06 December, 2016

"There's a fine line between love and hate"...

I was talking to Mark this evening about emotions.

My metamour is a fascinating man. In some ways, he and I are very similar; in others, we could not be more different. We both have very large hearts, and we're both quite spiritual, he moreso than I. We're both deep thinkers with a gift for simplifying our deep thoughts.

One way in which we differ enormously is our attitude towards authority. I come from a background in which questioning authority was not encouraged, and I've come to learn, through such oft-cited role models as George Carlin, Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, that authority must be questioned if evolution is to occur.

Mark's instinctive attitude towards authority could best be termed as intensely distrustful, and he will not just question it but outright defy it if he sees a higher purpose in doing so.

Thanks to a very submissive nature on my part, I question the way I do virtually everything: gently. I have a knack for making waves without rocking boats.

Don't get me wrong: Mark is a very gentle man. But within him is the soul of a warrior, and extremely strong reactions, particularly to injustice, are never far from his surface. I think of him as a modern day incarnation of a Shaolin monk. He has risen to overcome his anger...but has always kept it in reserve, to tap for a higher purpose. I admire that. Often I wish I were like that myself.

I'm not, as a matter of course. As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I will fight viciously in defence of those I love, but it goes against my nature and it takes a toll, both emotional and physical, on me to do it.

We were talking about love, and Mark said something I have heard many times before: "there's a fine, fine line between love and hate".

I've heard it many times before. I've never agreed with it. My disagreement has always been instant and total and unshakeable. Despite my being wary whenever my mind can't be moved--I start checking for hidden blind spots in that case--it still can't be moved on this. Saying "there's a fine line between love and hate" is like saying there's a fine line between hot and cold, or black and white. No, even more absolute: if you hate someone even the tiniest bit, to me that means you not only don't love them, but can't.

I will hastily suggest it is more than possible to hate something that someone has done, or the way in which they have done it, without hating the person themselves.

 I will then, even more hastily, suggest that it is not kosher to hate an expression of one's identity while claiming to still love the person. Usually, this "love the sinner, hate the 'sin'" dictum is applied to homosexuality. "I love gay people, but I hate when they do gay things" is kind of like saying "I love women, but I hate when they menstruate/lactate/give birth": deeply offensive...and patently ridiculous.

Mark gave it the ol' college try, he did, trying to get me to see how love and hate are not at all far removed from each other. "Love," he said, "is an obsessive emotion. So is hate."

"I will grant you that," I said, thinking of how when you first fall in love, you tend to go a little bonkers.

"So," he continued, "bang! You're in love. You do everything together, you learn each other inside and out...and down the road, maybe you grow apart."

Still with you, I thought.

"Love can flip very easily into hate, then."

stop

"No", I said. "You grow apart means you grow apart. Where does the hate come from?"

And he shrugged his shoulders as if to say it just does and I shook my head to say it just doesn't and he called me a highly evolved and extremely mature being.

Oh, Mark, you have worlds left to learn about your metamour. Mature? Moi? Surely you jest.

"No," he insisted. "Your love is not passionate --"

"--oh, yes, it is," I interjected.

"Okay, well, yes, of course that's there, but in your case it's tempered by, and here I'm going to sound a bit daft, but I believe this to be true... something divine in you."

People keep SAYING this about me. It's a good thing I see divinity in everyone, or I'd have a pretty fuckin' big head by now.

I do, you know. See divinity in everyone. I stated eight years ago that we are all special, but no one is more special than anyone else, and if anything that conviction has hardened over time. Heinlein said it before me: "thou art God." And Jesus of Nazareth said it long before him: "Whatsoever you do to the least of these My children, you do to me". (That's one place where it pays to take your Bible literally...)

Another reason it is suggested that love and hate are close cousins is because both involve a great deal of care. If you hate someone, you care about them a lot, just in a negative way. Within this paradigm, the opposite of love is indifference.

That does make sense to me, and it very much true for me: if I love you, I love you without reservation and eternally. I may be capable of maintaining hatred. To be honest, I've never bothered to find out. It takes a lot of energy to even express hatred, and if I'm going to expend that much energy, I'd prefer it to have a positive outcome.

Further: yes, I'm indifferent towards people to whom I don't have a personal connection. That indifference can strike people as cold. Again, it's a matter of conservation of energy, or at least I have always framed it that way: there are a limited number of people I can genuinely care for. That number is regrettably small.

I'm working on this, and I have found my circle of caring has expanded by leaps and bounds over the past year. I have deepened existing connections, created new, highly important ones (including one of the deepest connections I've ever forged), and even I am sometimes surprised by my capacity for love. I'm starting to truly believe that Heinlein was right when he said

“The more you love, the more you can love--and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.”

Even though love and hate have intensity in common, I'm still not convinced that they are close kin, emotionally. Rather, I see love, hate and indifference as vertices A, B and C on an equilateral triangle. (Dear god, he's slipping into math.)  I think that both hate and indifference could be labelled as opposites to love.

And once I have experienced love for someone, I can't even manage indifference, much less hatred. The best I can do is take that love and put it behind a locked door...to which I let it be known they still possess the key.

Don't get me wrong... sometimes, in the interest of love, it is necessary to walk away from someone, either because your presence no longer serves their highest good, or because their presence no longer serves yours. This is called 'divergence', and I can't for the life of me understand why so many people lapse into hatred at this point. It's life. It happens. Why keep someone in a relationship that no longer serves their highest good?  Love is freedom, not possessiveness.

This last strikes many as a cavalier attitude. He's just going to up and leave her when he decides she's no longer of value to him.

NO.

No, no, a thousand times no. I don't leave people's lives unless it's made crystal clear to me that this is what is desired. The relationship may well change form, but such a change would be mutually agreed upon, not unilateral at all. That is what is meant by "the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship".

I believe that love and hate, just like love and indifference, are mutually exclusive states. Ideally, we should come at everything and everyone from a perspective of love; there aren't all that many people who have managed to live up to that ideal in the whole of human history. I'm certainly not one of them, not by a long shot. But I'm trying. And I get a little better at it with every passing year.


03 December, 2016

Why Aren't There Christmas Cards for Metamours?

(Newbies: if you don't know what a metamour is, go here and read this: I wrote it shortly before meeting mine for the first time. And if this is your first exposure to a whole new world, I can think of no better atlas of that world than you'll find right here.)

Metamours are important relationships in polyamory. I make the point repeatedly that it is not necessary to be best friends with your metamour(s), but it is critical that their presence be acknowledged and respected. That's what separates polyamory -- the practice of engaging in multiple committed relationships with the knowledge and consent of all involved--from cheating.

If you don't like the term "metamour", often abbreviated "meta",  there are lots of others you can use. It's hard to misconstrue "my partner's wife" or "my boyfriend's husband" (although you're sure to cause a few double-takes if you casually drop that into conversation). I kind of like "lover-in-law".  "POSO" is used by some; that's "Partner's Other Significant Other". Hell, "co-conspirator" might work in certain contexts.

Particularly close metamours might call themselves "sister wives", which is a term that makes me queasy because of its polygamist origin...and here I find I must digress and define some terms.

Polygamy: the practice of multiple marriage, which is usually

Polygny: one man having multiple wives

but can also be

Polyandry: one woman having multiple husbands.

In the same way polyamory is often misinterpreted as some weird sex fetish thing, polygamy is almost always imagined as one man with a harem of (often) much younger 'wives', most or all of whom have been coerced into their position and none of whom are permitted partners of their own. It's not always this way, of course, but it is often this way, and at the first sign of coercion, I am deeply uncomfortable.

I got into a discussion with a Muslim on a polyamory forum the other day. He insisted that Islam was fully on board with polyamory because one man can have up to four wives. He bristled when I replied that since the wives couldn't have partners of their own, it wasn't poly as far as I was concerned.

Semantically, of course, I'm wrong.  Morally, I believe I'm right. I am extremely offended when people place limits on the behaviour of others but don't subject themselves to those same limits. It's why I react so harshly to the one penis policy.

At any rate. Metas. You may live with one (or more); he may be an occasional guest; you may not have actually met her (sometimes it's impractical, as may be the case with "comets"--rarely seen partners who connect with your partner every once in a blue moon). Regardless, it's at the very least a nice gesture to acknowledge people who are that important to your partner.

Polyamory and other forms of ethical non-monogamy are growing in popularity. Surely it's only a matter of time before Hallmark recognizes an untapped market. Maybe it'll happen around the same time Google's spell check no longer flags "metamour" (or "compersion" or "polycule" or any number of other common poly terms).

I am the strangest mix of incurable romantic and almost cold realist, and this dichotomy shows up no more clearly than with greeting cards. I will keep the first card you give me forever, and pull it out and look at it every once in a while and experience the same rush of feeling I did the first time I saw it. Subsequent cards will likely be read, appreciated...and in the recycling bin before the day is out. If you choose not to give me a card at all, I won't miss it; your presence is more of a message than any card. And I'm much more likely to write my own message to you, which may or may not include poetry, than to buy you some canned verse on a piece of cardboard.

But that's me. In case you haven't noticed, I'm a wee bit...weird. Most other people give cards: Christmas is the one time of year the postal service gets used for anything besides junk. So yes, I think there should be cards for metamours. Cards that encapsulate this...because this is simply beautiful.




27 November, 2016

"Big Guy"

I knocked a kid out with one punch, once.

Didn't expect that, did you?

Neither did his friends. They stared at him on the ground, stared at me, and scattered to the four winds.

Neither did I. I stared at him on the ground, stared at my fist, though fuck, I killed him -- and scattered right after them.

My stepdad surveyed the little stick-figure of a stepson he'd inherited and told me if you ever get into a fight, punch first. Of course, this was after he taught me how to make a fist. Before he did that, I'd tuck my thumb into it. Good thing I never tried to punch anything like that.

I took his advice to heart. I tried very hard not to get in fights, and to be honest usually I didn't realize I was in a fight until I'd already taken the first punch (and like as not burst into tears, clouding my already iffy vision and making me even easier pickings). But that day...in the Berkshire Club in London, fifteen years old...

Some kids were picking on me. I was shooting pool with a friend of mine, and these strange kids were picking on me, for reasons unknown to me but perfectly understandable to a wide range of bullies dating back seven years or so. They were doing things like pulling the cue out of my hand as I was lining up a shot, or "accidentally" hip-checking me, or picking up the balls on the table and rolling them around. Then throwing them at me. After one bounced off my head, I'd had enough. My friend -- Tim, his name was -- ran to find an adult to intervene, while I drew what little there was of me to draw up and started yelling at the primary bully. His eyes flashed in a way I'd seen countless times: some people only fully come alive when they're beating somebody up. Seven years of bullshit like this had coalesced in my gut and suffused my entire body. I found myself in a red haze.

Time slowed.

I saw his hand beginning to come up, a fist beginning to form.

If you ever get in a fight, punch first.

I shot my own fist out and it connected with his chin. It hurt me. It hurt him worse. Down he went as if poleaxed. For about a second and a half I felt a grim and steely, glorious feeling: this is what it's like to win for a change.

Then I almost puked. Then I ran.

There's a scene in one of the Callahan's Place novels by Spider Robinson very similar to this, except it's  a knife attack, the little nerd--who's actually a tall beanpole of a nerd called Long-Drink McGonnigle--flicked his jacket off and out and caught the knife in it, and then rather than knock his assailant out, he actually stuck him and killed him. McGonnigle goes through the exact same sequence of emotions...a shot of glory, followed by the realization that he was no better than the people who had battened on him--a deep, shameful feeling that hurts worse than any punch. Then the fear. I didn't kill the little prick who had been pissing me off, but I thought I had. Reading that scene all those years later, I thought, my god, somebody gets it.

I haven't exactly shunned violence all my life, because it often seemed to come and catch me unawares. But I have -- with that notable exception -- shunned perpetrating acts of violence, against things (pointless) or people (painful). Vandalism of any kind has always outraged me, dating back to earliest childhood, and violence against people, even on a screen, well, I used to react as if I was the victim.

Take that mindset and mix it thoroughly with the aftereffects of seven years of relentless bullying. I am a veteran of the "-ies". Wedgiesswirlieswet willies and noogies, along with (so far as I know) unnamed acts like being inverted and shoved face first into a full garbage can, or that fun game where you're pushing backwards by Bully A while Bully B crouches on hands and knees behind you so you go arse over tip. Notebooks confiscated and soaked or shredded so often I just stopped using them. Lunches pulled out of my lunch box and stepped on. And of course simple but very effective random punches, slaps, and ball-squeezings. Every man knows what it is to be kicked in the nuts: I'm here to tell you some things are worse.

You end up with an ironclad belief in your place in the world. You are small fry. The Big Guys of the world fuck with you for sport. At first you resent it...eventually you have little choice but to accept it.

My parents put me in karate lessons. They got me a black belt membership that must have cost them a great deal of money. I never got a black belt. I never got any kind of belt. I learned a couple of katas and how to block high, middle and low (a lesson I wish I'd learned years and years earlier), so it wasn't a complete waste of time. But despite my Sensei taking a special interest in me, I could never manage to kick much above knee level, and as far as touching my toes in the stretching exercises beforehand? Forget it. Which is what I did with the karate soon after.

I have it on medical authority that this is a consequence of being more than two months premature, or more precisely the lack of physiotherapy for preemies in 1972. Stretching would help, for me, but I will never be as flexible as the average person.

To recap: constantly picked on, made the victim of pointless violence, completely inflexible, with (oh, yeah) poor eyesight and zero eye-hand co-ordination. Glasses, which were treated very differently in the 1980s. Slightly effeminate, which of course made me a faggot. You get the picture. Probably the scariest thing is that I could go on.

But I didn't.

__________

We haven't bought a pizza from Pizza Pizza for more than ten years now.

Eva's brother Jim was over, and here I have to stop dead.

Jim is the kind of guy who strikes fear into me. He was employed as a bouncer in a bar at 17..a scant few years later, when some asshole decided to break a 2X4 over his head, Jim responded by saying "that wasn't smart" and throwing the jerk through a door.

I once watched Jim carry a couch up a flight of stairs. A full sized couch. By himself.  Jim Hopf is quite simply the anti-Ken.

(He's also a devoted and loving father and husband, gruff but beyond gentle unless provoked, with a quick wit and unassailable loyalty, among many other qualities. But what you get from a glance at him is this: don't get into any kind of pissing contest with me, because I will outpiss you without unzipping.)

Anyway, we we had ordered pizza and wings. It didn't get here on time. When it did, it was cold. So we sent it back. And when the delivery guy came back up the walk, he dropped the wings... and picked them up and stuffed them back into the box and handed the box to me. He also said something derogatory about Eva.

You don't do that around me. You don't disrespect someone I love.

I puffed up. Jim told Eva later that it was at that point he truly understood that I loved his sister very much...and also that there was more to me than he'd seen.

I'm sure that little confrontation wouldn't have come to blows. I threatened Pizza Prick's job and I threatened his boss with widespread media exposure, but I didn't threaten his safety.

But you know, I guess I can look threatening. I'm still kind of surprised at that. It's happened a few times since and bigger people with, you know, muscles actually retreat. I tend to forget that: it doesn't jibe with the image I still have of myself. I'm as pacifistic as they come, really...a lover, not a fighter.

But I'll fight for what I love. And I'll damn well fight for who I love.

My other love says I have the strongest hands she's ever seen. She's almost echoing Eva, who has made similar remarks over the years (but Eva's brother is Jim, which makes Eva's sincerity on this point a little hard to believe).


That love calls me "big guy", which makes my heart go pitter-pat every time. At first I figured she was just referring to that heart, which is the one part of me I've never doubted the size of. But thinking back...that may not be all she means.

I'm stronger than I look.

But smell isn't everything.















26 November, 2016

"Please Don't Take My Man...'

There are certain songs that are touchstones for me: they instantly bring me to a different place and time. Many of mine date to early childhood. My mom usually had music playing. Harmony leached into my blood from very young.

I stumbled across some old Olivia Newton John a few weeks ago and it was like diving into a warm pool of nostalgia. She was one of Mom's favourites, and so her songs were on heavy rotation for years...and then they receded with time until Youtube brought them rushing back in on a tide of memory. Please, Mister, PleaseIf You Love Me (Let Me Know), and especially Let Me Be There...I've been playing them a lot lately.

Many of the songs that resonated with me as a kid, oddly enough, have poly themes. You should have seen me bopping around the house to Stephen Stills, or lamenting along with Mary MacGregor -- this is a seminal poly song:

There's been another man that I've needed and I've loved
But that doesn't mean I love you less 
And he knows he can't possess me and he knows he never will
There's just this empty place inside of me that only he can fill
 ... 
You mustn't think you've failed me just because there's someone else
You were the first real love I ever had
And all the things I ever said, I swear they still are true
For no one else can have the part of me I gave to you

Why is she torn between two lovers, I used to think. Still do. Pretty clear from the lyrics that both love her and she loves both; what's the problem, exactly? She sounds so sad. Having two lovers shouldn't make you sad. It should fill your life to overflowing with joy. Ah, that's it. She's said because she feels she can't have both, it's "breaking all the rules". Whose rules?

(Yeah, I overthink song lyrics. And everything else).

And don't get me started on the first time I heard Jefferson Airplane's "Triad". I was old enough by then to know most of what was being sung about here.

We love each other--it's plain to see
There's just one answer comes to me
Sister lovers, water brothers, and in time...maybe others
So you see, what we can do is to try something new 
(If you're crazy too)
I don't really see why can't we go on as three.
  ("Water brothers" is a concept from Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, something I didn't read until my mid-twenties. It denotes a connection of absolute trust and love.)

But then there are other songs...the vast majority of songs, really, which are very mononormative. Case in point: Jolene (here Dolly is joined by the astoundingly talented a cappella group Pentatonix).

You've heard this, right? I think pretty much everyone has. It's iconic. There aren't many pop songs in C-sharp minor: this is one of the most haunting tunes ever written.

I can not compete with you, Jolene

Now, anybody who has been with me here any length of time knows how I feel about competition. We have framed our entire society on the Darwinian merits of competition: the best rises to the top, and all that. There are times when this frame has its uses: you're not going to entrust your physical safety to a seventh-rate engineer. But in human connections, competing to be the "best" utterly ignores different scales and values of "best". No one person can possibly be the best for you in every conceivable way.

What's really telling here is that the scale Dolly's using to establish "best" is physical appearance. Well, we know Jolene's "voice is soft like summer rain" and that he calls her name out in his sleep. But most of what we know about Jolene is physical. Which is transitory, shallow, ultimately pointless. And yet it seems Dolly is afraid Jolene's going to "take" her man based on that.

Take.

Like the man's an object.

Ugh.

No reference to what the man might do here: he's supposedly utterly helpless in the wake of Jolene's charms. Well, I can tell you, I get the sentiment. New love feels that way: you can't stop thinking about her. You're drawn. Like a magnet. It's for this reason that NRE ("new relationship energy") is the bane of poly existence. You learn to make allowances for it, but you also learn when it's time to snap your fingers and say darling? don't forget about me over here.

The thing about poly is that people don't "take' you. To play with it a minute, you might be "taken", but that in no way prevents you from being "taken" with someone. "I'm quite taken with you...but I'm taken." In poly it doesn't matter, subject to the rules and boundaries you have with another partner or partners.

I used to use "borrow" instead, but even that is objectifying and...well, not the correct word, for me, anyway.

My poly is not like some others. Sorry if this is TMI, but it's highly relevant to the topic at hand. There are many poly people who share not just simultaneous emotional connections but also simultaneous physical connections. That's NOT me. Sure, like any functional male it's something to fantasize about every now and again, but some fantasies ought to remain fantasies and I strongly feel that each relationship should have its boundaries. It's part of cherishing each person for who they are--which is something that for me transcends poly: I do it instinctively with every friend I have.


There are people with multiple lovers who use the same terms of endearment for each: also not me. I get the idea behind this -- love is love is love, right? But in my reality, each love is different in ways subtle and profound and I think it's important to have little tells that differentiate each relationship from others. If only so that you know your lover is...with you.

 I tend to bristle the tiniest bit at a slip of that kind, because it may indicate that I'm not actually, uh, present. And yes, I have slipped myself, once or twice. But put me in an intimate moment, emotional or otherwise, and the world narrows. The more intimate, the more narrow it gets, until at some point there's only room for you and I. This is all standard love trope stuff. The difference is that if I'm with her, the same thing applies. At some point it's just her and I.

That's how it works. For me. Others see this completely differently, and that's why you hear "there is no one right way to do poly".

Back to Jolene. Dolly says that 'her' man -- the man she's afraid Jolene is going to 'take'-- is the only man for her.

Here is where I'm going to gently press just a wee bit.

It's a beautiful sentiment, of course. Truly it is. But...is he? is he really?

I have two reasons for saying this. One is specific to the song; the other is universal and may seem silly.
In the song, it's pretty clear that while he may be the only man for her, she's not the only woman for him. You don't get to talking about Jolene in your sleep without, you know, thinking about her a whole lot. It occurs to me that I may have been wrong about Dolly's overwhelmingly physical assessment of her 'rival'. There's an emotional connection between Jolene and 'her man'. too. Can you truly say that the only man for you is a man whose heart is in two places? I don't know the answer to that, but suspect most people have their own answer to a question they perceive as uncomfortable.

Here's another reason that's going to immediately trigger a Jesus, Ken, stop overthinking reaction.

He's going to die. Statistically, before you do. Now, you may sentence yourself to a lifetime of mourning afterwards and shun all connections out of hand, because he was "the only man" for you. That would be a real pity, to put it mildly.

You know, there are more poly people than you realize. Widows and widowers are very much poly. Unless you're going to tell me that the presence of a new partner, if and when you become ready for one, somehow lessens the love you have for your departed spouse. Perhaps you still wear the ring you've worn for decades. Does THAT somehow negate the love you have for your new partner? I should think not.  Chances are excellent that, as a widow with a new partner, you're going to encounter common poly traps like jealousy: rather than support you in your grief, your new partner may well suggest the presence of that grief suggests you're "not ready". That's silly, in my view.

There is no taking...not even death can truly take your love away. What there is...is sharing. And I think sharing is a beautiful thing...if everyone involved can share.


16 November, 2016

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It boggles my mind how often I hear things like

"I think she thinks that ______"

or

"I'm not sure if he ________"

I invariably reply, have you asked? And usually I get a look that suggests "asking" is the last thing anyone sane would want to do. Sometimes, to be fair, I hear "yes, I asked, and she said thus-and-such, but I don't think she really meant it."

So ask again. Get more detail. Seriously.

"We need to talk". Four words that seem to strike fear into the heart of most men. I, by contrast hear "we need to talk" and get excited. Cool, there's a good chance of exposed feelings in the next few minutes! 

Is that odd? Hell, I think it's the only sane response to those four words. Maybe she's angry with me: "we need to talk" is my chance to resolve that anger productively. Who wouldn't want that?

Someone called me a very private person last week and it amused me mightily. Of all the things I've been called in my life, "private" is probably the least apt. I do respect privacy, yes. But private myself? Nah. If I'm comfortable with you, it's no holds barred.

Getting comfortable is the kicker.  And that takes communication.

See, that's just it. It takes communication to even figure out how to communicate properly with any given person. Most people just start spewing words (to the extent they spew at all) with little or no idea how those words will be received.

There are four basic communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. All but the last are toxic to some degree, either to the self or to others, but most of us have engaged in one or more of the first three, often habitually.

I know many passive communicators. They are terrified of giving offence, and so they speak softly; either minimize or actually stifle their opinions, no matter how deeply held; and allow others to dominate interaction.
There is no opportunity for growth with this communication style. It breeds depression and hopelessness and a feeling of invisibility.

I have found that the best way of drawing passive communicators out of their shell is to demonstrate unconditional support and gently encourage a deeper connection. Validating their emotion goes a long way towards this goal; they're not used to that.  I've been called a "walking safe space" and I think it's partly because of how well I can relate to passive communicators.

I tend to have trouble with aggressive communication. People who use this style are the bullies, the dominators...and often just as insecure as the passive doormats, sometimes more so. It's hard to maintain equilibrium when you feel as if you are under attack. Such people mistake volume for substance and go into any argument assuming they've won it already. That makes it rather difficult to argue at all...which is, of course, the intention.
My first instinct, loathing outright confrontation as I do, is to back down in the face of aggression. Often that's the right call: much of what seems to aggravate aggressive communicators is in fact not such of a much, and I refuse to devote my energies to fighting pointless battles.
I can be goaded to engage in situations where someone I care about is deemed worthless -- a common technique of aggressive communicators. And when I do, it's with a conciliatory tone but equally firm opposite stance. It takes a lot of mental effort to remain calm. The trick is to validate the emotion but reject the way it's expressed. Sometimes such nuance is impossible.
Aggressive communicators don't have any opportunity for growth, either, because nothing is ever their fault. They become trapped in a cycle of alienation of their own making.

We all hate the passive-aggressive types (while sometimes secretly admiring their handiwork). Bitter (as opposed to playful) sarcasm, body language that doesn't match their stated mood, and of course denying there is a problem when there clearly is one: all hallmarks of the passive-aggressive communicator.
These people are hard to engage, too. Again I try to validate their emotion, even if I don't understand it, and repudiate their chosen method of expressing it. I've found that unquestioned support does often defuse the aggressiveness, and the passivity is much easier for me to cope with. Again, though, mental energy. Lots of it. The boat can rock alarmingly from passive to aggressive and back. And of course passive aggressive people have trouble growing, because while they've mastered offloading resentment, they never actually address their issues behind it.

I strive to be the last kind, the assertive communicator. I don't always succeed:  sometimes I fall into passivity, or worse, passive-aggressiveness, myself.  Passivity can ensue in the face of particularly targeted aggression: accusations of my own worthlessness will still, sometimes, hit home. More commonly, passive-aggressiveness comes out when I feel angry, but also know that my anger is not justified. (In the interests of fair and honest communication: my anger is rarely justifiable.)

I am working hard on recognizing both my anger when it hits and its irrationality, and adjusting my communication accordingly. It's worth it. As "FreeAdviceHere" so eloquently said on Reddit this morning,

Radical honesty and connection - what seems like just pain is also in part learning to be more clear in your communications. Learning to speak to each other about things that often get taken for granted. Not always a pleasant process to get the hang of it, but can create an even deeper connection when we're motivated to say the scary things to each other.



13 November, 2016

Partial Retraction

This quote is making the rounds on Facebook:

IF YOU'RE NOT PART OF THE VICTIMIZED GROUPS, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT THOSE GROUPS ARE ALLOWED TO BE AFRAID.

It stopped me in my tracks and made me realize the tone of some of my last blog may have implied otherwise. C'mon, I basically said. How big a boogeyman can Donald Trump possibly BE?

Pretty big, if you stop to listen to the concerns of those across the United States who did not vote for him. 

There have been hundreds of hate crimes reported since Tuesday. "MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN" is a common refrain. This is wearyingly familiar: we just saw it with Brexit. And we'll see it again in the year ahead as several establishment European leaders, most prominent among them Angela Merkel, stand to be deposed in elections. 

The world just got a lot more frightening.

That said, the response has been heartwarming. Not the "mostly peaceful protests" -- "mostly peaceful" being code for "peaceful, if you ignore all the violence" -- but things like the safety pin campaign. There has been a marked uptick in loving and kind posts on Facebook, not just from the people who have always posted such things, either.

And this, from a friend:

I'm seeing a lot of bickering and friendships being lost over this past US election. I offer this.....Don't let a person's politics mean more to you than their soul. A person is worth infinitely more than their political affiliation.

I'm struggling with this, I really am. The friend of mine who posted this...I love him like a brother, respect him tremendously, and admire his generosity of spirit...and yet...

I get that not all Trump supporters are racist misogynist homophobic troglodytes. But a significant fraction of them are. I have all the time in the world for respectful political disagreements...but when my opponent is starting from a position of disrespect towards an entire class of people, my patience plummets towards zero very quickly. I have, in the past, blocked both friends and family whose views are (a) intolerable and (b) deeply held. I had friended one long-lost uncle of mine on Facebook only to find out he was a blisteringly rabid racist. I really have no time for this in my life.

There is a problem with my attitude. I know it. My abandoning this uncle will have done precisely nothing to ameliorate his racism. But I confess I'm at a loss as to how to engage someone whose values are so opposite mine.  And that's how echo chambers are born.

My friend has a point. If only there were a way to keep the hatred out of politics. Unfortunately, the President-elect ran on a campaign fuelled by pure, unadulterated hatred, and hatred has been emboldened by his victory.

This Breadbin used to have many more political posts than it does of late. I have no intention of returning to that model, don't worry. But by all means do worry about what Trump's victory might mean for  you. And try to counteract it by whatever (peaceful) means you can devise.

10 November, 2016

He Won

He won.
The bugger won.

I'm not as surprised as many, but I can't say I really expected Trump to win.  I had thought that his odious and repulsive character would prove just too much.  It does, in truth, scare me that so many people listened to every pussy-grabbing, daughter-fucking, race-baiting turdlet that issued from that man's mouth and still voted for him.

I usually quote John Michael Greer with respect and admiration, but here --

I would be just as likely to vote for a surly misanthrope who loathes children, kicks puppies, and has deviant sexual cravings involving household appliances and mayonnaise, if that person supports the policies I want on the issues that matter to me. It really is that simple.

-- I'm quite taken aback. I get his point: the President is one person, a figurehead, really, and it's the government (s)he heads that actually gets stuff done, or not. What's more, the President only heads the executive branch of the government. Canadian Prime Ministers, at least domestically, have a great deal more power than U.S. Presidents do.

But personality MATTERS. At least to me, it does. The office of President of the United States is invested, or at least it ought to be, with a certain dignity, a certain gravitas. Clinton, whatever her failings (and she has a boatload), at least struck me as serious. Donald Trump, for all I could tell, treated the entire campaign like a dirty joke. Or rather, a repugnant series of them: racist, misogynistic, homophobic and ableist jokes that don't belong anywhere in this millennium.

The President may be one person, but on the domestic and world stage, in a very real sense, that person is the United States of America. That this one person should, as of January, be Donald Trump...well, I find that profoundly disturbing.

Let's talk policy for a minute. I know it's in vogue to suggest that Trump voiced no policies beyond mindless hate...but that's not actually the case. There are three things in particular that Trump was consistent on, and which he will almost certainly at least attempt to follow through on.

His foreign policy, as I noted a few blogs ago, comprises a conciliatory tone towards Russia, especially its involvement in Syria; what certainly seems to be overt hostility towards China, and flexing of military muscle against Daesh.

Now, I can't say as I agree with any of this. If I had to pick, I'd take Obama's approach, which downplays American exceptionalism in public (while hypocritically keeping on with the little games behind the scenes). But Trump's muscular tone is traditional Republicanism with a few wrinkles. It's not apocalyptic, whatever his detractors might think. Trump's admiration of Putin echoes George W. Bush's--I still remember back in 2001, Dubya saying he peered into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. (He also said Putin was straightforward and trustworthy...ahem...)

I'm thinking Trump's handlers will set him straight on China. The U.S. can't afford to antagonize Beijing overmuch, and most people know it. Economically or militarily -- the latter is very much linked to the former -- it would be a mistake to goad China into anything rash.

ISIS? Is a fading power right now, thanks largely to Russia. I have little doubt some new bogeyman will supplant them, the way they supplanted al-Qaeda. The Middle East is a quagmire and if I had my druthers I'd just wall it all off and let them nuke it out, excuse me, duke it out. Since that's not an option, and none of the options that have been tried in the last seventy years have accomplished a whole hell of a lot..I'm sorry, folks. I wash my hands of it.

Trump has suggested that his foreign policy will be transactional--a "you scratch, I scratch" sort of thing. This strikes me as at least provisionally sensible. Whether or not it actually plays out that way...is anyone's guess. But I don't think it's worth getting scared of.

Pence, on the other hand... you think Trump is scary? Pence terrifies me. He's as fundamentalist as they come, the sort of man who believes it's his sacred duty to do whatever he can to bring about the Second Coming.  Let's pray to whatever we all pray to that Trump doesn't get bored, or sulk off and quit when he finds out he can't just do whatever he wants.

Trump has promised to rip up NAFTA and reverse U.S. governmental policy that tacitly encouraged the offshoring of jobs and the evisceration of the wage class.  I'm not exactly sure how he plans to accomplish this. The world economy is bigger than Trump is by many orders of magnitude. But even discussing this topic has been off the table for the last thirty years at least. This, more than anything else, is why Trump was elected. The Democrats have always talked a good game about helping the working class...but they don't walk their talk, and the working class has had enough of being talked down to.
It's worth noting that the Republican Party itself has been no better, and in many respects worse, for the average working stiff--and that, too, explains Trump. Many qualified, business-as-usual Republicans entered the primaries. Trump alone emerged.  Business as usual no longer cuts it. And Trump better remember that...because his supporters sure do.

Nobody really believes that Trump is going to build a wall, much less make Mexico pay for it. Nobody really believes that Trump is going to start mass deportations of Muslims. The U.S. is not designed for such mass delusion to be easily implemented, even given the recent Presidential fashion of governing by executive order.
But you CAN expect much more attention to be paid to the southern border, and immigration in general. Pace the Left, this is not, in and of itself, a horrible thing. It should be possible to have a reasoned discussion on the merits and demerits of immigration and cultural assimilation without one side, mine, instinctively screaming "you racist xenophobic son of a bitch". SHOULD be.

I am much more concerned with the fact the Republicans are back in power, to be honest, and with a renewed mandate. Trump himself is no Republican, although he quite convincingly played one at times during the campaign. And the Republican machine has been ronking pretty good of late, beginning with that wild Tea Party....but presently they're bound to notice they have power again and can move backward forward with their agenda.

Which includes the Supreme Court. That worries me. That worries me a lot. Because the Supreme Court, steered by a conservative majority, will impact the U.S. long after Trump is gone. Driven by a party that has more than its share of gay haters (Pence is on record as saying he supports "conversion therapy", for fuck's sake) and woman haters....poor haters...really, the GOP's only got your back if you're moneyed. Or a fetus. They love fetuses.

Greer suggests in this week's essay that the United States is and always has been a country of many nations, and those nations have diverse and often divergent moral codes. Oklahoma, he says, will never accept the mores of Massachusetts, or vice versa. He favours a federal government that sticks to things like national defence and ensuring equality under the law. Small problem with that last: a majority of people in Oklahoma and other states don't want "equality under the law"...not when it comes to certain minorities, at any rate.

I don't know what's in store any more than the rest of you do. I doubt Trump does, either. It's going to be interesting, mighty interesting. But I am a consensus builder, determined to find the positive in the darkest of situations. This situation is plenty dark. But not, I don't think, quite as dark as some people are suggesting.

I hope not.