I’m afraid

Afraid of going it alone.

Afraid of failure.

Afraid of what people might think (or already do).

Afraid of my giving my all and going nowhere.

Just like a lot of people.  Maybe even just like you.

What would happen if you admitted your deepest fear to someone you cared about?  Someone you trusted?  Someone you admire or are inspired by?

What if they admitted that they felt that way too?  What if they told you their deepest fears?  Would you be able to give them the same in return?

Admitting our fear is one of the many steps we all have to take to take the next step.  If we let F.U.D., whether from our inner critics or from the ones in front of your face, make our decisions for us… we’ve given away our agency.

Let me be among the many to admit that I’m afraid.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  But that struggle hasn’t blocked me from chasing what I want.  Hopefully you can find it within yourself to keep struggling too.

E Pluribus Unum

It’s been difficult to put into words the frustration surrounding the utterly improbable political situation we now find ourselves in.  Was it because white Americans didn’t spend enough time considering their privilege?  Was it because fanatics and raving lunatics on both sides were screaming at the tops of their lungs and failing to provide anything of substance?  Or was it because the media, the self-appointed arbiters of truth in the public forum and “fourth estate” occupants, failed to understand the dire implications of treating the candidate with the same respect as any other candidate with merit?

Whatever the reasoning, our country’s image is now tarnished; likely for the foreseeable future.  Whatever claim we had to any semblance of moral high-ground is no longer valid; our collective reticence around privilege, class, and race has become the raison d’etre for the resurgence and rebranding of hate-groups and racism.  Misogyny, homophobia, and religious hatred are not part of the “post-” world that liberals and leftists claimed had won–the “culture war” having been soundly decided.

To the contrary: the culture war is never over.  Culture itself is an Ouroboros, ever in a cycle of consumption of ideas and renewal in new growth and paradigms.

What liberals and leftists have failed to comprehend is the deleterious effects of the new media streams that have created the proverbial “walled gardens” and “echo chambers”.  We spend time in our respective bubbles, kept clearly segmented from others who think, speak, pray, and present differently.  We wrap ourselves in this identity politics like a safety blanket, believing that the bogey-men of racism, classism, and extremism will simply “go away” if we stop giving them further infusions of energy by ignoring them.

We ignore the elements that could undo our imperfect Union from within at our own peril.  By not addressing them directly, turning our attention away from efforts to improve the condition of those individuals who are most often targeted for recruitment by those same elements, we instead dig the shallow grave for our Union to be laid in.

Are we collectively at-fault?  Jury’s out on that one.  I imagine that history will not be flattering or favorable to any of us if our Union survives.

“E pluribus unum” seems like a quaint and meaningless placation in light of the troubles we collectively face.  If our divisions since the founding are any indication, we are no further along the path to stamping out any of the myriad “-isms” or phobias that have formed the contrasts that we now see amplified in our mass-media-driven politics: you’re either for something, or against something by simple virtue of which pundits to which you listen, who you have as friends on social media, and where you happen to live either by circumstance or choice.

Urban-versus-rural, secular-versus-religious, post-racial-versus-racist, modern-versus-classical–the short list is daunting on its own.

What should we be engaging in?  What should your response be if you are an urban, secular, post-racial, “modern” American?  What of the opposite?  What should your response be if you are a rural, religious, (even passively) racist, classical sort of American?

I’d postulate that our divisions are both because of and exacerbated by our inability to empathize and to step into the shoes of another.  Our uncompromising belief that “they” are always wrong, and that we are always right isn’t just preposterous, it’s downright dangerous.

Let’s take an extreme example of contrast and instead perhaps see the similarities:

A non-white, female, urban college-student and a white, male, rural farmer.  What can we make of their commonality?

  • They’re both Americans by virtue of being citizens, they’re both likely under a tremendous amount of debt (one due to college, the other likely due to bank loans for the farm that they are operating).
  • They’re both probably concerned about the environment, albeit for potentially drastically different reasons (one due to living conditions abroad and health crises, the other due to the ability to reliably produce quality crops).
  • They’re both probably interested in making sure that healthcare is affordable and equitable (college students historically don’t make a lot of money, and neither do farmers).
  • They’re both probably at least somewhat concerned about the other.  College is often times the avenue of escape for children born into rural families and urban families are often similarly aligned in this desire.
  • Poverty is a big deal to both of them, seeing as how neither one wants to starve or depend on others.
  • Equity in the “social contract” that makes up civil society in America matters to both of them–one wants an equal share of what is rightfully hers by virtue of being an American citizen and being devoted to equality, the other just wants a “fair-shake” in the marketplace and to not get screwed.

Are there social divisions?  Of course.  There always has been.  After recognizing the points of commonality between both of the aforementioned people, is it difficult to believe that relation and empathy are impossible?  When engagement happens from both sides through discourse and debate, when one does not treat the other as inferior, and instead they recognize that one without the other dooms the “grand experiment” to failure?

When we spend our time in identity politics and reveling in our respective circles, failing to expand beyond them, we limit our scope and our ability to understand each other.  We fail to empathize–and when our empathy fails us, we do not have the ability to see our similarities and make common cause.

This is the primary reason why Hillary Rodham-Clinton lost.  Not because of scandal, not because she has been Scapegoat and Enemy Number One of entrenched misogyny and anti-intellectualism (though these things certainly didn’t help), but because she was dangerously out-of-touch with the electorate that she was expecting to lead.

Working-class families of all colors are looking for answers.  Middle America is looking for a reason to be hopeful again.  Coastal elites are looking for opportunity.  Former Secretary Clinton offered none of these things.  Tepid, procedural, and unquestionably lacking in personal energy or magnetism, she oozed elitism and did nothing to distance herself from the forces that have loudly and publicly sought to line their pockets and leave everyone else with the bill.

And the people responded–loudly.  A feckless demagogue and consummate sociopath is now en-route to the highest office in the land.  “Better an evil that we can see than one that will use every trick in the book to obscure and confound.”

The chance to rectify this situation passed with the end of the Democratic nomination process–and let’s not mince words about it: Senator Bernie Sanders was effectively robbed of the opportunity to provide the one thing that might have provided us with some semblance of continuity and possibility.  A true fight for the emotional core of our country would have gone a much longer way toward bringing us closer together as a nation than the tone-deaf placations that were proffered by the establishment candidate.

If that opportunity was robbed from us and democracy left to bleed-out in the street, the proverbial knife in the second-longest political night in historical memory, then what is left to be done?

All of us, regardless of the space that we occupy on the political spectrum, the unique economics that we experience, the color of our skin, the names of our deities, or even our names specifically, have a duty; one that likely all of us have forgotten.  Democracy is not built and engaged upon once and set in stone, it is a living body whose maintenance lies in the exercise of discourse, dissent, discovery, and determination.  We have largely failed in our duty to engage each other as equals, as described in the founding documents of our nation:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” – United States Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph

I would argue that instead of shrinking from conflict, that we instead fix our gaze upon them.  We must be steely-eyed and stand at our fullest heights, emboldened by the power of wanting and being wanted.  That all of us may not be desired or loved by all, but there are people out there who desire us and love us.  Whether your belief is in an Almighty God, many Gods, Goddesses, or none at all; now more than ever we must make appeals to the angels of our better natures.

But–we must remain firm in our belief that we all have a right to the spaces that we occupy, the air that we breathe, and the ability to use our voices.  Though we may vehemently disagree with each other, we must respect each other as best as we can.  Where violence, inequality, and disenfranchisement rear their ugly heads, we cannot shrink from those struggles.  Appeal to the laws where necessary; disobey when the hands of Justice remain still.  The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice and equality only when we exert the pressure necessary to make it so.

Above all, I would beseech everyone to commit this phrase to memory: “E pluribus unum”.  Literally translated, it means “From many, one.” We are one.  Lest we forget.

Fear

I’m filled again with hate—not hate for people, but hate for the way people make me feel about everyday life. I hate the fact that I am being made to feel fear. I hate that others are poised to take advantage of my fear and use it to malicious ends. I hate that this election cycle has forced me to look at everyone I know and ask some very scary questions.

Are they a Trump voter? Do they want to see me dead or disenfranchised? Do I need to watch over my shoulder after the election? Will I make it home in one piece? Or will I be woken in the middle of the night by an assailant?

Et tu Brute?

I hate the fact that I’m conditioned to it now. It’s why I still carry a pocket knife everywhere I go. It’s why I keep an eye on the ingress and egress points anywhere I go. It’s why I watch people’s body language and their emotional responses so closely.

It’s not that I don’t trust anybody; it’s that I don’t know who to trust or who to believe anymore.

Returning

I’ve spent the better part of the last week coming back to reality from vacation. I met so many wonderful people and had such deep experiences that I’ve found myself trying to find ways to make the positive and challenging aspects of my time away a permanent fixture in my life.

Something that I’ve been wrestling with is the notion that at one point in my life, I “knew” intrinsically that my job wasn’t my life and that the axiom that “I am not my job” was true. What I hadn’t accounted for was being confronted with that idea so clearly. It hit me like a Clue-By-Four to the face on the last day of my vacation before driving back to Boston that I was experiencing such a strong disconnect between what I did for work and what ultimately made me happy. For example, I have spent an inordinate amount of time seeking attention and validation through the work that I do and getting gratification from it because that was the only place in my life where I felt as though I was accomplished. If I could get to the bottom of a tough technical problem, I was worthy. Not a great way to measure myself, but at the time it was the only thing that really mattered to me.

In contrast, after being around other men this past week whose journeys and struggles closely mirror my own, being vulnerable with those same men about those challenges, and being unconditionally supportive and supported deeply touched me. Despite our differences in life experience and beliefs, there were wonderful men that were able to hold space for me and with me. I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to have had such an experience. It really turned the proverbial mirror on myself and gave me something to look at and think about.

Right now I find myself focused on the notion that my worth has been too heavily invested in things that are outside of my control or aren’t actually reflective of my own intrinsic worth as an individual. I spend a lot of time focusing on the physical, practical aspects of living in this world and not enough on the more abstract impact of my actions or my presence. I’m beginning to notice that I’m not as focused on visibility or active approval of my performance or behavior at work or in the climbing gym. I’m happier just trying and learning new things, whether it’s in code or on the wall. I’m a bit happier being the weird and quirky person that I know myself to be. I can listen to rock and metal, speak my truth about my life experiences while wearing a rainbow sarong, and talk about superheroes and sci-fi until the heat-death of the universe. I can talk about sexuality, HugOps, and my interest in future technology without missing a beat. I can tell you about the last Asimov book I read and how much I loved The Martian and Snow Crash before moving on to talking about how much I miss snowboarding and climbing outside on real stone. I’m not weird, I’m just me.

It’s been difficult for me to really own that. I’ve spent so long being the outsider and being rejected for what I like, who I am, and what my life is like. I spent more time trying to dodge questions and fabricate some kind of image rather than be comfortable with who I am. I’d also felt as though I really didn’t have a “right” to feeling that way about myself, as if such a thing was nothing more than an exercise in vanity.

It’s taken me quite a while to get to this point in my life. I’m annoyed that it’s taken this long, but I’m grateful that it’s happening at all.

This Used To Be Fun…

It used to be that I enjoyed dealing with complex problems.  It used to be that I got a charge out of being in the heat of the moment and working to fix things.  It used to be that I loved being able to learn new things in the rush of everything.

But it’s all changed.  I’m angrier than ever that things don’t work.  That I’ve been working on the same types of problems over and over again.  That feeling that Groundhog Day isn’t just a movie–it’s how you experience your working life.

This all used to be fun.  I enjoyed what I did.  I liked the people I work with, and still do for the most part.  But the problems have become the same.  I haven’t been able to do much else besides tread water and hoped that the situation would improve.

I think I’m beyond that point now.  It’s not going to get better; if anything, it’s only going to get more difficult.  The amount of work is just getting larger, the list of to-do items ever-longer, and the number of immediate resources ever-dwindling.

At what point do you accept the situation and decide that “enough is enough”?  At what point is it acceptable to tell yourself that you gave it your best and it wasn’t enough and that it’s time to move on?  That’s what I’m wrestling with right now: disappointing everyone (including myself) by admitting that I’m not nearly as talented as I’d originally thought and moving on (whatever that means), or in the words of a close friend “sucking it up” and making it work.

That’s one of the other problems, I guess.  I don’t know what I want to do.  There are lots of people who are being really encouraging and are behind me a lot of the time, but ultimately I’m still ruled by my fear.  I’m deathly afraid of “doing something stupid”.  That fear of judgment; “interrupting my career” in pursuit of something that might not work out.

I suppose this kind of fear is something that everybody experiences at some point.  The difficult part right now is figuring out just what I want to do about it.  I suppose that just doing what will make me happier is valid to an extent, but at the same time I wonder if I would be throwing away opportunities.

Being an adult is hard.

Fear

I’ve tried to more deeply consider the meaning of the word “adventure”; what it ultimately means to my soul, what it might hold for me in the future, and what I can do to cultivate more of it. I’ve been working harder lately to try and treat more things in my life as such. Getting-up before the sun to layer-up, put a full-to-bursting backpack in my truck, drive to the base of a mountain where I have no cell phone service, and then hike my way up a near-1200-foot elevation change.

The reward? Outwardly, not much. Near-freezing temperatures, winds whipping over the top of the mountain at nearly 20 miles per hour, and a lonely view from the top. But, at the same time, the lonely nature of the peak was crushed under the impressive view of the New Hampshire landscape and coming to understand that the only thing that kept me from doing any of this earlier was simple: fear. Not just your run-of-the-mill “this is kind of scary, I’ve never done this before by myself” sort of fear, but the irrational “what if I get lost or hurt or killed, what will happen” sort of fear too. It took me basically the entire drive up to the mountain to calm those fears and to make it safe for me to feel that way. I didn’t try to banish it, but instead I re-framed it and let it fuel my hunger.

“BE AFRAID!” came the cry from the back of my mind.

“No, I will not fear! I seek ADVENTURE!!” came the reply.

I was far from alone and far from danger. I rationalized: The mountain is situated in the middle of a declared national forest zone. It’s the Fall season, meaning that hikers will be around and available if anything goes wrong. I have the skills, knowledge, and tools available to make my situation work no matter what I find myself in. I have food, additional dry layers, and way more water than I need all in my backpack. I am prepared.

In responding to my fear, I noticed that that particular part of me became dormant. I became present. I was able to take in everything that was around me: the rustling trees, the quiet flow of the small water flow down the slope, the subtle feel of the stone as I tread upon it. It brought me back.

I beamed brightly during the entire descent and the on the whole drive back to the apartment. I had overcome something that I had believed was an irreconcilable part of me: the debilitating trepidation that has prevented me from doing anything meaningful to me. I was able to prove myself wrong.

I think we’re all victims of our own negative beliefs about our capabilities as people. I think we’re more afraid that we are capable beings and that to be visible as such means that we will likely have to either show up for others in our expanded capacities or to be more comfortable flexing our might in those areas or arenas that we might have otherwise avoided.
The question that comes to mind for me in this case is “Why am I afraid of showing up in this new capacity?”

Am I more afraid that individuals will take advantage of me? Make fun of my lack of skill or finesse? Or am I more afraid that I have allowed myself to squander some of the best years of my life out of the fear of being seen as more than I was?

If we were honest about our fear

Not just to ourselves, but to each other, we might actually get a better idea of what it is to actually be in someone else’s position.

The relationship that a lot of people have with their fear is more mortal and visceral than one might initially expect. It can be as crippling as it can be destructive, and the relationship that many of us have with that fear is not what one would categorize as anything close approaching “healthy”.

To have the courage to say “I am afraid”, even when it doesn’t seem that the notion really fits the situation, can sometimes tip the scales the right direction. Telling your boss, your coworker, your spouse, your client, or even your children that you are afraid can show you the best and worst parts of yourself.

I’m afraid all the time.

  • Afraid of not being accepted
  • Afraid of failure
  • Afraid of letting people down
  • Afraid of being weak (either in perception or in reality)
  • Afraid of other people’s opinions
  • Afraid of myself

If anything, these things tell me that I am actually stronger than most people would think. I care (sometimes more than they know), I am physically and mentally fit, and I often find that I scrutinize my own actions more deeply and well before I begin to do the same for others.

When we fail to recognize fear for what it is and welcome it into our conscious lives, we permit the creation of a dangerous aberration. If anything, fear should be welcomed into our waking lives like an old friend and given all the considerations we would give the people we care about most. Fear can be a powerful teacher and a way to look deeper into ourselves and find our story, our Truth.

If we were honest about our fear, and less afraid of talking about it with others, maybe we wouldn’t need to spend over a trillion US Dollars a year on lethal objects. Maybe instead we could talk about the fear we experience every day in our waking lives: the fears and needs of over a quarter-million homeless people on the streets of the US, the fears and dreams of the documented and undocumented youth of the world, and perhaps even the fears, hopes, and wisdom of the last of the Greatest Generation as they leave us.

If we were honest about our fear, we would be wise indeed to listen.