Monthly Archives: February 2020

Year of activism #7

The sunsets are spectacular at the moment and it is the particles in the air, probably from the bushfires, that is making them so. The sun and our blue dot spinning around in the galaxy, with the light waves bouncing off the horizon inviting us in each evening to reflect on what has been, what the darkness is calling us to and as a constant reminder of the rhythm of nature. What meaning do we put on the beauty in the skies? Do we know what we are seeing? Is gazing into the beginning of darkness and being captured by the wonder of it all, desensitizing us for what might be ahead? The glow of summer in the heavens, might well be a version of the afterglow of an affair with a narcissist. We have been seduced by lovers of fossil fuels, so seduced we didn’t listen to our mother, we didn’t notice all the acts of infidelity along the way. And then when it was almost too late we woke up and yet still wanted to go back to the way it was, surely it could be fixed? What did I do wrong? Can’t I make it better? Could we try again? But it is not about us the ones who are waking up. We have do to the breaking up, the aching and grieving. We have to get stronger everyday and keep turning our backs on our old lover. We have to know we were seduced and it is over, give up our addiction and find friends who can keep us on the straight and narrow who can keep us ‘sober’.

We will fall and we will have moments of failure and self-loathing. These sun sets are a version of gaslighting undermining us and giving us fake news about what is really going on. Like a hit of dopamine to keep us in the game and bring on amnesia. We have to be strong and resist – that’s what friends are for – people who can hold us steady, not blame when we falter and who will show us and support us to find our way back.

I have real trouble with people metaphorically shouting at me in their writings and actions about what has to be done. I am sometimes paralysed. The kind of help I need is compassion, understanding and gentle encouragement. I find I need to be coaxed not yelled at. To be noticed and encouraged when I make a little adjustment and take a little more responsibility, really helps me.

Perhaps we need a 12 step program as a world so we can recover from our addiction to fossil fuels? I am sure I am not the first person who has thought of this. My adaptation of the 12 steps for a activist in these times:

  1. Admit you were powerless over fossil fuels — that your life had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself (Mother Earth/ Creation) could restore you to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of Mother Earth
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to Mother Earth, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of your relationship with fossil fuels and where it has led you
  6. Be ready to have Mother Earth remove your defective ways
  7. Humbly asked Mother Earth to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all species, beings and places you harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends wherever possible and find ways to bring your contributions to join with others on the same path
  10. Continue to take personal inventory, and when you falter, admit and move on.
  11. Foster a spiritual relationship with Mother Earth and all of creation.
  12. Be informed by your spiritual practice on how to invite others to join you

Despite this approach it is structural and even my best efforts and the ones of those around me aren’t enough to turn this ship around. We are tug boats in the harbour, but maybe with enough of us it will be enough. Thinking my little bit isn’t much use is seductive. As Brene Brown’s research has taught us how shame takes hold with two messages: “you are never good enough” and “who do you think you are?” I wonder if this is what is turning up as activists too? Brown says shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. So picking up that thread I can take some tiny steps, maybe not all the big 12 steps, towards kicking the habit and not being seduced by shame because my efforts do matter,
I am making a difference and when my difference is added to another’s there is the potential for structural change and for today that is enough. Keep a focus on the practice, the behaviour and not on the self, surely another instruction from Mother Earth who spins and toils with the rhythm of night after day. And give up the shame of being seduced by sunsets.

Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.



Year of activism #5

I have been watching out for people recently who deflect an argument and instead start blaming the other, squirming and twisting their original position to introduce another idea or perhaps say they haven’t been heard and begin to make the conversation a battle of wits. It has been pointed out to me this is a good way of detecting narcissism or at the very least gaslighting. What is the antidote when we are faced with this as activists as well? My memory goes to Al Gore being called out for having high usage light bulbs at his place at the same time as spreading the inconvenient truth about climate change, of to people who still use terms like dole bludger and blame the victim for structural inequality. Maybe each of us from time to time use this tactic when we are failing to get our argument across the line and so resort to base behaviour and blame the other person for problems they have made a contribution too. Then there is the bullying, at whole population levels too, and we see this in governments and political and business leaders around the world. The most famous one occupying the White House.

What can we do when we hear, see and experience this behaviour? I have been thinking about this a lot as I know I usually give people the benefit of the doubt, then look to myself first at what I might have done or are doing to contribute and then by the time I might have cycled through all those examinations, I am the frog in boiling water who didn’t notice the temperature going up and I have drowned … or a nation that elects a fascist because we didn’t call it out early enough.

First things first, inoculate yourself. If you are wondering if it is you, check yourself against your own record of behaviour, ask a few trusted friends to give you feedback and listen to what they tell you. Ask them to notice, witness and reflect back what they see. Build in some feedback loops into your system and then use them. This might be creating some policies, procedures for yourself, the system and when they are put to the test, do it all again – test, refine, improve and then apply – it is all in the execution. Do this with compassion for yourself and the other, enter with curiosity not to shame. Be focussed on the truth in these post-truth times. Build the evidence and point it out and keep the arc of history bending towards justice. We are building our language around this practice by asking for Fact Checks and lets keep doing that, in a public way, exposing the truths. This requires consistency and to quote the RSL, it requires eternal vigilance. Ask people to take personal responsibility where you can and don’t undo their behaviour for them. If the facts don’t add up, tell them, ask them to withdraw or apologise or re-state the truth. This will often be met with disappointment, anger, outright denial or an escalation in the behaviour – and if it does you can be reassured it is not you – and you now know what you are dealing with. It is an exercise worth doing if only to check this phenomena.

When this intersection arrives it is time for more self-protection and to call on all you can inside yourself and ask others to join you. Keep the fact checking up. Make the facts visible. Don’t go in alone. Join others who have the same issue – this is the beginning of a movement, or a class action or some transformational change. Notice that shift and mark it in some way. Keep on moving forward, and keep taking a breath, stop and rest when you need to because by now you are not alone and you can take a moment to recover and refuel, there will still be room for you when you are ready to come back … don’t forget to come back.

The political discourse is full of bullies and gaslighters and they are in many of the conversations we are having, what might start out as feeling like we have an ally, ends up horribly and we are busy trying to protect ourselves and have lost sight of how it all started. If you notice these behaviours of distracting, deflecting, stalling and distortions of the truth, start with the fact checking, it may not be enough to end it, but it will be enough for you to stop checking yourself. You will be able to land back into your self-respect and get a dose of psychological salts for your well-being which at a minimum will help make your stronger for the next time. Fact checking is for the system as well as for your self.

Year of activism #4

For those following along at home, you will know I have moved house. Moving is very disruptive and many a psychological survey put it in the top three stressful things alongside death and divorce. The buying, selling, moving weren’t that stressful, but the settling in has been tougher. Adaptation doesn’t come easily. It is a consequence of my privilege to be able to be unsettled. Not everyone can move when they want to and not everyone has the luxury of moving to somewhere safe, near family and the beauty of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Being unsettled for a while is a small price to pay at one level, but the existential challenge to ‘land’ is real, and it is taking time.

In this year of activism I am reflecting on this privilege. Those in islands, close to coastlines and living on deltas around the world are the first to be bearing the consequences of our common home having the sea levels rise. Those fleeing from war, famine and drought and looking for a safer place to raise a family don’t have the same number of choices open to me. Those with an Australian passport, or indeed any passport, still have a place to call on to give them refuge.

Unpacking what I have, finding the seeds of ideas and poems first sown in old note books, I am still throwing things away. I even managed to fill another bin yesterday as I begun to set up a space where I can work. I mused about what I was discarding and why. Not quite setting a criteria but saving blank pages in half filled note books took priority over the pages that had been scribbled on. One thing I did not throw away, and was really pleased to discover, was an original paper I had written in October 1992 (and then was reworked and published by Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace in 1993). I have mentioned this previously in a post last year, ironically on Mother’s Day. I presented it at an ecumenical Economics and Ethics workshop in North Adelaide when I had just turned 34. I was a mum of four children by then ranging in age from 12 to 5. I had completed a Masters degree in Peace Studies a few years earlier and was really keen to keep refining my thinking around economics and ethics from a Christian perspective, especially factoring in new thinking on environmental and feminist theologies that were emerging. I am a little surprised I didn’t keep going with this work and have no real idea why I started to dilute its place in my thinking … well apart from the dysfunction of the patriarchal church I found myself in, little kids and life!

In the paper I opted for an organic gardening book‘s analysis of the difference of what was and mostly still is, dominant paradigm of Newtonian physics, from quantum physics. Where an approach to change was from continuous to discontinuous and from uniform to quantum leaps; and the source of power from entropy to creative power; and problem solving being approached from either/or to both/ and. I backed my thinking by invoking economist and futurist Hazel Henderson and a few theologians like Sallie McFague, Tom Berry and eco-feminists like Carolyn Merchant and Charlene Spretnak. I built a framework from the effects of others and added in an ecumencial perspective, and that being the principle to do whatever we could together and only stand apart when it was impossible from a doctrinal point of view not to act together. My thesis being that the planet is our common home, gifted to all of us and that we should treat the earth as our mother and all the global commons as our sisters and brothers. The reason I was giving this workshop was to support the combined churches in my home town to discern a strategy and course of action to support our planet, respect our humanity and foster or even perhaps create, inclusive models of economic development. Finding this paper has shown me the depth of my roots and also caused me concern about how I have left so much of this to lie fallow, or at least not well attended to in the most recent years.

The pillars I promulgated were:

  • Shifting from Father Right to Nature Right
  • Working for justice, peace and the integrity of creation
  • Inclusion of the other
  • Remembering the future

And the questions to assist discernment to be:

  • Is our reflection coming from a breakdown or breakthrough analysis of the signs of the times?
  • Are we taking into account the integrated nature of social, economic, cultural and environmental variables?
  • Are we questioning Father Right and therefore including feminine, global and intergenerational variables?
  • What are the global commons, common wealth, common good and common security implications of the idea?

I think these have held up pretty well over these last nearly thirty years and is causing me to reflect on what I have done to keep these questions and practices alive and what it means to rediscover them in this move. The paper is a note to self from the past. It also feels that perhaps one of its purposes was to be a note to self for the future as well and that is it not an accident it has been called out of the recesses of boxes long closed and I am being prompted to learn and discern again as this year of activism unfolds. These were not new ideas at the time and they certainly aren’t now, however they are giving me comfort and helping me to land as I recalibrate and get settled.