What sex, cocaine & chocolate have in common with me.

Scientifically, we’re all assholes. And not just because so much of our output is crap. Neuroscience and behavioural science studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found that when talking about ourselves, on average, we experience “increased neural activity in areas of the brain associated with motivation and reward.” Yes, when we talk about ourselves, the same part of the brain is firing as when we’re triggered by stimuli like sex, cocaine, chocolate. The best part? In these studies, it didn’t even matter if there was another conversant present. So it’s not even the “disclosure” piece of the equation that we get off on. It’s simply the personality masturbation. It’s unsurprising then that demonstrative mindfulness has become so trendy. Sure, there are a lot of other reasons – like constant notifications, high speed everything and the cornucopia of ways we can judge and be judged. But mindfulness practice, as currently advertised, is becoming a parody of itself. There’s a fine line between being in tune with your desires, concerns, patterns of thought, and being entirely self-indulgent. And honestly, I think we’re teetering on the edge.

It just seems so silly. We’re arbitrarily dumped into these body vessels, randomly assigned geographically-bound quality-of-life status, and left to develop into these self-obsessed, insecure, frantic little messes, desperately seeking continuous quality improvement (and willing to pay the price be it through self-help books, mindfulness apps, retreats, gurus, therapists, gym memberships, shaman, and so on). And all the while, we’re on the lookout for another little mess with the expectation that he/she should develop the same obsession, forgetting that he/she is likely already self-obsessed too – little room for two obsessions in one ego. No wonder there’s an increasing trend of people being more likely to get a dog than to get married.

I’m going to experiment with actively talking less about myself and my experiences this week and see if I actually notice how often I do it and whether it changes the quality of conversations.

Disclaimer: This post was inspired by wildly self-indulgent conversations (including a Tinder date) overheard at Starbucks, so there’s some bias at play. I still love the self-obsessed, insecure, frantic little messes. We’re adorable.

You march, I march, Jack

January’s more than halfway over and most of us are getting pulled back into the current of “busy.” In part, busy wishing that this TV listing of tomorrow’s inauguration ceremony wasn’t satirical.

This week has been at odds with itself. It started with a day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., a warrior for racial justice, economic equity, and peace. It ends with a day that hands the keys to the castle to a man whose every action, comment (and tweet) goes against these same principles. Presumably due to the past year’s events, even more of the media’s coverage of Martin Luther King day moved beyond his reveries. A grittier, more conflicted portrait was painted, making the case for imperfect dreamers who aren’t afraid to colour outside the lines, to echo inconvenient truths.

Speaking of inconvenient truths, the World Economic Forum (held this week in Davos) released its 2017 Global Risks Report citing “economic inequality, societal polarization, and intensifying environmental dangers” as top “contributors” to global development over the next decade, threatening peace, wealth and health. Nothing new, but given that “democracies” are shifting towards the political equivalent of hands over ears, eyes wide shut, twitter tongue stuck out on all these risks, we need the dreamers (which I suspect includes whoever is reading this) to step up and step out.

An opportunity to do so is coming up this weekend with the Women’s March on Washington (or Women’s March for Dignity) on Jan 21st (all genders welcome). The platform goes beyond women’s rights and takes an intersectional approach that includes civil rights, justice in the criminal system, worker’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, rights of people living with disabilities, immigration reform, and environmental protection. The governing principle states that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice.” As of now, in addition to the march in DC, 615 sister marches have been planned globally. You can check here to find the one near you!

Opinions. And on having them.

Maybe this was only the irrational fear of a 12-year-old, the fear of not having opinions on anything. It came from this idea that I don’t have anything to say because I don’t have thoughts about them and that those non-thoughts form only non-opinions. I don’t say things because I don’t have anything to say. Without an opinion, I don’t have a stake in the conversation, in what’s being put forward as right, as legitimate, as ethical, as the way things should be in the world. I don’t have opinions on anything. This fear hung in the air for a good chunk of my teenage years.

American grade school (and into college) is a place where young people are lauded for their “participation” because this active contribution to the classroom is hailed as the way that people are heard and legitimate and intelligent. These people are the ones that move the discussion forward, that defend their arguments to others, and have influence, and what I’ve heard called “leadership” skills. To voice your opinion and your thoughts on some issue is to be worldly and to “know your stuff.” In other cultures, it’s called being rude, loud, obnoxious, and/or imposing on others. For a long time, I had trouble reconciling these two worlds.

I’ve come to realize that, back then, I was only gathering information, so-called data on truth. It is without doubt that from a young age, I had some kind of obsession with the truth. I struggled with the idea that perhaps, and probably, there is no real truth in the universe. As you can imagine, this made religion a difficult concept for me to grasp. While you could argue that I wasn’t brought up Christian enough to take certain ideas as self-evident, I’d argue that it was in my nature to be skeptical of that which could not be reasonably or definitively proven multiple times over. Rather, it was my acceptance of religion as a value to human society rather than the belief system of any one religion that answered my questions into why it should exist at all.

I had a certain way of speaking. [Some would argue that this sentence should be written in the present: I have a certain way of speaking. Perhaps.] Things had to be worthy. Statements had to be worth the effort of speech. And correspondingly worth the time spent listening to it. Hey, I’ve always been considerate. Speech had to make some worthy contribution – worthy meaning thought-provoking or relevant, adding something new. Why would you spend your time listening to and learning the same things over and over again? You wouldn’t. But perhaps this leads me to make too many assumptions about what other people would find interesting or relevant or new or of value. Maybe it is only an excuse for me to continue gathering information without making my own contribution to that data collection and its synthesis. Maybe the assumption that people see what I see given the same information is too strong. But hey, I’m learning.

This is yet another fear about which my 20-something-year-old self would be able to reassure my 12- and 15- and 17-year-old selves. I have opinions. And strong ones. I have opinions that after 20-odd years of data collection in the form of experiences, anecdotes, media consumption, diversity, culture, and (I hope) continued openness have cultivated. I have things to say and it matters that I say them. Though I remain reserved, these are opinions that I will honestly share while being conservative with who is worthy to hear them. After years of being a woman, I know well when words only fall on deaf ears.

This past month has reminded me of these past fears and more recent realizations, and really in ways that I would have gladly gone without. It reminded me that I am capable of an emotional violence in my opinions and beliefs at a very basic, fundamental level – a driving force that remains hidden if not completely smothered in the day-to-day. And it reminded me again that there is so much more truth to learn. That settling down is not an option. We must instead strive to engage and listen and contribute and find those things that are worthy. That complacency and blind trust is dangerous. And that those with all of the loud opinions may be more empty air than American reverence would make them seem.

Great.

Ah December. The red of world AIDS day marks the start of decked halls and Christmas lights. (RED) cups and gift cards. Expensive flights and long lines. Recipe books and carol hooks. And so on. You’ll notice we neglected October and November. That’s because nothing of significance was happening in the world. The American electorate did not outdo itself. A hatred-spewing, pussy-grabbing, language-perverting bigot was not elected into office. The very fabric of liberal ideology was not ripped apart. There were no violent ripples across the world. The uprising of the far right was not given a stamp of approval, both in America and otherwise. France and Austria remain unthreatened. Monetary systems were unperturbed in every way. People fleeing from profit-driven war and devastation were not used as pawns to trigger fear-based propaganda and inward-looking protectionism. The environment that sustains us was prioritized, its value as upstanding as ever. Knowledge and thinking were celebrated, informing decisions with long lasting positive impact for all. Love won.

Right… Alt-right.

Hundreds of articles are trying to make sense of the next four years and what they’ll mean not only for America, but for the world. The contrast filters on the colours of our skin are approaching maximum levels. Right wing parties are gaining even further momentum in Europe, the repercussions of which will be deplorable given that Syria’s conflict (rather, the global conflict that Syria happens to have the abominable pleasure of hosting) shows no sign of tapering. Lives continue to be destroyed as the world locks its doors and throws away the key into the convoluted maze of referendums and parliamentary process. Trade instability is pushing foreign investment in ironic directions. The environment continues slipping down the give-a-fuck ladder (even in lala Canadaland governed by Prince Charming). And don’t worry, they’re doing their best to equally dismantle progress on other social sectors. The incoming education secretary is pegged as “Public school enemy No.1,” rolling in with her charter schools and privatized education. Health and human services will be run by a man who sees Price(s) instead of patients, hates healthy populations and belongs to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a right wing group of physicians who disavow evidence-based medicine and believe that doctors are God. No matter what.

But I don’t want to talk about any of this. What I want to talk about is more personal. The world has gone through these right/left ebbs and flows forever. It’s not that this four year presidency will dismantle everything (8 years however may). It’s that it happened in the first place – in this moment in time – that makes it hard to hold my world view up to the mirror to take a proper look. It’s not pretty. It hurts. It makes me feel insecure, disconnected, and at a loss for what to do next. You may argue that it was time for the built-in-America house of cards to come tumbling down, making a joker out of supposed racial harmony while crowning overt bigotry and chauvinism King. “The great experiment that failed. An American dream turned nightmare.” But I find that sad too. I liked having some shred of hope that humanity is capable of celebrating differences. I wanted to believe in a humanity whose main ignorance was behind Rawls’ veil. Instead I’m forced to look at the picture of Dorian Gray – the portrait we’ve all collaboratively painted using acrylic selfishness and strokes of ignorance.

It’s just Great. Again.

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