Jan 10, 2011 12

Life in the silo

drawing of commuter with earphones ignoring panhandler

I believe in the essential goodness of people.

I may forget it here and there, when I’m pressed for time, or not well-rested/-fed/-clothed, or when some deep, emotional trigger gets pulled. But usually, and fairly quickly, I recognize these lapses as such. They’re my (temporary) deviations from an essentially optimistic, basically loving worldview, brought on by my own forgetfulness in administering self-care.

What reels me back in varies, but the underlying, foundational bit of knowledge I’m operating from goes something like this:

I do not change the world I live in by reacting to it like a jackass, except for the worst.

This is not a bad thing to keep in mind all the time (along with useful stuff like “breathe!” and “stop!” and “when’s the last time you ate, anyway?”), but it’s a really, really good thing for me to remember when something awful happens. It is quick and easy to reach for anger, for outrage, for righteous indignation. There they are, all handy and stuff, just like the drive-thru window of your favorite fast-food place. And hey, everyone else is at the fast-food place, right? Damn right! That’s why this #$@(!) line is so long! *HONK!* *HO-O-O-O-ONK!*

At a little gathering this weekend, someone reminded me of a great assessment device for making sound decisions: what would your future self want?

Will your future self be happy that you shaved a half-hour off of your afternoon by picking up Extra-Value Meal #9? Or would your future self prefer to continue fitting comfortably in her pants, remaining ambulatory and independent into her dotage, continuing to poop from her factory-installed organs?*

The nice thing about this kind of projection is that it is easily (okay, SIMPLY) reframed to encompass more and more compassion and awareness as I get better at it. Does my future self want to wade through a world thigh-deep in single-use plastic? Or, how might my future self feel explaining to her theoretical nieces and nephews as we all munch dejectedly on our Soylent Green that yeah, we could sure use some of those resources my cohort and I burned through, but man, were those burgers fast-‘n’-tasty! And, as you see, so on.

I am not always the best at considering Future Colleen. Far from it. One thing that really seems to help is keeping myself a wee bit uncomfortable. Not in a martyr-ish way, necessarily, although putting a cap on the thermostat, or asking whether you really need this or that important doodad, doesn’t hurt. (More on that, and 2011’s theme of Conscious Stewardship, to come.)

No, I’m talking about the discomfort involved in stepping out of the silo and bumping up against my fellow man. I dread the thought of socializing. Amazingly, more and more the actual experience usually varies from “pretty good” to “awesome,” but even if it’s objectively a low-grade Torquemada-fest of enervation or bombastery, if I can muster the right mindset, it’s usually enlightening and it’s always strengthening.

There are degrees of this, then, too, bumping up against lots and lots of my fellow men, in small groups and the occasional noisy crowd. Meeting them on their home turf. Acting as leader, or hostess. Things that are terrifying, at first, but that one gets better at. No, really. I’m not just a reasonably assimilated introvert; I’m so acclimated now that more often than not, I pass for extravert.

Achieving even this level of comfort took years of assiduous plugging away: Nerdmasters; networking practice, under the kind and patient tutelage of another reformed introvert; hurling myself again and again into scary, unfamiliar circumstances. In other words, not easy, not overnight. But oh, so well worth it.

I know how annoying it is hearing people parrot platitudes like “Be the change!”, especially on Twitter or Facebook. Knee-jerk anything is suspect, save perhaps the impulse to throw oneself under a future bus to save one’s theoretical niece or nephew. But at almost-50, and having foregone a great deal of potential income in favor of exploring more existential concerns, I think I’ve earned the tiniest right to suggest that maybe, just maybe, this lack of tolerance thing is kinda-sorta becoming a problem. And that perhaps, just perhaps, we might do well to bring a bit of awareness to it. That’s all. I don’t have a handy app or pledge page for this; just raising a thought. Maybe we could start small (it’s usually best, in my old-lady opinion) by listening more. Literally.

There are all kinds of ways to start. Anything, I think, can be a start, provided you’re bringing a loving intention to it.

Me, I’m going to go out and meet up with some people this week. Some old friends, some new ones. Maybe even some weird ones. (It’s L.A., so definitely some weird ones.)

Because I have a silo, but I live in a world. Your world, my world, our world…

xxx
c

*On the other hand, if you’re opting for the Filet-o’-Fish rather than ripping someone’s head off and crapping down their neck, your future self thanks you, as does mine. It also gently and lovingly suggests you bring some attention to this “solution,” and start exploring alternatives.

UPDATE [1/10]: A lucid, thoughtful, somewhat charged (he’s blunt, folks!) piece by Jon Armstrong on the genesis and implications of the Giffords shooting; his wife Heather Armstrong also has a short but very touching post on what I think is one excellent way to move forward.

UPDATE [1/11]: Another excellent piece by Penelope Trunk on the role mental illness played both in the shooting and the tragic story of Bill Zeller. Link to Zeller’s lengthy, sad and well-written suicide note via the previous link, or this MetaFilter post, or directly on this Gizmodo post and Zeller’s site (as of this writing, anyway). My favorite takeaway from this horrible series of events came from a comment on the MetaFilter post:

The best I can do with something like this is to remember to always be nicer, because you truly never know what someone may be dealing with inside.

If I could make just that change, I think I could call this a live well-lived.

UPDATE [1/12]: Via Jeffrey Zeldman on Twitter, a very sharp op-ed in the NY Times on the role fear plays in all of this, and a reiteration that this is not a left/right issue, but an issue of thoughtful engagement vs. fear-mongering, isolationism and other insalubrious human tendencies.

Image by sillygwailio via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Posted in: The Personal Ones,The Political Ones

Previous post:

Next post: