World Speeding Up
No matter how far off course I get, I am no longer stuck as I was in the past.
Many years ago, when I started business school, I decided that I wanted that period of my life to be one of going deeper within. I wanted to resolve as many issues as possible.
That was a fateful decision. Once a ball starts to roll, you may or may not have the ability to stop it. It’s a lot like becoming a minimalist, only with psychological issues. You start to clean up this one issue and another entire layer is revealed. Perhaps the process ends at some point, but I am not sure I will reach that point in this lifetime. Even when I cannot resolve an issue immediately, the spiritual/emotional excavation process has exposed the inner processes keeping a problem stuck in place.
I went off on a spiritual tangent lately because one of my Christian friends is upset about something going on at her (formerly our) church and the death of a really kind older lady there. It is hard to watch people I love suffer bad outcomes, but the whole thing made me see the hazards of making other people’s problems my own. Should I just abandon my Christian friends? I don’t know, but I do know that I am done making new ones.
There are many good people in this world of every imaginable (or no) religion. I want to be part of as many solutions as possible. The next time someone complains to me about anything, I plan on asking them what they plan on doing about it. People will probably stop telling me much of anything. I am so okay with that. I badly need a break at this point. I try to have empathy for everyone, but if it doesn’t lead to creative problem-solving trains of thought, then maybe I am contributing to the problem.
Every change that occurs is an opportunity for something positive. For example, my friend in Maryland is working for a family law firm that may be going under soon. She is worried, understandably. However, she is using the chaos in the office to learn about family law out there. She studies QDROs in her spare time. By expanding her skill set, she becomes more useful where she works and is becoming more valuable in the job market in general. I think that’s awesome.
It sounds awful, but I want to find ways to use the negative consequences of other people’s behavior to my advantage. I want to create positive outcomes for myself and others by using my willingness to change and learn new skills. There is so little I can change in this world, but change is a’coming—faster than ever.
What if I learned to never hold on to anything? I know it sounds like a strange question, but let me explain.
I am sitting at a red light. I am in the right turn lane. The green arrow is lit, allowing the car in front of me to turn. The pickup behind me honks. I do not care. It was a little annoying the car in front of me was so oblivious, but not a big deal. Perhaps he was so far under the light he could not see it. I doubt he was aware the pickup was honking at him. He may have thought it was me honking. I am not participating in this exchange, and neither is he. The only one doing anything is the guy in the pickup, and he may have been thinking he was honking at me. I am an onlooker, nothing but an indifferent witness.
Perhaps being the indifferent witness is the only sane way to go. Even if the honking was directed at me, so what? I could not turn. Even if I had been able to go, I would not have done so had I deemed it unsafe. So the honking was irrelevant. Period. If the pickup driver had confronted me, would being upset have helped? I doubt it.
Letting go is not exactly a new spiritual concept. So what is my problem? I am over-responsible. It feels irresponsible to just not make the emotional investment in various situations. As a teenager, my brothers did not take responsibility for their actions. I actually remember deciding that I would be “the good one.”
I watch and listen to everything closely. I think in systemic terms. I often can see what will occur next. When I have spoken up in the past, I have been accused of creating the negative events that have subsequently occurred. (I wish I had that kind of power!) People do not want to hear what I have to say. However, when others reach the exact same conclusion at a later date, suddenly their opinions need to be respected and taken seriously. Really? This has created problems for me regarding my family of origin, various employers, and, at various times, churches.
The reality is that it hurts a lot to not be taken seriously in virtually every environment. It is painful to watch people I care for a great deal do things I know can only end badly. And then, to add insult to injury, to be blamed for the inevitable bad consequences is enough to make me question committing to anything or anyone ever again. “You were never really committed,” my priest told me when I had had enough BS to last a lifetime and warned him of some of the things now happening in the church (a couple years later). I thought to myself, “I guess I’m not committed now.” I am sure there is no memory of my forewarnings now that my presence is no longer there irritating them. If I were still there, somehow I would be seen as responsible. I may as well have never even attended.
Emotional investment seems to accomplish nothing. It complicates things and makes solutions less likely. It short-circuits rationality. I have not found an upside yet. Is there one?
Part of what I find profoundly disturbing is how authority figures will tell me what I should care about. I remember being a teenager and being informed how I should feel about a family member. I wanted to feel that way and was unable to do so. I learned at an early age that even I do not have the power to make myself feel something I did not feel or make myself not feel something I did. Manufacturing emotions has always felt fake. I have seen the same attitudes in religious writers recently. Of course, it works no better today than it did 25 years ago. It is disrespectful on a very basic level to tell another human being how to feel and it violates their free will. If I can’t make myself feel a particular way about something, how exactly do you plan on accomplishing that mission? Such attitudes miss the point of being human somehow.
I can let go of anything eventually. It may take a while, but feelings come and go. I have let go of many things already. Life offers daily opportunities for me to forsake emotional attachments. Every day I get better at it.
Are any battles mine? Even if some are, would I (and the world) be better off with or without an emotional investment from me? I would like to add value to the world and help individuals and organizations to function more compassionately and efficiently. I just don’t know what would work best.
My friend out east called me yesterday. She is having trouble with the crazy and inappropriate people she works for. She really wanted my guidance. I told her that she must remain centered regardless of how bizarre their behavior is. Keep re-centering. Keep your physical senses open. Can I feel my feet? What do I hear? I told her to do this so she wouldn’t be in her head and risk them throwing her for an emotional loop.
She is a law school graduate making $16/hour. I am unemployed. She’s looking for my counsel? Seriously?
I am not a life coach and am definitely not qualified to play the role of one. Maybe someday. But my friends seek my advice regularly. I find that fascinating.
I feel like Groucho Marx when he said that he would never join a club that would have him as a member. His membership standards were higher than his own conduct—and he knew it. I feel like my friends should have more sense than to seek career advice from someone unemployed and not even looking for a job. I am flattered and baffled.
What I have done is to stop investing emotional energy into anything. I leave the extremes alone. They are unsustainable. I need my energy to deal with practical problems and issues, not drama.
I have been reading The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It’s good. Like most good books, it doesn’t say anything particularly new; it just says it better than most and in a way that is easily relatable. Let go of everything. Allow everything to go through you. Keep coming back to center. This is a big part of spirituality and a legitimate path in and of itself.
It’s kind of like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. That book contained nothing new, but it was extremely well organized, easily understood, easily memorized, and very practical. It was one of the first books I was assigned to read in business school. I instantly understood why. It was the first book I ever read that made the distinction between the urgent and the important. Back when it was published, that was a new distinction. Today, it is commonplace.
If it works, it works. When that is your yardstick, things have an amazing ability to find their own level and work themselves out. I have nothing new to offer, but maybe that’s not all that important.
I found out the other day that an old, sweet lady from church had passed. As it turned out, she passed two days after the church put the basket tagged “suggested donation $1” next to the bulletins. I’m not saying the two events are related, but I am glad she passed before things got even uglier and weirder than they had been. She was one of the few people that was always nice to me. She was 91. The congregation, like many others, is gradually falling off a demographic cliff. It’s hard to watch.
I went online to learn more about aging congregations and how to attract more young people. That is so not what I found. What I found were articles about why young people don’t go to church and probably never will again.
I found articles by Rachel Held Evans. She is in her thirties, giving her a more realistic perspective as to how today’s young people think than I might have. She criticized some of the attitudes and cluelessness I have encountered in older Christians. Comments to some of her articles reflected the judgmentalism of seniors. “Rachel Held Evans is wrong…,” wrote one critic. Of course, the older person simply assumed that young people want to sin without moral accountability. I am unconcerned with whether or not Evans is right. I ate up her writings because of the possibility that she might be speaking for more than just herself. What if she is speaking for millions of young Christians? That possibility should send shivers down the spine of every elderly Christian out there.
I found other articles as well, articles criticizing young Christians’ concern with social issues like slavery and feeding the poor while remaining silent about abortion and homosexuality. This disturbs the older writers. As usual, older people want to decide how young people should use their talents and abilities. This attitude deeply saddens me.
These writers miss the point to a frightening degree. The articles say that young Christians do not have the right to pick and choose their social issues to support. What is the point? Point number one: young people are overwhelmed and simply cannot support every single issue their elders support. Point number two: perhaps young people are embarrassed at the behavior of their anti-choice and “God hates fags” sign-carrying family members. In my mind, today’s young people have sent the clear and unmistakable message that they do not want to be associated with the behaviors and attitudes of their elders. There are many good biblical causes young Christians can get behind and have chosen to do so.
I can speak authoritatively on feeling overwhelmed. I feel like I majored in it. For a while, I worked, went to school, and took care of my husband. Some people in church were nice, but others made demands upon me without having a relationship with me first. As far as I am concerned, if someone does not help me in my time of need, they don’t get a vote as to my moral behavior/attitudes. If someone doesn’t help me when I need help urgently, I truly do not care what they may think about this, that, or the other thing. I say that with zero emotion. I am not upset. If someone is not helping me with my Sallie Mae bill, mortgage, or whatever, it will not occur to me to consult that person when making decisions. I already have too much to deal with. The disapproval of people that haven’t lifted a finger to help me is not a priority. I have bigger fish to fry. And I suspect young people do, too. Accountability requires pre-existing relationships. No relationship equals no accountability.
How do you create relationships? Offer help when it seems needed. Listen, even and especially if it’s not convenient. Live the values you talk about.
Persuasion and influence take time to develop. People have to see your integrity. Mentor a young person.
I have left a church in the past for reasons of moral failure—not my own, but the pastor’s. I no longer go to a church, but I remain faithful to my husband. It is easy to criticize the moral failings of young people, to which they can respond, “Back at you.” I’ve attended churches that were 75% divorced-and-remarried people and others that were 90% never-married mothers. Young people very well may be leaving churches for reasons of moral failure—not their own, but the churches’.
If churches and the Republican Party want the participation of young people, they need to earn the right to speak into their lives. I am not a young person. I am not a senior citizen. I am just a hapless middle-aged person watching from the sidelines. Rachel Held Evans may not be right about everything (although she makes many points I identify with), but she’s closer to young people than I am. If you want to know what they think, try asking them. And then genuinely listening. Unless, that is, you enjoy falling off the demographic precipice into historical obscurity.
I live in a world that is changing continuously. I am doing so as well. I like the saying “change is mandatory; transformation is optional.” All of my frustrations come from things changing (going downhill) or not changing. How do you create change for the better?
Talking to my god sister this past Sunday, she said that the church now had a basket next to the pile of bulletins labelled “suggested donation: $1”. To me this is a sure sign of a dying church. I have never heard of expecting a dollar for a bulletin. They have crossed a line. They are circling the drain. Any church that cannot even give away a bulletin without the social pressure for financial remuneration is not long for this world. I laugh at the absurdity of the situation and grieve that nobody had the common sense or the cojones to stand up and say, “This is inappropriate and shameful for a church. It is simply too embarrassing to be part of this congregation any longer.” However, those with the ability to stand up for themselves (those with a shred of self-respect) were driven away by the priest years ago, myself included. A milquetoast congregation is DOA. I doubt they last another five years. My god sister was livid. “What are they going to do next? Charge us for using the bathroom?” I said, “Don’t be shocked if they do.”
My question in life is how to help individuals and businesses to change for the better, even as I and they change continuously. I feel like the world is slippery. I can have a goal and then life can completely obliterate it.
I feel like an entirely new world is being born. How do I midwife this new world? What role can I play? How hard should people try to save organizations intent on preserving a worthless status quo? Young people are walking away from churches in record numbers, for the reasons I have been whining about for years. The difference between them and myself is that I have wasted so many years of my life trying to get comfortable people to listen to me, whereas the young don’t even bother. They are so much smarter than I ever was.
What makes me different than today’s young people is that I am in between them and my parents age-wise. I see where the older folks are coming from. I feel a little sad not to have seen the world they still live in in their minds. It sounds like a slower, saner world. I also see where the younger people are coming from. Older people want younger ones to “pay their dues” in order to receive such essentials as vacations and flex-time. Such a demand strikes the younger generation as ridiculous because younger people do not see themselves as ever collecting Social Security. They either get these “goodies” now or take their knowledge, skills, and abilities where others will appreciate them. End of discussion. I have spent far too long trying to get the elderly to “understand” when they cannot relate at all. Still, I feel like being the in-between generation gives me a perspective others lack.
I believe in questions. They get the mind going in new directions. Some important questions include:
- Do you feel the leadership here practices what they preach?
- Is there anyone here that you admire or would like to be more like?
- What could I do to help you become more of the person you want to be?
These questions could apply to any organization, not just churches. They cut to the heart. They clarify what the person wants and helps the individual see where the answers are and aren’t. The responses could be a wake-up call to those with ears to hear.
I want things to change for the positive, as opposed to watching places just die off while blaming everyone else for their failures. Places will change, either for the better or not. I’d like to be a catalyst for positive change. However, I have no interest in defending a status quo that serves the few at the financial and emotional expense of the many. I will not defend poisonous places. I want something better and more meaningful for my life, even if I have to invent it myself.