Turning points

Two years ago, I took a few small footsteps that began my changing the course of my life. Those steps marked a personal turning point, as did many of the more figurative steps that followed them.

Early last year, a friend suggested childhood trauma continued to impact me in ways I couldn’t necessarily see. After first dismissing her words, I soon came to understand how right she was. I began consciously pausing, especially when I felt urgency to respond. This, too, was a turning point for me.

Recently, my ten-year-old asked me, “What’s PTSD again?” Before I had a chance to respond, he sagely continued, “Oh, right! It’s when you can’t tell the difference between the past and the present.” Continue reading “Turning points”

Four decades of libraries

My siblings and I practically grew up at our local library. Apart from having so many more books than even we bibliovores could ever hope to read, it had heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. What wasn’t to love?!

I grew up loving–and arguably surviving thanks to–both books and libraries. It was thus inevitable that my own children would visit their local library frequently, and each have their own local library cards.

We all enjoy our local library, and how we can have books delivered from one branch to another within a day or two.

Recently, we got another delightful library surprise: Continue reading “Four decades of libraries”

I believe you.

Five years ago tomorrow, I posted portions of my own #MeToo experience.

I did so nearly a decade after activist Tarana Burke first used the words “me too” on social media, but a couple years before #MeToo become a movement.

I didn’t hear the phrase “me too” until late 2017, but I was absolutely guided by its sentiment when I wrote in January 2015. Infuriated then by something I’d read from an advocate of Bill Cosby, I began writing about my own experiences.

I wrote because I didn’t want anyone to suffer the aftermath of assault alone, whether after assault at an individual human perpetrator’s hands or subsequent assault by the United States injustice system, or both.

I’m currently reading She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.

As I read about the authors’ journey to breaking the Harvey Weinstein case this early morning, I was inspired to search my email for a particular phrase that showed up several times in posts on my old blog.

That phrase? “I believe you.”

These words, heard by a much younger version of myself in an Oregon courtroom decades ago, were–are–some of the most magical words I have ever heard.

Even before rereading my old blog posts this morning, I knew I was going to write a post weaving together my personal experiences with the many aspects of She Said  to which I personally connect.

As I read the posts, I saw that my as-yet-unwritten post will benefit mightily by my being able to reference the older ones I reread this morning. So I’m posting them here, now, knowing I will be drawing on them soon.

And, just so you know:

I believe you. Still. Continue reading “I believe you.”

In a galaxy both far and near

A few years ago, I began reading Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was fascinated by its explorations of human cognitive biases, but ended up setting it aside half-finished to explore newer interests.

I returned to it about a week ago. Last night, I was within twenty pages of finishing it when I sat down to watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with my family. One particular, quick exchange made me laugh first before then exclaiming, “Wait! I was just reading about this in Kahneman!”

It shouldn’t spoil anything for me to explain this few-second exchange, so: Continue reading “In a galaxy both far and near”

The Elevator Test

I grew up in poverty, chaos, and profound violence.

I spent so much of my childhood convinced I wouldn’t actually survive it, it still often surprises me that I did. More than surviving, I’ve even built a love-filled adult life with a gentle partner and kids who know what I experienced without, blessedly, “knowing” it as I did.

Why put quotation marks around “knowing”? The answer is often clearer, in my experience, to people who’ve already endured life-shattering violence than those who have not, yet:

There are different ways of knowing.

In security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, he writes at length about the power of intuition to enhance safety. Far from being silly and spun from misguided fancy, “when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  1. It is always in response to something.
  2. It always has your best interest at heart.”

Unfortunately, for people without close personal exposure to violence, these words can seem abstract. Trivial. That intuition could provide meaningful data that thought-filled analysis alone cannot often runs counter to their personal experience of the world.

Not having seen the beast up close even once, let alone spent years in its presence, they misunderstand where it lives, how it moves, and what it looks like. Continue reading “The Elevator Test”

Empathy, hijacked

Until two weeks ago, I misunderstood psychopathy.

I believed that all psychopaths were serial killers, and vice versa. I also believed that their numbers were infinitesimally small.

They were, in other words, not worth much consideration, for the chance they’d impact my life personally was negligible.

My path to learning otherwise began with a simple question: What’s it called when someone treats you not as a human, but a need-meeting device? I figured there had to be a word for it, but I didn’t know what that word was.

Fortunately, I happened across a book that answered the question in a single, succinct sentence. In The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success at Work and in Relationships in a Shortcut World, Dr. John Townsend writes, “When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of a desired commodity, that is objectification.”

There was my word: objectification.

I was surprised. Seeing this definition, it was immediately clear I’d misunderstood objectification as strictly sex-related. That misunderstanding had barred me from identifying prior experiences with objectification for what they were.

Armed with the word, I began searching for information on people especially prone to objectifying others. What would these people look like? What other kinds of behaviors might appear together with a propensity to objectify?

I found a few articles on “social predation.” In these articles, I found affirmation that objectification as a routine behavior doesn’t often travel alone.

The people who routinely exhibited this suite of behaviors were “social predators.” Having never found that term before, then, I looked up “social predation.” How had I never heard of it? The answer quickly became clear: when traveling together, this suite of behaviors is more commonly referred to as “sociopathy” or “psychopathy.”

I needed more information than I could glean from a couple of articles. I needed a framework. In short, I needed a book.

I first read Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, in which the author uses the words “sociopathy” and “psychopathy” interchangeably.

As I read, I found myself both intrigued and horrified. Continue reading “Empathy, hijacked”

Words to save lives

A book once helped me, quite possibly, save a life dear to me.

Someone I love had suddenly gone almost completely off the grid. She’d done so soon after meeting a new man.

I hadn’t met her new fella. She barely spoke of him on the now-rare occasion we did talk. I didn’t need to meet him or talk to her about him to be alarmed, especially when she told me she’d moved a long way from home to be with him.

I didn’t need to know him to be concerned. The changes in her behavior told me a lot about his role in her life.

My childhood was practically defined by extensive violence and predation, so that I implicitly recognized its symptoms. I didn’t once need to see violence in action to know something was very wrong.

Unfortunately, implicit knowledge is hard to share. This kind of knowledge, which is intuited instead of learned from books and seminars, is hard to voice in words. It’s a knowing that happens in the body, not the intentionally focused brain, and can thus live in a place where words seldom reach. Continue reading “Words to save lives”