No.

Any interaction where you are an unwilling participant is an insult to your soul.

If someone wants to tell you something you don’t want to hear you are not obligated to listen. This includes things like: gossip, a story about a terrible thing that happened, a personal attack, a rude joke. You are not obligated to listen. You can say no, or walk away.

If someone wants to show you something you find terrible you are not obligated to look. This includes things like a photo, a movie, or a TV show that goes against your values.

If someone wants to hug you, you are not obligated to hug them. This is true even if you have hugged them before or even if they are relative or friend.

Your time, your attention, your energy, your physical space are yours. You do not have to share them with anyone, for any reason, at any time. The moment you realize you feel uncomfortable you are allowed to leave the situation.

If you feel confident that you can explain to them how you feel and that they will respect your feelings and stop, you can. But otherwise you owe them no explanation.

This is especially true if you feel they will attempt to make the situation worse by continuing to treat you in a manner that you do not like.

This is especially relevant if you notice any sense of fear or social obligation. If you feel obliged to continue the interaction or relationship because of a sense that you must (to keep the peace, to be “a good girl”, to keep the other person happy) or a sense of fear (he will retaliate in some way, possibly violent) then this is not a healthy relationship. Leave. If someone cannot interact with you in a healthy manner, you are not obligated to continue the interaction. Boundaries are essential for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

If someone is saying that you deserve to be treated badly, leave.

Your time / energy / attention are yours. Every interaction must be mutually beneficial. If one person stays under duress (guilt is just as dangerous as being physically held) then it is not a healthy relationship. You owe it to your soul to leave.

New rules, old door.

There was no knocker on this door.

There was no doorbell either.

It was opened by appointment only, so it did no good to just show up – or to be late or early. It was on time or nothing.

It hadn’t always been this way. But she’d read about rules for the queen of England. You couldn’t touch her unless she initiated contact. Not a handshake, not a pat on the back – nothing. She was the one who would reach out first. It seemed like a good rule for everybody – not just monarchs. It would certainly start very instances of sexual harassment.

She’d first thought it was a good idea for just women, but then thought it would be a good rule for everybody. Men had been harassed too. Men had been victims too. And whether the encounter was between people of the opposite sex or the same didn’t matter. Boundaries and consent mattered for everybody, all the time. Even if an interaction had occurred before. Even if you were married, or family. Every time you touch somebody there must be consent.

The guys who acted badly – maybe they had never been taught otherwise. Nobody has said “No, that isn’t right”, so they assume it is OK. This is not blaming women… but how can men know how we feel if we don’t tell them? They do not have the same lived experience. They can’t empathize with being groped, ogled, cat-called. They don’t hear “Hey baby, why don’t you smile?” Or “That dress looks hot” or “while you’re down there” with a smirk and a glance to the crotch to a female coworker who is digging something out of a cabinet at their feet. They don’t hear or experience this, and they are told that having a woman, a “piece” (not a whole, just that part, not a person), is what makes them a man.

It was time for new rules for an old door.

It was time for things to change.

Nobody got through unless she invited them.

Ever.

No matter who they were.

(written early June, 2019)

Recovery books

Beattie, Melody.  Codependent no more: how to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself

Cloud, Henry.  Boundaries: when to say yes, when to say no to take control of your life

NurrieStearns, Mary.  Yoga for anxiety: meditations and practices for calming the body and mind

Semmelroth, Carl.  The anger habit in relationships: a communication handbook for relationships, marriages and partnerships

Tolle, Eckhart. The power of now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment / Eckhart Tolle.

Powell, John Joseph. Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? : insights on self- awareness, personal growth and interpersonal communication

Forward, Susan. Toxic parents: overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life

Friel, John C.   An adult child’s guide to what is “normal”

Stone, Douglas.  Difficult conversations: how to discuss what matters most

Tessina, Tina B.  It ends with you: grow up and out of dysfunction

Wilson, Sandra D.   Released from shame: recovery for adult children of dysfunctional families

Wholey, Dennis (editor).  Becoming your own parent: the solution for adult children of alcoholic and other dysfunctional families

 Farmer, Steven.  Adult children of abusive parents: a healing program for those who have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused

LaMar, Donna F.  Transcending turmoil: survivors of dysfunctional families

 Wolin, Steven J.  The resilient self: how survivors of troubled families rise above adversity

Want more? Look up the subjects of “dysfunctional families”, “codependency,” “adult children of dysfunctional families” in the library catalog.

Smile lines (a very short story)

Paula was older than everyone, but only chronologically. Sure she’d lived longer than everyone else in the department, but you couldn’t tell by her actions. The only evidence of her greater age was in the deep wrinkles around her eyes. They looked like smile lines, but the smiles had to be for show, or from another period of her life. Perhaps she smiled out of habit, because even when she was telling very personal, very private stories about herself, she smiled her brittle smile at whoever had the misfortune of being stuck at a task that required they stay in the room with her.

The other staff had taken to looking forward to any task that involved being away from the back room after she arrived for the day. Normally these tasks were completed by whoever felt like it, and whenever it was convenient. Now they took turns, working around her shift. Every day one lucky person got the blessed reprieve of not having to listen to her yammering.

She needed a therapist.
Or an exorcist.

She’d been counseled by her temp agency to not share personal details, but she ignored those censures, choosing to run over her coworker of the week (or month), or however long the assignment was (or however long they could stand her) whichever came first, like an 18 wheeler over a kitten. It was merciless and bloody, with no regard for the emotional and psychic carnage she left in her wake.

One employee, unlucky enough to be forced to work with her three days in a row, even considered homicide. This gentle soul, a vegetarian for six years, a person who marched in peace rallies, a weekly volunteer at the domestic crisis shelter, had gotten so overwhelmed with Paula’s incessant complaints and bizarre observations that she started fantasizing about how she would make her be silent. Strychnine in her water bottle was considered. Loosening the lug nuts on her tires was a possibility. Anything that involved a painful end that was preceded by terror and confusion – the same as she had endured but more focused, more compact. That would do nicely.

Asking Paula to be mindful of others didn’t work. Neither did complaining to her supervisors. Flat out telling her to shut up seemed cruel, but perhaps it was the only way to regain peace at work. Mindless blather and too-personal comments was cruel so why not fight fire with fire?

Turn away

I’ve seen several pictures of things that have really disturbed me recently, and rather than just turn away again, I’ve decided to meditate on exactly what I find repulsive about these pictures. This is part of my recent decision to be more mindful. It is not an easy practice, but it is necessary for being fully conscious and aware of my actions.

These images aren’t things that people normally would turn away from, such as violence or abuse for instance. Those are abhorrent as well, of course. What I’m writing about here are images of people who are in ICU, hooked up to machines and tubes. I never gave it a second thought as to why I was repulsed until I saw a video about a machine that can keep a heart alive outside of the body in preparation for transplant. That tipped the scales.

What disturbs me about it is not exactly the same as what disturbs me about the ICU pictures, but it is a good thing to start with. The donor was dead, as far as doctors could determine. The brain had ceased functioning. The heart had been removed, and rather than keep it on ice as was normally done in a transplant situation, it was hooked up to a machine that replicated the environment inside the chest. It was kept humid and warm, with blood circulating through it. This heart was beating just like a normal heart, but it was inside a plastic box. There was no person attached.

I also saw a video of two mothers who had a strange connection. Mother A had a young child who had suddenly died due to trauma. She had decided to donate his organs. Mother B’s child had received his heart. They met three years later and mother A used a stethoscope to hear the heart of her son beating inside the chest of Mother B’s daughter. It was supposed to be a touching video, but I was really disturbed. Something seemed deeply wrong about this.

I kept being triggered by these images. I decided to examine the original related triggers – images of people in ICU. I don’t seek these out – people share them sometimes on social media as part of a story.

One was about a new mother who had been in an accident and the nurse brought her child to her so she could breastfeed her child. While the person who posted it was pointing out the value of breastfeeding, it was very disturbing. The mother was not present in any form other than her body. She was not being helped to breastfeed. The nurse put the child to her breast and that was it.

I look at a sketching website every day, and today there was one of a man in ICU. The sketcher even commented about it, wondering if it was ethically correct to sketch such a thing. He did not mention if he’d thought about the ethics of sharing it online as well.

I read something recently that speaks to all of this in a useful way.

There is a Jewish belief that it is improper to have an open casket. To do so is to violate the privacy of the person. It is also putting focus and attention on the wrong thing, as the “person” is not there – their soul has left. When there is just a body and not a soul, it is not a person. It is a shell, a husk. An open casket is an insult to the person who had inhabited that body, because they have no say over how they are seen. They have no control over what happens to them. They are fully exposed for the world to see and cannot do anything about it.

I think this is at the center of it all. To show pictures of people who are not at their best (to say it lightly) is to violate their rights. It is an invasion of privacy. It is embarrassing. To focus on body parts rather than the whole is equally unethical.

The lady’s son was no longer present. His heart was just a piece of muscle, doing a job. The heart in the box for transplant was moving as if it was alive, but as it was not attached to a person, it was simply the illusion of life. There was no soul in it. It was the same as looking at a machine.

Being mindful and considerate of others’ feelings also applies to not sharing pictures of people who have passed out from being drunk or are intoxicated to the point that they are unaware of their actions.

Remember the story of Noah and his sons?

Genesis 9:18-27
18 Noah’s sons who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were Noah’s sons, and from them the whole earth was populated. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21 He drank some of the wine, became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a cloak and placed it over both their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father naked. 24 When Noah awoke from his drinking and learned what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said: Canaan will be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. 26 He also said: Praise the LORD, the God of Shem; Canaan will be his slave. 27 God will extend Japheth; he will dwell in the tents of Shem; Canaan will be his slave.

The son who saw him in his drunken state, unable to control himself, was cursed, along with his children. The two sons who covered him and made sure not to see him exposed were blessed.

This is the core teaching. To look at someone who is dead, or like dead (in ICU, or passed out due to intoxication) is an insult to their very being as a person. It is disrespectful. It is a violation of their privacy. It is the same as stripping someone naked. One might even go so far as to say it is equivalent to rape, as the person is treated as a thing and not as a person.

Like water off a duck’s back

I know a lady who is teaching her daughter to be a battered wife.

She doesn’t think that this is what she’s doing, of course. She says she’s teaching her to let things roll off her “like water off a duck’s back”. She wants her to not get riled up by things that happen to her. This is a good idea, but how she is going about it is disturbing.

Her way of teaching this lesson is to tap her daughter repeatedly in the face. The taps aren’t quite slaps but they are close. It is at least ten at a time. The daughter will say “quit it” or try to pull away and the mother will keep doing it. The daughter is about eight. The mom can easily tap her again when she pulls away, so the abuse continues.

I knew something was disturbing about this when I saw it but I couldn’t give words to it. Now I’ve figured it out. What she’s doing is teaching her daughter that she should just accept it when anybody abuses her.

How perfect it will be for a man with low self-esteem to find this girl who has been shaped for him. She will not complain or stand up for herself because her own mother, the person who she supposed to learn from, who is supposed to teach her healthy ways of taking care of herself, has taught her that she is supposed to be abused, and that this is just part of life. Her mother, her authority figure, is teaching her that people will try to harm her and that her only acceptable response is to let it happen.

Poem – This is not a Christmas present

not a present

This is not a Christmas present.
This is hatefulness.
This is the exact opposite
of a present at all,
much less one celebrating
the birth of Jesus.
This is pure aggressiveness.
There is nothing passive about it.
The label is superfluous.
It is quite obvious
what he thinks
about his sister
from how he has packaged
his “gift”.

If this were given to me,
I might set it on fire right in front of him.
I might take it outside first.
I might put it under a steamroller.
I might shoot it with my revolver.
I might tie lead weights to it
and throw it into Percy Priest Lake.

Under no circumstances would I open it.
It doesn’t matter what is inside.
Gold bars?
Enough money
to pay off my mortgage?
The key
to my dream art studio?
A contract
for a personal chef and gardener?

No gift is worth this.
Sure, it wouldn’t take long
to cut through these cable ties.
Maybe an hour.
Maybe a few pairs of scissors
would get destroyed
in the process.
That isn’t the point.

My friend,
I’m telling you
this truth:
don’t take any “gift”
that is given
with this much hostility.
It isn’t worth it.
Walk away from it,
and that person.

That is the best present
you can give
yourself.