits of this non-research.
Life is suffering is a phrase I have contemplated a lot; perhaps because I had a Buddha statue sitting at the foot of my bed for nearly 5 years or perhaps it is because Buddhism and Jainism (my religion of origin) are spiritual cousins.
Life is suffering. The concision and definitiveness of this statement makes my body quiver in discomfort. Though there is the complexity of millennia of experience and contemplation woven into this phrase - it is a conclusion of simplicity.
Life is suffering. Three words that appear to be non-debatable and disputable. It suggests this is just what it is. I am not used to this. In my small world, everything is up for debate, questioning, reimagination and redefinition. It’s the only way I’ve understood how to exist.
Life is suffering. If life is suffering, what does it suggest? Are we in a liminal space trying to relieve suffering? Achieve non-suffering? This feels dangerous.
After sort of considering various layers, what has landed for me is this: life is suffering because our minds want it to make sense — but it will never make sense. There will never be a single truth that explains human life - not even in death. So when crisis, conflict and harm happen in our communities or the communities that feel so close and personal in the digital world, there is grief, but also confusion about why? Why would anyone cause this harm? Is it mental health? Is it intergenerational trauma? Is it systems of oppression? Is it the parents? Is it the patriarchy? Is it a history of abuse?
Yes. It is all these things, entangled in so much complexity that there is no way to make sense of it. Each of these narratives is weaponized. The analysis overrides accountability. The anger turns justice into punishment. The disbelief evades us from the reality that we are all capable of harm and violence under a complex algorithm of circumstances. It is a messaging mess designed to generate more outrage than action.
We are as harm-less as we are harm-full. And we always have been. And we always will be. And the sooner we can live with this, and accept this, the less suffering we will experience, and the more we can recognize the choices available to us to navigate human life and coexist in new and renewed ways of being. Seeing myself as messy, as a forever work-in-process, as imperfect and as capable of love as I am capable of harm is an act of self-care.
The city is buzzing with art and life energy and reconnection, and it is also navigating a crushing amount of crisis, conflict and harm? What if they weren’t in tension?
Anyways, just out here mostly talking to myself. I have no idea if any of this makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it does?