Stuff I Hate (Sharing Negativity Is Gloriously Spiritual!)

Some say that spiritual writing should be uplifting and optimistic. I agree, but with a twist. Few activities are more soul-affirming than sharing sources of annoyance and even bitterness with fellow souls. This pursuit carries a fundamental positivity: a belief that other human beings want to know the real you, the whole you, not merely the pieces that seem loving and joyful.

I hope you’ll agree that hate, very often, is the flip side of love. When we hate something, it may be because we believe in the possibility of loving something else. The hated entity represents lost possibility for something glorious to have existed instead. And when we share with other souls the reasons for our displeasure, we’re saying to those souls: “We trust you with our messiest feelings because we love you.”

When you publish writing about discontent and send it out for all kinds of souls to read, you’re trusting, and loving, souls you’ve never even met. To me, this seems akin to loving God… or whatever spiritual forces might be out there. You’re assuming that beings who are not yet known to you will have empathy and compassion: that they’ll be open to you despite (or maybe even because of) your complaints about the world. Kvetching to an audience you can’t control or predict is an act of faith that holiness is possible.

And so… here it comes: expressions I hate, concepts that make me bristle. In the end, ideas can be much more powerful than things, preying on and shaping our minds with much more force than physical entities. May we face it all with bravery, and a willingness to change.

Politics

To clarify, the real problems for me are political groups and parties… and factions that define themselves along political lines. It feels so odd to me that successful U.S. politicians pretty much have to be either Democrats or Republicans… and the rare exceptions who make some headway outside that scheme seem to align with some other party: Libertarian or whatever.

I know this all hangs together for most people, but I believe in just having ideas —millions of them on all kinds of issues — and not identifying with a party. One idea might seem Libertarian, another might be more Socialist, a third might just be your quirky take on some question. I find myself missing high school elections, when kids ran based on their individual constellations of plans and goals for the school. I didn’t even pay much attention to those elections, and yet… I knew enough to realize that there were no political parties when people duked it out for senior class president. It was candidate against candidate, each with an independent vision of what was best for the class and the school.

That’s how it should be at every political level, I think: people digging deep into their souls and deciding where they stand on each issue they care about. This business of Democrats against Republicans seems crazy to me. The only way to call up true leaders is to let visionaries who transcend parties express their unique constellations of ideas and passions.

You might say that our system has worked for hundreds of years, and we shouldn’t tamper with an effective setup. But… um… I think it might be time for an overhaul. We’d need to have some arrangement in place to make sure we don’t wind up with a clown or a lunatic in a high office: some might say that’s the mainstream parties’ job now. But that would be doable with the right people planning. It’s not like our current system has a pristine record in this area.

And it goes far beyond government politics. Hasidic sects who don’t trust each other’s restaurants because their opinions on Israel differ, as if the owner’s views on Israeli politics could somehow seep into the gefilte fish. People who say: “Well, Catholics believe…” when I ask for their individual takes on a theological question. Religious Jews who imply that everyone stricter than they are is fanatical and everyone less strict is a heretic…. and burrow into a tiny hole with people who seem just like them.

People! Dig into your own unique minds and decide what you think and how you feel about each question that means something to you. You don’t need a political party or a narrow sect within a sect. You need to trust and cultivate your own universe of thought and perception.

Grabbing Food/Meals

No, I don’t want to grab lunch with you. I’d be delighted to have lunch with you, but not if we have to grab it. Eating is sacred. Every bite of something delicious should be savored. Who came up with this idea of grabbing food? It puts me in mind of monkeys in a jungle, stuffing leaves and insects into their mouths. Come on. We’re better than that.

“Tenant” Meaning A Principle Or Belief Of A Religion Or Philosophy

If this doctrine truly is a tenant and not a tenet of your belief system, at least try to make sure that it’s paying enough rent. Religions charge way too much for various events and memberships. If their tenants coughed up a bit more, maybe they could ease up on their believers.

This one is partly my own fault. I pride myself on being so open, and yet, I, too, can fall into snobbery. Just know this, for whatever it might be worth to you: If you tell me about a tenant of your faith, I’ll start to tune you out. I’ll probably be polite, but you don’t want to know what I’ll be thinking. I realize, deep in my soul, that you might be making fantastic points, but I just can’t rise up and listen with a full heart and a pure mind.

I’m so sorry. I should be better. Though I’m trying to work on this, I’m pessimistic about my potential here. If you’d like to touch my mind and inspire me to value your thoughts, please remember this.

Folks

When did this word become popular? Is it one person’s fault, or was it a gradual trend that finally reached a horrifying crescendo? “Good morning, Folks!” “How are you folks doing out there?” Am I the only one who pictures a bunch of grimy-looking people in suspenders and hastily sewn dresses dancing around a barn when I hear “folks”?

I well understand the motivation for this word. I love the idea of using a gender-neutral term that means “all humans.” But not all humans are “folks.” Is the Queen of England a folk? How about the men who bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon? For that matter, what about you? Are you a folk? I’m serious: are you?

Clearly, different readers will answer this question in different ways. Some of you may actually be folks. Please know that I am open to folks; there’s nothing personal here. But it saddens me when so many people make blanket assumptions about entire audiences, even whole countries. Non-folks like me really start to bristle when this happens.

Gals

Finding words for humans is tricky; I’ll concede that. Gals. Yikes. It’s strange because “guys” suits me just fine and feels gender-neutral to me, but I know many women think it ignores their femininity. I’m sort of a gender-minimalist, so, even though I do identify as a woman, I don’t like when my loosely accepted gender is rammed into my face as the central part of my being. I’m a woman medically, and kind of socially, but I might be a 5.1 on a scale where 0 is complete masculinity and 10 is complete femininity. So “gals” just grates.

“Would you gals like to meet me for coffee?” It would be lovely to meet you for coffee, but not if I have to be a gal. For some reason, “gal” makes me picture a tall, blonde woman who likes to ride horses. I’m not sure why. I’m curious whether others agree, but my mind is my mind, and if I think “tall blonde equestrian” when I hear “gal,” then that’s how it is for me. When you refer to a group I’m part of as “gals,” I feel left out. I say to myself: “I guess it will be fun to meet with a bunch of blonde female equestrians, and it’s nice that they’re including me, but it would be much nicer if people didn’t make false assumptions about me.”

Privilege

I know very well that I’m asking for it here. “It” meaning all manner of badness. I am very well aware that some have it easier than others. Some have huge trust funds and get to hang out, be artists, and savor delicacies in the city of their choice; others are working two soul-grinding jobs and still have trouble paying their bills. Some come from backgrounds that elicit disproportionate fear or even hatred, while others can move through their various rounds with little worry that they they’ll inspire an immediate bad reaction. Some are healthy at 95; others are dying at 8. I could go on. And that’s part of the problem.

Everyone is a bundle of advantages and disadvantages, and this goes far beyond the categories we typically think about. Some had fabulous relationships with extended family members who boosted their confidence and their sense that the world is filled with love. Others battled nasty aunts, uncles, and cousins who sapped their pride and made them fear meeting new people. Some who come from racial groups that often inspire hatred or discomfort are exquisitely gorgeous by most people’s standards, boosting their odds of friendship and success immensely. Some who are unmistakably white are also homely to most eyes, leaving them out of all kinds of opportunities. Some people have glorious voices: resonant and clear. Others speak with a squeak or a rasp, making interaction with them unpleasant even if they’re physically beautiful. Their odds of being hired after an interview plummet, and the person making the decision may not realize why.

Some people are way too short even if they’re not technically dwarfs, but let’s not go there since I’m trying to branch out and move beyond my own concerns. Some humans (I know, I know, but I’m trying to vary my word choice and I’m certainly not going with “folks”) always seem to smile at just the right time, winning people over with a few well-placed grins. Others just don’t have the right combination of calm and facial control to pull that off. Some people almost always look angry or depressed or haughty or… some other variety of unpleasant. All things equal, they won’t get hired, make that friend, etc.

Before you announce: “Check your privilege,” consider the possible nuances and complexities. You may be talking to someone who is white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, and from an affluent background. But how did his aunt and cousins who lived next door treat him throughout his childhood? Do his typical facial expressions turn people off immediately… including gatekeepers for key opportunities? Might he tend to lack the energy to seem enthusiastic and charming, giving other people the impression that he’s boring and not worth their time? Could this be because he has the very beginnings of an illness that will kill him at 55, even though no one will realize for many years?

Privilege is not overrated, but it’s way oversimplified. Expand your sense of possibility before throwing such a loaded word around.

If I Were You

What a crazy, nonsensical thing to say to someone. If you were me, you’d be me. You wouldn’t be you on any level at all. You’d have exactly my thought process, my life history, my stream of awareness, my self. “If I were you, I’d watch out.” If you were me, you’d be me, and I’m not watching out, so you just wasted your words.

You meant to say something like: “If I had my consciousness and opinions but were in your situation regarding the particular issue we’re exploring…” I know that’s wordier than “If I were you,” but brevity is meaningless when you make no sense.

Epiphenomenon

This is unfair of me, but I hear this word too often, and it seems to symbolize many of my dissatisfactions. I bet you’re thinking: “I don’t relate to this at all; I never hear that word.” And I bet you don’t live in Harvard Square. If you do live in Harvard Square, and, like me, you enjoy eavesdropping on conversations in cafés, you might just feel me on this one.

You may be wondering what “epiphenomenon” means. I hope I don’t lose my standing in the Cambridge universe, but I just looked it up in the Apple dictionary I have on my computer, to be sure I’m not misleading you here. I basically knew what it meant, I swear. But, you know, I want to be safe. Here is my dictionary’s definition: “A secondary effect or byproduct that arises from but does not causally influence a process, in particular.” In medicine, this can mean “a secondary symptom, occurring simultaneously with a disease or condition but not directly related to it.” It can also mean “a mental state regarded as a byproduct of brain activity.”

Within the past 3 days, I’ve heard the word used in various contexts, in various ways. And I was OK with it. There are problems and there are problems, and, in the scheme of things, overhearing the word “epiphenomenon” 4 times in one day is a minor complaint, even if a woman with a neat bun on her head used both the plural “epiphenomena” and the adjective “epiphenomenal.” Of course, I would have been even more turned off if she had mentioned “epiphenomenons”: both correctness and incorrectness were irksome here, because, frankly, I was being a bit unreasonable. It wasn’t an issue; she was the type who would never say “epiphenomenons.”

But then I got pushed past the edge of acceptance. A 60-ish professor type with a short salt-and-pepper beard and a Hawaiian-looking shirt kept insisting to the young woman across from him that near-death experiences are an epiphenomenon of neurological changes that happen during physiological stress. She was nodding away, not saying much, and I suspected she wasn’t totally in tune with this professor on this point but didn’t want to contradict him. I was at the table right next to them, and I said: “Some have shared near-death experiences that seem to suggest that they entered a mystical realm. They picked up information they never could have known through normal channels. At least that’s what they say. I don’t think there’s proof, but some of those stories will blow your mind.”

He looked at me, made brief eye contact, looked back at his friend (probably his student) and continued going on about how that whole arena of experience is “just an epiphenomenon.” Something set off in my soul right then, and I sensed that I would always have a grudge against that word. It represented something I loathe: refusal even to consider realms we can’t currently see or know, while cloaking that refusal in fancy terms and seemingly intellectual jargon.

It’s a shame, though, because there are times when “epiphenomenon” is just the right word. I’m open to reclaiming it as my own. My problems with “epiphenomenon” are situational, while the other words and phrases I’ve discussed often fly against my inherent grain. Ending with “epiphenomenon” feels freeing, because I can honestly say that I’m open to reconsidering my distaste. Epiphenomenon, show me a better path to your glory. Let this essay lead to mental expansion, not the irrational smallness of “if I were you” or the cringing embarrassment of “tenant of my religion.”

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if true growth came out of this essay? That wouldn’t be an epiphenomenon. It would be the center, the key, the most important thing to result from this small but stimulating project. Bring it on. But maybe give me a break from hearing “epiphenomenon” first. One day, I may start to miss it. And that could be the beginning of something enormous.

 

Image Credit: “Disgust,” by Hina Ichigo. June 28, 2015, on flickr.com