When coping, we all project to some degree or another. When we empathize, we project a little bit upon others and assume that we can get into their shoes and see things from their perspective. We need to project a little bit because, ultimately, we're all alone. We do our best to make community, but ultimately we're very alone.
A few months ago I came across this infographic while navigating Pinterest. It really bothered me to discover it. However, I've learned to do my best to pay special attention to things that seem to irk me, so here it is:
My issue is that I really don't want to be the manipulator. But I read through those "red flags" and can't help but feel like I've taken part in a good portion of those.
But I've gotten to a point where I second-guess my intentions so much that I can't help but feel like I must be a manipulator, that I must be a desperate, terrible person to have the desires that I do, to have said the things I have. And then I spiral downwards, unable to even fully come to grips with my own sense of reality. And I wonder if I'm just some projection machine, blasting everyone around me with my own ego.
That's the thing about being in relationship with people: friends, intimate partners, spouses, children, etc.: context really does make a difference. All. The. Time. And we hope that our relationships can share a common reality.
And when they don't seem to share that common reality, our shared projection gets blurry and out of focus. And then we realize just how alone we can be.
So I'm astoundingly grateful for those relationships with whom I seem to be able to share a common projection, with whom it seems like we can look at the same screen and perceive a clear image. I cherish shared a clear images of the world, even if the image itself is a little unseemly.
There's this photo of me on Facebook. My friend Peter, who's playing congas with me here, is playing with me. My guess is that the photo was taken in 2001, but it could have been taken a little earlier.
The thing is that I don't remember what I was singing about. I think I was playing at Felicita's at UVic, but I don't remember why. I have no idea what songs might have showed-up on that setlist hanging from the microphone—printed characteristically on a used piece of paper, a photocopied article. It was 2001 and I thought myself a musician of sorts... but what did I have to say? I have no fucking idea.
This is a problem as I try to find my way through all this separation stuff. In the vernacular, a psychological assessor said my "values are all over the place." And it seems like, as I listen to podcasts and read self-help and leadership books, it's highly encouraged to follow your vision. It seems as if happiness lies in one's ability to live out their singular purpose, to live out their message in such a way that lets them live a life where message and life are blurred and beautiful.
I have no idea what my message is, what I'd like to say to the world. I feel utterly lost in this. I don't think it's a matter of religious apostasy, but over the last few years my ability to access my "voice" has diminished until I don't know what to do with it.
And I don't have to go back to 2001 to figure it out. I wrote a personal weblog on a near-daily basis between 2001-2005; I made a CD of original songs in 2006; I wrote a CD's worth of as-yet-unreleased material over the few years that followed—but by 2013, my writing essentially stopped. I no longer played riffs and thought "I should use that" and built something around it. I had nothing to say.
And I could feel it happening. I tried a few things to fight it: I worked with a drummer and tried to write some songs using riffs; I would record mini-moments of inspiration on my phone and hope to make sense of them when I came back to them; I sat down and wrote journals; I tried to write semi-creative blog posts; I tried to attend open-mic nights and pub jams; I tried to record videos of cover songs, secretly hoping that they'd turn into something of my own. I'd sit down and try to learn proper riffs, hoping they'd lead to new flashes of inspiration. But they never did. And I still feel like I have nothing to say.
There are ironies here: I know people want to hear what I have to say; I know people care about me and think I have worthwhile ideas; I know people can see that I have a vision for things. And I'm anxious to get it out, myself.
I imagine a good portion of it is separation-based. This whole marriage-falling-apart thing has been a pretty enormous blow to my ego, and it's been a long process that continues to take up an inordinate amount of brainspace in any given moment. So perhaps, as I learn how to be myself again, maybe I'll find a way to articulate my vision again, whatever it is.
But it's not there yet. My vision simmers at best.
But I could sure use some of that overflowing confidence to express myself again.
And using "simmers" reminded me of this special moment from last summer:
The video is based on this article from The Book Of Life. This passage is my favorite:
We apply the wrong medicine:
This section hits home to me, especially as I watch more and more relationships come to pieces around me, including, of course, my own relationship with my ex-wife. It's always a battle to refrain from senseless blame when we feel hurt; careful introspection can help us realize that the hurt we wield against those around us usually stems from problems deep within ourselves.
I appreciate how the School Of Life and Book Of Life folks seem well aware that our minds are far from tame, that we are by no means "rational animals." The baggage we carry with us can affect every part of our lives, no matter how much we fight against it. We mis-aim our solutions and choose misguided shortcuts that inevitably make life more difficult in the long run. We compromise where we shouldn't, and stay steadfast when we should compromise.
So with every marriage that crumbles, with every friendship that goes silent, I can't help but wonder at the hidden, mis-addressed thorns in each person's side, at the ways we've lashed out at those we love the most. It's terrifying when so many of my friends, so many of the people I love and respect the most, seem to be hurting so much.
At least we'll be keeping therapists in business.
I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to get to have any sort of routine until January. But lord I can't wait for that routine. I can't wait to get up in the morning and calmly prepare for my day, and to finish my schoolday with most of my daily tasks completed, to go home and do things for myself a little. I know that people say that you should be able to take care of yourself at any time, but right now there are a few too many commitments to use my time wisely. I'm having trouble keeping weight off, keeping up at work, keeping my few extra-curricular activities maintained, and keeping positive with my daughters. But a time will come when I'll finally be able to perform the introspection necessary to accurately identify and address the hidden thorns in my own self, and I look forward to it.
Self-help, leadership, and motivational literature is all about getting out of ruts and expressing yourself authentically. Much like religious devotional literature, they all riff off of the same sorts of human truths. Also like devotional literature, what you connect with is often more a matter of tone than content.
I like these pithy outlines that I found on Pinterest today. They appear to be outlines from a "Crucial Conversations" workshop that Jami Breese put together in a creative and accessible manner. These notes have piqued my interest in Crucial Conversations, so I'll be keeping an eye out for potential future workshops.
I'm going to go through a couple of the ideas that I like here. Since it seems like the outlines are each in a specific order, I'll follow that order myself.
Sketch 1: #crucialconversations steps 1 & 2
This sketch makes me think of the following:
Sketch 2: #crucialconverations steps 3 & 4
Sketch 3: #crucialconversations steps 5 & 6
Sketch 4: #crucialconversations steps 7, 8, & 9
I've printed off a few copies of these for my classroom so I can keep them on hand. Perhaps I'll post them to my filing cabinet with all my other resources. And then, once I get this apartment fully set-up, once the girls are settled in their new place, I'll be able to pick up the book and possibly try to adopt some of this. Maybe just one of them. Maybe just one.
Because I'm a dork and I have two whiteboards to put up in my home so I can lay out these ideas and try to get my life back on track. Because, as much as I'd like to deny it, I'm likely a teacher through and through.
For years, I've tried to see opinions from the opinionator's perspective. When I was religious, for example, I felt it important to understand how non-religious people saw the world and deliberately sought to understand my faith from "their" perspective; now, as a secularist/humanist/whatever, I think it's important to understand and remember how religious thinking frames one's overall mindset and do my best not to dismiss religious ideas. I think I'm fairly good at maintaining two separate truths in situations like this; empathy is something I'm generally at peace with, and it tends to work for me.
However, the social media echo chamber is a legitimate concern. On Twitter, etc., it takes effort and dedication to "follow" people who piss you off. I recently came face to face with this when I unfollowed a Twitter user whose raison d'etre had morphed into an anti-feminist MRA mouthpiece. I followed them for a long time despite my differing perspectives on things, but I could no longer handle (what I saw as) their closed-minded vitriol. It's perfectly OK to close out toxic people and perspectives; it's my right to do that. Right?
However, when I unfollowed them I simultaneously closed one more door to an alternate opinion and way-of-seeing-the-world, and I'm not fully at peace with that. I hate vitriol, but I want to understand the different ways our society disenfranchises different people. As much as I tend to see Men's Rights Activists as inconceivable, misguided, entitled whiners, I still want to keep myself open to perceived injustices. That's part of their angle on the world and the more clarity I have about their perspective, the more I'd hope that I won't fall into similar entitlement traps.
I think of this a bit when I see those articles about "Who are these Trump supporters," where writers try to make sense of Donald Trump's popularity in a population of people with whom they themselves likely have very little crossover. On reflection, I realized that I do not "follow" any Trump supporters that I know of in any of my social media feeds. I have "othered" that portion of the population and chosen to view them through my chosen people. In the case of Trump, just like with MRAs, I've justified closing my feed to their perspectives because I perceive them as misguided and intellectually and empathetically shortsighted. But I don't know if that's really the right thing to do.
As somebody who values empathy, I'm also aware of its weaknesses. Empathy doesn't help in every situation, and sometimes we can mis-aim it in careless directions, or people might aim it at us when we don't need or deserve it. Empathy is important in all relationships, but it's a skill we need to hone and practice every single day.
The following quotation, embedded below, describes a situation when empathy might be a little misplaced, since people might use your empathy as a tool for injustice.
In this case, it's important to remember that even if we can see something from somebody else's perspective, it doesn't mean they can see it from your perspective. The ability to empathize could be a rather narcissistic, assumptive skill; we assume we can do it and that our perception is accurate, and this very much might not be the case. Just because we feel that we're empathizing doesn't mean we are. Empathy is a sort of essential relational delusion that brings us together under seemingly common feelings and perceptions. We need it, but it's not necessarily accurate.
I guess what I'm struggling with right now is the fact that I feel as if I empathize with numerous different people and peoples, but I could very well just be narcissistically assuming something completely off-base.
I may empathize, but there's no way to prove that I can do it.
That means I have to trust myself. If I feel like I'm working hard at it, and if I'm trying to learn and practice empathy more, I also need to develop the self-confidence to trust my perception. And trusting myself has always been a very hard thing for me.
My empathy depends on my own self-trust.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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