Conflict

Conflict breeds closeness
a concept I've never quite understood
how can fighting foster connection?
I've always favored a clean break

Torn, tired muscles
grow back stronger every time
I suppose this is the principle
I've never applied

Emotions too big to express
evaporate on my lips
speaking out signals vulnerability
it's safer to pretend I don't care

Always held at arm's length
trading isolation for immunity
from all the messiness
wound up with others

Relationships aren't worth the risk
this mantra once protected me
always alright, but alone and uninspired
sometimes it feels too late to change

The Pressure of Proximity

Why is it that we always feel so much more obligated to become involved with an issue when it is right in front of us? Even when we know the same scenario could be happening anywhere at any given time, when it is in our vicinity, there is an added sense of duty to intervene. I believe this is even something that philosophers throughout history have pondered without there ever being a clear or concise explanation.

On my way to work this morning, once again, I was forced to observe for the third time, these pro-fetal lifers as I passed through an intersection. I have seen them standing there three times now. The first time I was so shocked, I didn’t really get a chance to be angry. The second time, my blood was boiling as I saw the original man had enlisted the help of some woman. This third (and I pray final) time, after my initial spike in blood pressure, I was able to calm myself down enough to consider why it was that this demonstration always makes me so violently angry. I still haven’t really been able to come up with a satisfying reason for why that is the case.

I know that there are anti-abortion people all over this god forsaken country. But for the majority of my life, I don’t pay much attention to them. Even hearing about the new abortion restrictions in Texas, while saddening and disturbing, didn’t give me the same visceral reaction. There is some type of strange mental disassociation when viewing an issue from a distance rather than in our own backyards.

Another example would be animal neglect. I know that there are millions of animals in terrible conditions right now, a lot of which are probably not more than walking distance from where I am now. Yet I don’t really think about it or feel compelled to go out and save them (even though I wish I could.) However, when my sister and I stumbled upon a starving, half-dead kitten on the side of the road a few years ago, we immediately rushed it to the vet and spent $50 only to have it put to sleep when the veterinarian told us they couldn’t save it.

I am guessing this distinction has something to do with the fact that in the past, we really wouldn’t have had any knowledge or ability to intervene in situations that were far away from us. Yet with the rapid advancements we’ve made in technology, I could make a significant difference for people and animals that are suffering across the world if I really tried. And I’m not really sure which way is the best when it comes to this strange phenomenon of personal responsibility.

Part of me wants to use this inconsistency to remind myself that just because I see an affront to decency and humanity in my home town, doesn’t make me any more responsible to change it than I am responsible to fight for civil rights in other countries. Then on the other hand, I wonder if proximity to a problem does hold more weight when it comes to personal duty. To a certain extent, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the universe has presented these problems to me as a sign that I am supposed to do something. Another part of me questions whether what I’m supposed “to do” is practice surrender and letting go. Maybe it’s just an opportunity to exercise my anger management.

Yet another problem is wondering what there really is to do that would make a positive impact. Perhaps it would be more effective for us to act only on problems we have some distance from. At least then we may be more capable of responding with a level head. I’m sure doing a fundraiser for the Planned Parenthoods struggling in Texas would be more helpful than pulling over and arguing with those nut jobs I’ve seen on the corner.

Ultimately, while I’m grateful for all of the activists working hard to push society in the right direction, I don’t feel much like participating anymore. At only 28 years old, I am already so tired and jaded. It feels selfish, but I just don’t know if it’s worth it to keep fighting at this point. In the past my attempts at activism seemed to do more harm then good. I may or may not have positively impacted the causes I fought for, but I certainly negatively impacted my own mental health. Perhaps it’s a greater service to society for me to just take care of myself and be an example of what I’d like to see in the world.

Whatever you decide to do, just make sure it’s out of your own personal desire to do so rather than simply your proximity to the issue. I used to feel the weight of this self-imposed duty around my neck like heavy chains. I would often ruin my own day by getting into fights with people on Facebook about politics, religion, or animal rights just because I saw someone say something ignorant and felt I had to respond. I have always been a firm believer in the idea that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” While I still believe it is noble and righteous to stand up for what you believe in, there must be somewhere we draw the line in order to protect our own personal well being.

As far as I’m concerned at this point in my life, the world is crumbling around us. There are so many issues I am passionate about. I have such little influence and such an easily overwhelmed nature. This is the one and only life that I am going to get. Though it may sound selfish or insensitive toward all of the other beings who are suffering right now, I just want to enjoy the small portion of existence that is mine without inflicting a constant state of anger and strife onto myself. Especially when I genuinely believe the changes I want to fight for will take longer to accomplish than we have left as a species on this dying planet. For the time being, I am choosing personal peace over the pressure of proximity.

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Juggling Gratitude and Fear

Lately I keep coming back to the realization that a lot of the luxuries I take for granted every day will soon be unavailable to me. Fresh produce from the store, peaceful morning drives to work, running water, hot showers, internet access, electricity, coffee, a healthy, pain-free body. Most of us have lots of precious moments like these every day that we don’t pay much attention to. Even if you don’t believe that the world is headed for catastrophe like me, it is still a shame that we don’t take the time to be grateful for the small moments of joy in our lives.

My issue is not so much that I don’t realize I need to be grateful for these things, it’s rather that it’s hard for me to avoid the fear that comes along with realizing that they are in fact luxuries I may not always have. My heart swells with panic instead of gratitude when I acknowledge that in a few short years I may be going to sleep hungry. I may be fighting just to stay alive, to keep my loved ones alive and safe. My mind tends to fixate on the negative, preventing me from enjoying where I am and what I have right now.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two sides of this coin. How can I remind myself that I am so privileged without dwelling on the fearful vision I have of the future without these comforts? As soon as I try to feel gratitude for the little things, I feel terror and dread instead. But I don’t want to continue sleepwalking through these “mundane” moments either. It is a constant struggle to try to balance the simple pleasures of my day to day life now with the nightmarish future to come. I’m afraid that my efforts to be more mindful are only resulting in me practicing fear and anxiety instead.

I am genuinely at a loss as how to address this issue. I’m not sure if trying to hold this in my awareness is actually worse for my mental health than continuing to take my many blessings for granted. It’s hard to feel grateful that you are not in physical or emotional pain without also contemplating the day that pain will come. If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I would love to know your thoughts. Is there anything you have found helpful in handling these contradictory emotions? I would greatly appreciate any advice offered.

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Conflicting Ideals

My office is somewhat out in the countryside. Most of the road there is lined with rolling fields with cows grazing. This morning as I was driving to work, I saw one of the cows wading chest deep into this little pond. It made me so happy. What a little goof, I thought to myself. I really enjoy watching them everyday when I’m commuting to and from the office or when we take walks during our lunch break. Sometimes there are even curious babies that approach the fence to watch us as we pass by.

Knowing that my friends at work also enjoy our cow neighbors, I was excited to talk about what I saw this morning. I was quite shocked and caught off guard by the reply I received though. Instead of smiling and laughing at what a silly cow I saw earlier, my friend sadly commented on how he thought the cows were starving. I asked him what he meant, since I hadn’t noticed them looking particularly unhealthy or anything. He told me that he could see their ribs. While this made me very sad, it also made me confused and curious. He seemed awfully upset and sad about it. I almost asked him why he cared.

Obviously I care, and I think it’s right and natural to care about other living beings. That’s why I’m a vegan and don’t include these sentient beings in my diet. But my friend at work is not a vegan or even a vegetarian. Therefore this strange disconnect always intrigues me. It’s amazing how rarely human beings follow their thoughts and beliefs to their logical conclusion. Clearly he cares for these cows and doesn’t want to see them suffer. Yet the suffering that he pays for and ingests at each and every meal is far more gruesome than merely going hungry. If underfed cows could cause him so much sadness, why does he perpetuate far greater abuses?

I’m not trying to blame him or even shame him for the way he lives his life. I am just fascinated by the psychology behind this common hypocrisy. Even though I was once a part of the exact same mindset (animal lover/animal eater) it still doesn’t make any sense to me. But I want to understand how I overcame that mental block. I want to find a way to get other people to make the same connection that I finally made nearly a decade ago.

People often look at others in small religious sects, cults, political parties, or those who subscribe to other ideologies in general and wonder how on earth they could believe the things they do. We tend to think there is just something wrong with those people. Unfortunately we are all susceptible to these oversights in judgement. I would even go so far as to say we all participate in actions that conflict with our personal beliefs. A lot of the time we can recognize these inconsistencies, but feel unable to reconcile them. But there are probably still quite a few that each of us have that we don’t even acknowledge. I, for one, am very concerned about the ones that may exist within my own mind.

I’d like to think I would be grateful if someone were to point these hypocritical behaviors to me so that I could work towards becoming a more consistent and principled person. Yet I don’t know how I would actually feel were I confronted in this way. Most people tend to just get angry and think you are a jerk. This is why, despite my feelings, I don’t bring these types of things up to people anymore. It never seems to help the situation, only hurt our relationship. The mind is truly a fascinating thing. I hope to someday understand it better so that I may use that understanding to help myself, my fellow humans, and the other beings that we brutalize every day.

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