podcast notes: the pitfalls of perfectionism (For the Wild w/ Alexis Shotwell)

podcast link — For the Wild – Alexis Shotwell on Resisting Purity Culture

personal epiphany prompted by the conversation: i don’t need to police myself. (where i go when i feel guilty about my behavior/choices)

noteworthy phrase: “pain of complicity” – what many of us resist, especially us white people, because it’s so hard and heavy to hold the ways in which we are responsible for/benefit from systems and histories of oppression. this sense of responsibility isn’t about shame — it’s ultimately empowering; it reminds us that we can take action against these systems. it’s a call to action.

i’ve been encountering this theme repeatedly recently, the connection between responsibility and empowerment.

noteworthy point: Alexis describes qualities of people who have been resilient in social justice movements, ones who are in it for the long haul and still pleasant (lol):

  1. they have a quality of curiosity – they bring their knowledge and experience but are also flexible to see what works for the specific group, cause
  2. they don’t collapse when they make mistakes – i think of this as ego work. as white people (people in general, but we’re speaking situationally here), we’re going to fuck up. it’s about how we show up to make it right, to make amends, to work towards repair that really matters.
  3. they have an orientation towards repair and responsiveness — i think of this as accountability work. accountability for harm (that doesn’t revolve around punishment), that moves with the intention of seeking reconciliation, is an incredibly kind gesture in community.

personal musing moment: as human beings living in a fucked up system, we’re going to reflect that interpersonally at times… and so instead of falling apart at what feels like criticism or like you’re a “bad” person, we can put our energy into moving towards a path of healing.

also, i’m speaking idealistically here, cause you know i’ve fallen apart at what feels like criticism or being called out more than once. i mean, the reason this podcast resonated with me is because i’m a recovering perfectionist, which is simply not copacetic with working for real change. we gotta move forward knowing mistakes will be many. which is why pouring energy into systems of repair is so vital.

Alexis Shotwell makes the point that individual perfectionism is anti-collectivist. without the ability to endure making mistakes in relationship, there’s no way to grow. and ultimately this leads to silence and inaction due to fear of doing the “wrong” thing, which is simply inevitable if we’re truly doing the work.

as white people, whiteness is a lot to grapple with, to hold, not just the past trauma but the present. we are peeling the onion of power and oppression. so if having to confront that in yourself feels rough, it’s because it is.

and i don’t say this to center white comfort but to prepare us white folks for the fragility we may encounter in the face of racial reckoning. i think it’s helpful to be reminded that some things are just hard. not because we’re doing it wrong or because we suck (which is centering ourselves), but because it’s fucking hard and grimy and depressing to confront. it’s collective shadow work. the only way to heal is to bring it all out into the light.

Alexis mentions 3 Types of Relationships she’s been curious about recently:

  1. the power of friendship, whether animal, places, people, nature; “mushroom friends, animal friends, people friends, mountain friends,” etc. – she makes the point that it’s a myth that only our family will take care of us.
  2. “forming collective is a skill” – that’s all i wrote for this one. but i’ve been thinking about this more and more recently — is there an activism/social justice school?
  3. the importance of naming enemies and opposing them – “opposition is a relationship”

the podcast also mentions an essays of hers called “Claiming Bad Kin” that i made note to check out. here’s an excerpt:
“I am interested in what it could mean for white people and settlers more generally who benefit from historical and current effects of enslavement, colonialism, border militarism, racial distributions of environmental devastation, and capitalism to claim kin with the people producing these effects. If we are complicit in the pain of this suffering world, how might we take responsibility for our bad kin?

personal musings part 2: when we make a mistake, and we don’t make it about ourselves, about how “shitty” we are, when we don’t shame spiral, we are able to step into the responsibility and humility of being in relationship in a way that really excites and comforts me. it’s like we think there’s something righteous about “punishing” ourselves.. i’d say actually letting ourselves feel the depth of the pain of unintentionally harming another person is enough. anything more becomes self-indulgent, becomes about us, the person who’s fucked up, instead of tending to the other person and repairing the harm done.

but let me be clear: it’ll probably also take some individual processing after the fact, because if you’re a perfectionist, fucking up hurts. it feels like it could kill you. so the more we feel it, hopefully the less fragile our ego becomes in the face of it. because it’s not about me or you, it’s about us. we’re going to fuck up and we’ll all ultimately need help to figure out the road back from it.

side note: i had a hard time writing this post, because it can be hard to reflect and digest lessons without feeling like i’m lecturing. any tone of lecturing is ultimately about me towards me, not anyone else. i am the one eager to grow here. and if it resonates with others, that’s of course a lovely bonus.

also, these ideas are fresh to me, and it can feel awkward working out ideas in real time. oh, the irony about my perfectionist taking over as i try to write about resisting it. it’s hard to learn in public, to rationalize mistakes as a part of growth (especially in a shaming culture). shame and social rejection are powerful tools for silencing and causing action paralysis. it leads to us trying to stay “safe” from criticism, which is the opposite of what change is about. but goddamn is it scary.

good luck out there ❤ ❤ ❤

prayer: when i have made a mistake, when i am being held accountable for harm done, may i remember that i am one of many folks who will walk this path of reconciliation. may i not collapse under the weight of imperfection. may i remember, as Alexis says, that i am “good enough,” and that most importantly, i will show up for repair.

the freedom that arises when we consider the big picture

i didn’t write yesterday, breaking my hopeful commitment to do a blog post everyday. i didn’t realize this until i was headed to bed, questioned doing a short one, but quickly decided it wasn’t worth forcing it, holding so tightly onto an idea.

so here i am now. it’s still morning in my neck of the woods, and it’s been a peaceful one at that.

i went to sleep feeling crummy — that physical state that makes you question if you’re in the precursors to getting sick or just feeling funky.. i slept almost 10 hours, so clearly my body needed rest.

a quote by Leesa Renée Hall continues to stick in my head: I answer to history.”

this quote was ringing in my head as i reflected on the culture of busyness and rushing here in the “United States.” this constant sense of urgency, of doing as much as we can in any given moment or day. of the glorification of this, of the status that comes with it.

i thought about this as i leisurely made my morning smoothie, moving slowly, feeling the muscles in my arm pulse as i opened and closed the fridge, felt the sensation of the zipper sliding across my bag of frozen fruit.

i thought about how moving slowly, intentionally, and trying to nurture a sense of presence, totally alters the way we interact with the world. and makes it much easier for me to feel a sense of interconnectedness.

i think about how much it serves American culture to keep people doing, moving, stressed, with never enough time or resources or energy. always focused on consuming. it’s a great way to keep people disconnected — from themselves, each other, the world around them. from the damage we cause as a collective. from the harm we continue to not answer for.

the months leading up to me turning 30, i had a strong sense of insecurity and lacking. i had no societal norms to show for this turning point in my life — no nice car, committed relationship, career, etc.

all i had was myself, which in the context of society, has no measurable value beyond my labor. and so, in a conventional sense, i felt valueless.

it’s been 8 months since then, and my view of myself in relation to my value in society continues to shift and grow.

i no longer feel that aching lacking that plagued me for months. (of course it still pops up every now and then)

and now that i’ve given myself the space and time to spend a lot of time in solitude, in silence, in stillness, i recognize with much more clarity how silly it is to measure my worth by societal standards.

and Leesa’s quote helps a lot with that, because it contextualizes me not just in the here and now but in the big picture, the long story of humanity and the world. the decisions that i make are not just about answering to the demands society makes of me today but answering to what history asks of me for the future.

i recently had an interaction with an old neighbor who in a short period of time said a flurry of very offensive things that both caught me off guard and jarred me. when i tried to offer a line of questioning to challenge his way of thinking, he told me, “i don’t like change.”

how silly, i thought, to fight against the only guarantee we have in life, the inevitability of change…

when i think about answering to an imagined future of where humans might go, how we might adapt, i realize how small and inconsequential a “career” is, especially in something that doesn’t provide lasting value or quality to others’ lives. it makes my actions not measurable to present conditions but to what could be, what i would like to build towards.

and being progressive feels less reactionary to the current political climate and more so an inevitable and necessary nature through which to relate to life.

there are still, of course, ways in which i am forced to stay connected to the status quo. in my case, i still need money, a semi-consistent income, and an idea of how to sustain myself through my life.

but i have less barriers around how my life “should” look. which gives me the freedom, the creativity to imagine a way to make it through beyond the tiny, restrictive box i’ve been given. and it turns something dread-inducing into a realm of possibility.

and i can also see that things are shifting and changing. this present iteration of culture and society is currently in visible flux, and the resistance continues to bubble up from under the surface into the physical realm. what once worked is breaking down before our eyes.

as far as what comes next, i’d say our best bet is to stay open and adaptive and nurture that space that connects us all…

❤ ❤ ❤