Reclaiming Our Tribe and Creating a Better Future

This image has been making the rounds on social media.

This image has been making the rounds
on social media.

What is one of the first things that is said when you meet someone new? “So, what do you do?” Or maybe, “What do you do for a living?” Perhaps it is our desperation to find something besides the weather to discuss, or a desire not to seem too trite (“Do you watch ‘Downton Abbey?'”), or an awareness that we mustn’t pry too much by asking more personal things (“Are you married?”). But I can’t help but feel that without the bellwhether of career, we would be unable in our modern age to come to any conclusion about another human being’s likability or worth at all.

It was interesting to read a three-part series in The Oregonian about middle class jobs that have been lost during this last recession, and they aren’t coming back. Technology has made them obsolete. We are more clever and more productive than ever. That isn’t really so bad, except that in our current economic system, you must “earn a living,” and if you do not “earn” this, you will not eat. You may, in fact, sleep on the street.

“Earning a living” is a curious phrase, since we are here by the good grace of the universal Divine, however you may see or define that. We are here, we are alive, and yet, we are the only creatures on this earth who must somehow “earn” their spot upon it. Personally, I think this earns us the title of “Most Ridiculous Lifeform.” Nevertheless, if we do not do something to “earn” our bread, many people seem to think we have no right to any.

This state of affairs owes a lot to the mindset and beliefs of our Protestant ancestors, who felt that the way to God was through asceticism and hard work. Joy did not enter into it and was, frankly, often frowned upon. The early Protestants also felt very strongly that if God blessed you, then you were wealthy. If he didn’t, then you were not. Either you were of the elite, or you weren’t. Of course, everyone wanted to be of the elite, and what better way to prove it than by having lots of “stuff” that showed how wealthy you were? And here we are in America in 2013, stampeding into Walmart on Black Fridays and “earning our living.”

Naturally, there are “good ways” and “bad ways” to earn our living. Investment banking is fine, as is doctoring, teaching, and selling. Stripping is usually frowned upon. So is most art, unless it’s very high-brow, of course. Very few parents encourage their children to earn their living by painting nudes.

Of course, a lot of “good ways” to earn a living are simply not going to come back. Now we have a highly productive workforce and a highly idle one. The idle workforce isn’t really earning their living in the way we’ve been told we must expect, so what to do with them? Watch them starve? Put them on a reality show?

I was struck by this letter to the editor in The Oregonian (Jan. 29, 2013) with regard to the series on lost jobs, and I like the writer’s vision very much:

Technology has always raised productivity. Industrialization permitted the spread of the 40-hour week, paid vacations and other benefits. Currently, high-tech workplaces add exercise facilities and flexible hours as aids to health and creativity. We should be pleased at the prospect of having robotics end more and more workplace drudgery.

However, with the arrival of unprecedented increases in productivity, the benefits can no longer go mostly to the 1 percent. The workweek can be further reduced with no reduction in pay. More benefits that enhance creativity can be advanced, such as lifelong learning, sabbaticals and earlier earned retirement. Coming generations are about to create enough productivity to concentrate human energy on our most urgent needs—ending industrial climate disruption, diminishing population growth and reducing poverty and warfare. The only alternative would be social inequality rising to the level of our self-destruction.

Southeast Portland

The sort of future he is writing about is one in which our worth as humans is not measured by how well we “earn” our right to space on the planet. It assumes that we all have an inherent right to space on this planet, and an equal share in its abundance. It assumes that every single person on this earth is a co-owner and co-creator of our world and our future.

We are still a tribal species, and we suffer when we do not behave as a tribe. A successful tribe does not allow members to suffer because they “failed” to “earn” their way by being sick, or disabled, or old, or very young. The healthy and able provide for those who cannot provide in the same way, knowing that they will likely benefit from the same privilege themselves one day. The very young, the old, and the infirm still contribute to the tribe in many other ways, whether it’s to provide childcare, emotional support, or wisdom. In our current economy, of course, these qualities cannot buy “stuff,” so they have no economic value. You lose a lot when you measure things solely by their economic value.

When we separate ourselves from our neighbors and community, when we live isolated, when we choose to believe that there is no greater good other than our own short-term interest, we literally cannot cope. A society that attempts to live “every man for himself” without the social interaction, nurturing, and loving touch that we are born craving, must, in the end, become mentally ill. The “breakdown” of society that many decry is a breakdown of our community bonds. It is the absence of a true heart connection to one another. As Max Weber wrote in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, we have become “specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”

We are not the greatest civilization ever to exist on this earth, though we do imagine ourselves at the forefront of our evolution. There have been greater civilizations in our past, ones that retained the bonds of community, belonging, and caring for each other and the earth. That being said, I believe that there will come a “greatest civilization,” and that we will build it together. We will change what it means to live with one another and with our environment. We will imagine new ways of being, and doing. We will free ourselves from the bondage of timeclocks, workweeks, and being judged by our ability to slowly kill ourselves by doing things we hate. We will open the cage door and leave Mammon behind, finding new ways to trade with one another and exchange ideas. Humanity and our beloved earth will no longer be casualties of short-term profit for the few.

No, this isn’t a pipe dream. This is the new reality that has already begun. The awakening of humanity did not end in 2012. It is simply beginning.

A Tale of a Lone Wolf

how to connect relationship

Wolf OR-7, photographed in Modoc County,
California in May 2012

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.
~ Robin Williams

I have grown up, as everyone has, being surrounded by people. My parents, my cousins and other relatives, the kids on my street, the kids in my school, and a wide assortment of grown-ups. I was not Mowgli, raised by the wolves and unused to human company. And yet, I always felt separate. Not part of the pack.

I had no siblings, and my parents had a tendency to keep themselves to themselves, even when they were socializing. It’s a hard thing to explain, but let us just say that they were extraordinarily self-centered wherever they went.

Although not raised by wolves, I was not exactly taught social graces, either, and I often stumbled, offended, and embarrassed myself on my way to adulthood. I was not friendless, but few were really close. I spent a great deal of time alone with my own thoughts, even in the company of others. I was accustomed to not being seen (it was a good trait to have in my house), and I had become quite good at it. In short, I had become a Lone Wolf in a land full of wolves.

I perfectly fit the archetype of the Tough Kid, which I described in my book, Discovering Your Inner Child:  Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy:

The Tough Kid spends most of their energy showing the world that nothing bothers them. Nothing can penetrate their veneer. Like a duck, any opinion or criticism just slides right off their back and into the pond. “I’m rubber, and you’re glue, and whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

The worst thing that can happen to the Tough Kid is for someone else to witness a display of emotion, no matter how tiny. To be caught crying is a disaster. To be seen feeling anything results in shame because the Tough Kid believes in their core that feelings are a sign of weakness which other people will use against them.

Oh, that was me, all right. It was never safe to feel, or to be seen feeling. Ultimately, my true feelings would be used against me, so I had to tread cautiously. I learned to distrust sharing myself with anyone.

I was the Lone Wolf throughout school. I was the Lone Wolf in college, although I really tried to create and maintain friendships. Tellingly, I am only in touch with one person from my college years. And then at 22, I met and quickly moved in with the man who would become my husband. This after I had decided I would be better off alone. And yet, here I was, alone…for I had attached myself to another Lone Wolf. In this case, one plus one still equals one…or two separate ones.

I consoled myself with the notion that no marriage is perfect, and all relationships require work. I loved this man, I felt, so I should put up with whatever comes. During the course of our marriage, however, my husband began to sleep in another room, which left me feeling quite abandoned, really. But I adjusted, and we continued on. Each day, he left the house for work at about the time I woke up. I had a quiet morning to myself before I went to work. I saw him for lunch most days, and then in the evenings, I called him to dinner, only to be met with passive-aggressive resistance to being called to the table, so I often ate alone, preferring that to a cold meal. Even when we were in the house together, he was either reading and watching TV (simultaneously), or working on the computer downstairs. We occupied the same space, we breathed the same air, and yet I felt quite alone in this marriage. But I was the Lone Wolf, and this was familiar territory to me. It was what “normal” felt like.

Eventually, I met my soul mate, someone with whom I was so emphatically sympatico that I had no choice but to leave my marriage to be with her. It was too painful not to do this. So the two Lone Wolves parted ways, and this Lone Wolf married a pack Alpha Female, who was well socialized. As you can imagine, a tremendous adjustment period followed and continues to this day. The Lone Wolf is not accustomed to sharing themselves with anyone, and my Alpha Female often had to drag my own thoughts and feelings out of me in this thing we call a relationship. Lone Wolves suck at relationships. They just don’t know how to do it. So I had to learn.

In 2012, additional learning came to me by way of an expansion of my relationships. Not only did I need to continue to 1) decipher what my own thoughts and feelings really were and then, 2) communicate them with one other person, I had to learn how to do it with a group of people, including my own children, who were now old enough to require these things from me as well. In short, this Lone Wolf had to learn how to live in a pack. Aroooooo!

Mostly, though, I had to believe that I was safe. Not all relationships are safe, certainly, but these relationships were and are. My job was to trust that this was so. My job was to be open and vulnerable in ways that I had never done before. The Lone Wolf was naked before the pack, shivering and afraid.

As I wrote of The Tough Kid:

There is no weakness in feeling; the ability to feel is a strength. Your world will not collapse because you allow yourself to feel strong emotion. This is the key to your prison. Think about all the time and energy you expend trying to keep your feelings bottled up inside and trying to avoid exposure. It will take time to convince your inner child that it is safe to be seen emotionally, but start with the following affirmation:

My feelings are messengers that help me navigate my life. It is now safe for me to feel them and express them.

The Lone Wolf has found her pack and is learning to live among these other wolves and to trust them. The world has not ended; it has begun. She is no longer alone, and she never has to live there again.

Here in Oregon, some of us have been following the journey of Wolf OR-7 (pictured above), who was born in the Imnaha pack in northeastern Oregon a few years ago. This particular lone wolf left his pack and has wandered across Oregon and northern California in search of a mate. I cannot help but feel a kinship with OR-7, now named, appropriately, Journey. We are all on our hero’s journey of life, to find our own personal holy grail of happiness. The grail, however, is not the most important thing. The journey is truly what matters.

Will Journey find a mate? Being a romantic at heart, I can’t help but hope so. I have my pack now. Here’s hoping he finds his.