Knee-Jerk Reactions Keep Us Kicking Each Other In The Face

I grew up being told I was dramatic, sensitive, emotional, and a plethora of other words meant to gaslight me into feeling like my emotions weren’t valid. Add an “over-” in front of any those words for extra flare, and that was one of the number one descriptors that I saw myself as. Too “emotional” to be seen as logical. Too “emotional” to be seen as strong. Due to being told that I was too emotional, I took it upon myself to learn all the ways in which this might be true so that I could stop being “wrong.” What I learned, instead, is that being incredibly data-driven with your logic isn’t helpful, and letting your emotions completely command your reactions is also not helpful. In both ways, we tend to miss one thing or another.

Emotional Intelligence and Rationale

The popular notion that emotional = illogical is a harmful rhetoric that gaslights everyone. It keeps people from taking women seriously, and bullies men into not showing their emotions. I have strongly fought against the notion that emotions are not to be taken seriously. On the same side of that coin are the people who believe that the colder and more data-driven you are, the smarter and more logical you are. I am strongly opposed to this perspective since most humans are complete individuals with many sides where emotions must be taken into account when collecting data. The classic example of our fear-based response to be able to lift a car off of a child despite it not being something we could “normally” do is my quick case in point. We do not know what we are capable of until we are put in said situation. We have our own blind spots, conditioning, self-denial and other aspects that make it so that we can’t realistically make the argument that emotions are an invalid form of intelligence. Thus, being sensitive to these emotions and that of others is a form of awareness that any human being considering themselves to be intelligent should take pride in developing, rather than scoffing, ignoring, or rolling their eyes at it.

Mental Illness as a Scapegoat
Before I was ever diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or ADHD, I was resistant to a formal analysis because part of me was afraid I’d use it as an excuse to under-achieve. Honestly, the complete opposite happened. Once I was examined and my mental state was discussed by a professional, I felt validated more than anything else. I remember him saying, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long for you to be diagnosed, but I believe your ability to adapt has made it possible for you to hide a lot of these things from yourself.” It was reassuring, and I felt like I didn’t have to feel guilty for the episodes of deep sorrow and hopelessness that I’d get while feeling like “I had no reason to feel sad”. Instead of my mental illnesses becoming an excuse for me to under-achieve, they had given me a reason to become more aware. I wanted to have as much understanding of my mind as possible, and in any way that I could, hack it for my own benefit. Because of this, I have developed a keen sense of awareness, which combined with academic studies and personal experience, have allowed me to embrace emotional intelligence through radical compassion and the courage of vulnerability.

Knee-Jerk Reactions and Tone Policing
Knee-Jerk reactions usually stem from wanting to defend ourselves. I became someone that had a lot of knee-jerk reactions due to the constant need for people to tone-police me. There’s a phenomenal comic about tone-policing that can be found here, but the key factor that I learned about it was that while I was being told to “calm down” one way or another, my emotion behind the argument was actually central to the issue being discussed. Once I understood this, I decided I was allowed to be emotional about topics, and therefore allowed to be defensive.

And sure, I am absolutely allowed to be defensive and emotional. But did I also want to be to be heard? Unfortunately, no matter how valid, valuable, justified, or righteous my emotion, many times a defensive reaction will come off to sensitive people as an attack, causing them to also be defensive. If I wanted to use my privilege to have discussions with people, understand their perspective, or share knowledge and education, then I was going to have to learn to not go on the defensive right away.

That doesn’t mean not protecting myself, which is imperative. It just meant changing my tactic into one that would get me heard. Sometimes, we just don’t have the means or the space to be able to pull away and not get defensive because other people are attacking us and hurting us with their words and actions. But if I could emotionally afford to, I wanted to learn to listen to people and create a space for them, if I felt like they showed willingness and open-mindedness. This isn’t to say that it is the responsibility of those being oppressed to create a space for those doing the oppressing. This is to say that those of us that have the privilege and opportunity, have the responsibility to learn to gather our feelings the best that we can and occupy the spaces that we are afforded with firm compassion and never-ending evolving tactics so as to make it safer for our POC, queer, disabled and other marginalized comrades. As the comic explains, the need for emotion is necessary, and a discussion devoid or emotional intelligence is lacking realistic layers to what the human condition needs and is capable of.

Emotional Logic As Strategy

There are those of us who would pretend that remaining stoic, uncaring, or to borrow a Mexican saying, “vale-madrista” (unphased by anything) is somehow “cool” or more valuable than caring and including emotion in their perspective, are actually following an obsolete and chauvinist mentality that is one of the most harmful aspects of limited and toxic masculinity today. Telling men to remain “cool and collected” at all times and that not showing emotion is being “strong” is going against our very human nature and lacking an open and evolving mind. In other words, it’s lacking emotional maturity.

And on the other hand, acting with pure, raw, unfiltered emotion may also result in bringing about a similar reaction. If we can learn to combine emotional logic to discussions, that’s where we can truly shine as whole, creative, perceptive, and resourceful individuals.

So while I am an incredibly emotional individual that lives with depression and anxiety, have overwhelming awareness of the state of the world, cares enormously for humans and their troubles, and wears their heart on their sleeve, that has also led me to being a logical, astute, and perceptive human that should and wants to be capable of always being better about bringing in my emotions to better serve not only myself, but my community.

And if I ever let my emotions get the best of me, I can strive to be aware of it, call myself in with love and compassion, and reevaluate a strategy to get my message across.

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Murderous Me: How I learned about Eugenics and Ecofascism

Content Warning: Ableism

The trap of privilege

When Covid-19 first began, and neither I nor my friends knew what we were truly in for, we got into a conversation about what the repercussions might look like. In a group chat, the thought of people getting “wiped out” was discussed. Who would get the brunt of it? What would the world look like after our very own plague had gone through?

A couple of us talked about how if the world had to shake a few people off to restart, “maybe that’s not so bad”. Trying to see a brighter side to things, as it were. There was a bit of a tickle in the back of my conscience’s throat, the feeling I get when I know that I may be saying something problematic but I’m not sure why. In the safe zone that is having a conversation with my partner, Peter, I said something to the gist of, “if it ends up wiping out our elders and weaker comrades, then maybe what that means is that we will have a bunch of healthy, young, angry people ready to fight.” Peter shrugged and said, “that’s too close to Eugenics for comfort”. The tickle in the back of my conscience became stronger, and I grabbed the word “Eugenics” to chew over like a cough drop for the incoming metaphorical sore throat I was about to give my conscience.

“What I meant was”, I argued with myself. I knew what I meant. I had said a very simple sentence. I had said it was OK for people to die as a “silver lining” to the corona virus. I was displaying my own ignorance in the shade of my umbrella of privilege. Because I am able-bodied, and have youth, class and wealth privilege, and so does my family, I haven’t had to think of losing myself or my family to a social injustice or pandemic, for the most part.  Sure, there are other dangers we face. For example, I’m afraid for myself, my mother, and my sister since we are coded as women and therefore at a risk of being killed and raped if we go out at nighttime. Beyond that, however, we are relatively “safe”. Covid-19, under an abused capitalist system, does discriminate. And our class and race privileges keep up safer than that of our POC or immune-compromised comrades.

So, just how disgusting was this thought that I had the privilege to claim as innocent? Let’s go into it.

privilege snell

White Supremacists and Eco-ableism

As I started to poke at the discomfort I felt, trying to name it and figure out what it was about, I learned about eugenics. As it turns out, the thought of “It’s ok if the weak and vulnerable die if it means it even things out” was a mentality shared by white supremacists. You might be saying, “that’s not the same thing”. Like Peter said, however, it’s too close for comfort. It is also about a degree away from it. After all, it wasn’t the virus that had caused a discrepancy in our environment and social lives. It had been, and continues to be, colonialism, white supremacy, weaponized capitalism, and other man-made systems put together to divide and conquer in the name of greed. Covid-19 was simply making it harder to look away from the disadvantages we had created and benefit from. So, now that I understood Eugenics and how I was sorely against it, what did this have to do with eco-fascism or eco-ableism?

Eco-fascism or Eco-ableism is a dirty word

I found the most comprehensive explanation from instagram user @xystugli (posted with their permission):

Screenshot_20200428_200540_com.instagram.android

This is an even trickier topic. One that I had more than once contributed to, and unfortunately, will probably continue to contribute to while I learn the extensiveness of how we have been programmed to normalize ableism as a norm and something to desire, at the same time casting disability as abnormal and something to be ignored and feared.

Eco-ableism puts under the microscope a lot of so-called “eco-activist” movements that can be quite harmful to an entire population. It puts the planet or animals before human lives, and paints a picture where we should have to choose. Think of a person completely removed from nature who has never eaten a fruit, gone on a hike, and believes all animals are meant for consumption. Even that person is just as much a part of nature as wildlife in the middle of a rain forest in the middle of nowhere. We have Othered nature and other forms of life as separate from us in a very…well…unnatural way. It goes against our very existence to believe ourselves separate from trees, soils, and plants. And in this othering, we have created a pyramid constructed of a gender binary, a racial binary, and other binaries meant to make us feel like our life is less valuable the further away from the White, Able-bodied man we are. That precise mentality is what got me thinking that maybe it would be ok if “some people” died. As a white able bodied “woman”, I am categorized closer to the “ideal”. However if the mentality that I was practicing was one that more people adopted, my own mental illness would categorize me as “undesired” and someone to be easily sacrificed for the greater good.

Who else? Who else was I willing to cast away to their death? What if I had family members that were immune-compromised? What about my own grandmother, the only living grandparent I have? Would I be ok with “sacrificing” them as a silver lining to a virus that had just exacerbated our issues and not created them? The fallacy of the statement began to make itself more clear. Covid-19 was not a great equalizer because racism and classism had made it so that it was not only the weaker that are being affected, but the marginalized as well. And not just them, but doctors and nurses on the frontlines are dying due to lack of being better prepared for these types of pandemic. Because #ProfitOverPeople. Because society paints disability as disposable.

And this was not a brand new concept. If activism itself ignores large populations of people who need community support and not community disdain and gas-lighting, what were the hopes of the wealthy elite making favorable changes?

I would have to start by listening and learning myself, before I could continue to preach that we were being unfair. If I am part of the damage, then it is hypocritical of me to tell others they need to do better with the power they have, while ignoring my own power to learn.

Here are some highlights of how the eco-activist community hurts disabled folks:

The Straw Debate– How pushing for the total banning of straws hurts disabled people.
Paper Plates –  If you can wash dishes, do it, but what does that mean for people who can’t afford to due to health concerns?
Aggressive Vegans – There is no such things as a perfect vegan, and not everyone can do it for health or wealth reasons.

These are just some examples of the way that we believe we are doing good while not realizing we can have entire blind spots in our mentality. This isn’t to say that we should stop banning plastic, stop recycling, or let the meat industry off the hook. But rather that we should look to be more intersectional in our activism as ecology, animal rights or human rights activism. We should work with disabled communities who have experience with creating creative solutions to capitalist-created problems. We should work with black and indigenous people to navigate who have the most experience surviving colonialism for fair ways to handle the economy, and the care for our land. We should work together to dismantle the systems that have succeeded in continuously dividing us, and leading us to the mentality that “maybe it’s ok if some of us die” for the greater good.

How to do better

From here on out I will be adding disabled activists and communities to the group of people that I listen to so that I can form a more complete and compassionate perspective when speaking of activism. I will continue to be open to being called out when my phrasing or ideas are problematic. I will listen to intersectional solutions, and not fight people but the system that separates us and undervalues us. Every time we fight one another we are detracting our attention from the systems that are causing the most damage. I will look at how the disabled community has unique ways they need accessibility, and how to include that in my own life.

Every time we react and feel guilty for being called in we are ignoring a chance to be more compassionate not only with ourselves, but with others. I want to support one another so that we can come up and bring forth brilliant solutions for a better world that is totally possible.

Let us get comfortable being uncomfortable. Let us be ready to get called in. Let us get used to hearing how we accidentally micro-aggress. Let us thank each other for shining a light where we are ignorant. If you trust your friends and community, then trust that is done out of love. And if you genuinely believe yourself to be a good person, and want to actively be a good person, then you understand that no one is ever done learning. There is always more to do, and that imperfection is expected, and totally fine.

Maëlle

I am grateful to Peter for his love and patience in pointing out problematic ways of thinking, and @XystUgli who so graciously allowed me to use their post for this blog post. 

Further reading:
“Holistic” Ableism by Walela Nehanda
Grasping at Straws by Erin Vallely
Being disabled isn’t eco friendly by Imani
Is Veganism Ableist? by Michele Kaplan
5 ways to Protect the planet without disenfranchising people by Megan Wildhood
The Climate Revolution must be accessible by Hannah Dines

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A Letter Written Atop a High Horse

I suspect that I come off holier-than-thou and condescending all the time. I suspect this because of the way that people have responded to me and how they’ve spoken about me.

I think it is stark obvious that I am trying to do good, and that I lead with my heart, but we all have insecurities that dominate our narrative some times, and I want to create a space for that so that I can create a more compassionate impact for all of us. I have a very hard time with a certain group of human beings (*cough cough* white cis dudes *cough cough*) but I also love pretty much everyone I truly know, and it’s hard for me to hold grudges. I don’t want to foment resent within me, I don’t want to project self-loathing and dehumanize anyone. I do not think I am better than anyone, and if when I respond defensively it is most likely for the same reason others do…because I feel unseen.

This blog has sort of just been sitting here without doing much of anything except for being a place where I could come empty out my thoughts that I knew no one in particular would read. I’d like to keep it a more specific aim. A long time ago I started to read Baba Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now (and was never able to finish it, as I lost my copy somewhere along my many moves) and found myself with tears in my eyes re-reading quotes from that book when I was in my 20’s. The one quote that stood out to me the most and stayed with me was from the following passage,

We’re talking about a metamorphosis. We’re talking about going from a caterpillar to butterfly we’re talking about how to become a butterfly. I mean: the caterpillar isn’t walking around saying: MAN i’ll soon be a butterfly because; as long as he’s busy being a caterpillar he CAN”T be a butterfly. It’s only when caterpillarness is done that one starts to be a butterfly and that again is part of this paradox. you cannot RIP AWAY caterpillarness. – Baba Ram Dass

This blog was supposed to be about my own human condition, my own metamorphosis. And it has been. However, I want to be more intentional, more present, and more conscientious with my writing. I want to “reveal my belly”, as it were. Show you my Achilles heel.  Not preach to you or imply that I know best, but show you the ways in which I am accepting my own Caterpillarness, and not striving to be a butterfly. Hopefully, you will find that by doing this, I am extending my hand out to you and saying “Hey. Let’s be in it together.” And we can learn from each other, as we unfold, and are humans together. All it takes is for you to read me. For you to hear me. For you to say, “yes I read it” or “yes I see what you are saying” for me to feel that little bit of tenderness that I so deeply yearn for. I am showing you my soft spot, because I want to be real for you. Let’s be real together.

See you soon,

xoM

Snails far away smol