Exploitation and Injustice

The injustices, the atrocities, the exploitation that surrounds me, that suffocates me, is inescapable. Everywhere I look I see the rich and powerful crushing someone under the iron boot of the system that props them up. It is made all the more unbearable in the face of the irresponsible lies we are fed all throughout our youth about the way the world is. Why teach us that the world is fair, that society is just, that the government protects us, that we are free, when it’s not true? Why are we set up to suffer not only the reality of how things really are, but also the friction in our heads created by the false image inevitably torn down by that reality?

It makes me think back to a few months ago when I was reading A Tale of Two Cities. I couldn’t help but resonate with the plight of the starving, wretched peasants in the streets of France just before the revolution. I see that same suffering mirrored in the faces of the masses all around me in this pitiful, destitute area. I was rooting for them when they began burning down the mansions and estates of the wealthy, when they made being rich a crime, when heads rolled one after another from the guillotine all day long. They say history repeats itself and I’ve finally lived long enough to understand.

Even though I know these revolutions and uprisings have happened many times throughout human history, until recently, it seemed rather unlikely to me. I just couldn’t imagine the poor, huddled masses rising up and risking their lives no matter how badly they are treated. Now I realize that it isn’t a question of whether or not they will, rather when. Eventually enough is enough. Eventually the outrage, the fury, the inhumanity of it all becomes too much for anyone to bear.

It may sound silly by comparison to the injustices of the past, but spending all morning fighting with Comcast really gave me a glimpse into the mindset of these people willing to risk everything for the mere chance of change. In just three years time, my internet bill, which is the cheapest, slowest option available, went from $30 a month to $100 a month. My income, however, has remained exactly the same. How on earth am I expected to manage this? I have no other internet options in my area, so Comcast knows they can get away with it. (Even though we learn in school that monopolies are illegal for this very reason.) They add expense after expense hoping you won’t notice. They charged me $15 for me to install my own device a few months ago. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so infuriating. In addition to all that, each time I call, I discover that they’ve made it harder and harder to reach an agent to speak to. It took me nearly an hour just to get to a human being.

It is unconscionable. It’s criminal. The thought that humans are so selfish, so greedy, so horrible that they would make hundreds of thousands of people suffer with massive bill increases, for what? For literally nothing. The CEO of Comcast isn’t affected by my bill increasing. The amount of income those at the top see doesn’t even matter to them. Their quality of life couldn’t possibly be improved through financial gain at this point. They already have more than they can consciously even make sense of. Yet all of the people paying for this service, which at this point is basically a necessity, are crippled by the ever-increasing bills. I can’t stand it. I cannot bear to know this and accept that it is true.

This is the frustration, the desperation that eventually builds until it reaches a tipping point. I felt myself reaching that edge today. I felt the passion, the rage well up inside of me. I felt the truth of the potential I had to burn it all down, to kill or be killed rather than submit to this injustice any further. At a certain point, logic goes out the window, you become so blinded with fury that you are capable of anything. This is what fuels revolutions. This is what topples governments and creates violent riots in the streets. I used to think I’d be too afraid to fight when the next revolution finally arrived. Now I know I’ll be ready.

Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.

I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.

I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.

Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.

It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).

Forgiveness : TED Radio Hour : NPR

Diversity

Up until a few years ago I was among the group of people that thought: All cops are bad. All cops are fascists’, class traitors, bullies, white supremacist’s, etc. Then I started working at my new job. Now I work closely with child protective services and the local police and sheriff’s offices. I even felt uncomfortable about that at first. I was worried I’d accidentally say something to get myself in trouble. I was worried they would be complete assholes, sexists, victim blamers. I was worried they’d find out I’m a liberal, yoga teaching, vegan and mock me or even despise me.

To my surprise, working with the police was not the experience I was expecting at all. It’s honestly left me pretty conflicted about where I stand in regard to law enforcement. As a child, we’re taught that cops are the good guys. They’re here to protect us and help us. Then we become teenagers and cops are the enemy. Now I’m a young adult and I’ve come full circle. Cops are just people. Some are good, some are bad, most are a complex mixture of the two just like we all are.

My sister is still very much in the mindset that all cops should be hated. To her, they are still all racists and monsters. She won’t even listen to me talk if the story involves one of my new cop friends. Which saddens me, because a lot of these guys are just that, my friends. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d ever say that. But I genuinely love interacting with a lot of the officers we work with. They are kind, funny, intelligent people. I genuinely value all that they do to help the children that we meet here. I see how much these cases affect them. I see the big, muscly, tattooed, bald cop tearing up at the story a little girl tells. I see how hard he works to put her rapist behind bars. He shows me pictures of his daughter’s pet rabbit, who loves him. Once he even tried to set me up with his son, and I was hopeful that it may work out and he would be my father in law some day. That’s how much I respect and admire this man!

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t that cops are good and we should all love the cops. Obviously, as we see on the news every day, there are cops killing innocent people for no reason all over the country. In no way am I trying to minimize that or make excuses for it. I’m just trying to highlight the importance of personally getting to know people from different groups before judging them. Just like I was able to be critical of all cops until I personally met some, people that don’t know any individuals of a certain minority group are far more easily able to lump them all together in harmful stereotypes. It’s nearly impossible to generalize about a group of people when you know and work with members of said group.

Ignorance breeds hatred. We fear what we don’t understand. Rather than sit with the fact that we don’t know much about different cultures and ethnicities, we prefer to pigeon hole them through generalizations. I hear a lot of talk about the value and importance of diversity, but I don’t often hear any explanation as to why this is so essential to society. I think my own experience has taught me that. And I am so grateful that I’ve had this chance to learn something so important.

It may be easy to see the harmful biases that others hold, but we can’t control the way the people around us view the world. Perhaps it’s more important for us to look inward. No one is free from biases and prejudice. Some are certainly more harmful and systemic than others, but nonetheless we’ve all got them. Not only do these judgements hurt others, but they hurt the ones who are doing the judging as well. What a crime it is to close ourselves off from the vast complexity of the world by trying to shove everything and everyone into neat little boxes. Keep your heart and mind open. Don’t decide who other people are, let them show you.

Biting Your Tongue

One high school memory that still haunts me to this day is from my junior year photography class. We were going on a field trip to the Andy Warhol museum. I never like Andy Warhol’s art. I still maintain that he’s not a good artist, he just became famous for being a weirdo that people were interested in. I kept professing these kind of sentiments and complaining that this was where we were going. Eventually my teacher cut me off. Irritated, he said, “Bite your tongue.” I felt so ashamed and honestly wished I would never have to speak again in that class. I wanted to disappear.

The reason this memory sticks with me is because it seems to mirror similar situations throughout my life. There have been many times when I’ve ended up embarrassing myself or making my own life more difficult because I seem to be unable to bite my tongue. It is usually when I am feeling angry or irritated about something. It is very hard for me to just let things go for some reason. I feel compelled to voice my displeasure. Loudly and whenever I get the chance.

For example, today I have to stay late a work for what seems like the thousandth time because of a particular CPS worker that likes to take advantage of my friend and coworker’s good nature. We will stay after hours to do emergency interviews. Sometimes a child is in immediate danger and it’s necessary that we talk to them as soon as possible so we can make sure they have somewhere safe to go. However, this CPS worker just uses the word “emergency” to manipulate and control us so that things work better for her schedule and deadlines.

The interviewer I work with is a very nice, easy-going man. To him it’s never a big deal and he takes pride in the fact that he never refuses to do an interview. He always says that I don’t have to stay and he can do it all himself, but it just wouldn’t feel right for me to let him do that. So here I am, stuck doing two interviews at 4:30-6 or 7 today when our office closes at 4. And surprise, surprise it couldn’t be further from an emergency. The children are completely safe.

My problem isn’t even that I have to stay late without pay (we are a very small non-profit that only gets paid for 40 hours each week no matter what), it’s that this horrible woman continues to take advantage of us for her own convenience. In my nearly two years with this organization, no other CPS worker has asked us to stay late. Not only that, but this specific worker does it practically every single time we get a call from her. It just makes me feel so furious that someone even has the nerve to do this continuously to such nice people like my coworkers.

On matters of injustice or unfairness, I have an especially difficult time biting my tongue. It’s one of the reasons I still struggle to do so when I hear idiotic comments about veganism. I get a familiar rumbling, hot sensation in my chest that causes viscous language to spew out of my mouth like a volcano. It never makes anything better though. The anger continues to build. Not only that but when I speak out I also start to pile on feelings of shame and self-hatred. I’m embarrassed by my uncontrollable outbursts, and by the way others look at me when they see me so angry.

I’ve always clung to the idea of operant conditioning and to the idea that staying quiet and complacent is the same as condoning a behavior. At least those are the reasons I give myself to rationalize my violent reactions to these types of situations. I feel it is my duty to do something, to protect myself and others from injustice or abuse. I feel very passionately about it. But I don’t want to feel this way when the result is that I become spiteful and vindictive. The outcome is never restoring justice, it simply ruins my day and possibly the image that others have of me as a person.

When days like today happen, I have been trying very hard to use them as an opportunity for personal growth. These are the moments that I’ll need to utilize in order to begin to create new, more healthy, productive, socially acceptable pathways in my brain. It’s never easy. I still get caught up in brooding over all the reasons that I shouldn’t be put in this situation, finding fault, blaming others, and coming up with ways to make these things stop happening, or at the very least to get revenge. I feel a great resistance bubbling up inside when I try to transition away from these thoughts to more positive ones. Something inside of me is always dragging its feet, insisting that if I allow myself to be okay with this, it will happen even more, and the injustice will continue to expand and grow larger. Part of me still tends to believe that’s true, but even so, I’m missing the point. Does it even matter if these things happen to me more if they no longer produce such toxic emotions?

I am trying to stay curious. Rather than getting wrapped up in the spiral of self-justifications, I ask myself, “Why is this so hard for me? What is it that keeps me from letting this go? Wouldn’t I rather be happy than right?” That’s really what it comes down to, that last question. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that being happy is better than being the smartest person in the room or being right or even having control. When I start feeling like I am helpless and powerless in a situation that is out of my control, I just need to remind myself that I am always in control. Maybe not when it comes to what happens to me, but I get to decide how I react to those things. That is what is truly important.

As I continue on with this unbearably long day, I am going to choose to focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for instead of the few small irritations that I have to put up with occasionally. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love (most) of the people in the other organizations we work with. I can get away with coming in 15 minutes late everyday. I can leave early another day since I’ll be staying over tonight. I got to work from home for nearly a year. My job is usually easy and not stressful. Yesterday I got to spend the whole day at the office chatting with my lovely work friends. We even got lunch delivered to us from Panera thanks to one of the board members. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this place, even if that means learning how to bite my tongue sometimes. This is a valuable skill, one I genuinely want to learn. So I should also be grateful for these opportunities to practice it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Don’t Poison Yourself with Anger

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In the past, I have been an angry and easily irritated individual. So many little things throughout my day would make my blood boil and send my mind into a reeling spiral of complaints and criticisms. A slow driver in front of me on the road, seeing someone litter, a noisy neighbor. All of these things would leave me furious. Recently, however, I have realized the impracticality of such a mindset. Feeling this anger and letting my inner monologue begin justifying this anger and obsessing over the rudeness, carelessness, or illogical behavior of others did not serve to change any of these things.

These annoyances were every day occurrences, unavoidable, and largely things that I could never hope to eliminate from my world. Yet, they caused me to become filled with such frustration. The anger they caused took up so much time and mental energy. Recently, however, I have begun to overcome these flares of fury.

I realized that my passionate disapproval of these things was not going to lead to any kind of change. The only thing that I was doing was harming myself. I was increasing my risk for heart attack in later life and I was also destroying so many potential moments of peace and happiness that I could have been enjoying. Now when I feel my anger beginning to bubble up to the forefront of my consciousness, I remind myself that this anger serves no purpose. I remember that it is easy to focus on things that bother you or things that didn’t go the way you wanted them to. But there are plenty of wonderful joyous aspects of my day that slip under my awareness.

Most of us don’t allow ourselves to revel in the joy of waking up to birdcalls in the morning, or the satisfaction of getting the last package of your favorite snack at the supermarket. These things are just as common, but our minds seem to overlook them more often than the small unpleasantries. This creates strong neurological connections in our brain over time, forever intensifying and reinforcing this focus on the negative. Instead, we can all chose to let this anger go. We can chose to pay more attention to the small joys in our lives instead. The more you consciously chose to let go of your anger and increase your attention on pleasant things, the easier it gets as the wiring of your brain begins to alter. You will become a more calm and positive person. Allow your life to be full of peace rather than anger.

Let it go, my loves. ❤