Bleeding hearts?

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“You care about everyone else just as much as you do American’s? What is wrong with you? Everyone knows American’s are the best ever.”

When did compassion become something to be mocked, ridiculed, and disdained?

I can’t count the number of times I have heard and read statements by people recently about compassion as if it is a negative character trait or something they are disgusted with. And it just confuses me. I am not talking about Christianity here. I no longer consider myself a Christian. I am not talking about the Christian responsibility to show love and compassion to people. Although that is also very much a reason to accept refugees and makes me all the more perplexed at what exactly Christianity is supposed to be. The lack of compassion I see seems to be the greatest among self-professing Christians.

What I am talking about here is humanity. I can’t comprehend when someone says that they supposedly care about these people but they don’t want them to come here and/or that they should just deal with it and help themselves. If you don’t do anything, you don’t really care all that much. I don’t actually care how many of the refugees are able-bodied young men with phones or women or children or whoever. Reality check: maybe everyone on the face of the earth doesn’t want to fight in a war. And contrary to what a lot of people believe that doesn’t make you a bad person or a coward. The refugees are running from the very same people that you are so afraid of, and yet you are turning them into people to also be afraid of. I find it cruel and uncaring to not want to help.

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It is in my nature to help people. At times it has gotten me to the point where I let people take advantage of me or walk all over me, and I am working to change that. But I will never regret having compassion. I am a pretty emotional person. I cry when a tragedy takes place on a tv show or movie even if I have already seen it 100 times before. It’s just who I am. And I get incredibly angry when I see people lacking in compassion and empathy. Injustice and lack of compassion are the things that bother me the most. Politics aside, we are all human beings and I believe the duty we have to each other extends far beyond anything else in this world that we think is so important.

I recently saw a comment on a blog that said “I am a human being first and an American second. One’s first duty is always to the human race.” And that is what I am talking about. Excuse my language but I do not give a fuck about how superior you think you are because you are fortunate enough to live in the United States of America. You are not better or more worthy of help or safety than any other human being. Is refusing to help another human being the price we’re willing to pay for some concept of loyalty that we have moralized in this country?

It seems simple to me. If you were facing that kind of danger, you would want someone to take you in. You would want someone to show you compassion regardless of your religious beliefs or political stance or personal morals. Doing the right thing is about treating every single person like a person. Politics and religion cause a lot of division, but at the end of the day we are all still human beings.

The reality is we do dangerous things every single day. We get in our cars and drive to work. The benefits and convenience outweigh the risk we take on. Why should we not be willing to do the same when it comes to human beings. This country was built on refugees. We came here and basically terrorized the people who were already here. If anyone has ever had reason to fear refugees, it was the Native Americans. We did terrible things to them and tried to make them be like us.

And that is the problem. We create fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar because we think everyone should be just like us. If something or someone is different, we don’t care to understand or learn, we simply create an environment of fear. And while there are legitimate things to be fearful of, refusing to aid those in need because we are afraid is no way to live. Wasn’t the whole point of “United we stand” to say to the terrorists and the world that we were not going to let those extremists dictate what our lives were going to be? The whole point is to not walk around in fear. The whole point is to keep on living. And part of living is showing compassion to those who need it the most.

I’m sorry if my compassion makes you uncomfortable. But I would rather be me than you any day.

 

What Is More Important Than Happiness?

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Lots of things.

Compassion. Empathy. Authenticity. Honesty. Courage. Self-awareness. Vulnerability. Humility.

I find all of these things to be far more important than happiness.

Happiness is really just a temporary state. It is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes just like every other emotion we have day in and day out.

You can go about your life not constantly ‘feeling happy’ and yet still have compassion, empathy, authenticity, honesty, courage, self-awareness, vulnerability, humility, and positive action as a part of what your life is and who you are as a person. And I would much rather have that. I would much rather be known to have integrity and a life characterized by those things than be known as someone who is always happy and optimistic.

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I was reading another article someone posted on facebook the other day about happiness and positive thinking and all that stuff. But what intrigued me the most was the comment section. A good half of the comments disagreed with the article’s author about the importance of thinking positive and being happy all the time. The author’s perspective came very much from a place of privilege.

Once comment specifically addressed the near obsession that American’s seem to have with this idea of happiness being the most important thing. And I have to agree. It does seem to be an American preoccupation. I wonder why that is. Maybe because we as a country think that we are better than everyone else in the whole wide world. The more I open my eyes, the more I am beginning to notice this pervasive attitude. That we as Americans are somehow superior to the rest of the world. And why? Because God has blessed us? I find it interesting that a nation supposedly so blessed by God can be so incredibly arrogant.

Mind you, I do love this country. And as often and easy as it is to forget, I am thankful for all that we have here. But the idea that we are somehow better than the rest of the world because God is just heartbreaking to me. Why is it that we deserve more? Why should God care more about Americans than anyone else? Why do we make the assumption that when something bad happens it is God’s judgement and that all of those awful things that are happening in other countries are because those countries are godless? This is where things have fallen apart for me in regards to my former faith and Christianity.

I cannot reconcile saying that “God must have been looking out for me” or “God had a purpose or plan for me” when one person lives and another dies. Ok, so you are somehow more important or special so much so that God decided to save you but all those other people had to die? That girl next to you was killed and you were not so that means it was God’s plan?

It is not even possible to put a positive spin or an optimistic outlook on the terrorist attacks that just took place in Paris, or the horrible violence taking place because of ISIS, or the refugee crisis. Lets please stop pretending that looking at the world through rose colored glasses is going to make those things go away. I can tell you right now that there are people all over the world who are far less concerned with being happy than they are with being safe, fed, sheltered, and even being able to go to sleep at night without terror in their heart and mind.

We take it for granted. Here in America, we vastly take it for granted that our biggest concern is whether or not we are happy. I can’t be a real, true friend with someone who believes that happiness is the answer to everything. It’s naive and frankly childish.

I believe that war should never, ever, ever be our first response. But there is no way in hell that happiness is going to end terrorism or any other atrocity or heart-wrenching tragedy in this world. And there is no way you can convince me that happiness should be my utmost goal in life. Having only one emotion be your ultimate goal seems odd. Who wants that. I want to be and be with real people. A genuine, honest person who is a real friend is not someone who insists that you always be happy around them.

Happiness? It’s a nice feeling. But I want so, so much more.

validation from education

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I know in my head that education is certainly not what defines a person. And there is so much more you can be and do and accomplish without an impressive degree. I have this constant internal battle over whether I should or need to get a masters degree. Living in a college town doesn’t help that much. And honestly I love my job, make enough to support myself, and I’m really not looking to change careers. But I feel the need to prove something to someone with a legitimate, accredited, recognized degree. Who that someone is I am not sure.

It’s hard for me to understand why education is important to me. Even when my mother wasn’t doing anything with us and I was basically teaching my younger siblings, learning was still important to me. But I think at some point it changed into something else. Instead of retaining knowledge and being thrilled by learning, it became this thing that I could use to protect myself and prove to people that I was ok. Excellent memorization skills served me well. It meant I didn’t have to work very hard. I could read things and spit them back out no problem.

My homeschooling experience was awful. I’ve been told by many people that me and my siblings are very lucky that we are all smart and despite serious educational neglect in our early years, we all ended up doing very very well when we finally attended an actual school. I think this has caused a problem for me though. I read somewhere recently that kids who are told all the time how smart they are rather then being praised for their hard work, often grow up expecting things to not be hard or tend to give up when something requires a lot of effort. I find that extremely interesting. The article was so spot on I actually cried.

I constantly battled with thinking that I was stupid. And I was told over and over again just how smart I really was. But I wonder if telling someone how smart they are is really a compliment. After all, wisdom is what really makes someone “smart”. And being born intelligent is really just a matter of chance not choice. School has never been hard for me. Once I started at a school I realized it was something that I could try to use to impress people. I felt deficient in every other possible way, but my grades and ease with memorization gave me something to feel proud about. I couldn’t be good enough, I couldn’t take care of my siblings well enough, I couldn’t interact with people socially, and I couldn’t feel at ease in groups of people, even those I knew well. But I could remember.

But now here I am, spending the past few years attempting to get a graduate degree without really knowing what I want to do with it or why I’m doing it. I’ve taken education courses, I’ve taken criminal justice courses, I’ve taken writing courses, I’ve taken history courses all at different schools. And this latest endeavor has caused me to, yet again, give up. Because it is really hard. And I give up on things when they are hard. It’s a terrible personal failing that I desperately need to work on. But I think it starts with trying to figure out why I became this way to begin with.

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I was also very musically inclined as a child. I learned to sing in harmony when I was 5. My dad taught himself how to play the guitar as did all of my brothers. I took violin lessons for about six years and advanced very quickly with little practice. Our family used to sing together almost every night as well as in church. This was another area of “I can impress people with this” for me. But it was a natural talent, and again I didn’t have to work very hard at all. It came naturally and easily. I don’t really consider my natural abilities to memorize, learn quickly, and sing something to be proud of. The things in life that you are proud of are the things that took the most hard work and effort to accomplish or overcome.

I think my parents and my education failed me in this way. I was told often how smart I was, but it took very little effort to excel in school. And now I am left with this constant feeling that I won’t be able to complete something or that I don’t even want to try. I give up when it gets hard because I am afraid education will become something that I can no longer offer up to people as proof that I have something of value.

I regret my educational background a lot. And I am beginning to think it’s because of this rather then just where I went to school. Because I never had to work for it. It was my trophy that I held up to remind myself every day that I had something. And while I now know that I have a lot of somethings to offer, this inclination to give up when something is hard is not and will not serve me well.

My extremely isolated childhood and homeschool experience most definitely contributed to and maybe even created my issues with social interactions. School and socialization are very much intertwined. In fact I believe that the purpose of school is about a lot more than just learning information from textbooks. It is also about learning about life and other people and that your life and your experience is not the only thing out there. And that is something I never really got.

I was standing in an ungodly long line waiting for my bowl of soup at Panera in the midst of the University of Delaware’s campus the other day and I was reminded yet again of my social ineptitude. All these 20 year old’s were standing around me talking excitedly about school and getting pissed that it was taking so long for our food to be ready and my anxiety and nerves kicked in immediately as a girl next to me started talking to me.

Sometimes it seems so ridiculous to me that I can be that socially awkward, but it is true. It’s not that I am not capable of having conversations with strangers or people I don’t know. It’s that the anxiety is so intense and overwhelming that I am exhausted after only 5 minutes. It’s very annoying. I think I need to take some kind of class to learn how to be social. It does not come naturally to me at all. And I never learned as a child.

Textbook learning and social learning go hand in hand. And education itself will never truly validate you as a human being.

the ok place

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My dad recently came to visit with his girlfriend and my brother, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, it was an enjoyable get-together without a hint of stress or anxiety. It was really nice to have a family gathering for the weekend that wasn’t a situation where I felt like I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible to avoid the awkwardness and lack of conversation (to which I am a contributor).

There are a few reasons for that. The first is that it wasn’t surrounding a holiday. For whatever reason, the holiday season puts a lot of pressure on people. And when there are strained family relationships, it’s all the more stressful. The second reason is that in my mental health journey and battle against depression, I have come to this place where I am ok with whatever state I’m in. I stress less because I’m ok with being just ok. It’s ok that I’m not there yet. It’s ok that I still slip and fall and have bad days mentally and emotionally. It’s ok that I don’t have all the answers I feel I need or want. It’s ok that I still wake up some days with crippling anxiety wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life.

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Being in that ok place is a nice place to be compared to where I’ve been. It’s not as hard. It’s not as overwhelming and energy-sucking. It’s not a fix-all or a place of accomplishment or success. What it is is acceptance. Acceptance of who I am and where I am. And that means that I can process things without being so afraid it’s going to consume me. I’ve been there in that all-consuming fear for a very long time. And it is honestly more exhausting than actually dealing with the issues that cause the fear in the first place.

Facing your issues is hard. It is really hard work. And when you are in the midst of depression it’s impossible to address them. The epitome of depression is that you literally do not care about doing anything that you normally do. It’s as if something in your brain shuts down. You often don’t even care that you have issues to deal with, you just want to disappear. And one huge, huge feeling you do battle with when in that depression is guilt. Guilt because you just aren’t even really capable of being there for people. Guilt because you can barely get out of bed and take care of yourself, never mind anyone else. That is probably the hardest part about it. But that is another thing that I have become ok with. I feel less guilty these days because I know I have to take care of myself. If you are empty and broken yourself, you really don’t have anything to give to anyone else.

There are a lot of people who just can’t handle someone who battles depression. And that’s sad. It’s partially because there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness but also because if you’ve never been there yourself it can be hard to comprehend what it’s like. I know that people who have never dealt with depression, either themselves or with close loved ones, can have a difficult time understanding what the problem is and “why can’t you just get over it?”

I think the that word ‘depression’ is used too frequently for sadness. People will say, “oh, I’m so depressed my team didn’t win.” But that isn’t accurate. You may be sad, disappointed, frustrated, angry, or pissed off, but you aren’t actually depressed about something so trivial. I think the misconception comes in when people think that depression is some sort of response to a bad or negative thing happening. But that’s not how it works. Often the depression comes first and then all kinds of feelings come. Or no feelings come at all. But they are in no way the same thing. Sadness is a feeling. Depression isn’t really a feeling so much as a state of being. You are in this place where you go back and forth between feeling everything and feeling nothing at all.

In the Christian fundamentalist circles I come from, there are a number of books that have been written (none of which I would recommend) that address depression as being something that happens when you are ungrateful, or sad, or selfish, or lonely. And it’s all crap. People can get into a mild or short-term depression from a specific event or tragedy happening. But the real serious depression is a thing all its own. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with your current circumstances or your current feelings. Some of my worst bouts of depression came on for absolutely no reason at all. It isn’t logical.

I know when I am beginning to fall into a depression again because I start to notice myself just not caring anymore. I don’t care about food, or work, or reading, or anything that I normally enjoy. I just start to get this emptiness. A fog comes in and I could sit on the couch and stare at the wall for a very long time without giving it a second thought that that isn’t normal. But I have definitely gotten better at recognizing it a little quicker. Unfortunately I still stumble with using the right tools to address it. When you’re there, it’s hard to comprehend that it could ever possibly end. Your brain plays a trick on you and makes you believe that this is it. You’re never going to get better. You’re never going to find motivation, or desire to get up and get your life back.

And people don’t know what to do. You often don’t know what to do yourself. People in your life may try to cheer you up, or make you feel better, or distract you. But none of those things work because there isn’t a simple fix. And really no one else can do anything to help aside from listening and being there. I think attempts to cheer up a depressed person can often actually make things worse. Because the problem isn’t that you don’t feel happy, or cheerful, or excited. You can feel all of those things while you’re depressed, and often do. The problem is that your brain is telling you that it does not even matter whether you feel anything. Nothing matters.