LEAVING THE WORLD A BIT BETTER THAN HOW WE FOUND IT – Part 2

I published the first part of this text yesterday, you can read it here. In this text I focus more on the ethical challenges in keeping up a healthy responsible community, and what invisible aspects are keys to either thriving or collapsing community.

Part of building and maintaining a succesful community is recognising realistically the resources it has to support the ones in need of support. There might be a need to decide some limitations, like that a person with drug addiction or heavy mental problems can not join the community until they have succesfully treated themselves, because the community has no professional help to offer for that. This is why some people think that community is an unrealistic bubble, and choose to not live in one. It is a difficult ethical question. It’s hard to find a person who wants to be in a position to try to objectively evaluate how many people with special needs are too many to tilt the community out of balance, and where to draw the line of being in too bad shape, since we all crash and have special needs in some time of our life. What happens when someone who has grown to be a big part of the community gets too sick to be useful, or when that happens to too many, and there is no resources to maintain their lives without more money? In a small community this is still relatively easy, we can support each other before things get totally out of hands, or we find help from outside world so that there is something to support people who have to leave. The city doesn’t have this benefit to send people away to a bigger system to deal with, and every time I come out I see more and more people in need of help and less and less people who can be the ones supporting and holding space for others to heal. This is causing a chain reaction where more people burn out, get depressed, become drug addicted or in some other way just drop out and become useless for society. More pressure is build on the ones who are still trying to hold things together, so more of them crashes. Sometimes I hear that communities are places for people who don’t manage in the real world. Sure, many of us were labelled in the outside world unable to work for one reason or another. However, I see all those cases working just fine in the community, and that makes me wonder what is it about the society that makes it so harsh to just manage every day life that more and more people drop out. People who are for long time convinced by doctors and unemployment offices that they are useless, find themselves extremely useful in maintaining the community. We hardly care if someone is doing the dishes or being the manager, because nobody makes any profits in organisation anyways, and because of living so tightly together we understand that equally without cleaning and without managing we couldn’t keep the place running. Everyone has an identity that doesn’t depend on their working task. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better in terms of equality than what I see outside.

Nobody wants to be useless, it’s one of the worst things you can tell to a person since one of our core needs is to be needed. Even people with succesful careers in terms of money often suffer of underlying nagging knowing that the job they do is, at the core, pretty useless, since many well paid jobs nowadays are. One of my most eye opening conversations was when I got a car ride from an owner of big pharma factory. I haven’t made almost any income for years, and he was stressed out because he had some family meeting the next day, but at least he had a helicopter to fly the kids there. Saves a lot of time, you know. He was such a sincere sweet man, and out of the blue he started sharing with me all his reasoning why the work he does is important. I listened, more the tone under his words than what he was saying. He knew perfectly well that the pharma industry doesn’t heal people, it just takes the symptoms away. Many of the people I know think that pharma company owners are the devil himself. If it was him, I sure wish him well. He had no false beliefs that he would in reality be any richer than me. I sensed that he felt in some way trapped, also living his life for someone else. A person who is seen as someone who doesn’t need to answer for anyone, has actually hundereds of peoples income on his shoulders and can’t afford doing any mistakes. I suddenly realised how free I am, to change my mind and direction at any time, to do mistakes, search my way and start again.

From what I have heard it seems like there is a growing belief both in communities aswell as in the cities that people nowadays care only for themselves. When I look at people I think of the pharma factory owner and I’m wondering where are all these people putting themselves first. Obviously the ones saying it don’t identify as those people, since they are more feeling like victims of circumstances. When I was first time visiting the community where I now live in, I was still suffering from panic disorder and social anxieties, so I wanted to know as much as I could about what was expected of my time of volunteering there. I read all the rules and guidelines that I could find about how to be in service, and I really thought if I agree with those values before I applied. There was one sentence in the guidelines that made me do the decision that I can go, and it was “I aspire to serve others, our planet and its inhabitants. I recognize that I must also serve myself in order to practise this effectively”. I feel like this is something our society as a whole have totally missed out. It is socially expected and accepted to help others even when we don’t want to genuinely do it or don’t feel energised enough to do it, because it’s just what we “have to do”. When people do things out of guilt or fear of not being liked anymore, they expect it also from others, and get extremely upset when someone refuses to do it. This has become so common that if we do something out of joy we feel guilt about that too, even if we have been more productive and efficient. It’s not work if it doesn’t feel like work, and everyone knows what “feels like work” means in this context. It sucks.

It seems like some colletive guilt trip that somebody mistakenly thought would make people work more, but failed to see the consequenses of long term unhappiness in a mass of people. People actually believe that they can choose to do something they dont really want to, and then like they could choose to not get burn-out, cancer, depression, drug addiction etc. When some of those things happen it just triggers another guilt trip, at least for a while. Eventually most surrender to the fact that their life is ultimately not in their hands, or to be more accurate, its not in the hands of someone else, even if they really believed that they could give that power to someone else, but their body and mind is not agreeing. Genious. But maybe it takes a lot of crashing first, and thats what we are witnessing now. When the economy in Argentina crashed lot of businesses went bankrupt. The employees all lost their jobs and there was no money left to pay the compensations, so lot of new co-operatives were born when people took power in their own hands and just decided to go back to work. There is a big hotel in the middle of Buenos Aires completely owned by it’s former employees. Imagine the empowerment when one day you are an elevator boy and the next day you own the elevators and everything else, as much as all your co-workers.

I wonder, when is the critical mass reached in the city where I used to live in, so that people will get involved in their own well-being and stop giving the power over their lives to someone else. It doesn’t have to mean catastrophical chaos anarchy. It can be a small shift in attitude that will have massive consequenses. When we take the power in our own hands we also take the responsibility in our own hands. At some point we need to wake up from the wellfare country illusion that there is always some higher institution where we can send the people who we don’t want to see, and start taking care of ourselves well enough so that we can take care of others. Punishment doesn’t work, so we need to find other ways for crime prevention. Mental hospitals and rehab centers are full, so we need to come up with something else. There won’t be space anywhere else to send refugees and immigrants, and integration courses offered by the government are full, so at some point it’s time to stop complaining and start integrating people by ourselves. I have a baby in my belly so I’m just hoping we get there a bit faster, but I know that eventually, maybe after some turbulence, we’ll get there.

YOU CAN ALSO JUST SHUT UP

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But I just had to get that out there! Sometimes you need to take things to the extreme to notice that something is off. Few days ago I was sitting in a small lounge full of people coming and going. They were sharing their frustrations and other burning emotions with the whole room and drifting out again. I had stubbornly decided that I will not get out until I have answered a message that had been waiting to be replied for days, and since this was the only room with working wifi for that day, I didn’t have any calmer options to be in.

The people coming and going are my community family. We have amazing support from each other and abundance of about anything except private space. We have seen each other crash over and over again and there is no taboos here. Plenty of difficult topics that cause conflicts, yes, but it’s hard to keep something as untouched as a taboo when we share our everyday lives so tightly.

As I was sitting in the lounge trying to get my head together I started to feel really bad. I have felt drained by social situations before but then I have left to a calmer place and restored my energy. Now I was just observing how does this feel in my body. It felt terrible, like head ache and nausea that comes from sitting in a cigarette smelling car for too long. The worst part is that it’s impossible to focus and think what is good for me right now because the brain is constantly poked with different triggers and leaves me with so thick fog that it’s like somebody has directed the gas from the exhaust pipe inside from the car window.

I wrote the message to an end, I have no idea what I ended up scribbling on it. Then I went to my room and just laid in the dark, in confusion. I went through what people had felt the need to share, and the expressions on their faces. Nobody seemed energised and content. Some had laughter in their expressions, but most carried their part of some collective frustration of not being heard and seen enough to get their needs met. The thing about living in a community is that what ever is going on, is in one way or another touching all of us. We all carry each others energy, and often we can pick up emotions that are actually not ours to begin with (I’m not sure if any energy is ever ‘ours’ though). When there is no private space to deal with your own state, the only option left is often to vent it out on someone or everyone in the common spaces. I have seen over and over again how a person comes here in quite a present and grounded state, and after a while has totally lost the direction of who they are and what they want to do.

People drift to the kitchen or lounge and mumble “I don’t… I don’t know what I should do. Everything is just off today… ” and then I hear them desperately chasing a story to explain themselves what exactly happened that caused this off-the-flow state. Others notice this as an invitation to share what ever is off in their day, except that it wasn’t an invitation, there never was any invitation. The need to be heard and seen is just so big that the lack of interest is ignored and so it goes on to more and more people tagging along complaining about their day, not knowing what to do about it.

This happens everywhere, not just in communities, and that’s why I’m writing about it. The percentage of people who have the communication skills and the energy to be the listener that cuts this repetitive monologue is much smaller than the people who need the listener.  Listeners burn out and learn to withdraw to protect their energy resources. It is nobody’s duty to listen, but the favour these people do to the whole community is massive, because it’s often the only thing that protects our balance from drifting to complete dissatisfaction and frustration of the whole community at once. As I was listening and observing in the lounge, it became obvious that the things people felt upset about have gained such big proportions because we get so involved here. That happens when we forget to take our space. I realised how often I have jumped on to this collective being upset about something , without making a conscious choice if I want to care. I haven’t taken a moment to feel, does it serve me to get upset out of principal that we don’t order anymore peanut  butter? And now, the more I see others do it, the further away I drift from it, and the easier it becomes to notice. I can just shut up. It doesn’t take my suffering away, but it stops the anxiety of needing to change how things are.

This is amazing. I really want to point this out to people, but I know that they can also hear the irritation from my voice if I say “How about being quiet? Just give it a try! Be quiet, see how that works out for you.” Because with all honesty, even though it helps to be quiet myself, I still get drained from listening to their complaints. It’s for a reason that the term energy vampires has evolved. When something is said with irritation it has much smaller chance of getting into understanding, specially for someone who is just in the middle of a sentence explaining their drama to everyone. Personally, I don’t take it very well either, when someone who is tired of hearing my drama without consent tells me to get empowered and fix my own problems. I don’t care that it’s true, it’s the listening I was going for. I just often forget to ask, do you have the energy to listen to me right now?

We all need listening, but specially in the chronic lack of being heard it can be the worst kind of torture to be exposed to constant meaningless chatter. When a community can’t get past this phase it feels like it’s stuck in some kind of eternal teenage. As hard as it is, it’s vital to take a step back and think if there is any way we could provide ourselves the listening that we need. The best way to listen is to stay quiet and let everything be. It’s a wonderful feeling to choose to shut up.