Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Lovely Crazy Quilt of Life

I've recently returned for a much needed 'news break'. Of course for me a news break isn't an absolute avoidance of all news, it's really more like a news diet. I still watch most of Democracy Now in the morning and I'll catch some clips on my social media newsfeeds. My break involves not responding to the feeds, not engaging in discussion or argument with other people and generally practicing an aware detachment from the information. It also involved spending more time on pages featuring animals, gardening and tiny houses. This diet is healthy for me personally in that it prompts me to focus on dreams, visions and solutions; the stuff that hope is made of. Without hope I can become incredibly frustrated...and snarkey.

Now that I have re-framed my thinking into a much more peaceful state of mind I'm finding it difficult to return to my habit of throwing my two cents in at every opportunity presented by the incessant barrage of opinion I find online. I'm sure this has made a few people happy. Rather than reacting from my boiling gut of self righteous opinion, I am more inclined to observe and evaluate the information that is laid out before me like a crazy quilt of mismatched fabrics, stunning in it's entirety but if examined piece by piece the eye is drawn to areas that individually might cause a very different reaction. The crazy quilt in this sense is the prevailing agenda and generally agreed upon ideals and desires of those I identify as my peers. The individual scraps are the more complex questions that either cause us to refocus on the whole, or take a closer look at that funny bit that stands out. When we call attention to the odd scrap that doesn't quite fit the big pattern we are taking a risk, we risk becoming the odd bit of fabric ourselves, don't we?

The more reactions I see to recent events, the more I value my distance from any one group or culture, because I see people who I otherwise respect beginning to unquestioningly follow the patterns laid out before them. And I see them applying labels and categories to other individuals who may dare to call attention to the odd scraps. They often do this anticipating that the individual will follow the preconceived agenda that accompanies the title. When someone dares to speak their own mind, to express an original well thought out analysis of a unique issue through the lens of a unique set of eyes there tends to be a moment of silence and confusion. How is it that in our rebelling we fall into expected patterns of rebellion. Are these patterns just as destructive as the prior patterns of conformity within the status quo? Hell yes, they are!

I recently told someone that I no longer adhere to any 'isms' because I refuse to be pigeonholed...and besides I haven't found any 'ism' that speaks to the complexity that I, as a unique human being, embody. Even within the 'isms' there are subdivisions. Take feminism for example, there has been a great deal of discussion about the varied manifestations of feminism in this country. At their worst they have all proven to be deviously divisive, at their best they have forced us to look beyond our own personal perceptions to welcome a new scope of interpretation of what it means to be a Woman.

Things just aren't that simple, life is complex and messy and constantly evolving. Stagnant values may have the appearance of dedication and endurance, but in practice they get stuck in the mud, wheels spinning while the the real work that needs to be done keeps on piling up. Yes, we all have values and expectations and ideals and that is the fuel that, combined with passion, keeps us focused. There is a difference between focus and tunnel vision, however, and there needs to be room for healthy discussion, disagreement and compromise. If we decide another activist is coming from a certain theoretical perspective we run the risk of mentally running through the list of attributes we ascribe to that label so that we apply that scenario as predictive of his or her future behavior or motivations. It's really so much easier than actively listening to someone isn't it? Well yeah, it is...but the easy way out has never proven to be the successful way out. If it was we probably would have evolved to the point that I didn't need to be writing this.

A news break or disengagement from the political conversation, can be used as an opportunity to reflect on our own values, We can explore information about the things that matter to us, the things that inspire us and bring us hope. We return from our retreat with souvenirs and keepsakes that can be woven into the bigger pattern. Hopefully our sewing circle will welcome these contributions with an open mind and a trusting heart.

So next time you meet someone who disagrees with one of those fine points, those mismatched patches in the crazy quilt of ideology, take a moment to examine how they stitched those bits together. Get to know a bit about their history, their thoughts and feelings, their personal life circumstances. See the beauty in each sample of fabric that contributes the the strength and durability of the whole.