Isolated by Differences

My friend Michaela took this pic of a moon over Nebraska.

For years I’ve been explaining the separation I felt from people and places when I was growing up as border crossing. Yesterday I learned differently.

When I was a kid my family moved constantly. My dad had frequently incapacitating post traumatic stress disorder and couldn’t keep a job, so my family – 4 kids and 2 parents – moved from motel to motel between the US and Canada. Cars constantly breaking down, often filled with the motto “If it doesn’t fit in the trunk it can’t come along.” In the nine youngest years of my we lived in 12 different cities; in the first 4 years of school I went 7 different places.

When we finally landed it was because our car broke down 3 times in one week and we couldn’t afford to go any further. My dad got began lifelong treatment for his PTSD and we eventually got a house. Moving into a neighborhood where we were a racial minority among economic peers, it was hard to fit in. I was a goofy Canadian boy in cowboy boots and corduroy pants singing “Rhinestone Cowboy” while everyone else wore parachute pants and air jordans and sang “Billie Jean.” To say I didn’t fit in is an understatement.

For the rest of my youth I struggled with belonging and joining. I prided myself for establishing a unique group of friends who shared that sense of non-belonging, but somehow I never quite learned how to fit in. As a card-carrying member of Gen X, I held it was my duty to flip off the establishment and eff-up the system from within, which I tried to do through my 20s. I managed to create a career in a space where there was barely a field, and I established an identity as an outcast of sorts, so I was comfortable at least!

Along the way I read about Henry Giroux’s concept of “border crossers,” people whose identities are constantly in flux. We learn the codes and become code breakers; we find the barriers and circumnavigate them. Reinforced by reading some of Zygut Baumann’s works on liquid culture, I prided myself on this identity over all others. I had a sense that not belonging and staying apart was my superpower.

Then yesterday happened.

It turns out that at the root of it, that displacement is isolation. I was listening to a podcast with a writer from The New York Times when he was talking about the angst experienced by refugees in America, people who were stripped of their lands and cultures and identities only to be thrown into the cauldron of suffocating sameness that is mainstream American culture. While I wasn’t escaping war or a repressive regime, my family were mental health exiles forced to extreme escapes from the seemingly inevitable pauper’s prisons awaiting failed consumers in the 1980s.

As an adult, I’ve discovered that the suffering I experienced because of the isolation I lived in childhood and nurtured through my adult life was a healthy response to a traumatic experience. My child brain didn’t know how to cope with the differences repeatedly forced onto me by circumstances far beyond my control, and without therapy or even seeing that clearly as an adult I carried the burden of isolation for years.

That isolation affected my work, my friendships, my romantic relationships, and of course my family. Only now am I beginning to see that my own calls for conscious engagement with the worlds within ourselves and around us were a desperate plea for me to connect with what mattered most to me. Now that I see that clearly, I am beginning to see how to move forward. I’m also saddened for the younger person I was when I struggled so much, so righteously to have the belonging I didn’t.

That is yet another reason why I do the work I do today, to connect people wholly throughout the whole lives they live. Its a heck of a mission, and it comes from a true place.

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Spheres of Engagement

Spheres of Engagement Adam Fletcher
These are the Spheres of Engagement, including Family engagement, Community engagement, Cultural engagement, School engagement, Spiritual engagement and Social engagement, all surrounding Personal engagement. Copyright 2012 Adam Fletcher. All rights reserved.

These are the Spheres of Engagement:

  • Family engagement: Choosing the same things intentionally where we live everyday
  • Community engagement: Surrounded by people who share purpose in a variety of ways
  • Cultural engagement: Being deliberately connected with heritage, customs and history in our lives
  • School engagement: Connecting with action and outcomes to increase learning on purpose
  • Spiritual engagement: Finding passion and belonging within ourselves for greater purposes
  • Social engagement: Seeing beyond our individual selves to connect with the greater world around us

Our opportunities to choose the same things over and over provide is a hundred thousand million Spheres of Engagement that endlessly overlap towards infinity, showing the unstoppable, unfathomable sustainability of all things. There is no limit to the ways we picture our engagement.

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How To Listen To Others

In order to be heard, we have to learn to listen. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, we have to learn to listen if we want to get past just hearing what is being said.

This graphic shows how to listen to others by Adam Fletcher
This graphic shares how to listen to others. It is copyright 2019 Adam Fletcher

This is how to listen to others.

  • Open my heart and mind to others
  • Release my assumptions about others and their interest and ability to speak for themselves
  • Make space for others to speak for themselves
  • Be quiet and listen
  • Ensure opportunities for others to speak for themselves always exist in perpetuity
  • Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect others
  • Be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on others
  • Step aside so others can speak for themselves
  • Advocate for others to speak for themselves
  • When they are absent, speak for others who cannot speak for themselves
  • Build my ability to listen

This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for people who want to learn what they can do for themselves and others in order to build their ability to listen.

What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Love Is A Radical New Thing

Staring at our phones is just the beginning. Wagging our fingers, scowling at the world and isolating ourselves are symptoms. Seeing our lack of humility, facing the challenge of vulnerability, and harnessing the power of love are solutions. This article is about the crisis of self-disconnection in the world today, and how to overcome that crisis by acknowledging, enriching and empowering the connections we already have in our lives.

Understanding Ourselves

Despite the well-meaning teachers, community leaders and writers trying to teach us, people believe they’re doing all this alone more than ever before. Almost all of us are afflicted by this, too. Whether we’re burned out suburban parents or aspiring entrepreneurs, social media pushes us to post vain selfies, push arrogant self-promotion and cultivate images of narcissistic glory. This is afflicting old people, young people and everyone in between.

I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning wishing they were more self-centered. Sure, we learn to take care of ourselves and remove unnecessary drama from our lives, but that doesn’t make us oblivious to the needs of those around us and beyond.

Somewhere along the way though, people can become manipulative, unconsciously forcing their friends, family and coworkers to do their bidding, become their minions, and fulfill their demands with no intention of supporting others, building community or lifting those without power or ability.

Forcibly demanding others bend to our will, conniving to change others’ thinking without their investment, and alienating those who care for us can separate us from the people who care the most about us.

Relying on the Power of Love

A year before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a speech called “A Time To Break The Silence,” in which he said,

“…I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love.”

Dr. King was killed because he saw the power of love for what it is: An infinitely accessible, directly effective and wholly powerful instrument to fight arrogance, conceit and ignorance. At the same time he was determining this, there was a contradictory force rising in the garage of a young inventor in suburban Washington state. A machine meant to harness the capability of individuals and built on the premise that each man is an island unto his own, the personal computer became one of the most isolating forces humankind ever faced.

Through the decades afterwards, technology became more and more alienating and separating, but not without the veneer of interconnectedness. Relying on the internet as a worldwide superhighway for knowledge, ideas and opinions, computers have become smaller and faster, further allowing and encouraging individuals to believe they’re acting in a vacuum without obligations to others. To be clear, personal computers and the Internet did not create narcissism; however, they’ve exacerbated it beyond the wildest imagination.

“Everywhere we learn that love is important, and yet we are bombarded by its failure….This bleak picture in no way alters the nature of our longing. We still hope that love will prevail. We still believe in love’s promise.”—bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions

We can rectify this challenge. It will not be an easy or simple fix, but it’s tangible and present. The answer has been present for millennia, and even though its under-credited, history shows it repeatedly. In his 1855 book called Where Love Is, God Is, Leo Tolstoy showed us the basis for this understanding when he wrote, “Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.”

Through the wisdom of Dr. King, as well as many others like bell hooks, Angela Davis, Mahatma Gandhi, and Caesar Chavez, we can begin to craft approaches to love as a tool, a possibility and a gift for transforming the world we live in. Love is the single greatest resource we have, and moving from seeing it as a poetic plaything towards enacting it as a passionate, powerful instrument will help us actualize the reality that another world is possible.

We each have to rely on the power of love to overcome the arrogance, conceit and narcissism trying to overwhelm our hearts and our communities. This requires that we move love into action.

Moving Love Into Action

In 2017, Senator Corey Booker shared powerful words on Twitter when he wrote,

“Love is not a being word, it is an action word… When you see hate out there, understand that the challenge will never be the hate of some, but the silence, indifference and apathy of the many.”

Throughout my career, I have sought and struggled to harness my own commitment to putting love into action. Living in a patriarchal society that emphasizes machismo over vulnerability and highlights individuality over interdependence, my work has been chagrined for being too compromising, too sensitive and too aware.

I have learned from the words I’ve shared here as well as others, and I’ve learned the following lessons for putting love into action.

  1. Feel Your Heart. Feeling feelings can be scary. It can feel weak. It can be thankless. And you need to do it anyway. Feel things relentlessly, no matter what they are.
  2. Let Go Of Entitlement. Meant to keep us from the pain of trauma, entitlement is generally unrealistic and unhealthy, and prevents us from relying on ourselves to heal.
  3. Be Aware Of Your Suffering. When you experience hard times or big challenges, you can suffer. Anxiety, depression and hurt come from this. Be aware of this and what it leads to.
  4. Serve Others Relentlessly. Caesar Chavez said it best: “Being of service is not enough. You must become a servant of the people. When you do, you can demand their commitment in return.”
  5. Love Without Inhibition. There’s a certain recklessness that’s implied when you move beyond the “bosh” love Dr. King explained above. Be about it, love without inhibition and move into a new space that is unstoppable. When enough people love enough ways the whole world will change.

These lessons are not a road to happiness; they are a call to love. Even though those two words are not synonymous, they aren’t far apart. Moving love into action is a brave, ridiculous, essential thing that we all must do if we’re going to change the condition of the world we’re in today.

In her 2012 book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed wrote, “You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.” Love is not really a radical new thing, but if that’s how we must see it to become warriors for love, then let’s see it that way.

We need to become nothing less.

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Workshops by Adam Fletcher
“No Emotional Bosh” is a workshop on teaching youth about love. Learn more by calling Adam Fletcher at (360)489-9680.

Yelling Into A Vacuum: The World Is Busy Changing

 

There are a lot of people working to change the world right now. They’re caught up in writing the Great Handbook, building the Perfect Website, organizing the Ultimate Protest, and securing the Most Support for whatever they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re doing their part, hopes they have the most effect, and wants to make a difference.

I’m one of these people. For most than two decades of my life I’ve been working to change change the world. Starting as a young man, I was involved with movements for environmental justice, self-empowerment, anti-racism, and youth voice. My career has built on that action, and has focused on youth engagement, student voice, and community empowerment. I have continued volunteering and donating my resources towards those causes too.

I’m at a point in my life when much of this action seems like its no longer effective, and some part of me struggles with whether it actually was. I even wonder who reads this blog anymore, since I rarely hear from anyone.

In my 20s, I heard a lot of older people harp on the notion of acting locally and really focusing energy on local change. I blew that out of the water with my world-focused work through Freechild and SoundOut, as well as my national and international consulting practice. Now, I understand why they insisted on acting locally; otherwise, you feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum.

The noisy, noisy world doesn’t allow us a lot of room for comfort, if we’re engaged authentically within ourselves. It insists we learn to get quiet and do small things, rather than trying to scream over the din of daily life.

This work of changing the world reminds me of the lesson about the seekers: “Not knowing how close the truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar — what a pity! They are like those who, being in the midst of water, Cry out for water, feeling thirst.”

The world is already changing, and a new world is being born every day! Let’s take comfort in that, and allow everything to be what it already is. The world is changing, changing, changing… Is there anything more we need to do?

 


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