Saturday, November 19, 2022

Northshore Notes: Emotional Safety

     I typically include a headshot of my Northshore bureau chief Caren Jeskey atop her Saturday essay, to help remind readers who is writing this. But she looked out of place amongst the fire-breathing men I created using the Dall-E AI program, so we're doing without it this week. I'm hoping, after two years, most readers have gotten with the program. Me, six days a week; Caren on Saturdays.

By Caren Jeskey

Created by Dall-E
     We cannot always avoid difficult people. They cut us off and rage on the roads. They go postal. They take the parking spot we were patiently waiting for. Since we cannot change them, what do we do? How do we make our communities safer? The health of a community, after all, depends on its individual members.
     On all of us. The change isn't something we need permission to make. First of all, I am sure I’ve cut someone off without realizing it. I've also gone too slow in the fast lane before being able to merge. I always remind myself, when annoyed with strangers, that no one is perfect. It’s better to let it go than sacrifice my nervous system balance. (Plus these days I might get shot if I react at all). A pick-up owner I know in Austin used to say "accidents are the fault of the slow drivers. Not the tailgaters." Hard not to let that one piss me off, but over time I tried to see her perspective. 
She's right, but what's the use of fighting when she was not open to hearing my take on it?
     We can be around difficult people and react less. You aren't responsible for what they do, but you are for how you respond to it. I practice particular meditations, often called Metta or Loving Kindness, that help me think good thoughts towards others. All others. With practice, it becomes easier. When on a crowded train I stay calm and alert, and if I’m feeling irritated I remember that we all have beating hearts within a cage of bone. Realizing their precarious human form helps me move out of anger more quickly. I remind myself that adults are kids in grown up suits, and we are all marching towards death in our very short lives.
     I still have the urge to talk shit about MAGA maniacs. I have been actively trying to cut it out. I can better spend that energy helping campaign for more mature, wise, and intelligent politicians. I can focus on my own self-growth and keep the finger pointing down. 
Those we rail against generally don't care. In my brief martial arts training I learned that directing vitriol towards others weakens us. Push-ups don't. With loved ones we are on a more intimate journey, and sometimes there are opportunities to talk. This short video about how to talk to MAGA friends and family (yep, I know some) more effectively is helpful. I also have "safe topics" with some folks so that we can avoid arguing about something that one of us cannot seem to have a conversation about.  Sure, there's also the selfish piece where I don't want to accidentally get shot with a hunting rifle by an anti-feminist.
     Granted, it's hard to live amongst those we feel are a threat to democracy. "Looks like the U.S. will never separate church and state. I had a man call me a “wacko” just this week, for being a trans ally. It smarted for a bit. Then I realized it's best to simply move on. It's not his fault that he did not mature past elementary school. It's partly the fault of our society. Tolerance and compassion must be taught at home, and in schools more often. We must teach ourselves to raise our emotional IQs over time throughout life, and model this intelligence. It's considered to be more important than IQ, even in excelling academically."
This topic came up for me today, Friday, because I attended a talk based in Austin, Texas (via Zoom). We learned more about how to protect the liberties of Texan residents and therapists that are being stripped away by those in a Trans (and any other form of "other") Panic. Those of us who hold equal rights for all in high regard are being threatened in this bizarre period of time, a throwback to less-enlightened ages. I also had the pleasure of spending 90 minutes or so in a group on Zoom with Reverend Ward Ewing this past week. He’s a non-alcoholic chairperson of Alcoholic Anonymous' General Service Board, who said “... the greatest difficulty I have with the institutional church is with the claim of knowing the truth. Anyone who has studied theology knows that ‘truth’ has changed dramatically over the ages. This claim to know the truth plays a central role in the churches’ developing a view of us versus them. At its worst it has led to witch hunts, inquisitions and persecutions; at its best it leads to hypocrisy and arrogance. I believe it is this claim that encourages within religion the desire to control and the spirit of perfectionism.” 
   As long as those who believe in heaven more than practicing the golden rule on earth- and as long as we have people in the world who do not see the value of all human life - have any degree of power, our world will continue to be broken.


  1. “we all have beating hearts within a cage of bone” is a vivid phrase. I’ll try that image the next time I’m dealing with someone trying.

    1. I hope it goes well. Over time our habitual patterns of reaction change. When I slip up now, like yesterday when driving with speeding tailgaters on Lake Avenue in the 'burbs, I find that I yield (my car, and in my mind) almost immediately rather than working myself up into a lather.

  2. Excellent column as usual.
    Two thoughts came to mind while reading.
    First was when you observed how people don’t want to hear your take on a subject. When I face situations like that I remind myself “never argue with an idiot”.
    Next was when you referred to Reverend Ward’s opinion of the institutional church. My take on organized religion is what happens when superstitious behavior meets mob mentality.
    Good video too. Suggests a great question to ask. “What are your core beliefs that lead you to that opinion?” Will they answer, “I am greedy and I’m a racist.”? No, but maybe it will make some of them think.

  3. Dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum
    ('I doubt, therefore I think; I think, therefore I am') - Rene Descartes

    Lovely article, as always.

  4. “It's not his fault that he did not mature past elementary school.” That sent me laughing.

    Perfect timing on this article—before Thanksgiving with all those relatives with differing viewpoints. Thanks!

  5. First time I ever saw "dubito" in Descartes' famous phrase, but it makes sense to equate "dubito" and "cogito" to establish that "cogito" is not a thought process that generates an automatic programed response, but rather implies a choice: "Dubito" shakes out the different ways we interpret the world, presumably marking the difference between the reactions of animals who act only on instinct (or regurgitate propaganda promulgated by certain TV stations) from genuine cogitating creatures who can choose how to react to information available to us.


    1. Well said. And yet, so many humans are dogs.

    2. Yes, Caren, so many of them are. They're bitches and sons-of-bitches...

  6. Love every word of this and need to read this again. Thank you!


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