The Happiness Manifesto Blog

How I Beat the Living Hell Out of Suffering and Made It My Bitch

Archive for the tag “tragedy”

Changing Our Culture

In the wake of the horrible school shooting on Friday, I saw a number of people posting messages on Facebook that concerned me quite a bit.  Now don’t run away – this is not about gun control.  This is not a political blog, this is a spiritual growth blog.  What I’m talking about is fear.  Fear of “the other.”  Fear of strangers.  Fear of the mentally ill.  Fear of horrifying incidents at every turn.  Basic, primordial fear.

Now, I am not a parent, and I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be one, and so perhaps parents of kids that age who were feeling overwhelmed with empathy and protective feelings get a bit of a pass on this one.  But even other non-parents, or parents whose children were long grown were posting such things as: “teachers should be armed” or “this is why I own a gun” or “EVERYONE should be armed” or “I am afraid to let kids go to school” or “I don’t like that the doors at my kids’/grandkids’/friends’ kids’ school aren’t locked all the time” or “everyone with kids should homeschool to keep their kids safe” …etc.  Now again, this is not about owning a gun, or not owning a gun.  This is about the mindset it takes to fear your fellow human beings so much that you carry a deadly weapon with you for no other purpose other than your belief that it is likely that you may have to shoot someone who wants to hurt you to defend yourself.

How terrified are we of each other?  I had a friend from outside the US tell me (before this shooting, mind you) that she was afraid to come visit the US because she thought she might be attacked/mugged/murdered/shot.  I have other friends who won’t go out after dark, or alone.  How many people have conceal and carry permits, or even cans of mace inside their purse?  I used to work the night shift at a hospital within walking distance of my apartment.  I don’t own a car, so that meant I was walking to work at midnight, alone, just a couple of blocks away from the “notorious” street in my city.  Now I wasn’t dumb about it – I would call the security guard to let him know I was on my way, and if he wasn’t busy, he’d meet me at the corner in front of the hospital.  I stayed aware of my surroundings.  I didn’t walk with my headphones on.  But other people were more scared for me than I was for myself.  I had one coworker buy me a can of mace when she found out I didn’t have one (I never carried it).  And some of these were folks who had never lived in crummy neighborhoods or been the victim of crime themselves (I have experienced both).  So why were they more nervous about my commute than I was?

I wasn’t always this way.  I freely admit it’s a rather recent phenomenon.  During and after said experiences of living in the crummy neighborhood and being a victim of crime, I was a nervous wreck.  My high-alert level was so obvious it was commented upon by others.  And that is exactly why I refuse to live that way now.  Because I know that that is no life!  I was miserable, and I didn’t trust people any further than I could throw them (and I’m not even 5’5″, so I probably couldn’t throw anyone very far).  I walled myself up in my fortress of solitude, because my firmest belief was that people suck.

Now, I’m not going to get into quoting crime statistics here, but for a fabulous treatise on how humans have become less violent as a species, despite what the news and tragedies like this Friday’s would have you believe, I highly recommend the book The Better Angels Of Our Nature by Steven Pinker.  My transformation did begin before I found that book, but it really reinforced what I was already telling myself: most people are good.  Most people are just going about their lives, just like you.  There are not nefarious types plotting rape and murder around every corner.  Odds are, nothing is going to happen.

I am not delusional; I am not Candide, declaring that we live in The Best Of All Possible Worlds.  But 99.999%* of people are basically good, normal people (*not a real statistical number – please don’t snipe.  I doubt there is a study attempting to measure how many people are “good, normal people”).  Sure, there are a handful of nutjobs with crippling paranoia and a gun stash, or who have raped or murdered someone.  I am not saying we pretend they don’t exist.  Don’t do your best impression of a slasher movie victim and walk into the dark, abandoned cabin alone yelling, “Hello?” while chainsaw noises reverberate in the basement.  But don’t cower in fear from the poor homeless guy on the street who you think is “creepy” because he talks to himself, or refuse to live your life and do things you want to do because of the overarching belief that all the killers come out at night (I promise you, I was harrassed, chased, followed, stalked, and even had someone try and grab me off the street and shove me into his car as a teenager – all during the DAYTIME, as I walked to and from school.  Pedophiles are not vampires.  Nor are any other type of criminals).  My point is, if you let a largely irrational fear stop you – then fear has won.

Remember after 9/11, when we were encouraged to keep going about our daily lives, because if we gave into fear then “the terrorists have won?”  Why let this terror win?  Is it any less pervasive?  Which do you think is more likely: that you’ll die in a terrorist attack like 9/11, or that you’ll be a victim of a random crime?  Which one do you change your daily behavior for?  Sure, people avoided planes for a while, but most folks fly now without fear.  Why do we still avoid the streets after dark?  Car accidents are a common occurrence too, but do you avoid driving because there’s a chance you might get into an accident?  Are you afraid of other drivers?

In a debate with a friend on Facebook, I asked: which would you rather do?  A) Live for 50 years, suspicious and afraid of your fellow humans, until one day you shoot and kill another person who tried to hurt you, but hey, you “won,” right?  Or B) Live for 5o years, loving and trusting your fellow humans, until one day you die in a random mall shooting.  You maybe were afraid for the last moments of your life, but prior to that, you didn’t fear other people.  I’d rather be B.  Because at least that person got to live a life free from the limiting fear that too often we allow to dictate our lives.

I am in no way trying to say it’s not a tragedy when people die in a senseless act of violence, especially innocent kids like on Friday.  What I am trying to say is: if we let these horror stories terrorize us, if we let them make us paranoid, if we let them dictate our behavior, if we let them limit us… then we’re victims long before anyone possibly murders us.  We’re living in fear of something that is highly unlikely to ever happen.  Obviously it does happen.  But you’re more likely to die of heart disease or cancer than a random act of violence.  Do you run screaming from trans fats and chemical food additives?  Do you have an anxiety attack if you forget the sunblock?  I’m guessing probably not.

So instead of focusing on “what if,” let’s focus on what we can do to make things better, in any way.  Support the victims of tragedies like this.  Support charities you care about.  Support your fellow humans.  Let’s make a world where we help each other.  Let’s make life worth living.  Peace.

My People

If you laugh a little too hard at Christopher Titus jokes (especially Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding), you are My People.

That’s kind of been my benchmark for years.

If it’s not been made clear, I come from a rather messed up background.  I’m not going to regale you with my “f**ked-uppedness cred” – because that’s rather beside the point.  And really – I am tired of hearing the same story at the beginning of every “rags to riches” or “success story” by a given author.  Every.  Single.  Time.  “Look, I overcame this!” and “Look, I overcame that!”  Maybe the first speech or book or radio show you hear them do, you say, wow.  But then if you like what they have to say and you want to hear more… you have to hear that same story twenty million times.  By about the fifth or fifteenth time, you’re feeling rather pitiless, like, “Yeah, I know, you were homeless and living in your car, or addicted to drugs, or an alcoholic, or Mommy didn’t love you, blah, blah, blah… I know!  Get on with it!”

Or as Christopher Titus would say, “…come down off the cross and use the wood to build yourself a bridge and get over it.”

Or is that just me?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not an advocate of telling people to hold it all in, suck it up, or otherwise give themselves an ulcer.  But life coaches?  Motivational people?  STILL fixated on their troubled past?  Reliving it with every class or seminar or speech they give?  That just seems… f**ked up.

But Wren, you may be saying, they’re trying to show that if they can come from hell and succeed, you can, too.

Alright, fine.  But you can say, “I know what it’s like to be in a dark place,” without having to go into all the gory details.  And if you’re truly over it, you don’t need to go into the gory details with every Tom, Dick, and Harry you want to motivate.  But these people are telling the same exact story – either with so much pain in their voices you just know it still haunts them, or with absolutely no emotion at all, like they’ve become so numb to the telling of it that it means nothing anymore – over and over again.  Neither of these scenarios sounds very healthy for the storyteller.  And how are they helping others by self-flagellating, again?

So what’s the point of telling and re-telling your dark, gritty backstory twenty times a week to anyone who will hear it?

Oh, yeah.  F**ked-Uppedness Cred.

These people are trying to earn the respect of people who are still in the dark place.

You know you do it, too.  Hell, I’ve done it.  If you’ve been through hell, you look at the Leave It To Beaver-esque families out there, with their support for each other, unconditional love, financial stability, health, and tragedy-less lives, and you kind of stare, like, “are these people for real?”  When the worst thing that’s happened to them is a fender bender or a bad case of the flu, you scoff at their blissful unawareness.  You mock what they consider to be hard times.  You can’t take much of anything they say – let alone their advice or compassion – seriously, because you feel like they just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

So the F**ked-Uppedness Cred is important if you want to be respected and taken seriously, and not blown off as some airy-fairy self-esteem cheerleader, giving trophies to everyone just for participating.

Right?

Well, f**k that noise.

I’m a pretty easy-going kinda gal.  Even when I was a volatile brew of emotional meltdown, blinding self-hatred, and distorted thinking, I still put on the happy face, and no one had even the foggiest that anything was even remotely bothering me.  Again – I am not advocating this as a good idea.  In fact it’s a very, very bad idea.  Don’t do it.  But I digress.

I would smile.  I would laugh.  I would make jokes.  And I didn’t tell other people my crap.  When something dropped – usually innocuously – it would stun the hell out of people.  Because I came off as that innocent goody two-shoes whose biggest problem was that tragic C in math class type.  But then I would let slip some hint of my real life and inevitably, I’d get comments along the lines of, “Wait… what?!  You?!!” or “But you always seem so happy!”

Yep, me.  News flash: not every person with a tragic past a) does drugs b) drinks to excess c) dresses goth and/or slutty and/or gangster d) screws anything that moves in a desperate search for love or e) flunks out of school and/or gets arrested.  Some of us rebel by being good.

Yessir, when I was a teenager, I was an honor student, participated in all sorts of extracurriculars, held down a job, was a teacher’s pet of sorts, didn’t do drugs, drink, have sex, or get into trouble, and otherwise could have played the “good influence” role on any after school special there ever was.

All while… living in hell.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been condescended to by people whose biggest problem that I could tell (since they lamented to me as though I was their confessor) was… they didn’t always get what they wanted.  But because I never said, “Let me tell you about real problems… ” and instead took their problems seriously, they presumed I found their plight to be equally tragic and the worst thing I’d ever heard.

Now I know I sound a little heartless here, and I don’t mean to be.  If you don’t have the perspective to put the little annoyances in perspective, then it’s going to seem huge and horrible in your vision when you encounter them.  I get that.  But if there’s a continuum of tragedy, and death and rape are on one end, and a parking ticket is on the other… the death and rape end gets to shake their head at the parking ticket end when they start going on like they’re a cast member in Hamlet.

So, I’ve been scoffed at for not wearing my F**ked-Uppedness Cred on my sleeve, and it used to annoy the bejeezus out of me.  But I still couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know why.  It’s just not in me.

But I’ve come to the place where I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.

Think I’m a naive?  Go right ahead.  Think I’m BSing you when I say “I understand where you’re coming from”?  Scoff away!  Because I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.  I don’t feel the need to win some tragedy contest or earn Extra Horrifying Bonus Points.  If someone is in a place where they can hear what I have to say, then they’ll hear it.  If they’re not, then they’ll find some other excuse to not do so even if I gave them a detailed dossier of Why I Understand Your Pain.

This isn’t to say “my secrets will die with me!!!” as much as it is to say, you’re not going to hear my sob story twenty million times.  If something is pertinent to a conversation, and perhaps actually helpful to furthering the discussion, maybe I’ll share it.  But I’m not going to go around announcing it so that I have the immediate respect of the other F**ked-Uppedness Survivors in advance.  Because I shouldn’t have to.  I want people to judge me on my present, not my past.  If my words have value, they have value in the now, not because I have a good sympathy-garnering story to tell.

So, judge me how you will.  There will not be a Chapter One: Out of Darkness autobiographical horror story in The Book.  But hopefully a few folks will read it anyway.

And I will try really hard to not stare at the Cleavers of the world like they have antennae sticking out of their heads when they talk about how wonderful their life is, except for that awful day when June broke the heel of her shoe and skinned her knee.

Because isn’t wonderful what we’re all aiming for?

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