Tag Archives: Perception

As a man, I am involved

The organic campaign #metoo has taken many shapes and spheres as it moved from Weinsteins cases of rape to denouncing and confessing to sexual harassment and intimidation in general. The movement has become so multifaceted that it has become hard to fathom and even harder to criticize. But there’s one thing it seems to agree on: society should no longer tolerate men’s behaviours. We men have to change. In the past week, I have felt threatened by the tone of some of the exclamations that have passed my screens. I’ve been confused about whether and how I should look at female people on the street. I’m concerned about the polarizing effect this discussion seems to have. And especially about the slippery slope of equalizing lust-inspired acts to rape.

First a step back
Okay let’s go back to the positive side of #metoo. Many women have resisted the urge to declare their experience of rape to the police. The ruling power structures, as well as their own beliefs and other individual reasons have withheld them from claiming their rights. Society has discouraged them to do so. This week, through a somewhat anonymous outlet, they can air some of the remnant frustration and, more importantly, display the omnipresence of the problem to those man enough to look into the gaping wound. It’s indeed important that people feel the confidence to act against such violence. And that people don’t perform it, or let it happen around them.

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room
Looking at our actions, we are collectively largely ignoring climate change and associated manmade ecological collapse. If society breaks into chaos because of these, women as well as men will experience a state of existence that offers less space for safety. And more for rape. These impacts cannot be stressed enough, and have to be mentioned also in this context. We are trying to move to a better world, so we all have to deal with climate change. And keep building society together.

Tension
At some point, men started answering #metoo with #Ihave and #Iwill. Confessions. Online promises. Sometimes quite mundane in my view, sometimes clear disclosures of criminal acts. Audacious, but not a proper substitute for turning yourself in. Then, people saying ‘men’ should not make this discussion about themselves. This was about women who were raped. Here’s where I went: “What? Why are we not allowed to be part of the conversation?”

A point followed, I guess, where we have to do our best and look through social media and their slaves from journalism to see what is really happening. But what is really happening? Is this a new wave of feminism? Where does it want to head to? Not being raped? Good, but how? Is this a new kind of anti-terrorist movement that wants to accuse a large group of innocent people for the acts of some very guilty ones?

The status quo
For me personally, there’s nothing I think I should admit. Sure, I’ve played the game. I’ve looked, I’ve touched, I’ve joked around. But I haven’t threatened, raped or harassed anyone in a way that clearly bothered them. I also check, sometimes, if everyone is still comfortable with the group dynamics. And yes, I have noticed ambiguity among women and wished they would be more expressive about it.

Yet let’s not forget that sexual or semi-sexual acts occur in the context of personal relationships. They should always be seen that way. I don’t think it serves a purpose to reframe acts of the past and deny this relationship. And if I may speak for other men as well: to us, the status quo here in the Netherlands is quite allright. Not the street harrasments, those are wrong, but the general atmosphere at work, on the street and at parties. If you look at history, we have reached quite a good spot. Not perfect, but quite good.

It creeps in on you
One of the best stories I read these days was in Dutch by Bregje Hofstede of De Correspondent. She explained how being grabbed under her skirt has made her live more reluctantly. It reminded me of the time I was blindfolded in the back of a taxi in Peru. Not that time itself. I think I managed to keep myself toghether quite well there. No. Afterwards. Looking behind my shoulder all the time. Not going through parks on my own by night. Heigtened vigilance. A reduction of the extent of your world, Bregje called it. I tell myself that it’s wisdom. Knowledge by experience. Knowing the danger. She sees it as men taking her freedom from her. She feels afraid, now, when men look at her intensely.

Even if I fully understand the feeling she descibes, and I acknowledge such events occur more often to her than to me, something inside me turns bitter when I hear these views. We are now in an era that is safer then ever. More luxurious than ever. There are disagreements on how to approach the other gender, but aren’t those what makes life interesting? What makes love interesting? The act of exploring each others boundaries.

Power struggles
Women are now teaching men that we cannot know what it’s like to be a women. True. And women cannot know what it’s like to be a man either. It is us who generally have to play the leading role when breaking the physical barrier. Not always, but most of the time. And, yes, we make mistakes with that, but if we don’t try, we don’t get laid. Or married. Not all people have the same level of perception when it comes to body language, nor are all people equally expressive when it comes to things they do or do not want. Not everyone is equally sensitive. So yes, mistakes occur, but that does not make the intent bad. I think framing or perceiving it that way is harmful.

But we men have an excellent grasp of what fear can be. All of us, men and women, are contributing, daily, to the accumulation of dark acts that is happening all over the place. Being forced to do things we do not necessarily agree with is a society-wide phenomenon. Whether it is out of insecurities, strategic career choices, or because we are being pushed pysically or emotionally, this concerns us all. Where #metoo becomes more vicious, is where it denies our common ground. And it shouldn’t. Men don’t need to take these wild accusations.

Can we move forward?
The way this hashtag unfolds does not help the conversation; I think we’re rather arriving in a deadlock. Not the idea of the hashtag, that’s good, but the way people are treating it. As if there needs to be retaliation. As if we should move towards a world where men and women avoid touching each other altogether. No. Let’s move towards a place where we see the sexual tension for what it really is. A role we play. Just like everything else. A role we need not get too caught up in. And yes, respect each other, like most women and most men have always done. Something that can be joyful. Let’s see this as a call, yes, to better education for everyone where that failed. But let’s also cherish the freedoms we have acquired. We are in this together. And we are not in a time and a place where we can use more division.

So let’s all keep talking.

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Wiggle

In the series of ascribing names to emotions I know no name for, I’d like to discuss ‘wiggle’. Now, wiggle is not a new word, it has been used mainly for wavy physical movement, sometimes with sexual connotations when done with the ass. Yet it fits excellently.

I think that the best way to grasp wiggle is to go out on a sunny day, take your shoes and socks off, sit on the grass with legs straight in front of you, watch your toes, then move them a little. Not too much.

To me, wiggle resides in the heart. It feels a little like a flower that gently opens and unfolds slowly, thereby revealing its colour to itself and the world. But wiggle is more reserved, it has no need to show off. And it literally feels wavy, with slight ups and downs. Yet the base tone is joyful.

What can trigger wiggle? Comfy blankets, cute animals, the arrival of spring, gentle sounds, meeting lovely people. But the state of mind is important here. Wiggle can easily be buried under more intense sensations, and it can be easily spilled. For me it only really unfolds if I’m ready to receive it, give it my attention.

In essence, wiggle has something in common with Outsling, but it is not directed. It is contained. The outside world does not perceive its effects, except perhaps by gentleness or a slight smile. Wiggle is fragile, it has an unstable balance that can easily over stretch. It can be smothered and lost. Instead, when it is cherished, it can turn more subtle.

But even if carefully nourished, wiggle does not last. Sometimes I think it exists as a transition, a subtle unblocking of something that was stuck. Like a refreshing drink that releases its intensity while slowly providing gratification. Tiny sips prolong the joy, but at some point it will end. Still, if I manage to seize wiggle without disturbing it, if I let it seize me, it imprints my state of mind with delicateness. It leaves me in touch with a finespun lineament of the web of life and by that, it changes everything.

Loving the fear for the lie

There are people in this world who talk about fear and love as if they are each other’s opposites. Some of those people frame it as a choice between two pathways: do you take the path of fear or the path of love? You may have met them. Some people also categorize acts into ‘fearful and loving’ behaviour. This scene from Donnie Darko puts it poignantly. It makes me wonder how it has happened that these two simple words are now so deeply embedded in the human understanding of their lives.

What strikes me most about the way society understands fear and love, is that both are very tightly connected to our will. Ask a person what he or she fears, and many times that person will speak of something he or she likes to avoid, while if they talk about something they love, they’d bring up a situation they would like to attract. There’s a movement of the mind towards or away from some object. If both are indeed movements, aren’t fear and love ultimately very similar things? Or seen from a different angle: how would fear and love look if we imagined ourselves out of the equation?

Perhaps my objection here is not with this immature definition of fear and love, but rather with the omnipresent understanding of all things as having a dualistic nature. I think this whole yin yang thing is a veil over a colourful reality. The reason it is so popular, I think, is that our minds prefer to contrast themselves to the background of their own projections. And how do you better do that than in black and white? Then again, since I am perceiving the world through my mind, I am per definition not the right person to contest a well established truth as dualism. After all, it is possible I am unknowingly objecting against the nature of existence itself. My mind can not know reality without it, but then again, whose mind could? How can we be sure duality exists? Or does not? Isn’t this very question dualistic in nature?

Something you fear can turn into something you love, something you love can turn into something you fear. You can love fear, and you can fear love. You can even fear and love a single thing at once. If you dig into it, you find vast varieties in what people perceive as their fears and their loves. They can be emotional states, but they can also be lingering presences in our conscious or subconscious perceptions with, admitted, influence on our choices. A triggered fear can lead you anywhere, and a triggered event of love could lead you to exactly the same place. They can be directed towards something that actually exists, but they can also confront something imaginary, something that we have made up, yet presents itself to us as lively as anything else.

To talk about fear or love is to talk about two mountains in the own emotional landscape. We don’t usually clarify if we are talking about the peaks or the base, the tree line or the sound of the birds. Are we talking about the act of climbing these mountains, or sliding off from them? Instead, we are tempted to just place one mountain on the opposite side of the other and say: well my experience is either of the two. What is the benefit of doing that?

Perhaps downsizing the richness of the inner world makes it easier to lead your life. Or maybe it is part of an evil plot serving to control our behaviour by fragmenting our inner coherence and scatter our will. Or am I overcomplicating things and are fear and love indeed poles of our mental existence? Poles we can simply pick a direction from. Maybe I’m justifying my incapacity to do so myself. Am I guided by my fear of the lie? My love for the truth? Or maybe I’m just playing around.

A fearful loving fool would know.

“Judge not, that you be not judged”

For the past ten years I have wondered: why do religious and spiritual groups unanimously condemn the act of judgement? What is so fundamentally bad about it that we all tell ourselves and each other to stop? And if it really is so bad, why do we keep doing it? What is judgment in the first place?

In a recent bright moment I understood that judgment is bad at the point where our thoughts create reality. For example: if I believe that homeless people are losers, I will subconsciously express this while talking to them. With my tone and behaviour, I will impose the thought of their inferiority upon them. At the same time, my surroundings will see how I behave towards homeless people and whether they want it or not, be influenced by it. This way, people collectively turn their back on the homeless, and such a person will find reason to believe in their nature as an outsider. The surroundings don’t see their role in it, because they stopped paying attention. Consequently, the very word homeless and all its connotations act as a mental net, limiting the possibilities of those it has caught.

Politicians and activists use judgement as a discursive tool for control. They justify this behaviour by calling it “framing”. Even if the act often affects minorities in the same way as man-to-man judgement does, it is seldom frowned upon, let alone condemned or punished. It is sometimes even used as a way to take away power of those who stand out, meaning it can restore the power balance somewhat. Yet even then, it probably does damage to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Think for example of the ingenious declaration “bankers are wankers”. As if all bankers are men.

This question becomes more interesting at the point where you genuinely ask what is true about a certain judgement. Some bankers, for example, have played a vital role in the way their guild are currently perceived, and some homeless people may indeed have called their situation upon themselves. But others didn’t. Curious beings as we are, we don’t necessarily need to judge ourselves for trying to make sense of the cosmic blob of information that surrounds us, but we should remain aware of our weakness.

Somewhere on the way between our sensorial perceptions and our mental interpretations of them, our desire to be in touch with our surroundings turns into an attempt to dominate it. We place ourselves on the sideline  of the same existence we so deeply want to belong to. I think that what religions want to say is not that judging is something to avoid; that idea is confusing. What I think is meant is that we should spend time in making an effort to distinguish our illusions from reality. Otherwise they might invade it.