I’ve got something to say.
This issue has been massively constipating my writing. Not knowing how to approach it and yet needing to, I kept away from the computer, week after week. I’ve now decided that there’s no right way, there’s just my experience, and I had better get on with it.
As readers of my blog know, I try to illuminate and understand things that are important to me, and this is no exception. On one hand it’s just a petty squabble, on another it’s the story of my life, or at least a seminal part of it.
Earlier this year you will recall that I encountered trouble at the church I used to attend. The word “church” is a misnomer in that there is no theology, no specific belief system other than we are all on our own path and all stories are legitimate. We share our experience & hopefully learn from each other.
About 3 yrs ago, Tracy and I began to get involved in the church, volunteering at regular intervals, and doing yearlong stints on the board of directors. We feel that to enjoy such a community entails a responsibility to actively support the running if it.
Aside from board duty, I did a lot of repairs and maintenance, ran a couple of pro bono courses, instigated a little social activism and letter writing campaigns. I felt like a much-appreciated member of the community.
Then it all, without warning, went to hell.
In the end the issue came to be what is often the problem between people: faulty communication. I believed one thing, the board thought another, and we collided. I acknowledge that I was deeply emotionally triggered by the unfolding events. Although I vetted my correspondence with the board with others (knowing how destructive emotional emails can be), some board members were profoundly upset by the things I communicated to them, in outlining my position and beliefs.
We had what was supposed to be a “healing” meeting , which was anything but. It quickly descended into a few board members blaming me for events and venting their anger. I saw deep, deep pain and anger, obviously far exceeding the situation. I was not the only one triggered, apparently. I was shocked to realise how people had perceived my emails, and I apologised. I never want to hurt others, even inadvertently.
But the reverse was not to be. With the exception of one person, the board members seem to believe they had nothing to apologise for, that the problem was mine and mine alone. One individual went so far as to say “I don’t care about your apology”.
What was upsetting to me was the apparent belief of so many people that an apology meant guilt and that being “wrong” meant shame. The idea that one apologises simply because it eases hurt and smoothes conflict didn’t seem to be part of the paradigm of people who profess such things in public.
It was also hurtful that will the person who did apologise did so under the rubric of apparent pity, as she had read my blog posts where I examine my own issues and how I get engaged by such situations. Needless to say, no one else in that room, especially the enraged ones, showed such willingness to own their own wounding and reactions.
I could attempt to justify what I did and said but there’s no point. Wounding occurred on all sides and I am sorry for it.
At any rate, that was months ago and I had decided to just let time do the healing that would be needed and I haven’t been back to the church since. I intended to, when the time felt right. I fear that time will never come.
The reason is that since that time, rather than a softening of hearts, a hardening has occurred. I recently was informed by the board that I was removed from the list of service providers. And the final insult was when they changed the lock to the basement storage where I had a bunch of tools stored. There’s nothing down there but my tools and some construction materials, but apparently someone felt it necessary that I be given this message that I’m now an outsider. I will now have to ask permission to go in there and get my stuff.
I’m not sure where the hostility is coming from, or from who, but despite the fair words spoken in church, there are some very hurt souls there.
Many people give tirelessly to the place and have for years (and perhaps that’s part of the problem), but I’ve also paid my dues. Last year a pipe burst underground and I hand-dug a muddy hole up to my waist in stinking, squelching mud until I was able to unearth it and repair it. I also was the one who discovered the damage to the walls and the failed roof. I showed them how to increase furnace capacity by 25% without buying a new one. And so it goes. I’ve saved the place a huge amount of money, but that doesn’t matter in this situation.
On one hand it’s just typical, petty politics. On the other, it’s significant in that this is the exact reason why I’ve flown solo most of my life. The unexamined, dark side of people seems to know no bounds, and their heedless inability to cause hurt to those around them.
We all make mistakes and we all fail each other. But the real harm is when we walk over others unknowingly, when we think we are justified in inflicting pain. I apologised for my failings but they didn’t, and instead choose to persecute.
I’ve talked with others about this and everyone has a similar story in their lives. What I don’t understand is how people get through it, how they accept it and carry on. I always leave. In the past it was out of passivity, and now it’s because I’ve come to understand that power plays are futile and only way to fight such things is to illuminate them. Reveal what is happening and move on.
There are a lot of people with complex histories at the church (and I was one of them, to be sure), and I was always a little cautious because of this, as I’ve found those lacking self awareness and are unhealed can be the most hurtful of people. Spiritual rituals and practice are not the same as healing.
Unfortunately, Tracy wasn’t so circumspect, and in a way she’s been the most deeply wounded by this process because she accepted the words of the church at face value, and believed deeply in the goodness of the place. The shadow that she has since experienced was completely unexpected and has hit her hard. Many tears have been shed about this situation and I would give anything to right it for her, but it’s no longer just about me. I’ve done what I can to make amends, but love is always a two-way street.
I’ve always been an admirer of people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King because they managed to bring about important change within human institutions. I’ve also always wondered how they did so, given that this kind of thing is universal. Perhaps the answer is that what we know of them is more myth than reality; what they really dealt with at a personal level is lost to time. Perhaps they knew how to use power and control others to get what they want; that person is not me.
I don’t know where the problem lies. From my own subjective place, it seems that within institutions, the dark side always tends to dominate; the lowest common denominator determines how things are done. That makes sense in that people cannot function beyond their own limitations, and most people seem to do little to move beyond them.
But I’m also willing to consider that my viewpoint colours things, that I create the reality I live in. Checking out my reality with others less engaged tells me that’s not the case. Most likely it’s somewhere between the two.
Looking back on my life, I see places where I succeeded and where I have failed. My need for independence and my analytical nature means I tend to have strong beliefs. I can easily be dissuaded if my logic is show to be wrong, but it rarely is. When it is it tends to be because I don’t have all the facts or those I have are incorrect. This leads to conflict. While I have the intellect to accumulate degrees, it’s dealing with others where my greatest limitations lie. Tracy is the epitome of the diplomat while I tend to arrogance.
This mind of mine is both a blessing and a curse. Being able to analyse is a way I’ve found personal power in this world, a modicum of control. Understanding things is key to controlling them. The problem is like any other strength, it is easy to go too far. When I have analysed a situation and think I have a handle on it, I tend to stick with it until new info arrives. In an argument it rarely does, as most people are not as analytical as I. That’s not likely to be endearing, but then what? Agree with that which you believe to be false?
The fact that the church is still struggling with the technical issues of repairs is why I avoid institutions. The solutions to me are obvious, but others have the power to choose and they are still working on it. I suppose they will have to find their way. But again, when it’s something important like this I become impatient and throw up my hands. It’s so much easier when it’s just you making decisions; you own all your failures and successes. Maybe that’s why some are more comfortable in committees –while success are diffused, so are consequences.
I’ve tried to own my responsibility in this post. Some of my limitations are simply personality, some are upbringing related, some are cultural. My family on my mother’s side came from a large, farming family, and self-reliance is a very important value. I’m also a man, and for reasons we still don’t completely understand, it’s much more likely for a man to pursue an individualistic life while women more readily form collectives.
There are rewards and costs associated with both systems. Flying solo is lonely and limited, but you get to own it. Working with others often means the limitations of the most powerful people become the group’s. I’ve made my life’s choice, and while I wonder how it could have been otherwise, I don’t regret it.
On a lighter note we are housitting on a farm just out of town, and it’s glorious. Quiet, green, and busy with life, both the domestic and wild kind. We’ve heard a Barred Owl several nights now, ravens, and the odd buzzard swoops over the place. I think raccoons are getting some of the eggs – the count’s off. Since we started caretaking, one of the hens went broody and shes sitting on 14 eggs. Yes, there’s also a rooster to keep the hens moving in a hurry. There are several cranky geese and a rather dejected garden that we are putting to rights. It feels a little like a holiday from the city, and I’m loving it.
Now that this damn post is out of the way, I hope I can finally move on.