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Love Letters to Humans (no. 83) — on Making Enemies

Where did you learn that differences and conflict necessarily produce enemies? What if that isn’t even remotely true?

No one can choose for you what they will be to you. Other people cannot make themselves our friends, our beloveds, or our enemies—only we can do that.

What if we create our enemies out of differences and disagreement simply because we want an enemy to fight?

Okay, but… who wants enemies? That just sounds weird, but stay with me for a minute, if you will.

I do. (I did.) I have wanted enemies. Recently, even. Sometimes I make temporary enemies out of the people I love most, like Ben, my teachers, my family. Sometimes it’s whoever is in charge. Sometimes it’s everything… the way the world is right now.

I’m starting to see how easy it is to avoid my own responsibility when I have someone or something else to fight with, blame, or hold in contempt. I don’t have to look at the real problem, because *they* are the problem. If I can control, change, or destroy them, my problem is solved.

But that’s never quite how it works, is it?

I want something. I want something to be different. Rather than taking responsibility for my own decisions and the consequences of making the thing different, I blame you. I try to get you to make things different. Now I want *you* to be different so I can be okay. And if you refuse to be different, you are the reason I am not okay. You are responsible for how I feel, not me.

Creating enemies out of conflict or disagreement is codependency, a way to ensure that responsibility (and power) rest absolutely with someone outside ourselves. It is a fierce commitment to opposition over liberation, and a commitment to dismissing possibility and missing our shared humanity.

Remind me of this often. I’m still learning it and it is so uncomfortable.

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Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 82)

Right relationship is a practice. How do you choose to regard and speak to yourself and others when you’re uncertain, afraid, uncomfortable, or not getting what you want?

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the relational fuckeries of Attack, Defend, Avoid, and Control. These are go-to strategies we tend to use when we feel powerless and want to win our relationships instead of cultivate them. They are strategies for trying to hide our vulnerability, avoiding our feelings and responsibility, and distancing ourselves from other people—but not in that important #FlattenTheCurve kind of way.

Over the past few days (okay, yesterday afternoon 😬) I’ve noticed myself falling into old, habitual patterns of reaching for accusation, manipulation, blame, nagging, I’m right/you’re wrong, interruption, and a general failure to listen to, be present with, appreciate, and cherish myself and people who are important to me. When I do these things I can feel both my integrity & my relationships eroding, and it has ultimately never gotten me what I was hoping for.

I don’t take inventory of my own relational fuckery to punish or diminish myself. I reflect to recognize that in my more graceless moments, I have needs that are not being met, and to remind myself that my needs are worthy of regard… and so are others’.

We cannot meet others with care, safety, patience, and nourishment that are not available to us (or that we are denying ourselves). For me, failing to practice right relationship this week is information that some part of me needs care, safety, patience, or nourishment—from within or without—and I have a choice about how I go after getting my needs met.

In my fear, uncertainty, urgency, and discomfort I can judge and do the familiar things I have learned to do—Attack, Defend, Avoid, Control—or I can make a different choice to Witness, Inquire, Presence, and Regard myself and the humans (and other beings) with whom I am in relationship.

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What are these uncertain times showing you about the familiar relational strategies you use to get your needs met? How can you practice right relationship to create more care, safety, and nourishment for yourself and others?

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Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 81)

What is the quality of your relationship with Spirit? What is the quality of your conversation with that which seeks to nourish you?

These are questions I’m asking myself more often as I make choices about how to navigate the uncertainty of these times.

These are not questions to bypass my human and physical relationships, but a way to inform them, to resource myself with a deeper regard for myself and for the people and other beings around me—to regard what is true for us together in this moment and to hold the uncertainty, the grief, the differences, and the fear with compassion.

We exist in relationship to each other, to everyone, to everything.

May we practice relationship in ways that honor our unavoidable interconnectedness, the heartbreaking oneness we inhabit. May we practice relationship in ways that nourish and sustain what is beautiful and vulnerable among us, between us, and within us. May we deepen our conversations. May we listen a little harder.

🧡

Love Letters to Humans (no. 80) — on Self-Loathing

You are a precious and integral part of every relationship you have. No amount of self-loathing will restore a damaged relationship to harmony. You cannot despise yourself into right relationship.

We can take responsibility for our decisions, our actions, our mistakes, our ignorance and still regard our own innate humanity and worthiness. Believing ourselves to be anything less than worthy of care, dignity, and growth—even after we do harm—does not move us toward just and sustainable relationship… it reproduces systems of punishment and contempt.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that those whom we have harmed owe us anything—they are equally worthy of care, dignity, and growth, and that may mean a good deal of time and space away from us. No one owes us grace or forgiveness. We can still offer grace and forgiveness to ourselves and keep it moving.

Learning to be in right relationship with ourselves and one another requires self-awareness, responsibility, and our full humanity. Our growth and relational repair does not require self-judgment or shame.

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Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 79) — on Punishment

Has being punished ever truly made you a better person? Has punishing someone else ever truly made you whole?

In punitive cultures and hierarchies of worthiness and contempt, we learn to relate to in ways that give us an illusion of safety and worthiness, but rarely bring us closer to the authenticity, integrity, relational joy, intimacy, and belonging we really want in our most important relationships.

We come by it honestly. Children learn what we live, and we were all children once.

I’m talking to those of us who were parented and educated through punishments and rewards based on our obedience and performance, who grew up in fear-based and punishment-based religious practices, who live in societies where “justice” systems focus on punishing the guilty and give little effort and care to restoring the harmed.

For us, it can be hard to imagine creating change in ourselves and the world in mutually nourishing ways.

We learned through experiencing and witnessing punishment that to influence others, get our needs met, and effect change in the world, the most effective strategies were coercion, manipulation, threats, and punishment.

Is punishment working the way you want it to? Is it working politically, in your organizations, in your communities, at home? Is it making you better? More whole? Is it restoring your relationships to harmony?

Punishment in our relationships might show up as: Reprimands • Emotional withdrawal • Dismissiveness • Withholding or restricting resources, support, or pleasure • Relentless criticism or disapproval • Name-calling • Shouting, yelling, or speaking harshly • Physical violence • Belittling or diminishment • Withholding emotional care • Threats of abandonment • Threats of violence • Retaliation for hurt feelings • Blame • Revenge • Isolation from support • Shunning • Shaming • Rejection unless certain conditions are met

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What would it look like to get your needs met, influence others, and create change in yourself and the world by relating in mutually caring, non-punitive ways?

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Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 78) — on Several Things

We can accept responsibility for the consequences of our choices without taking blame for the way someone else experiences us.

What we choose, what we do, how we show up (or don’t), what we say (or hold back), what we go after (or let go of), our actions, our words, our decisions—these all come with responsibility and consequences. We can accept responsibility or avoid it… a choice. We can confront the inevitable consequences (pleasant or unpleasant as they may be) or attempt to avoid them… another choice. In any event, our choices are ours.

The way someone else experiences us and our choices, actions and inactions, words and silences… that’s *their* business. Those of us who were raised to believe that we were responsible for other people’s feelings (🖐) have a hard time with this one. We learned that we could “make” someone angry, sad, happy, or scared.

We learned that our actions directly resulted in someone else’s positive or negative experience of us. Adults abdicated their sovereignty to us and we became unwitting puppet masters, both adept at manipulation and fully responsible for someone else’s feelings. Incidentally, this is a confounding and (I’ll just say it) grotesque amount of power for an adult to give away, to a child or an adult.

This may or may not be news to some folks: You can’t *make* someone adore you, despise you, or feel any particular way about you (nor can anyone *make* you feel things about them). We don’t possess that kind of power over one another.

I am not saying we don’t affect and impact one another. We do. We affect each other materially and emotionally and physically and spiritually—we are relational beings… and.

How someone else chooses to interpret and judge us is not something we can control. We can try (I have) and it is… e x h a u s t I n g. What resides inside another human and shapes their experience of us belongs to them and is ultimately their business. We can ask and try to understand if we want to -and- other people’s thoughts, feelings, interpretations, and beliefs are not ours to control or manipulate if we want to honor their sovereignty and our own.

Our choices, responsibilities, and consequences are ours. Other people’s internal experiences of us are theirs.

Mind your business and do what you came to do.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 77) — on the Seductiveness of Contempt

Contempt: a disregard for what is so, particularly—in our relationships—the sovereignty, wholeness, power, capability, knowing, wisdom, or innate worth of another person… or ourselves.

Contempt is seductive. It’s seductive to think we can know someone else’s motivations, their thoughts & feelings, their needs & wants better than they do… without having to ask.

We cannot.

Contempt allows us to believe we don’t have to relate, to ask, to listen, to be with the reality of what someone else actually has—their thoughts, their wants, their knowing, their sovereignty. It allows us to assume, to believe the stories we tell ourselves, to bulldoze. In contempt, we believe we can save other people from themselves and their own poor decisions.

As self-esteem goes, contempt for others puts them somewhere down there, and us decidedly above them. It’s seductive because it feels good. In punitive cultures and hierarchies of worthiness, it feels safer to believe that we are better than, wiser than, stronger than, more worthy of love and less worthy of punishment than the next person.

We come by it honestly… we learn what we live. AND we can choose another way to be in relationship once we know what we’re up to.

Choosing healthy self-esteem is a decision to recognize our own innate worth and humanity as equal to, not greater or less than, anyone (and everyone) else’s innate value and humanity. We are no better. We are no worse. We are just as worthy and deserving of existence, love, care, and regard as every other being in the world… and no more so.


Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 76) — on Identity as Relationship

Every identity we hold is based in relationship. Every identity we hold is a relationship.

The contexts and relationships that make up our understanding of ourselves exist and impact us whether or not we recognize and understand them.

Nothing we do and nothing we are exists in a vacuum. We know ourselves and we are known by others in context, our social identities constructed by legacy and by judgment and by choice.

We exist in relationship with and to everyone and everything.

We exist in relationship to ourselves, our desires and senses, the ideas and energies inside us and around us, our closest people and beings, our family constellations, our communities, the physical world we inhabit, the visible and invisible histories we carry across generations and geographies, the cultures we consciously and unconsciously create and uphold.

We exist in relationship to human movements (individual and collective) toward—and away from—our own humanity.


Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 75) — on Hidden Commitments

Someone who expects you to anticipate and meet their unstated needs and desires is looking for a butler, not a partner.

We don’t have to guess at our partners’ wants and needs. We’re allowed to ask. If someone expects you to “just know” what they want and need, they probably have another commitment that supersedes getting their needs met by you—and that’s cool… you don’t have to share that commitment.

Likewise, our partners don’t have to guess at our wants and needs. They are allowed to ask. If you expect someone to “just know” what you want and need, you probably have another commitment that supersedes getting your needs met by them—and that’s cool… they don’t have to share that commitment.

Having another (hidden) commitment often looks like holding a belief or assumption that gets in the way of relating with the actual person in front of us, and most of the time we’re not even aware of it.

We might be committed to believing we’re not worthy of love and care. We might be committed to believing people who love us will never make mistakes—or their mistakes prove they never really loved us. Or love gives people the magical ability to read each other’s minds. Or if someone gets too close, we’ll suffer when they inevitably leave us. Or people who love us must do the job of being our emotional garbage receptacle. Or if we’re wrong or imperfect we won’t be lovable anymore. Or any number of beliefs and assumptions we cling to as truth, when we could just… show up and relate.

A commitment is such an important thing to be carrying around and allowing to guide our most important relationships. How do you know what yours are?


Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 74) — some more on Relational Fuckery

We choose relational fuckery when we want to avoid feelings or responsibility, defend our certainty, or control people & outcomes.

In punitive cultures and hierarchies of worthiness and contempt, we learn to relate in ways that give us an illusion of safety and worthiness, but rarely bring us closer to the authenticity, integrity, relational joy, intimacy, and belonging we really want in our most important relationships.

Here are a few of the things we do…

…to avoid responsibility and feelings: Blame people and situations for our feelings, attitudes, beliefs, actions, and words • Pretend not to know what is true for ourselves • Withdraw physically or emotionally • Refuse to communicate, acknowledge our impact, or apologize • Distract ourselves with projects, activities, substances, or manufactured emergencies • Create drama • Shun, ridicule, shame, or diminish others • Reject our integrity and inner knowing in favor of advice, rules, and instruction from friends, family, experts, texts, or other external authorities

…to defend our certainty (the ideas we hold about ourselves, others, and the world): Lie to ourselves and others • Argue (get defensive) out of a need to prove we’re right or good • Dismiss others’ lived experiences or our own • Automatically assume others are wrong • Require evidence, proof, or credentials before we will entertain others’ perspectives • Hold binary (either/or) rules for what is possible or acceptable

…to attempt to control people or outcomes: Nag • Obstruct • Bully • Belittle, diminish, or shame ourselves or others • Manipulate • Punish and reward ourselves or others to influence behavior or performance • Abuse our own privilege or apply social pressure • Give ultimatums • Threaten • Demand • Retaliate • Behave or speak violently or cruelly (to ourselves or others) • Push past our own boundaries, or ignore or attempt to violate another’s

I don’t highlight our relational fuckery to shame us. None of us chose to be born and socialized into behaving in funky ways to feel safety and belonging. We came by it honestly. The good news is we learned it, and we can learn other ways of being in our relationships if the fuckery isn’t getting us the joyful connection we want… but to make a different decision, we have acknowledge what we’re up to now.


What are some of your go-to relational fuckery strategies when you’re feeling hurt or uncomfortable, when you’re not getting what you want, or when you’re afraid you’re needs won’t be met?

Where do your least effective relational strategies align with some of the values held by punitive cultures of supremacy, dominance, and contempt (white supremacy*, patriarchy, capitalism, etc.)?


(*Google Tema Okun’s article, “White Supremacy Culture,” for a deeper dive.)