communication,  meaning of life,  Occupy,  the ethical life

trying to understand yesterday

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Even in my sleep I over analyze things. The other night I dreamed that I was a government bureaucrat for the Nazis. In my dream I knew I had a choice between getting myself thrown into a prison camp right away for standing up for what I knew was right, or I could try to survive in the job and use my position to help others. In my dream I didn’t feel fear for myself, just a question of what would be best for others. After all, I thought, the job would be done by someone and if I was doing it maybe I could help smuggle Jewish families out to safety. In the dream my coworkers were warning me that I was suspected of being an enemy to the state and that I would be killed soon, but I somehow thought I could be wily enough, beguiling enough, to keep my position a little bit longer and get stuff done.

Upon waking I wondered about everything. I wondered, since just doing one’s job is not an excuse in a war crimes tribunal and therefore the person can be held responsible for their actions even though if that person didn’t do it someone else would, would my complicit in the bad with outweigh the good I was attempting to do? Doesn’t the optional good out weight the inevitable bad, since the bad was inevitable? I wondered also how in my dreams I could be so confident that I could achieve something, that I could be considered valuable enough to not be tossed into prison right away, when in real life I am so insecure about everything.

I woke from the dream and checked email. I had an email from someone telling me that I’m an awful person whose purpose in life seems to be to squash others down. I tried to email but what type of email do you send to someone in response to such a blanket criticism not of specific actions but of one’s whole character? I know I have tried always to be loving but obviously I fail sometimes, at least in making my intent shown.

I don’t agree with the person’s assessment of my behavior towards her, since I have a lot of respect and love for her, but nonetheless the email made me stop for a bit and worry that it had hit upon some truth about me. You see, I don’t believe we all have to spend all our time trying to make others feel good. We’re not all in elementary school anymore. We don’t all need to get A for Effort. Is that wanting to squash others down? I don’t think so. I am critical at times. I think things through. I over analyze. Heck, I over-analyze things in my sleep. Yet I don’t think that thinking things through necessarily correlates with wanting to squash others down or being unloving.  My purpose in life is really to try to understand life, and to try to work for justice. I can’t help feeling hurt by harsh criticism from someone I care about.

I think social skills are incredibly complex and challenging. I can’t help laughing whenever someone says, how will my children learn socialization if they are homeschooled, because I think of how complicated social skills are and how even adults are constantly struggling over them. The only adults I know who don’t struggle over social skills are those who basically blame everyone else for everything and thus don’t have to worry about how they themselves act. Trying to find the balance of accepting responsibility, seeing and respecting other people’s point of view without accepting it unquestioningly, and working towards healthy solutions is incredibly challenging. I’ve written about this before here and to some extent here.

Continuing on with the story of yesterday, I had a meeting to go to so I went to it. It was with a politician who wanted to hear from antipoverty activists, and the organization I belong to was overrepresented and the other local anti-poverty groups definitely under-represented. Somewhere in the conversation the topic of whether or not the language of the Occupy movement, particularly the 99% vs 1% was alienating. Does it make people who earn over $250,000 a year feel uncomfortable and by doing so break down bridges that should be built, or does it function more powerfully as a bonding of, well, the other 99%? In some ways it is a bizarre question but I know the people involved and the reality is that 1 out of every 100 people is part of the 1%, so it isn’t like they’re completely rare far off group.

I love the term the 99% because it lumps so many people together. As was pointed out at the meeting, it still divides the world into classes, but it shifts the class border over a bit. The poor and most of the middle class are lumped together. It says you don’t have to be homeless to be poor. It says even those earning a living wage can have reasons to be angry at the way the banking system and austerity measures are being implemented, and at the time of the Occupy Movement there were plenty of pictures of people holding up signs saying they were part of the 1% but supportive of the 99% and wanting to be taxed more. It seems that even some of the 1% were able to claim that language, acknowledge their privilege and join in the fight. So I wonder, why does it make others feel uncomfortable? Is it because they don’t want to have to actually acknowledge their privilege? Is it because they feel they are in some way victims? Is it because they feel it puts blame on them they don’t deserve? As a white person I don’t blame myself for white privilege, but I still acknowledge that I have to do what I can to combat it. Why can’t a person in the 1% do the same?

The question was also raised around being respectful to politicians, even ones we disagree with, and being nonpartisan. Now the organization I’m part of is nonpartisan, mainly because the majority of us in it feel that none of the parties goes far enough in promoting social justice. (Many of us, myself included, do also volunteer for whichever party we feel does the best, but that’s a separate issue, something we do on our own time, separate from our work as an organization.)  From my point of view as an organization we have a stand we take and if a party or politician agrees with us we welcome them and if they don’t we aren’t against them as people but against their position. And I believe that anger is justified and we can’t ask those who have been pushed down all their lives to never show any anger or hostility to those in power.

All through the meeting I was also thinking a situation that arose a few days before when the anti-poverty organization heard that the premier would be coming to town and we debated trying to do a protest outside the facility he would be touring. We couldn’t find out though when exactly he was coming and no one could afford to spend all day there. I know they probably keep his schedule a secret to prevent just what we wanted to happen, and that left me stumped. What do we do? If politicians won’t listen to us we resort to stunts, and because we resort to stunts politicians make themselves even less available. Yet for us to stop the stunts won’t get us the ear to the premier either.

So anyway, the point I’m getting at was that yesterday was a really, really complicated morning for me. Between a really weird detailed dream, an email and a meeting, I felt completely and totally overwhelmed. I’m like a volcano about to erupt, or a pot simmering with ideas.

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