I recently told a friend that I no longer go to some community meetings because several of my neighbors have said things to me that I’ve experienced as deeply hurtful. “Really?” she said. “You don’t go?”
I felt off-balance for a moment: after all, shouldn’t I turn the other cheek? Extend empathy? Isn’t that what being in community is all about?
I used to think so. I used to work really really REALLY hard for community. Hours of volunteer time: physical labor, facilitation, writing and editing, organizational development. And then . . . I got a lotta what I’ll term bat-sh^t crazy hate* flung my way.
And instead of turning the other cheek and extending empathy, the habits our culture holds up as Good, I’m breaking those habits. I’m minimizing the time I spend in the same room with these folks. That’s all–I’m not sending hateful vibes or emails, and I don’t wish misfortune upon anyone. But I’m not doing what I’ve always done before. I’m trying a different response — as Amy McTear says, I’m “determin[ing] the quality and conditions of my life.”
This is my real-life application of what I preach about writing. Just as our stories need audiences that honor and respect them, so do we, as people.
Treat your writing with kindness and compassion.
Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, too.
Danielle LaPorte takes this a step further: she says pleasure is power.
When you’re in your pleasure you think more clearly, you’re more efficient, you’re most certainly more creative, and you’re more loving. Your pleasure states are good for your immune system. Mmmhmm.
It can be really difficult to make pleasure a priority when we’ve got so many ingrained habits based on distraction (numbing out) and performance (pleasing others). For a lot of us, choosing pleasure would be a major life turn around. I get it.
Isn’t this all very white-privilege? Easy to talk about pleasure when you have extra resources. But what good will come of NOT moving toward pleasure? Is anyone spared suffering, is any injustice ameliorated, when we go to meetings and feel miserable before, during and after? Nope.
But when the people we’re working with light us up, are willing to goof around and goof up and say “sorry!” — when the people we’re working with are, in short, a pleasure to be around, then we’re on the side of positive change. (A short list of things that happened when I had fun with other people: we established the New River Land Trust; a youth group; a grassroots leadership program; a co-housing neighborhood; The Joyful Quill; New River Valley Voices; and A Fiercely Kind Word.)
So yeah, I’m moving toward people who will ask me about my intentions, as a person, as a writer, before telling me all the ways I’m wrong and bad, all the ways my words don’t convey the story I hope to tell. Because my soul feels better, and my writing gets better, when I’m with people who approach me and my words with kindness.
I hope you, too, will move toward people who are kind to you, to your stories — it’s good for you! And if moving toward kindness means moving away from unkindness, as my friend Mica Estrada explains in her “Kindness Experiment” article in Psychology Today moving away from those who behave badly despite our best efforts does them a favor, too.
And come on over to A Fiercely Kind Word to get a dose of love for your writing.
*Hate is a strong term, and I don’t use it lightly here, nor am I gonna go into details of the words and actions that were sent my way; suffice it to say that a friend who’s an experienced psychologist alerted me to the possibility that these folks may be struggling with mental illness. She observed that their behaviors and the language of their communications is similar to that of people with borderline personality disorder. I’m currently doing a 100-day tonglen meditation practice to see if I can discern how to be kind to myself and those who may have mental illness — while it’s helpful to hear that the hate-flingers may not intend to be hurtful, the sh*t still stinks and stings when it’s flung.