For the last few months, in the UK where I currently am, and in many places around the world, in varying degrees, we are required to wear face coverings or masks when outside of our own home. It was clear, even before this was ‘mandatory’, it would be a divisive issue.
Those who willingly wear masks, care for their community while those who do not, are Conspiracy Theorists or right wing fascists, Conversely, one who wears a mask might be ‘asleep and dumb to the clear agenda currently driving world events and those who do not, are ‘woke’ and of superior intelligence. Extra points all round for professing either position on social media.
There was always a sense, for me, that wearing a mask, or not wearing one, would signify far more than we might have reckoned.
I’m noticing it as a trend around the world, that a simple act of either doing a ‘thing’ or not doing a ‘thing’ in the current environment, carries with it the weight of others’ opinion. Who you are. Who you vote for. Whether you eat babies for breakfast. Whether you’d kick your grandma.
If you post a meme on facebook including the hastag ‘Black Lives Matter’ you’re from the alternative left. You probably vote with an environmental focus. You hate Donald Trump. If you counter those posts (it’s always seen as a counter!) with an ‘All Lives Matter’ comment or meme, you vote on the conservative side of politics. You’re narrow minded and can’t see your privilege and you’ve definitely never eaten a bliss ball or drunk a green smoothie. Or have you?! Not out of a jar in any case.
If you question the way lockdown around the world has been handled, well, that’s harder to pick – the clue here is in the answer. If you’re happy with the way your government has co-ordinated lockdown measures and acknowledge that it must have been a bloody tough gig, you likely sit on the right side of politics (this point could be coincidental, determined mainly by whether your government teeters in the left or the right side of the beam – or whether they teeter at all!). If you’re critical of the measures as they presented during full lockdown and the roadmap to normality seems beyond your understanding, then you probably sit on the left. Awkward inter class wedding ceremony anyone?!
Every now and again, a friend on social media posts something that seems to sit contrary to the position they’d normally take and, gosh, it’s downright confusing. I want to visualise the lives of my facebook contacts and it’s pretty darn hard when one morning you’ve got them sipping coconut milk coffee from a recycled pickle jar only to have to flip the visual to an instant coffee in a 25 year old chipped ceramic beaker gifted to them by a small child one fathers day, filled with Cadbury Favourites, the next day. I want to bloody well know how to categorise my social media buddies – how else will I be able to judge their opinions? And them.
I noticed, some years ago, after becoming a parent, that mothers are prime fodder for tribedom. It’s not only in what you wear, as a mother, but what your children wear (IF they wear anything). What brand of shoes your toddler has on their feet. Even if they’re barefoot (and barefoot shoes – yes that’s a thing. I wear them myself – I wonder what they says about me? Actually I know exactly what it says about me)! What kind of snacks you take to the park. Even WHICH park you frequent. Whether you use cloth nappies or a baby carrier or whether you *gasp* choose disposable nappies and a pram. Once you’ve selected your uniform can’t take it off. You’re ‘one of us’ now.
I discovered, several babies into my career (because I’m a feminist I could take this opportunity to point out the irony of using the word ‘ career’ to describe the unpaid and undervalued role of mothers in modern society…) that ‘ one of us’ is actually code for ‘now that you’re one of us you will subscribe to Point A and Subsection C – please sign ‘here’ and ‘here’…leave all critial thought and your own opinions at the door. YOU’RE ONE OF US NOW. Oh, and here’s your uniform and while we’re here, one for your kid too. Shoes optional. But if your child MUST wear them, here are a list of approved brands.
I’m very lucky that I’ve always had a pretty good radar for dogma and so I’ve been able to surround myself with true free thinkers. It’s been an interesting journey for me as I’ve noticed that within the counter culture world, ‘values’ is often replaced with ‘rules’ and ‘free thinking’ has become ‘our thinking’. It can be hard to recognise this trickery when it’s disguised as radicalism and critical thought. But actually when you pull apart the notion of critical thought, it’s bound up in just that – criticism. To criticise is merely to disagree or find issue with an established thought – the existing framework remains. To entirely dismantle though – well that takes something else.
When my first born was an infant, less than one I’d say, my husband came home with an Alfie Kohn book. Many of you will have read it I’m sure – Unconditional Parenting – it’s something of a parenting bible! I started reading it but at that time couldn’t finish it as his theories just wouldn’t fit into the established framework in my head. His philosophies are very much centred on how children ARE as distinct from how we might want them, for our own convenience, to be. But it doesn’t matter much for the purpose of this discussion what his books are about, only that his ideas were so foreign to me that I couldn’t place them. I had literally no frame of reference for a parenting paradigm that existed beyond time outs and naughty corners.
If I couldn’t tell my child off, what on earth could I do? I was looking for Alfie to replace my existing construct with another – which is exactly what he doesn’t do. Instead he was asking me, as the reader, and as a mother to form my own thoughts. Forge my own unique relationship with my child and with myself. It would take me another child or two, and several more years before I was to finish that book – and go on to explore others. Overwhelmingly what I was to discover was that these books and in fact this is a common theme among the writers and thinker’s I admire, would provide no answers – they simply ask the important questions.
My own inner journey has taken me to a place of questioning. Once again I have my children to thank for this transformation from a woman full of judgment and a deep need to be right into a human with a heart for what’s possible. Of course I don’t want to pass myself off as some kind of guru in this area as I’m absolutely still unpacking generations of ‘rightness’ and the need to KNOW. But the more I’m able to lean into the uncomfortable process of imagining I might be able to think differently about something, the deeper I sink into the joy of not needing an answer. Of letting go of the need, or even the desire to be right.
It’s been a funny old year (what – am I 85?) with so much pressure to declare our position on all manner of issues. COVID-19 and where it came from. Lockdown measures and how well they’re managed. Conspiracy theories and whether we’re willing to go down a rabbit hole. How we feel about groups gathering in the park and whether it’s OK to put a banana back on the shelf if you’ve touched it (I admit to testing an avocado for ripeness last week in the local Sainsbury’s and I confess to looking around before replacing it – in my defense it would have be completely unusable for a raw chocolate tart).
So I challenge you: how does it make you feel when you read something that triggers a strong response of disagreement in you? When your sense of ‘rightness’ is challenged? Can you ever imagine a time when you could think in a way that initially seems wrong to you? Even abhorrent. Could you ‘try on’ the thoughts and ideas of another in order to gain greater understanding, rather than simply pushing away an idea because it’s ‘wrong’?
Can you identify a need for rightness within yourself and are you willing to sacrifice the idea to gain something even better than being right?