Straight lines

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

I’m bad at boundaries.

Most people I know are bad at boundaries.

Is that because most people are bad at boundaries? Or because only people who are bad at boundaries can tolerate people who are bad at boundaries?

I notice, when I try to instate or uphold healthy boundaries, that a lot of people don’t like it. My first thought, of course, is that I’m doing it wrong. Which may be true. But I suspect it’s probably more to do with violated expectations.

I also notice, when I try to instate or uphold healthy boundaries, that I often don’t really like it either. It’s hard work. It’s effort to maintain the balance of empathy and kindness with drawing lines. I fuck it up a lot.

I also notice, though, that when other people set clear boundaries, I love it. It doesn’t happen that often, but I feel so free when it does.

So I know what I am chasing: People to draw adjoining shapes with.

Underwhelming realities

For me, there’s a tension to everything right now. I’ve been having new conversations, and people have been disappointing me. No-one is meeting me where I am, and I’m tired of having to do so much legwork. And I wonder if it’s worth it, or if I’m walking the wrong way.

Confronting reality is often disappointing. That’s why so many of us avoid it. The truth is usually less palatable than we’d like. But we can’t change a reality that we can’t see, which is why finding the courage to air it all out is important.

So I know all of this low-grade strain is for a good cause. I know it is a prerequisite for a better reality.

But still, it would be nice to, just for once, simply, be pleasantly surprised.

Dishonest conversations

I’ve heard a few different arguments against using the word ‘privilege’ in my discussions.

In recent years I have tried to take other people’s word at face value, to guard against too heavily projecting my own ideas. I’ve trained myself, even when I know they’re not giving me the truth, and especially when I know they don’t even know they’re not giving me the truth, just to operate as if I believe them anyway, to give them a chance to prove my assumptions wrong.

That was an important part of my personal development, but I’m gonna have to start delving into some subtext more often, because people are fucking BULLSHITTING right now.

It’s almost always very privileged people bullshitting most about privilege. Go fucking figure, eh?

I come from an unequivocally working class background. I don’t fit in there really, but it is where I’m from, it has shaped me irrevocably, and I know some things about that place. Working class people are pretty likely to give it to you straight why they don’t like the idea of privilege. They’ve had to grind for everything they’ve got. If they can manage to get by, it’s because they fucking earned it. Everybody else should too. Don’t fucking talk to them about privilege. They don’t have it.

Middle class people are the ones who are going to say “Yes, I know I’m very privileged” in that politically correct way that doesn’t reach their eyes. But, the truth is, most of them are thinking exactly the same thing as the working class people are thinking – “I earned all this shit I’ve got. I deserve it.” They know it’s generally socially unacceptable to to say that when there are so many people struggling, so they pay lip service to their ‘privilege’. But deep down they have to keep believing that this is a fair world where, if you work hard and are a good person, you’ll be alright. And the reason they have a good life is because they work hard and are a good person.

People think that if they acknowledge that other people face barriers that they don’t face it will diminish their entitlement to what they have. Whether it does or not probably depends on what exactly they are claiming ownership of. But either way the discomfort of that possibility is what prevents them from looking at it. So they will say what they have to say so that they don’t have to look at it. And it will never reach their eyes.

As long as people keep doing that – having dishonest converstions about privilege – we’re going to be stuck with a world of inequality.

Unveiled spectacles

I’m quite a reserved person around most people. When those people aren’t looking, though, I am an unabashed, all-singing, all-dancing spectacle. I don’t know if the same is true for other outwardly reserved people. I’ve come to believe it is not, based on what I have heard, even though intuitively it feels like it should be.

My son is an all-singing, all-dancing spectacle. But, often, around other people, he’s gone quiet. At nursery, in particular, he was not at all the same person as he was at home. I worried that my reservation around people – my ineptitude with small talk, my politeness overbearing my warmth, my stance of one foot in and one foot out when stopped in the street – had rubbed off on him. I worried he’d already caught my reserved-person-ness, and that is not something I want to burden another all-singing, all-dancing spectacle with.

When lockdown was decreed, my concern was heightened. Now he wasn’t getting the socialisation he was previously getting, away from me. Now, not only was I his overwhelmingly primary influence, but it was also mainly just me and him, and some occasional strangers we had to stay away from. I tried not to entertain the visions of him refusing to make eye contact with anyone outside of the home by the end of all this.

But something different happened. He doesn’t go quiet around strangers anymore. An old man went by and asked if he’d found anything good in the dirt he was sifting though, and instead of looking down with a shy smile, he said he’d found some rocks, and they had a fairly extended conversation where they exchanged names and opinions about worms, cleared up some questions about his trike, and talked about how old and decrepit I am.

Now, he’s even started soliciting conversation with strangers. He shouts hello to other children he likes the look of. He talks very loudly about the huskies we see so their owners feel obliged to stop. We passed an old lady in the street the other day, he said hello, and when she replied, he asked her if she’d been shopping. He was climbing a tree in the park today and when a young girl walked past with her dog he shouted to her “look at meeeee!”. We had a short conversation with my neighbours earlier, and when they went inside he kept repeating ‘see you later!’ louder and louder until they replied.

Something has changed, and I don’t know if it’s something I did right, or if this is a developmental thing, or if he’s just so starved for human interaction that he’s had to take it upon himself.

But now I think it’s time to start worrying about what my version of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ needs to be.

Use each other’s eyes

We’re all stuck seeing things from wherever we see them from.

And then we’re all stuck talking to each other from whatever place we’re seeing things from.

We’ll never all agree. That’s not just okay, but desirable.

But in times of disagreement, we really want to feel like we are seen. Often our entire aim in an arguent is simply to be seen and understood by the other person. The thing is, though, we are seen. It’s just that we’re seen through the distorted lens of the other person, which is different from the distorted lens we use to see ourselves, and our arguments, and our values. They understand us differently from how we understand ourselves. Neither side is objectively correct. But if we’re able to trust the other person’s vision, alongside trusting our own, we will start to see things we couldn’t see before.

Like two eyes, right? Two eyes are better than one. I imagine that’s why we have them. Use them separately – monocular vision – and each eye can see different things. Combining the information gives you a wider range of view. Use them together on the same objective reality – binocular vision – and the disparity in perception from each eye allows you to assess something about that reality that neither eye could do alone – it lets you judge distance; it lets you see depth.

We desperately need to learn to use each other’s eyes.