Faith

The next letter in the alphabet is G, but I can’t come up with a word starting with a G yet that inspires me enough to write a blog about it. Hoewever, I did hear another F word yesterday that triggered me:

Faith.

In all truth, it is a word that gives me the shivers.

Faith is an optimistic word though. It’s just been taken hostage by people that have worn out its meaning and rendered it useless for the rest of us.

Also, what makes me feel even more pity for the word, is the fact that it is often used in combination with an obligation: You have to have faith.

I realized this when I saw the documentary “Down to Earth” (It can be viewed in full on YouTube). In it medicine men and women, shamans and spiritual leaders from all over the world are given a stage to share their wisdom. The film was constructed in a smart way, slowly massaging in the message of spirituality in between scenes of friendships being formed, nature being admired and meals being shared. It managed to hold my attention until the end, hardly bothered by the heavy Dutch accents of the makers.

In one segment, a Native American medicine man called Nowaten, describes how united he feels to the visions he has. Despite never having met the figures from his dreamtravels in the real world, he is convinced that they are out there somewhere. He described this irrational conviction by saying: “We can create faith on our own, without going to any book. There is nothing that we can not do, with that ability. It’s a natural ability that we all have.”

There was no doubt in his mind that the all-knowing man he had encountered in his vision was real. He didn’t intend to find him, nor would not believing in him make him any less true. It was what it was. He had seen him, just like you see the cashier at the grocery store. And then he moved on.

Towards the ending of the documentary, Nowaten explains how he believes in a form of collective consciousness, a sort of cloud memory where we are all one, regardless of gender, nationality or age. Because of this and because his spiritual experiences have allowed him to glimpse into “the other side” he felt no fear of dying. He even expressed a certain degree of eagerness to explore further what was on the other side of the curtain.

Shortly after that, the spectators come to realize that he has indeed passed away during the making of the film. We hear his partner (?) saying she enjoyed his company on earth but is still comforted by his spiritual presence now that he is gone. She explains that if you believe the spiritual world and the tangible world are connected (as she clearly does), there really is no reason to be sad.

I understand how that idea can be comforting. I can even imagine how a gust of wind or a glimmer in a lake can feel like a form of communication. I say that with no sarcasm or skepticism. I actually truly do feel that. I mean, not in the sense that I feel my dead grandmother is trying to tell me something when there is a rustle in the treetops… But there are definitely moments when I tap into ‘the circle of life’, so to speak, and let go of my personal identity and blend in with a greater whole. This happens mostly when I am in a natural setting, where my senses are not overloaded by urban cacophony and my thoughts get the chance to die down.

What struck me about all of this is that it made me realize I had come to associate the word “faith” with blind and unreasonable trust in something non-existent. A delusion used as a bribe. “You must have faith, otherwise the cure won’t work.”

But Nowaten’s words made me realize that faith is something that can give you peace of mind, but is completely irrelevant in every other sense. If your house is on fire, saying you don’t believe in the fire is not going to stop it from destroying everything you own.

As a species we have developed our vocabularies so far that we can make distinction between things we ‘believe’ and things we ‘know’. But what can we really truly know? Not as much as we claim, that’s for damn sure. We go through life deciding which ideas we are going to put are faith in and then start referring to them as facts. And lately, we have been getting that process aalllll kinds of mixed up…

In that sense, I guess you could say we need more people of faith and less less people of facts.

Now that I come to think of it… I actually published a blogpost about that very thing not so long ago

Man, I love how blogging works! I promise I did not intend to ping back to myself when I started to write this blogpost. But it is kind of cool to see how blogging has once again helped me finish a train of thought that I started months ago.

And now, I am going to put an end to this entry and applaud myself for resisting the temptation to make a George Michael reference…

Freedom

Freedom is such a burdened concept. I guess that’s why it needed such a ginormous statue.

The word means all kinds of things to all sorts of people. It is something individuals construct their lives around and nations promise to their people.

Everybody can agree that captivity is the opposite of freedom. However, poverty could also be seen is an antonym of freedom, as well as servitude and suppression.

In theory, freedom is something we would want everybody to have all the time, everywhere. Sadly, with our species, universal freedom has proven to be an impossibility.

The tragedy is that, when put into practice, complete and total freedom tends to translate into individuals stepping on (and over) the boundaries of others. I teased my brain about this dilemma before, but it is something that continues to puzzle and sadden me about our species.

The chapter in history embodied by POTUS-45 has also demonstrated that freedom in the hands of sociopaths and narcissists is harmful for the collective.

Freedom of religion

Every modern day western society has some mention of freedom of religion in their constitution. With it, people have basically institutionalized the principle of “agreeing to disagree”.

The rule of thumb has mostly been “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. Do not demand pork or lobster in a Jewish household, do not order beef in a Hindu establishment and expect no meat when visiting a Buddhist. As a woman; cover up some what when entering a Catholic church, cover up some more when entering a mosque. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Aside from the five major religions we count today, modern day society has made room for surprising new ideologies like Wicca, Scientology and the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All these things have to be taken seriously in equal amounts because of the structures we have created to protect freedom of religion.

But the 21st century has been an uphill battle in this regard, with radicalism chipping away at the foundations of tolerant ideas. The terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 were a breaking point that have continued to divide us up to this day.

Because what do you do when you are not only expected to “do like the Romans” when in Rome but also when you’re hanging out in your own house in Paris, New York or London?

Is it fair to be expected to respect the values of a religion that is not your own? How do you react if it doesn’t even matter what you do, but your mere existence is considered an insult? And what do you do when the price you are being asked to pay for disrespect is death?

How do you deal with the contradiction of protecting values like “live and let live” if doing so might mean the end of them?

I feel empathy is a key concept in all of this, but at this point I still only have more questions, and no answers…

Freedom of Speech

This modern era has given certain words meanings, beyond their literal definitions. Or perhaps it is not a symptom of the 21st century, but just the way language evolves… I’m thinking of how referring to someone as “politically correct” has become an insult.

On the other end of that is the way we use “freedom of speech” as a way to justify bullying or rude behavior.

After the horrific series of terrorist attacks in France of the last few weeks, I heard my dad asking the TV: “Why would you use freedom of speech to insult others, particularly if you know how sensitive they are about it?”.

I wrote something in a blogpost almost 6 years ago, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as a soul search of my own, investigating how much leeway should be given to satire, if it knowingly insults specific groups of people. So much has happened since then. In regards to the question my dad asked, seemingly rhetorically, my perspective has hardened.

From my point of view, humor has always been a useful tool to take painful truths out of the realm of taboo. Even back in medieval times we enjoyed the company of fools and jesters to challenge our thinking. The veil of clownish clothing and silly behavior protected them from persecution, in the same way that today TV presenters like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah (and Arjen Lubach, in my own country) can justify all sorts of statements with the magic words “Relax. It’s satire”.

Given the fact that pioneering comedians (and cartoon shows like South Park) tread on new grounds, they should be allowed to experiment with controversial thoughts and send some gasps through a crowd. Some of those gasps will come from people who feel their values have been disrespected or misunderstood.

What satire does is shine a torch on aspects of our being that have been kept in the dark, either by design or not. The goal is not to insult, but to reveal uneasiness. Sure, it might be embarrassing. Some comedians may take it a bit far, pushing beyond mere ridicule and into the realm of bullying.

But still, I don’t think we should give it up.

If we want to save freedom of speech, we have to continue to make room for each other’s opinions. We need dialogue for that. If there’s an elephant in the room getting in the way of a conversation, no better way to help it move on than to mock someone else’s big buttock first.

Also, from experience I can say that it actually helps your self esteem to learn how to take (or make) a joke about your lesser features. Self-mockery is an excellent tool to help you become more comfortable in your own skin. I truly recommend it.

Freedom to summarize

As this blog has been a long time in the making, I have collected quite a lot of random ideas and unfinished thoughts. The leftover scribbles might get their own blogpost one day, but for the sake of readability I will not elaborate further on them in this one.

Because I do feel it is all relevant somehow, I will just include my ramblings as food-for-thought bulletpoints below.

More on Freedom of Speech

  • When does freedom of speech become hate speech?
  • Should words be punishable by law?
  • Does the expression revolving around “Sticks and Stones” stop applying after elementary school?
  • Has snowflakism broken freedom of speech or are we saying more assholey things to each other?

Freedom of Opinion

  • A modern misuse of freedom is the way groups and individuals are applying it to set science aside as “just another opinion”.
  • There is a contradiction in people using freedom as a justification for gun ownership.

Complicated socio-political screwballing

  • What does freedom mean on a macro level?
  • Do European countries have any right to tell Brazil what to do with the Amazon rainforest (and is that a limitation to its freedom)?
  • Can it be considered “aid” if it is also an encroachment of an other nation’s sovereignty?

Non-freedom / Incarceration

  • Taking away somebody’s freedom is a universal form of punishment.
  • How and why is that?
  • What does the expropriation of freedom do and mean to an individual?
  • And what does it do to the person responsible for this captivity?
  • Is incarceration enough or should a stay in jail be unpleasant in other ways as well (meaning we shouldn’t provide prisoners with TV, games, good beds, etc)?

Like I said, freedom is such a burdened concept.

Also, I think too much.


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

The Donkey and the Gremlin

In three words I think I would characterize my current relationship as being humorous, inspirational and affectionate.

We challenge each other on an intellectual level and will leave no stone unturned when we run into a surprising new fact or notion.

I like to go all the way down the rabbit hole with him when confronted with an oddity. We, take our time with our analyses and make sure we understand each other before moving on (as much as our schedules permit).

Also, in the decade I have spent with him, I don’t think we have ever left any uneasy feelings undisclosed nor left to fester into something big and ugly.

Even though communication is super important for us we don’t necessarily have the same approach to it. I guess that might have to do with our upbringing or just simply with the fact that we are different individuals.

The pushy gremlin

If something sparks my curiosity my mind goes into philosopher-mode. I can stare into blank space (or a crackling fire) for hours, drifting off into a maze of thoughts that might take days or weeks to figure out. Blogging helps. So does talking to fellow maze dwellers.

I like to think I always try to understand a puzzling fact by doing my best to approach it from different points of view. I end up making my own opinion but not before giving every idea I come across a fair chance.

G and I have similar ideas about many things. That awesome fact sometimes actually ends up being the problem.

If I notice he is not agreeing with me on something, I tend to think I just haven’t explained my point correctly. An expression of disagreement or confusion turns into a stimulus for me to introduce more ideas and arguments, as I myself have probably also gone through stages of confusion before forming my final opinion.

But as I push my point further to bring him on board I sometimes end up empty handed. My perception of “giving context” ends up tipping the scale towards domineering behavior, resulting in annoyance on both sides.

The ease with which I sometimes dismiss someone’s ideas without giving it a second thought is disrespectful, I see that. I just haven’t figured out how to keep myself from turning into that pushy gremlin yet.

I still need some more time staring into a fire to untangle that one…

The donkey

Geronimo is a self taught intellectual. All though our ideas are often quite similar, he likes to get his information from different sources than I do, which keeps our conversations interesting.

G’s opinions are no less strong or present than mine. However, he does back down from a discussion in cases where I would not. If he feels there is no point to it he shrugs, puts on a certain (slightly dismissive) face and goes on with his day.

To him a discussion is pointless if the other is not listening well enough (up to his standards) or if he senses the other is not prepared to change their opinion.

Also G is very wary for signs of manipulation (some would say he is oversensitive). When a question of mine turns out to be a cloaked demand, he goes into full donkey mode.

And don’t get me wrong… I adore donkeys…

So yes, I don’t always agree with his judgements on these moments and sometimes feel unfairly shut down. And that in turn is something I find wildly interesting and am still in the process of trying to fully grasp.

Luckily, in the end, we always figure out which wrong turn we took and like I said, no hard feelings are ever left to fester, which is so important.

We celebrated our anniversary last month and I expect to celebrate many more!

Mind Cleanup – Sept 2020

The “back to normal”-vibe that August had, did not set through into September. If I would have to choose a theme for the ninth month of 2020 I think it would be “Dealing with unpleasant facts”.

The month started out with a visit to the hospital for my mom, resulting in a breast cancer diagnosis a week later and the confirmation that it had spread into at least one lymph node one week after that. On the very last day of the month we heard the first good news in weeks, being that the cancer had not spread into her bone marrow.

In hindsight, I felt like it was the best possible way to deliver such news to a pessimistic person like my mother. After she first heard the word ‘cancer’ she was convinced she was going to die. By the time she heard the bone marrow biopsy did not contain any cancer cells, the tumor in her breast sounded like good news and it completely perked her up.

Self-reflection

People around me reacted surprised/confused to my rational and reserved analysis to my mom’s situation. Perhaps it was a way to balance out the irrational and unfounded convictions my parents were slinging into the world.

I don’t think I didn’t take it seriously or that I was untouched by it. I just didn’t see the point in starting to plan my mother’s funeral if the results of the tests weren’t even in yet.

I considered the idea that I was just in shock and that reality would hit me later, but it didn’t. I checked myself a few times to analyze if I was suppressing my feelings and harming myself in the process, but I concluded that really wasn’t the case.

People seem to interpret my lack of tears as indifference, and I assure you that that is not the case. I love my mother. I’ll do everything I can to be by her side when it matters.

I will say though, that my attachment to my mother is “different” than perhaps many other people’s own personal experiences with their mothers. And that’s OK.

I am blessed with amazing friends that care about me and check my state of mind regularly. I can be fully honest with them and trust they will do the same in return.

Also, I am lucky to have an employer that is understanding to this new factor in my life. They have basically given me full freedom to put my parents first and not worry about the rest. That is not something I take for granted.

Underneath the walnut tree

When I was driving home from “up North”, where my parents live, I was listening to the radio and was thrilled to hear my favorite Dutch hip hop artist (not that I have any other Dutch rappers in my playlist), Typhoon, had released a new song after a hiatus of several years. To make it even better, the song was a collaboration with one of the best Dutch vocalists imo, Paskal Jakobsen.

In that moment, it felt like the song was repeating words to me I had spoken to my mother that very day. If you ask me, it’s about overcoming fear, about seizing the day, valuing life and maintaining a sense of wonder for what is in front of you.

I later heard the song is actually a message from Typhoon to his younger self. Makes sense. For me, it will always be a message from me to my mother.

The lyrics

You’re right on time.
Come lie down on the grass.
You are my guest of honor.
And now I have found you.

You cannot reproduce growth or make the same trip twice.
I’m grateful for who I am, both in my good and bad days.
If only we could look over the fence every now and then.
Although I don’t think we would be able to understand it, if we did.

I see you in the mirror; there’s the first gray hair.
Let just say it’s a sign of early wisdom.
I foresee the best years are yet to come, as if it all has yet to begin.
Don’t worry, I’ll take you along.

I hold you dear, I can’t do it without you, and that’s all I know.
Don’t be afraid to be in love, nor afraid to succeed.
Fear does strange things; it leads you to sabotage
Don’t be afraid to stop searching or to find what you already have.
It’s all right to feel melancholy, when I tell you:

You’re right on time, lie down on the grass.
You are my guest of honor
and now that I’ve found you, you are right on time
For everything there was; my heart, my friend, my guest of honor
And now I have found you

Don’t be afraid to be right. Don’t be afraid to serve.
If only you could see what I see when you smile or feel sad.
Don’t punish yourself for your lightness or happiness.
Just feel it: it’s how it’s meant to be.

And so what: what if it doesn’t work? What’s the worst that can happen?
Don’t be afraid to fall. Don’t be afraid of your success.
Don’t be afraid of ‘the nothings’ and ‘the everythings’.
Never forget how we lie under this walnut tree,
how we look without wanting to see, as in a dream…

You’re on time, lie down in the grass
You are my guest of honor and now that I’ve found you,
you are right on time
For everything there was; My heart, my friend, my guest of honor
And now I have found you

And everything is made for us as new
An adventure especially for us
Everything made anew into a melody,
that I hum every morning when you wake up.
When you wake up, yeah

Diamond droplets on the branches
Made anew into a melody
Diamond droplets on the branches
Like pearls on a clothing line
Diamond droplets on the branches
Don’t be afraid of being afraid
Diamond droplets on the branches
You are right on time.

Emma Massingale

If my fairy godmother were to appear all of a sudden and tell me my life had been cursed by some envious sorceress and that the only way to save me was to switch lives with someone, I would choose the life of Emma Massingale.

In fact, I wouldn’t need my own life to be threatened to choose a life like Emma’s. #lifegoals

That she has a lot of animals is unquestionably awesome, but the way she does it is what I admire the most. The bond she shares with her furry friends is incredible.

She is an adventurous soul. She is a dreamer who learned much about life and herself the hard way (by being too bold and breaking important bones). She is naturally charming and unapologetically awkward.

But don’t take my word for it, take a look:

All the work she does with the animals is based on fun and never force. She uses their natural way of being to teach them tricks. She is their leader but most definitely also their friend and part of the pack.

She goes on fun trips around the country with beasts of all shapes and sizes and makes it look effortless. One time she might take all the tan colored horses (of all sizes) out for a stroll. On the next occasion, she might take the speckled team (including the dalmatian) along. And sometimes, like in this video below, she’ll go on a ride with two ponies, a lamb, a dog and a cat.

I am a fan, as you might have suspected by now. I love all of her work and am thrilled every time a new vid comes out.

I even love it when she dresses up her animals in crazy outfits, even though I usually can’t stand that. In her case though, I know that she wouldn’t do it if the animal was uncomfortable with it. Also, I believe that her animals live very natural lives, outside of the work they do with her.

I guess that, if my fairy godmother were to appear, I might ask her to adjust just one aspect of my new life as Emma. I would be tempted to ask her to transfer it all to a place with slightly better weather. I’m sure English moors are lovely on a sunny summer day but in the winter, maybe not so much…

Then again, if at the end of the day you can warm up by the fire surrounded by some furry friends, it would totally be worth it.


This dedication to Emma Massingale is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

  • A is for Axolotl
  • B is for Bird buddies
  • C is for Comfort food
  • D is for Dystopia
  • E is for Emma Massingale

All the images in this blog were taken from Emma Massingale’s social media accounts. I do not own them nor have rights to them.

Mind Cleanup: Aug 2020

AAaaaaaand that was it for August, folks!

My blogging flow was definitely less burdensome than it was in July. And I think that applies to most things in my life. The rhythm of what we used to consider to be normal is slowly returning and I am enjoying getting back into the routine.

Cycling

In some respects my routine has even improved.

For example, when I started to go back to the office, I didn’t feel completely comfortable taking the train, so I started cycling the 19kms to work. And now that I’m back in the office three times a week I have kept up this habit.

We’ll see how long I last when autumn makes an entrance, but for now I feel really good about myself.

Permaculture

I don’t even know what triggered it, but somewhere in the last month I have become very interested in permaculture. I have spoken to several people that have experience with these principles and I will definitely sign up for an extensive course in the future.

Bill Mollison, one of the founders of the concept, says some things in the video above that captivate me. He says:

When you look at a whole system there are two things that are very undesirable: one is work, and the other one is pollution. Pollution is a product of work. Work is a result of not supplying every component of your system with its needs.
(…)
Another thing which is extraordinarily intriguing is that when you design well nature takes hold of what you’ve done and does it better. But what you gotta do is watch the system and guide its life path.
(…)
[Permaculture is] an attempt to build a good place to live.

How to Summer

August was hot. The Netherlands didn’t know how to cope. We were not made for temperatures above 25 degrees celsius, and definitely not for weeks and weeks on end. And where did all the sky-water go?

The pandemic just added that little extra layer of complications.

Beaches were too full, crammed with every Dutch person that would normally travel abroad during their holiday. On top of that, holiday-goers from other countries made their way to our small sliver of coast as well, given that our corona measures have been relatively lenient.

As you can imagine, everybody and their mother had and opinion about this. It was intense.

And for reasons not completely clear to me, quite a lot of people drowned. Did it have to do with the large amount of people in the water and therefore an inherent larger amount of people running the risk of getting in trouble? Or did the abnormally high temperature perhaps do something to the water(currents)? Or are people just not good swimmers (anymore)?

I don’t know what was up, but it was definitely remarkable.

Star Trek

I’ve been watching the Star Trek – Next Generation series the last few months. I am now somewhere halfway season 5. I watched it sporadically as a kid, but never from a-to-z. This means I never got fully acquainted to the different characters, other than their superficial traits.

Also, I never appreciated the deep philosophical questions that many of the episodes touch. Questions such as “what does it mean to be human?”, “what is love?” and “when does help become an imposition of your way of living on another” come by.

Now that I am going further down the Star Trek rabbit hole, I am even thinking of writing a couple of blogposts about the deeper lessons one could learn from it. The stories are not quite ripe yet, but I am enthusiastic about the idea.

Music service switch

I’ve always used free version of music streaming apps. This means I have to deal with commercials in between music these days. And that’s OK. I get it.

It did start to bug me that Spotify made their commercials extra annoying, probably to coax me towards buying their premium version. I don’t like being manipulated that way. So once I got over my attachment to my Spotify playlists, I made the switch to Deezer.

It’s been an easy process and there is nothing about Spotify that I miss. I highly recommend Deezer. The fact that their commercials are friendly and subtle (and not 50% louder than the music I was listening too either) I am actually considering trying the premium version!

Confusing quote

My interest for permaculture has also caused my filterbubble to start including information from more alternative sources. And that is how this little gem came upon my path:

I was actually quite confused by it.

The premise that plants grow better if you speak kindly to them is already a bit wobbly, if you ask me. I think I am not integrated enough in the treehuggers-community to be able to accept the parallel between plants and people in the way it is presented here. My imagination is clearly lacking…

On to September we go!

The anniversary of mindful Karen

This week marks the five year anniversary of my “Smug in the now“- post.

Back in 2015 I made a list of things that bothered me about the stereotypical mindful, vegetarian, yoga-practicing, gluten-fearing, urban-dwelling individual (often female, but not exclusively).

I guess today, we would refer to such a person as the yoga edition of barbie-doll Karen.

At the time, I felt I was surrounded by this type of people, and they annoyed the hell out of me. From my point of view they were stressed out hypocrites, tip-toeing their way around their looming burn-out, telling me to relax…

On a sidenote, I just found out the pejorative ‘Karen’ has its own wikipedia page. That is so awesome. Thank you internets.

How did Karen get me so worked up in 2015?

The (shortish version) of my list of objections to mindful Karen back in 2015 was as follows:

1) When she starts applying her ‘wisdom’ on others, she is not only annoying but oftentimes also wrong.
2) Her uninvited ‘health tips’ are counterproductive (and again, annoying, which is bad for my bowels).
3) Quoting an exotic luminary does not make her sound wise, but kind of pathetic, especially when applied as a conversation stopper.
4) It is always a sad day when a high-quality sarcastic retort gets dissected, but mindful Karen can’t help but try to find the deeper meaning behind simple statements, killing everybody’s buzz.
5) Karen is fooling herself by putting a lot of energy into avoiding ‘bad vibes’, but is really missing out on life by doing so.
6) Eliminating fiery emotions makes life colorless, lukewarm and passionless.

Looking back

A fact that I may not have expressed specifically enough in the first point in the original post is that the mindfulness lessons Karen learned are really only meant to be applied on her own inner self. The minute she tries to change other people is the second she stops being mindful all together and therefore has zero credibility on the matter.

As far as my food habits are concerned I think I have evolved. I have become more conscious of what I eat, not only for my own health but also for the well being of other beings and the environment in general. I’m sure the people I was directing my angry words at in 2015 were not all full of shit (no pun intended). However, I do think I needed to move away from that toxic group of hangry gluten-phobes to be able to make a change myself.

The sixth point should probably not really have been part of the list. It is not a point that describes yoga-Karen per se. More than anything, it is the conclusion of why I felt threatened by the ideas of mindfulness, or what I associated it with.

My hardheadedness and tendency to be blunt are traits of mine that I have a complicated relationship with. They are strengths as well as weaknesses. I guess my fear was (and probably still is) that the ‘luke warm’ bath of mindfulness would erase that part of my identity, taking away my uniqueness.

Embracing my inner Karen

Today, I am much better capable of applauding every effort somebody puts into becoming a better, healthier and more stable person. I can sympathize with the struggle that goes with that and understand they may not get it right straight away.

That, in their enthusiasm, they can’t help but project their problems and accompanying labels and lessons on others, is OK.

I have become better at controlling my impulse to snap back at people giving me well-meant advice. I can see their good intentions before condemning them for being wrong or pushy (which I still think they are, every now and then).

An additional thought that may be important to include is that most of my friends are yoga Karens. Ugh…. Did I really just use that argument……? Yes I did…

I realize everything I just typed sounds awfully condescending.

For the sake of honesty I will not rephrase. But I will try to save this sinking ship by patching it up with some additional thoughts…

Because who is that person writing a lifetip on her blog every month? ME!

Who frowns at the people buying bread rolls at the super market without bringing their own reusable bag? ME!

Who asked the neighbor to refrain from spraying pesticides on his roses in his own garden? ME!

I could go on with this list for a while longer, but you get the point; I can’t help but tell others how to live their lives and frequently point out why their actions are some sort of ‘wrong’.

Ergo, I am no better than then people I was aiming my poisoned arrows at in the past and whom I can’t help but talk about condescendingly, even now.

I am Karen. There I said it.

Lifetip 7: Embrace doubt

This post is about doubt, about truth, about facts and our reliance on them.

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

One of my favorite books of all times is Life of Pi, which is basically 400 pages of inner musings of a very contemplative kid.

It is a story about a boy surviving a shipwreck and dealing with his trauma by befriending it. Pi’s inquisitive nature and innocent mind investigate religion in a such an open-minded way, that it opened my mind towards the spiritual realm more than any cleric ever could.

During a conversation Pi had with a fervent atheist, he came to the conclusion that this conviction was not for him, but he did respect the thought process behind it. He understood that atheists were thinkers as well, which was something he could appreciate. He concluded that agnostics were the ones furthest away from the truth, as they accepted the idea that anything could be possible, while at the same time doubting everything. He said:

It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

Even though this is one of my favorite quotes from the book, I will be making a case for doubt as a philosophy.

Uncertainty is the only truth

These are insecure times. Somehow though, this is not reflected by what we see and hear in the media. People with strong opinions debate each other, the one more certain about their point of view than the other.

In the current state of the world, experts are mocked for changing their views on matters such as climate change or the way viruses spread. Yet, it is the ones that claim to know precisely what is going on and what we should do that we should be watching with suspicion.

If you really want to be right, be prepared to admit some things are simply not known or clear. Doubt and nuance are key, yet these properties are not welcome guests at talk show tables.

Mark Rutte

Our own prime minister admitted that during the peak of the COVID-19-crisis he was making decisions for our country based on whiffs of evidence and in some cases deciding what the course would be only minutes before the press conference. There were no clear facts, only ideas. I definitely don’t envy him for having to govern under such circumstances.

I praise him for admitting that he had no certainty to build on.

Subsequently though, as Dutch citizens, we must accept the idea that the prime minister may have flipped a coin to draw the lock down road map, but we need to follow it nonetheless. His doubts may not be reflected in our actions.

The appeal of misinformation

Sadly, US citizens do not have a leader that gives them a clear path to follow. This is not just tragic for the American people themselves, but also for the rest of the world. Just like it gives a kid confidence to compare notes with the classmate with the best grades before a test, we have become accustomed to look at what the “land of the free” does, to see how our own course compares.

In fact, POTUS #45 does pretty much the exact opposite of what our prime minister does. Whereas the Dutch prime minister says much is uncertain he still tells us what our course of action is going to be. The US president says he reads everything and knows all, yet he gives the American people nothing to go on as far as a consistent plan is concerned. More even he contradicts himself on a daily (hourly basis) and spreads (and invents) misinformation on the go.

Fake news and disinformation create fearful people that crave for a simple answer on which they can build a simple truth. People prefer a solution in a happy meal package; not nutritious per se but cheap and easy to swallow. We must not give in to that.

Actual facts take a while to take form. Ideas that don’t rely on research can be up and ready pretty much immediately. When faced with a new situation, people need a frame of reference. Conspiracies and fabricated information find fertile ground in these moments, as scientific information will not yet be available in such an early stage.

Practice doubt

In order to become a doubter, you must:

  • ask questions
  • empathize with people that think differently
  • be brave enough to change your mind
  • accept that absolute facts are rare (if they exist at all)

Because the more we admit we don’t really know anything for certain the closer we will be getting to the truth. The humility we gain in the process could even turn out to have a positive side effect in other areas as well.

Dystopia

The letter D has brought me to Dystopia.

According to Wikipedia a “dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. (…) Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.”

A quick online search further shows that imagery associated with dystopian landscapes are often overly industrialized and polluted. I noticed many computer games these days are set in such a landscape.

My motivation for choosing this word as an inspiration for a blog post does not stem from a conviction that my life or surroundings are dystopian right now. On the contrary, I see a lot to be hopeful for.

Despite my optimistic outlook on things, I do feel that many of the ingredients to plunge into something terribly horribly nasty are present as well.

There is a reason the series Black Mirror was such a success. Each episode tells a story based on an exaggerated and uncomfortable aspect of modern day life. It is an unbingeable series for me, because so much of it feels just a tad too familiar. I guess that is why it is called Black Mirror and not Black Window.

The other day my boyfriend said that he wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future reality would ‘split’. He didn’t mean we would be entering into a parallel universe or something star trekky like that. What he meant, was that there would be a rift in society, where different groups live by different sets of facts (and therefore different realities).

It’s a scary idea but I do actually catch his drift. People are choosing to believe such silly (untrue) things, and they in turn think I am crazy for believing what I do.

This image of two people debating what number they see, is often used to explain how two people can be right or at least believe to be. It’s a metaphor for people being convinced of different things, based on their point of view.

Still….

Somebody put that number there and that person meant it to be a six or a nine. Communication can solve the mystery. Just find the guy that chalked that numeral there and ask him what the message was he was trying to bring across. And once the number-creator has let us know he wants six loafs of bread, not nine, there is no need to continue debating what the number looks like. It’s a six. Period.

It is impossible to have a conversation about things if you can not agree on the most basic principles. When communication is no longer possible, anarchy awaits.

I remember how my punk and goth classmates used to talk about anarchy as if it was something the world needed. I never understood what they meant, as I believed anarchy and chaos were pretty much the same thing. And who wants to live in a constant state of chaos? This video helped me understand anarchy’s charm a bit better:

Nobody wants hate to prevail over love. Nobody wants to make decisions out of fear. Nobody wants to distrust their neighbor.

Lawlessness and violence are not ingredients for anybody’s utopia, I don’t think. People only want to get rid of laws if they feel those laws are corrupt or unfair. Violence is only a means to bring a process of change in motion, not a goal. People that thrive for violence just for the sake of violence are psychopaths, and I choose to believe those are actually quite rare.

There are moments when I feel there is a bigger power pushing us towards the cliff, like in that horribly disturbing (but kind of catchy) song by Stromae (who felt it was fitting to include an image of Obama in his music video in 2015 to depict people being eaten up alive by the Twitter-demon… man… that hurts even more in hindsight…):

But in the end, I think there is no architect behind any of this.

This current state of affairs has been constructed thoughtlessly by many individuals, all acting selfishly but without a higher purpose. Most people do not base their day-to-day choices on a future plan or any bigger picture. They just react to what is straight in front of them.

And I think that is how I would sum up the current state of the world. It is nobody’s fault. Everybody is a victim of an involuntary structure that forms them and they it.

We all agree it’s horrible but the consensus is that “it is what it is”. We learn to work with this system, even though we don’t want it. We fortify it by basing our laws on the premises of its faults. Many people have convinced themselves that we can’t change it until we have found who is responsible.

The winds are changing though. As I said in the beginning, I am feeling hopeful. More and more people are learning to vocalize their feelings and needs. We are starting to see how society is falling short. “It is what it is” is no longer an acceptable explanation.

If there were a way to achieve true and positive change while bypassing the anarchy-fase, that would be awesome. If keeping the peace means leaving everything the way it is, then bring the chaos, by all means!


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

Mind Cleanup July 2020

July was not a good month for blogging, apparently. My goal to publish at least three blogs per month was not met. It was my Alphabet challenge that got in the way. The letter D… Ddddamn you, letter D.

C-words

Words that were more prominent in my life were all C-words: Communication, conspiracies, consciousness and, you know that other C-word.

A double C-word that featured in a discussion I had with my boyfriend G was crowd control.

He was telling me about how 5G technology has the power to stun and paralyze people through milimeter wave frequencies. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, and G couldn’t help but notice.

It turns out that Mona Keijzer, the Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs, helped fuel this idea when she mentioned crowd control during a debate on the implementation of 5G in the Netherlands. For Dutch speaking people interested in hearing her exact words, click here (but please close your eyes while you listen, as the imagery in the vid is misleading imo)

My first reaction was that she was referring to the capacity of 5G to be more precise about peoples’ exact locations, making it possible to anticipate where it could become undesirably crowded (and of which individuals that crowd might consist). Cynically enough, I think we’re already past the point that that is shocking or secret, troubling as it may be. This New Yorker article from April 2019 explains my feelings about that quite well.

My boyfriend challenged me to read into it further, as he felt my filter bubble may have been keeping me away from seeing the full picture. So, I did. And I hereby admit that I did find reliable, science based information, backed by governments and mainstream institutions, that affirms that “hypersonic weapons” are a thing and that 5G could play a role in making the application of such weapons easier.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that (for now).

Music

Time for a musical interlude.

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the talent of this young man?

And can somebody please make him a sandwich?

‘Good’ communication

During the lock down period, when we were all working from home, a lot of communication was conducted in writing, rather than in spoken form.

It has been interesting to see how eloquent people who have no problem explaining something face-to-face can have so much trouble doing the same thing when those words need to be presented in writing. I witnessed a lot of sloppy communication that I knew was meant well, but could be interpreted in so many ways, that it made my brain hurt.

I find the power of language wildly interesting. Learning about meanings behind words and the unintentional damage that can be done with them is something I wish everybody would take a little time to think about.

Luckily, I actually like my co-workers. They are cool peeps with good hearts, making it easy to forgive their verbal clumsiness.

I have been re-listening Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings myself, which have turned out to be excellent running and cycling soundtracks.

As a lover of sarcasm and brutal humor though, I have always needed to check myself every now and then. I don’t always get it right but I do try to fix any damage I may have done and do better the next time around..

It did make me realize that, once again, ignorance is bliss.

The fact that I have knowledge of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings and the implicit idea that there is such a thing as ‘violent communication’ turned out to be a bit of a burden for me.

It made it harder to let things pass, even when I knew what the message was that someone was trying to convey. Words that I have come to identify as ‘aggressive’ make me frown, where I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought in the past.

These spasms of annoyance also demonstrate that I’m not done learning. I know that the way I receive and process a message is up to me. How I feel can never be somebody else’s responsibility (or their choice of words).

Still… I just wish they would just ‘do it properly’.

the letter D

Deodorant. Doom’s day preppers. Defunding the Police. the Daily Show. Dancing. Drought. Dominance.

As I said, I’m having a hard time finding something to write about that starts with the letter D.

I had an idea about the word Dixie, but I have to admit that would just be a sorrow attempt of me trying to be relevant and probably failing. I know too little about it and simply do not have a strong enough opinion about the matter, which means I lack motivation.

And then there was Democracy. I do have an opinion about that. But I just wish I could come up with something easy for once… A topic that not only makes for easy writing but also easy reading.

I’m sure something will get written in the upcoming weeks, but July 2020 will have to go into the history books as one without an Alphabet-inspired post.

Alright, August Blogust. I’m ready for you.