Tag Archives: Sensitivity

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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The good, the bad and the energy

Let´s talk about energy for a bit. I mean the cultural phenomenon, the modern version of aether. In particular the concept of positive energy versus negative energy. And I mean it in contexts such as: ´this guy has such negative energy´, or ‘wow, you can really feel the positive energy here’. I have a bit of an objection against this distinction, particularly the negative pole, because it legitimizes judgmental beliefs. I think it motivates people to believe in their own projections, and by that stimulates the construction of their own mental cage.

The reason why I bring this up, is that the belief in spiritual energy is often seen as an emancipation from the religious dogmatic thought. Heaven and hell are let go because they are seen as a design to blind us from the truth. But if that truth is that you should follow positive energy and avoid negative energy so that you can reach nirvana and leave this semi-damned existence, then I don´t think much as changed.

What would you think if I told you that there is positive fire and negative fire? Good water and bad water? Sacred air and evil air? Perhaps you´d laugh, or perhaps you´d think I mean the level of pollution of a pond or a city street. Or maybe you´d say that it all depends on the intensity of these elements. Their pressure. I don´t think you would think that I mean that those elements are somehow negative.

Okay, so what if we assume that people who talk about negative energy mean to say that the energy is polluted? In many cases they probably do. My question would be: what is the energy polluted with?

It is an important one to answer, I think, because we´re talking about a medium here that, in my view, is easily coloured by our thoughts and emotions. That´s how a stressed person causes an emotional sandstorm just by walking into a room with people, or how a little kid can fill the hearts of many with delight. You would have to be quite trained or at least very sensitive to distinguish the level of pollutedness of the energy from the impact of your own emotionally charged perception on that energy.

I think that most often when people get negative vibes from someone, what they actually perceive is an incompatibility of their emotions with those of another person. I would explain this by differences in energy pressure. When an active person meets someone who´s tired for example, it can be quite irritating for both. That doesn´t mean that either one has negative energy. With a bit of willpower from both ends, such pressure differences can be easily overcome.

Energy could also be perceived as negative when it triggers a fear or discomfort. In my case that´s most often the fear of the unknown or the fear of being manipulated. It could also be the fear of not being accepted or the fear of pain or death. But being afraid of something doesn´t mean that this thing is harmful to you. And even if it is, harm will be healed.

What I guess I want to say is that classifying aspects of life as negative immediately makes you miss out. It is closing your own doors to life. I do believe that real, deep experiences of energy can be an intimate, revelatory thing with potential to give direction to life. By all means, attend to them as they come.

Awards

It takes some guts for a birch to grow its first branch. So too for Benny. While our little seedling pulls all his courage from the ground, scents travel back and forth through the forest. Seraph the Oak, on the open space a bit ahead, has a message.

“Fellow trees from the forest, the tree awards are about the take place once again. It promises to become a match like no other: the winter was strong and spring has brought us a fair balance of rain and sun. The conditions were perfect for growth and development, so the quality of the top trees will be very high this year.”

Of course, the old oak himself did not benefit that much from the favourable weather. With his years, his growth is slow and constant. He does not compete in the tree awards: he won all awards there are to win hundreds of years ago. As the forests oldest, he now only prepares and presents the contest.

The trees of the forest are exited every year when Seraph spreads the competitor’s scent. Who will be chosen this year? Will the most beautiful tree be Margaret the Magnolia again? Some spread Wilbert the Willow stands a chance for his pose near the pond when sun sets. The most robust tree will go to one of the older oaks, but will it be William or Abraham?

Benny does not mind who wins what. He is growing his branch. Young though he is, he already found a spot on the south east where he receives a lot of sun. His parents are proud and constantly show off to the trees around. “When he’s older, he’ll win the prize of the most adapted tree” says his mom. “Yes, and that will help him grow better, and he will win the broadest tree prize”. Birches usually don’t go for the price for the most robust tree. They stand little chance against oaks and the exceptional baobab winner.

Slowly but steadily Benny pushes the top of his branch out of his trunk. At first, it hurts a little to his thin young bark but his inner urge persists and he keeps pushing. The branch wants to go down: it has no support. But Benny the Birch would like it to grow upwards. He turns it a little. And back. And up. It’s like a game with a pull to the ground. Not aware of the big events that are about to take place.

The Tree Awards have become the most important social event of the year. They take place from dawn till dusk when the day is longest in the open space in the middle of the forest. Trees can’t walk there of course, so they send chemical signs, which are received by Seraph the Oak, who then signals back the decision of the forest community. None of the trees in the forest know exactly how it works but it yields outcomes every year and trees don’t really care about objectivity.

Nor does Benny as he carefully gives his first branch shape. He has no concept of an eye catching branch, he does as he feels fit. Grow a little. A branch. Left and right and back again. Into the sky he reaches. Happily stretching out his cells. Yes. He likes it. It is fun to grow.

“It is important that we grow” echo the scents through the air. “We should all be as close to the sky as we can. This is why we originally sowed the Tree Awards.” Over time, of course, they added some categories so that more trees would feel they could be part of the game, but the greatest tree award is without a doubt the most prestigious award in the forest. Some say that without these awards, trees soon forget to grow. There needs to be stimulation, or the forest might get lazy, which cannot be the Intention. Tree Awards are the summit of forest society. Its ultimate expression. The pride of our age. And be honest: where would we be without it?

Benny is about to grow a leaf on his branch. Leafs are quite different and they take a different effort to grow. Benny knows how. He’s done it before. You start with a little packed ball. In it, you grow little nerves, connecting all the parts of the ball. Main nerves and side nerves. It’s important that you grow them such that they don’t stick together. Once you feel secure about the nerves, you connect them with green tissue. Then, all that’s left to do is that you push. You pump fluids into the nerves and they’ll unroll into a leaf and you enjoy the light. Keep pushing and it’ll grow bigger. Benny likes to grow leafs. They make him feel good. He grows a few more.

Leafs are important in the Tree Awards. They show the quality of the tree that holds them. It is common knowledge among trees that leafs are vital for growth. With dark green leafs, more sugars are made and more energy can flow. But dark leafs get hotter than light leafs and they burn more easily. So there’s a risk involved, which makes the whole story even more exciting, particularly for adolescent trees. It wouldn’t be the first time that an audacious young one takes that little step too far and ends up with fiery leafburns.

That’s not Benny’s concern. His tiny leafs are always lighter than those of his older brothers and sisters. His parents are proud of anything he grows. If a leaf would grow too dark, his parents quickly grow a branch above, just to make sure he is ok. Benny doesn’t realize that.

Winners of the concourse receive a fair amount of nutrients. Other trees will transport it in their direction through their roots or drop some leafs when the wind blows towards them. Being winners, it is trusted that they’ll use them wisely.

Benny takes his joy in growing another root. Roots are funny because the ground is full of bugs who tickle from below. To grow a root, Benny has to pierce the soil and dig between their homes. The bugs don’t seem to mind that much, they simply move aside. Benny is happy about that because he likes bugs. When he’s big, he’d like to house some ants.

Dawn arrives. “Fellow trees of the forest,” Seraph’s scents set off a chain reaction among every Birch and Beech around. The hedges listen silently. Their competition does not take place till fall. “The Tree Awards have started. Please prepare yourself for the first vote”. Except repetition and amplification of Seraph’s words, the forest remains silent as can be. These words are always deeply respected; no tree dares to bring in anything now. Except Benny. He just hurt himself on a thistle’s thorn and now he’s crying for his mom. Mom strokes Benny with her branch. But she is not as soft and caring as usual. Never mind. She pushed the thistle away and Benny is free to play again.

To interpret the voices of the forest is a skill that requires hundreds of years to master. There are very few who can. You can imagine the great awareness needed to listen to all the trees in the forest at once. Those who have that awareness have great responsibility. Seraph is one of them. He has developed a sensitivity few can imagine. It’s as if a part of him is present at all spots at once. All trees of the forest feel him. That is why he is assigned this important task. Of course, he is not alone. Seraph relies on a network of older trees present all through the forest. Together, they quickly digest the messages of their surroundings and pulse the results back into the air.

Even at his age, Benny adds to this networking cloud of consciousness. Few take note of his infantile, unstructured expressions. His parents and grandparents perhaps, but barely, during the year’s most important event. Benny does not mind, especially now that a butterfly landed on his new branch. Benny is not that fond of butterflies. Flappy creatures he finds them. He doesn’t know yet how destructive their larvae can be. For the moment, this butterfly has no interest in Benny. He just flaps around, leaving Benny dizzy at the spot.

“We will start today,” Seraphs clear and strong chemicals spread “with the golden bark award. Please place your vote about who you think deserves the award of creator of the most remarkable bark of the forest”. The award for the most respectable bark was introduced not so long ago by a community of cork trees, just down the hill. Cork trees adore the bark like no other and they would do anything to do part of it for the forest’s assembly of respected items. Soon after this introduction it turned out, unfortunately, that their view of the most respectable bark differed somewhat from the forest’s public opinion. No Cork tree ever won the award. “Trees and Treeesses, the vote was expressed”.  Even if this is not the most important award these words raise the tension enormously. The trees of the forest know that the awards have begun. “And this year’s winner of the golden bark is…” this is the most decisive moment of the awards for the Corks. “Quinten the Plane”.  A small cheer from a corner of the forest. “This years bark prize was based on Quintens exceptionally beautiful pattern”. Admitted, he’d been working hard to make his mosaic smooth as he could. Just down the hill, the cork community cries injustice. They voted for several trees in their community, none receives the prize. It’s not fair.

Till now, Benny the Birch had little a bark at all. Lately he had the idea of becoming a bit more woodier, so he did thicken somewhat around the edges. But his is far from the impressive white bark which his brother Jim the Birch brags about all the time. Jim secretly hoped for this prize. Benny had no clue, he enjoys growing one more leaf. That bark will come.

On the open spot, Seraph the Oak continues his careful process of interpreting. Wally the Walnut-tree goes nuts when he wins the golden nut. The golden flower goes to Maggie the Magnolia, with Edward the Elderblossom as a close second. Fanatic cheers and shouts alternate each other in a wavy sea of scents.

For the first time in his centuries old existence, Seraph grants the greatest tree award with a fundamental doubt. “Are these awards a good thing? Aren’t we needlessly benefitting the strong? Shouldn’t we be fertilizing the weak instead”. These thoughts usually occur to a queer tree in a dark corner of the forest. But Seraph has this thought and when a tree has a thought it cannot withhold it. So it is expressed.

The cheering ends abruptly, making space for a vast silence in the woods, interrupted only by some disrespectful birds. Noisy creatures they are.

This never happened before. Not from a tree of this status. Questioning our forests pride.

When he has to speech, Abraham Oak, winner of the golden tree, does not know what to say. Nor does any other tree of the forest. It remains silent.

Benny is about to grow his second branch. It will take guts.

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