Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Developing Civic Habits

Discomfort as Motivation for Healthy Habits
I floss every single night. I’ve done so for years now. If I try to go to bed without flossing, I get uncomfortable and then have to get up again and floss.

My exercise routine is much more sporadic. When I have more time (weekend, vacations), I exercise well and regularly, with appropriate stretching and sufficient time and energy to constitute some solid aerobic fitness. But there are long stretches in the year when exercise means taking a walk at some point in the day-- not as good, but not nothing either. At some points in the year, I’ll stop doing even this, but within a few days or a week, my body and mind get sufficiently agitated and I know that only some good body movement will get me right again.

These are habits that I’ve been able to develop because of the way I’ve learned to better identify with my body as part of my larger organism. I tend towards being mostly “heady,” and it’s taken time and experience to value and remember to take care of parts of me that are not immediately my mind. And the key to developing these habits seems to be about developing sensitivity to my own discomfort when I let them lapse.

Civic Habits and the Luxury of Individuality
After the recent inauguration, like others I felt a high degree of motivation to stay politically active. I started making donations, and making several phone calls a week to political representatives, as well as encouraging friends (on social media) to do the same. It lasted about a month before work and life became busier (at the time I was looking for a new job, planning a move to a new city, and planning a wedding), and my personal sense of crisis and urgency began to abate.

One of the major dimensions of Privilege is being sheltered from experiencing the negative effects of societal issues. As a first-world economically-secure educated employed neurotypical non-disabled cis het white male (did I miss any?), societal/global health can plummet while my personal experience of society remains stable and strong. Others are affected; others are worrying; I don’t have to worry right now.

Individuality is a luxury, a benefit of privilege(s). So when my civic habits lapse and wither away, I don’t suffer. I just return to normal. I return to comfort and lose touch with motivation for urgent activism.

Loosening the Bonds of Individuality
There are truths about my life to which privilege blinds or desensitizes me. I’m part of a social network of life. My daily stability and comfort is established by unjust systems of capitalism, racism, sexism, and so on. I need to develop more social consciousness, in which I experience “my” well-being in alignment with the larger organism.

Individuality is losing sleep because I’m hungry. Social consciousness is losing sleep because others are hungry. (And just to be less noble for a second: Social consciousness is wayyy harder. My life has less stress when I let myself assert that many, many societal problems are simply not my problem. And, within the framework of individuality, I can’t solve all the problems of society, so why stress myself out, right?)

The goal is not to give up individuality but to temper it, and to develop an embodied social consciousness. In fact, a major part of developing that social consciousness is about sensitizing myself to the impacts (even if subtle) of others’ oppression on myself, and then developing effective ways to process that sensitivity and turn it into action.

What comes next is basic but essential.
  • Cultivate discomfort by identifying beyond this limited sense of self.
  • Make habits of consciousness-raising and activism.
    • Attend civic events.
    • Make calls.
    • Maybe, someday, join a civic-minded group and focus my energy there.
    • Allow this habit to fluctuate (like exercise) but don’t let it lapse.
  • Set up personal systems of accountability. After all, I didn’t really change my flossing habits until I had a partner who flossed with me. Never underestimate the power of the “buddy system.”

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite of your posts. Let me know if you'd like to set up a buddy system for social action