My Values

I’ve never really taken the time to sit down and really think about what my values are in life. I have always been a very passionate, outspoken person when it comes to my opinions and beliefs though. Today I wanted to get more clear about what exactly it is that matters to me, so that I can better embody and serve those things every day. I’d like to come up with five values to always keep close to my heart as I move through this world.

1. Justice

When I think about values, justice is the first thing that comes to mind. I have always been unable to tolerate injustice. I guess I never really grew out of that phase of childhood where you constantly scream, “It’s not fair!” I’ve learned that life isn’t fair, but that never stopped me from wondering indignantly, why not? I used to be a very patriotic child as well. I was so proud to live in a country which I had been taught valued justice and freedom above all else. When I came to find that actually wasn’t quite an accurate portrayal of America, my patriotism faded, but I held fast to those ideals. Justice is even one of the reasons that I am a vegan. Not only is it horrendously cruel and idiotic to treat animals and the planet the way we do, it is also extremely unjust for us to place our species above all other beings.

1. Non-violence

My next value is one that comes from the Yamas in Yoga philosophy. Non-violence goes farther than simply not physically fighting people. Violence can exist even in small actions. Our words can be violent, the way we treat our bodies, buying animal products, etc. I’m still learning every day how I can better embody the essence of peace and compassion in everything I do.

3. Nature

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a “value,” but for my purposes, I’d also like to include nature among mine. The natural world is the most beautiful, precious thing that has ever or will ever exist. I was lucky enough to grow up with dense woods and a stream practically in my backyard. The happiest moments in my life have all been enjoyed outside among the lush green abundance of this living, breathing world. I believe this is also a dying world due to human interference, but nonetheless I hope to honor and protect it as much as I can while I’m here. I’d at least like to do as little harm as possible. I know I still have a long way to go in this regard. Perhaps one day I will proudly include myself as part of the zero waste community.

4. Creativity

Creativity has always been one of my greatest joys. I have loved to draw, write, and make things from the moment I learned how. There is something so miraculous in the act of making something from nothing. Our ability to imagine and create such a myriad of different things is maybe the only thing I do marvel at about humanity. It is possibly our one redeeming factor. Not only do I love to create, I love to watch others create as well. Few things get me more excited and interested than seeing what other people are able to come up with. It is like being able to see a glimpse of that person’s inner world. I love to be surprised at the fascinating things others make that I would never have thought of. It is such a shame to me to know that some people go their whole lives believing they “aren’t creative.” I believe that everyone is creative by default. Society has unfortunately led us to believe that we must be exceptional at things like drawing, painting, or writing in order to do those things at all. I love to encourage the kids I work with to keep creating even if they feel they aren’t “good at it.” Creativity is about self-expression and enjoyment, not talent.

5. Knowledge

The fifth and final value I want to talk about today is knowledge. Learning and intelligence are two of the most important things in my life. I am always eager to gather more knowledge for myself. I truly believe that the more we know the better, as individuals and as a society. One of my favorite things to do is read. It’s amazing how much I am able to learn and discover from books whether they be fiction or nonfiction. It is also a delight to share any new information I happen to gain with others. It’s unbelievable that no matter how much knowledge I accumulate, there is still an unlimited supply of new things to learn.

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For now, these are the five values that I want to focus on. I am hopeful that know that I’ve written them down, I may be able to be more mindful of them as I go about my day. What are your values and why? Do you think you are living by those values? Why or why not? How might you better adhere to your own values in your every day life? Let me know! I would love to hear what kinds of things are most important to you.

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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.

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Injustice

Recently I have been contemplating the awful, unjust inconsistencies in our judicial system. Yesterday I got coffee with a friend who spent 15 years of his life in prison. When people hear this there is an emotional recoil, a silent fear and judgment. Even I wondered if it was dangerous for a young girl to be around that type of person. I knew it was a drug related offense, but I had for some reason assumed it was heroin or something along those lines. (Not that that would make 15 years a fair sentence.) Yesterday I discovered, to my shock and outrage, that it was just weed.

This wonderful man who is kind and smart and funny AND a yoga teacher spent his entire youth locked in a cage for possessing a fucking plant that never hurt anyone and does in fact help people. He even spent years of his time there in solitary confinement. Now that he’s out he has a medical marijuana card ironically. And why? For the PTSD he now has from being stabbed eight times in prison.

Every time I think about this, a swelling rage blooms inside my chest. How on earth could this be called justice? As a child I truly believed this was a just world. It’s what we’re taught to believe. It was a long fall from innocence as I slowly lost faith in the courts, the law, the police, this country, and this world. At first I lashed out at these injustices with indignation and fury. I desperately tried to make a difference. But now I am so tired. All I can do is be a witness to these atrocities.

Black men are shot in the streets every single day by police. Non-violent drug offenders are given longer sentences than the men who have sexually abused the children I work with. The most innocent among us, the animals, are systematically abused and killed by the billions behind tall factory walls in the darkness. Never knowing a kind touch in their whole short lives.

I still grieve over that innocence and faith I’ve lost. There is no justice in this world of ours. It’s more amazing to me now that I ever could have believed there was. But even though I know it’s hopeless, I have no choice but to keep fighting. Even though I’m tired and jaded by the futility of it all, there is nothing else for me to do. I’ll keep trying to protect the innocent with everything I’ve got. I’ll lend my voice to the voiceless. Even if I’m doomed to fail, there is nothing else so worthy of my time.