A Zero-to-Hero attempt: I’m grateful for comfort-browsing.

This was really not a very easy task. I’m not good at picking out blogs, articles or websites to share, partly because my interests are very wide and varying, and partly because I don’t spend a lot of time just browsing randomly. My use of the internet is very targeted. But there are some websites I like going to when I need empathy, or a laugh, or something to soothe a miserable day.

1. Leunig’s poetry and work

Leunig is an Australian cartoonist, poet, artist… whose work is regularly published in the mainstream press. His poetry and cartoons are sweet, funny, poignant in a gentle way, and environmentally-, politically- and resource-conscious. There is a softness and inherent soothing kindness in his work that I just love, and also a childlike innocence.

2. Hyperbole and a half

Everyone probably knows about this one by now. I like the direct, simple way it manages to convey otherwise very complex subjects. I empathised deeply with several posts. It does what many writers and journalists have tried to do with mixed success– which was to make difficult-to-discuss and hard-to-understand experiences, such as depression, much easier to access and to empathise with. It is a superb example of communications done right to get a point across. The style reminds me of the book I Had A Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone.

3. The Oatmeal

I like the wittiness and quirkiness of this site. I love whimsy, and this site has it in barrel-loads. I don’t always get the humour, but sometimes it really hits the nail on the head.

zero-to-hero-badge ~ This is a Zero to Hero blog post. ~

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A Zero to Hero post: why I’m not grateful for reputations of any kind.

As I’ve said before, I’ve always tried my best to hide. But I think it’s impossible not to develop a reputation of some kind, and even several reputations based on whether you’re at work, at university, at volunteer work, at some interest group or sport; and, of course, just how much you actually enjoy what you’re doing.

As a girl who has spent most of her young adulthood either studying and preparing for or doing some form of communications work or another, I am a bit wearily hyperaware of the value of a solid reputation. This applies to companies, consultancies, NGOs, other non-commercial organisations, and, of course, high-profile people. But on a personal level, I consider caring too much about one’s reputation as being part of the descent into becoming a corporate ringwraith.

As I am not a toe-the-line-and-don’t-think-too-much-about-it Nazgûl-type, having chosen a life slightly less ordinary (do we choose it, or does it choose us? Hmm. But I digress.), I am immediately touchily suspicious of reputations. This is why.

  • A reputation is the sum of collective, mainstream projections and judgements. Whether someone is “nice”, “polite”, “kind”, “competent”, “competitive”, “bitchy”, “a jackass”, and so on, depends entirely on what that particular society’s or group of people’s perceptions and ideas of what those words mean. Each of those words is a judgement. A judgement is passed according to one’s values, ideas and morals. Values, ideas and morals are shaped by one’s upbringing, society and norms. A person’s work and actions are also judged on the scale of that particular narrow setting. In a mobile, globalised world, this kind of judgement is irrelevant.
  • A reputation makes you less human. Reputations never account completely for the depth of a person. I don’t know anyone who is “bubbly and cheerful” or “nice and giving and kind” or “fantastic at speeches” all the time. That’s because we are human, and humans have ups and downs and lefts and rights, and trips and falls, and so on. Sometimes they all happen in a day. Reputations are you in one setting, in one fixed point.
  • A reputation doesn’t change, even as you do. Life is change. Reputations hold people back from change, hold people back to a fixed point in the past, hold people back from being themselves– because, guess what, humans change. We change even when we’re dead, until we go back to the world as energy. A reputation is thus an unnatural, dead thing.
  • A reputation makes other people lazy. Why bother going through all the effort of getting to know someone with a beginner’s mind and a fresh start when you can rely on the opinions of other people who have already processed the judgement for you? That’s like never reading original Shakespeare, and writing your essays based only on crib notes and on what other intellectuals write about the bard and his blank verse. It’s cheating. If you have been told that a particular aunt is a stingy, vicious, gossiping bitch, then my guess is you’ll act and feel very differently around her from the minute you meet her than if you had been told nothing at all. To make things worse, we seek to confirm that which we already think to be right. That’s confirmation bias (duh).
  • A reputation is self-fulfilling. It is self-fulfilling because the way we act is at least half in reaction to how we are treated, and if we are treated as though we are about to blow up, or as if we are about to have a nervous breakdown, or as if we are violent and aggressive, something happens to us. There is this great psychology exercise on group dynamics that I remember doing many lifetimes ago at university. We all sat in a circle and our Psychology lecturer stuck labels onto our foreheads. None of us knew our own label. We then had to discuss a topic. We could only see everyone else’s and had to act accordingly. The labels said things like: “LISTEN TO ME”, “IGNORE ME”, “ARGUE WITH ME”, “AGREE WITH ME”, “PRAISE ME”, and so on. There was a group of observers. The consensus in the end was that those who were treated positively ended up talking more, being more confident, and feeling better about themselves at the end of the exercise. No surprises there! To make things interesting, my lecturer had labelled the shyer, quieter ones with positive labels, and the louder, opinionated ones with negative labels. The results were amazing. The tables almost completely turned. And yes, I got “LISTEN TO ME”. 🙂
  • A reputation makes you less brave. If you reputation matters a lot to you, a good one will keep you in line, afraid to do anything to go against it and lose it, and a bad one will likely make you very watchful and wary of making it worse. It is hard to correct a bad reputation and easy to lose a good one, because of our very human, evolutionary tendency towards negative bias. We remember the bad much more easily, neurologically, than we remember the good. Because, you know, Caveman don’t die if he do things right and crops grow, but Caveman die if he do things wrong and pet sabre-toothed tiger.
  • A reputation can be manipulated. Communications person here. I’m sure my (and allied) professions have a crapload of disservices to humanity to answer for (margarine is good for you, anyone?). I can write a thesis on just this point alone. All I am going to say is, because of earlier-mentioned laziness of people, manipulation of perceptions and therefore reputations has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. On a basic level, a sociopath (or just someone who is very good at pretending) can manipulate his or her own reputation, or hire someone to do it for him or her. I don’t know about you, but I dislike feeling like I’m being manipulated. That’s why fakery and pretentiousness feel so vile, or at least uncomfortable. It’s brazen, less-artful, transparent manipulation. 
  • A reputation creates polar absolutes (the way we treat identical twins). “She’s the calm one and she’s the hyper one”, “he’s the bookish one and he’s the sporty one”, “she’s the party animal and she’s the homely one”. Black or white thinking, as we know, is not productive and not helpful in most situations, since most of life is played out in the murky grey territory. Reputations fix the poles and then everyone dutifully operates between them. “She’s not as nice as they say she is”, “I don’t know why they say he’s so good at his work, I don’t think he’s that good at it after all.”

I think a very basic reason I bristle so much when it comes to reputations is the religion I grew up in. In a nutshell, Buddha said not to trust other people’s judgement, but to experience something for ourselves and draw our own conclusions. In other words, do not live a secondhand life. Judging people based on reputations is living a secondhand life.

zero-to-hero-badge This is a response to the Zero to Hero challenge of the day, which was to use the Daily Prompt: Blogger of Repute. Do you have a reputation? What is it, and where did it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?.

I’m grateful for hope.

This girl’s blog is so honest, open and genuine that I felt her pain in my own tummy and heart like stab wounds. 

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I think anyone who has lost something or someone precious and has felt such loss, grief, rage, betrayal and/or regret would find some solace, empathy and comfort in this blog. And hope. Definitely hope. 

She puts into words things I could not write when I felt pain most intensely. I pushed my feelings behind a dam and froze them solid. As a result, I stopped writing anything personal for some years. If I did, the ice would melt, the dam would break, and I’d go mad. I was sure of it.

And then she surfaced, breathed, and found that fragile, delicate morning-light of hope, life and love again. Her journey is probably not novel, but she writes it so brutally honestly that it becomes the voice for the shared emotions that burst out when we are heavy, empty and aching with grief.  

Image ~ This is a Zero to Hero post. We are further exploring the neighbourhood today. ~ 

I’m grateful for new beginnings.

They’re hopeful and terrifying and can lead anywhere, and they let you start again, without the crusts and chips on shoulders and cuts and bruises. New beginnings aren’t easy. I think a new beginning requires a new place (I know, not everyone has the luxury to move when the North wind blows), a commitment to letting go of anger, regret and hate, the practice of forgiving (I suck at this), and great mindfulness. I love these two songs/videos that I think describe perfectly how I feel about wiping your slate clean or even starting on a new slate:

and current over my many lifetimes…

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I’m grateful for survivors.

( See “Are Some Humans Born to Bully? Born to Be Victims? Can It Be Changed?” by Kristen Lamb.)

For they inspire and educate us and so build a better world.

I need to share this because it outlines practical skills to deal with bullies and trolls, and I have a strong belief that if enough people learn how to send the signal that a certain behaviour is unacceptable, then it becomes normative, and that can change the daily narrative we grow up in. I could just be delusionally optimistic and idealistic, but I don’t think so. Every belief, value and moral each of us has was shaped over generations. Norms are even shaped in a flash or within a single generation. A belief that has outlived its time (e.g., slavery is normal, women are the weaker sex and belong to men) is eroded by persistent attrition, and behaviours and values that emerge in light of new evidence and human progress and enlightenment (e.g., valuing our Earthly resources, which are finite, limited and under threat, treating mental illness with kindness, knowing deep down that human trafficking is not ok) are built up like stalagmites.

If everyone sends the signal to bullies and trolls that their behaviour is not acceptable, it becomes a societal norm. If we value compassion, kindness and understanding as the “sticky stuff” that binds us and makes life worth living, and stop deadening ourselves to violence, the ruthless pursuit of power (and the craving for it), the using of people and loving of things… we can change the world. Slowly, steadily, and persistently.
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~ This is a Zero to Hero posting. We were supposed to explore the neighbourhood today. ~

I’m grateful for words.

Diary_unlocked

There is something instinctively, primally, reptilianesquely* resistant to the sharing of personal opinions, thoughts and emotions in a public sphere, with complete strangers. Well, there is in my heart. If I am totally honest, I went into journalism and communications to hide. Behind a byline, behind a digital recording device, behind a camera; behind a press release, behind a CEO/head of organisation, behind senior management. It was a way to write and to change/save the world from within the folds of an organisation, from behind a thick layer of editors, sub-editors and copy-editor, or bosses, supervisors, directors-general, and bureaucratic clearing procedures.

I guess that approach has its cowardices and its courageousnesses, like everything else. Well, everything else except freelancing. Having once experienced it just to prove to myself that I could survive on my own, that is something I’d say is truly brave because it’s truly freakin’ scary; especially if you’re alone and relying only on your income, your wits, your motivation, your organisational skills, and your savings, with no benefits, no leave without pay, and no health insurance. I salute the unmarried freelances! *bows down to the ground* So, everything else except freelancing, which only has its courageousnesses.

Anyway, my point. Today’s assignment was to “write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog”. I am looking sheepish. And that’s because the post would have been a picture of a cute, furry, friendly dog and one line, “I’m grateful for dogs, for they are one of life’s best little mercies… furry, sweet, cuddly packages of unconditional love, affection and gratitude.”

Following that:

  • “I’m in comms. Or was. I really should have some online presence.”
  • “I learnt html, Turbo and C once upon a time. I really should practice.” (Useless. Completely useless. It’s like learning Latin and then not learning any other Latinate language for 20 years and then thinking, hey, let’s write a book in Latin.)
  • “Oooh. Trackbacks. Pingbacks. Widgets. Pwetty themes…. Fun fun fun fun….” (Because once you have developed an overachieving bimbo/nerd neuron connection, it dies hard.)

Following THAT:

  • “F*ck. I want to delete this blog! There’s no point to it. It has no target audience. It has no firm messages. It is the opposite of a good testimony for a communications person. It has no purpose! It has no anything! No one will read it and people will laugh!”

Then I decided that I don’t really give a flying *** what people will think but perhaps it will make people feel connected, and maybe even a little entertained. There really isn’t enough empathy in the world.

Besides, the assignment post said:

  • Because the best way to become a better blogger is to blog.
  • Because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for following through on the idea, the blog, and the post.

And… I want. *points to above sentences*

I know lots of people who have pretty nasty, slave-driving, loud little internal critics. Maybe I know them because I’m one of them (or, I used to be), and we tend to end up in the same kinds of workplaces and university courses. If those internal critics suddenly materialised into real human beings in power suits and heels, they’d be candidates on a new reality show called Undercover Boss From Hell. Because I crumpled under the weight of my internal critic and became so tightly-bound by it, 2014 needs to be about management retraining for my internal critic. So the blog is a component of compassion bootcamp.

I don’t know if I have any big ideas, but I have lots of little ones, and I’m grateful for inquisitiveness and insight, and distance and space. I like to receive, earn and share wisdom that’s based on action, on doing, on experiencing, on learning new skills of all kinds, on active observation, on conversation and listening, on suffering and trauma and on bouncing back. I also have a heart that, like most others, has been beaten and bullied and whispered about, conditioned, judged, brainwashed, manipulated and backstabbed into being tight-fisted with its true emotions, opinions, kindness, compassion, vulnerability and love.

Once, in another, more innocent and open lifetime, I wrote: “I am grateful for all that I have been allowed to learn, to earn, and, most of all, to keep.” I swore I would cling for dear life on to the wild, ecstatic, delicious, delirious joy of life I had then that I knew the universe would one day decide I’d had enough of. That time came and I let go. And now I want it back.

And that is what this blog is about. It’s about learning how find joy again (different from fleeting happiness, ya?) after you’ve broken your own word and your own world. And that starts with acceptance, self-compassion and love. And that starts with smacking into line your own internal critic with gratitude.

*Yes, I breezily invent words; if you violently object to the verbizing of nouns, the nounization of adjectives or the adjectivizing of… well, anything, for the sake of your mental health, you should probably not read any of my casual writing.

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