Help! I’m caught in a nation of binaries

  Maybe you haven’t missed me, but I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s not writer’s block. It’s tongue tide, as in the tide of speaking my truth is low… and I am too.

The haters – left and right – are outside the gate and if I step out I’m sure to get an arrow from somewhere. The barbs from the right I’m used to, but the left has high-brow arrows that also sting. I use the wrong word. I unwittingly forgive the unforgivable. I’m not mindful of how my words might land in tender hearts – and Lord knows I am a protector of tender hearts, my own included.

Case in point… A group is planning a retreat. We want it to be zero-waste. I suggest everyone bring their own plates and silverware. A group member labels this suggestion  “white supremacy.” I side step, saying, “Well, I’m an old potlucking hippie”, but I can’t imagine what I said to offend.

Later it’s explained: some people might not have plates and forks. I can identify. When I was a recovering (i.e. passing) hippie, I panicked at potlucks as I didn’t know if my food or vessels would be good enough.  Would my limited means show? Would I be socially demoted? Would I be outed as “not one of us”? 

I asked the person who used the label to at least use I statements as in, “to me that sounds privilege blind, as some in our circle might not be able to BYO.” He was gracious and understanding, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the new cool meme for expressing dismay. It’s no Let’s Go, Brandon… as if people who use this might say, instead, “Vaccine mandates bring up feelings of fear and anger because my personal sovereignty matters to me, so would you be willing to engage in a conversation about alternative methods of keeping the public safe?” Reply: Poopsie, Karen…

Another case in point… A Dutch friend sent me an amazing deep-fake video of an actor playing the Prime Minister telling the honest truth about climate consequences for the Netherlands and proposing sober regulations to meet the moment like adults. It was like the old Mad Magazine Scenes We’d Like to See. I found it so inspiring! I want to write speeches like this for political leaders, even without all the green screen magic, because assigning honest words to leaders we desperately need to lead us out of climate disaster could have such an impact.

But, the fact that I didn’t label it a “deep-fake” in the post had a friend politely call me out privately. Her concern is for the public’s capacity to distinguish truth from lies, a concern I share.

However much I wish I didn’t live in such a fragile, on edge society, I do. Everything can be misconstrued. Every glance can feel like the evil eye. Every subway bump like a punch in the jaw. Every smile like a come-on. Nothing is funny.

WhMay be an image of 1 person and smilingere is George Carlin now when we need him? Lenny Bruce? Oh, they are walking around in Dave Chappelle’s or Bill Maher’s bodies, and every toe in society is being stepped on. #minetoo. As a woman I learned to titter at microaggressions rather than confront them. It stopped being funny and #metoo actually let me come out about the abuse I’d endured – like umpteen percent of other women on the planet.

But I’m also a comedian. I love to riff and quip and turn things on their heads, exposing – sweetly – what we’ve all hidden under our skirts.  How can I protect tender hearts while being a rodeo clown for pompous stupidity? No idea. This is part of why I’m tongue tied.

One more case in point.

On a local Facebook group, someone asked what the longest running business on Whidbey Island is. Unfortunately they said “since WI was founded”. Ouch. Found by settlers who displaced the Coast Salish people who harvested camas and shell fish seasonally, and established some settlements.

Founded sounds like how the Christian Church was founded on top of pagan cultures. You can see layers of the history of conquests all over the world as one village or church is built atop the communities they destroyed. I sure wish my species wasn’t this way but we apparently are.

Well, a very well-educated East Coast friend felt called to call the conversation out. Whidbey wasn’t founded by settlers with businesses. It was owned by the indigenous people. Wow, talk about a bomb. Dozens of comments later about the spoil sport tone of the call-out, I stopped reading and emailed the friend. I wanted her to reflect on the language of that the Coast Salish people “owned” this land. In calling out, she used language of the very mindset that has sliced and diced this beautiful wholeness of Gaia, making it impossible for 95% of the living to live. Hmmm, didn’t go over very well, but just like my other friend called me “in” about not naming a deep-fake, I called my highly educated friend in on using the word “owned.”

We’re all g’damn tongue tied.

In trying to correct for the sins of our fathers, the sins of exploitation and colonialism and slavery, we are producing a shell-shocked society cancelling one another – and popping out furious people who just vent their rage with FU Biden at NASCAR races.

I’ve been studying the dynamics of polarization as part of my own commitment to heal whatever is in me that is enraged. I’m digging deep within to get under the blame-game and the assumption of agency and the grief and everything I see inside I see around me.

One more case in point…

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and outdoorsI joined a group of elder women in a support of a Chase bank action called by a gaggle of our brilliant young Fridays for the Future activists. Driving home afterwards (yes, driving home from a climate action, but in an electric car), I passed an intersection where peace activists have kept up a vigil for decades each Saturday. Lo and behold, it was bristling with American flags and signs supporting 3 candidates for our school board who are opposed to teaching Critical Race Theory and the 1619 project in schools (which isn’t even happening but thank you Koch Bros for whipping folks up into an anti-democratic frenzy in the name of freedom). I later said to a friend, in a very ACLU way, I don’t support their message but I support their effort to express their views through public protest. That did not go over well. The Blue team had established territory on that corner and the Red team had invaded, and it infuriated my friend. It bugged me too, but I chose to make it part of my project to uproot my own tribal war dances.

Did I mention that I wish humans didn’t act this way.

Back to Mad Magazine… another feature I dearly loved was Spy Versus Spy. Each spy outsmarted the other spy who then outsmarted spy 1 back and so it went. In systems theory that’s called “competition and escalation” – every promise Pepsi makes, Coke makes +1, and on and on. The systems mechanism that corrects that pattern is called a “governor” – a mechanism that shuts down processes that have gotten out of control. But now, in this binary world filled with mutual mud-slinging (even throwing the same mud: You are ruining this country!!! No, you are!!!), Governor seems to be a dirty word. The extremes do not want to be governed, i.e. controlled by “the other side.”

“Which side are you on?” Theme song of civil wars. A symptom of a brain-fever called BINARY-ITIS – and it’s burning us up. When I realized I’d caught it, I resolved to dig out the piss-off at the root. I’m still digging. Inside. Around me. I’m not confused about my values. I’m not a bit confused about what direction I think healing and wholeness lie. I just want to clear out tit-for-tatness so I can, as I say on my podcast, see more clearly and act more courageously in service to the common good.

Today, on this beautiful Sunday, I’m headed out in the world of complexity – the woods. On this beautiful Halloween, I’m headed up to the cemetery to talk with this town’s ancestors to see if any wisdom comes. On this gorgeous day on this beautiful earth while I am blessedly still alive, I’m going to put my cat in my backpack and a big chew of irony in my cheek and shut down this land of zeros and ones of the internet to see if i can find some shades of glory. 

20 Comments

  1. I’m so sorry you are experiencing this. I have, as well.

    In fifteen years of trying to establish a sustainable intentional community, the most-used phrase I get from people leaving, is, “Well that’s not community!”

    Everyone comes at it with their own blinders and prejudices, but even worse, without any regard for the blinders on those they’re addressing. Community should be about finding middle-ground, negotiating compromises, separating needs from wants.

    I hope “binary-itis” starts getting better for you. ‘Cause I’m about to throw in the towel.

    1. Vicki, your heart is in the right place. Your words are your words and represent that heart well.

      Regarding your critics, ignore them.. Their criticism says more about them than it does about you. Idiocy abounds

      Keep going, my friend. It is well to remember this quote, “Though all doors are marked No Exit, nonetheless leap upon your steed and ride off with your banner marked ENGAGED!”

      Harvey Austin
  2. Thanks for this Vicki — I recently had a very progressive FB “friend” (I don’t really know him, just know something of his views and he’s friends with many other FB friends.) I posted a meme that I mostly agreed with but had some misgivings about it being somewhat elitist, so I added a humble pie statement acknowledging that I didn’t even fully fit into the post. He called me a “fucking elitist.” I wrote back to him that I too had had misgivings etc. but that I thought part of the meme was important. I wrote several comments to “invite” him to have a discussion. He never responded. I wasn’t outraged by his response, but I’m not used to getting responses like that and was surprised by the vitriol. Anyway, this is a kind of long comment about your post, but I did appreciate how well you were able to express these experiences.

    Rebecca Dare
  3. Thank you for this. I live in very rural, very red region. I’ve recently begun thinking about how to live with my neighbors and to realize that disagreeing does not have to equal hatred and that I don’t have to buy the binary.

    Mike Luster
  4. I believe the polarization is a social experiment. Yes, our human tribalism and frailty rose up during the lockdowns, converging into a resultant rip-roaring success for those who intentionally would seek to divide and conquer us. I applaud your desire to uproot it. We, who have no power, can just say to those who have the power to formulate social media algorithms and buy the media propaganda. Stop feeding them monster, laugh in its face and refuse to buy into it. Breathing fresh air, appreciating the burgeoning life all around us, you go, girl. That’s where the truth is; it’s certainly not on the blue screen. Easy to say, hard to do, but we gotta quit caring what people think, or whose on our “side.” I just say, live life according to our own conscience and with loving good intentions to the best of our ability.

    Teresa McElhinny
  5. Please do not let the tone of ‘What could possibly go right?’ drift from a playful positive to a defeatist negative–we need all the constructive hope we can get right now. I just got an email from the Environmental DEFENSE Fund: We need to be prepared to FIGHT back against big-polluters!!! Take a look at Paul Hawken on this subject–our WAR against terror and our WAR against hunger and our FIGHT against illiteracy–none has worked and have become deep holes of lost money, time and anger. As he said in Blessed Unrest, there are MILLIONS of little groups of people doing all the right things. We are responsible for changing the language and framing which guides the narrative right now–nobody else knows how to do it.

    Mark Haubner
        1. Sorry to have made a mess of my message. Should have said “please dont lose the hopeful message of what can go right?” Your work is always inspiring and I hope you know that a large number of people draw strength from your work. That’s all.

          Mark Haubner
  6. We are socially fragile and paranoid at this moment . It ‘s impossible to read the fuse. I’m grateful you are out there continuing to put the playing cards on your spokes, and the tassels on your handlebars. Thank you dear Vicki.

    cate andrews
  7. VIcki, I always love receiving your posts…and identify with the deep soul searching. Sadly, we have lost our way and are no longer able to read the signposts to find our way home. We are lost in the world of personality which is chaos itself. Until we learn to think higher, to explore more subtle realities, we will remain like chickens who will peck one of their own to death. There are so many noble causes but until we can learn to meet in a spirit of cooperation instead of trying constantly to control others in order for us to be more comfortable, I fear little progress will be made.

    We were not invited to approve the guest list for this grand party, but each guest must be special because we are all here. We can play with those we enjoy and are free not to play with others if we so choose.

    One can only imagine a world where each of us allows every other to simply be who they are, believe, say and do what they want, without trying to change them (once they are out of early childhood anyway). I think that would feel like blue sky peeking through the clouds after a roaring lightening and hail storm. And oh, how fresh the air would be!

    Paully
      1. I did not find your post defeatist , simply realistic. What you are sharing is happening to many people, and I appreciate your tender honesty and wonder and vulnerability that you share. It is an empathetic sharing to me. I can tell that I feel hesitant to socialize because it does seem that so many people are playing gotcha-games and it is tiresome. As I was reading your post and reflecting upon my own feelings I was thinking about HH the Dalai Lama’s statement “kindness is my religion” and I hope that with that as my guide I can foray into the world and feel open rather than withdraw as much as I might want to. Thanks always for your sharing Vicky
        ~Tina

        Tina Marie
  8. You are always alright be me, dear Vicki. I love your playfulness, curiosity, creativity, tenderness and relentlessness. You look for the positive in ways I wouldn’t and I appreciate that! You have graced my life in multiple ways.

    I’m so sorry to hear how roughly you’ve been treated. It makes me feel sad. You do not deserve it.

    These are such tough times. There is so much pain in the world. Our country is a trauma factory and at this time too many of us are turning on each other instead of turning toward each other. Hurt people hurt people. It’s perhaps simplistic, but I think it rings true and is what helps me dust myself off.

    It is a hard and scary time. I don’t know how, if or when we will find our way back to each other to build a better world together, the kind of world we need. But I do know that many of us are building together. You have been part of that. Thank you. I know you to be incredibly resilient. I love your Halloween plans and hope you had a fine day and got some good wisdom and support from the ancestors. Thank you for sharing your challenges.

    Pennie O'Grady
  9. Oh Vicki, I always look forward to your blog and adore your sense of humor and whimsy. ❤️ Thanks for your writing and big heart!
    This rampant ‘calling out’ makes me sad. It’s so much easier to look outward and point the finger at others for perceived infractions, than to look inside at the ways our own lives are entangled in a system of harm. I believe the world would be better served by wrangling with our own shadow than looking for ‘bad’ actors ‘out there’.

    Sepha
  10. Keep on.
    Learn and grow.

    When/where/how is it useful/necessary to draw a boundary, to “refuse to be abused” …

    even the mouse, when (‘just playing wid ja’) chased by the Cat into a corner, at the end of his rope, nowhere left to run, will turn to face that Fearsome… saying, “Ok. Thus far, and no more.”

    Surely all of us who know and appreciate you, (” by their fruits shall you know them”) — whose lives have been SO IMPROVED by Your presence here amongst us — [ and, with No Doubt, I count myself among those, I grandly rise to your defense, “Leave her ALONE!” She has helped SO MANY] …

    Let she who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Invited into the room of a new potential lover, I see on her bureau a 3×5 card and written:
    “It is as much a spiritual mistake to TAKE offense as to GIVE offense. ”
    And I am so impressed.
    It is for this that I left my small rural town to come to California.
    “We’re definitely not in Kansas any more, kid.”

    I make and send out cards
    (Have I sent you one?)
    which say,
    “Your good work has not gone unnoticed.

    25 years ago, during a small, hiding out, somewhat dark time in my life, someone I didnt know wrote those words to me.
    It made a difference.

    Keep on.

    It is possible. Not hopeless.

    My tenth grade math teacher saying, “Sometimes, it’s just better to drop back ten and punt.”

    May we all find our way through.

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