Category Archives: Social Justice Values

On Finding Unexpected Clarity

Here’s a super quick summary of my last year for a bit of context: Completed the most indescribable arts degree. Spent the summer applying for jobs and volunteering for projects around Calgary, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Decided to “courageously commit” to an organization I already loved. With help from friends, convinced the organization to hire me as a Communications Intern and moved to Toronto. This work resulted in lots of compliments, but no job. And that’s how a small-town Albertan ended up unemployed in Toronto…

I suspect that everyone who gets a degree without a straightforward label struggles to figure out what to do with their life post-graduation. Ever since I realized that I did not want to sacrifice my youth to become an architect, I’ve been trying to find another career that would fill me with the same passion without architecture’s “sleep is for the weak” culture. However, the months of cumulative informational interviews, research, and testing out ideas have led to one inevitable conclusion: my soul refuses to accept the confines of the cookie-cutter jobs available to me. If only I could be a Designer-Entrepreneur-Storyteller-Community Builder-Artist-Adventurer!

Amazingly, a friend forwarded me an application that looked perfect. A town in Pennsylvania has this Changemaker-in-Residence program, where they pay for driven, creative young people to come to their town and do cool shit (aka social innovation). They have an interesting theory of change:

“We believe that the more creators and trend-setters we can encourage to play in our community, the more others will want to move here. So your one and only expectation is to create, create, create. Be a positive force for change that serves as a magnet for others to join you.”

It sounds like a dream-come-true! Creative work, with mentorship and housing included, in a town surrounded by incredible natural beauty would be amazing. But as I filled out the application I butted up against a painful contradiction. I truly believe that brain-drain poses a serious threat for the social and economic vitality of rural communities, and educated young people can have an outsized impact on the health of these towns. The problem is that, with a population of 80,000 people, State College doesn’t seem rural in comparison to my own hometown. Winfield has a shrinking population of about 250 people. No joke! I looked it up.

I’ve spent my whole life thinking that I would get out of Winfield and never look back. Yet I’m faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that, if I truly care about creating social change, there is nowhere in the world that I can be more valuable than in the very place that I fled. So I will go home.

Of all the careers I’ve imagined, this is the most terrifying. I don’t know precisely what I will be working on, or how I will fit into the small town culture (I wasn’t exactly popular in school), or what it will mean for my future. All I know is that I have to try to create change close to home before I take on global challenges, or it will haunt me forever.

On the bright side, Winfield offers the same perks of natural beauty, freedom to create, easy access to mentors, and affordable housing that the Changemaker-in-Residence program does. Who knows!? Maybe I can entice some of my big-city friends to come play in Winfield, and it won’t be so bad 😉

Until next time.

(un)Ambiguously yours,

jm

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The summary post

Last week, Embracing Ambiguity reached the 50 post milestone. To celebrate, various authors who have contributed to the blog over the last year and a half wrote a post on a similar theme. That theme, roughly, was: “making the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING” and “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it.”

It was amazing to see different authors take the prompts in completely different directions, and inspiring to hear their experiences, interpretations, and fears. With five new posts in the span of a week, we realize you may not have been able to keep up! So, just in case you missed anything:

ON THE ALWAYS, EVER CHANGING | Author: Jeff Ku

“Things will always be ever changing for me, and if you stop and talk and listen, it is always ever changing for everyone else too.  No stint of work, no matter how short or long is a waste. It is a learning opportunity, each one being a directory guide on the long hiking trail, helping me decide which direction to pursue.  And you know what? I may not end up at a final destination where THE ULTIMATE MEGA JOB has been waiting for me to get to.  It will actually probably lead me back to the beginning where I get a good laugh at my work life, and I then discover the joys of retirement and being a bratty old man.  But as long as I am learning, and gaining and fulfilling some aspects of my life at my job, I will stick with it.”

Read more here.

ON BECOMING PROCESS-ORIENTED | Author: Maya Fromstein

“Slowly, slowly I am trying to learn how to focus on the present moment. To not necessarily focus less on “WILL THIS JOB DEFINE ME” or “WILL THIS MAKE ME THE MOST QUALIFIED EVER” and “WANT. TOP. MARKS”, but to actively incorporate and pay attention to the moments of “Well this is nice” and “mmmm” (four m’s, check it) into my life. To respect my body and my mind and all of their assorted needs, while simultaneously respecting my potential and my future aspirations. To truly believe that if I take the breaks I need, and stimulate the other areas of my brain or hands that thesis writing and computer typing leave wanting, it will enhance all areas of my life.”

Read more here.

ON PEOPLE | Author: Stefan Hostetter

“Rather, I had found the people that made the world make sense. If I had accomplished nothing else, I had done this, and I realized then and there, that I think this would be enough. I would never be making a choice that would impact everything. I could never have a failure too great. I could never be so wrong that I couldn’t be right again.”

Read more here.

ON CHOICE AND CONSEQUENCE | Author: Tyler Blacquiere

“I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter. Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter.”

Read more here.

ON COCOONS OF SAMENESS | Author: Mica McCurdy

“So now I sit here, feeling all warm and fuzzy for fall foliage, and wonder who I’ve become and what exactly I’ve done if I’ve not made many intentional choices over the past few years. Who am I if I stumble around from job to job, thing to thing, without really taking a moment to pause? Is this the person I want to be? And if so, what decisions am I going to start making to intentionally maintain that? But if not, who? what? how?”

Read more here.

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On choice and consequence

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the fourth in a series intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. Embracing Ambiguity received an email in response to a recent post, that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. In celebration of Embracing Ambiguity’s milestone, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING” and “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it.” It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these (and other) prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase its reach. Happy reading.

 


 

From this week’s prompt: How do we make the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING?! What if, at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit, and it’s really just about the narrative you tell yourself about what you’re doing, why and how you feel about it? What if it’s as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it? How do we ever know anything if it’s as easy as telling yourself that one thing is right and another is wrong?

 

…So, it was a nice, light email for a Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting at my desk at work when it landed at the top of my inbox. Anna, in her characteristic way, had managed to cut to the heart of my recent blog post, and ask all the right questions. The effect of which, this time, was to send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and uncertainty. Thaaaanks Anna.  (<3)

Though it was unknown to her at the time, the email – and the flood of thoughts, questions and panic that followed – was coming on the heels of a rather large, relevant, terrifying and sudden life event: at the end of the month I would no longer be employed.

Part my choice, part a sped up decision to reflect the needs and desires of my team and organization, the life shift meant that, once again, I would be floating into the void of decision making, fear, uncertainty and ambiguity that I have, in past, referred to as the black hole.

Like many people my age, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty (if this blog was any clue…). Raised through an education system that mercilessly pushes you toward “success” (read: good grades, the “academic” stream, a university education), I have become engulfed by this idea of “working it all out.” And how could I not be?

After all, grade school was never particularly challenging and so it was always made clear – by teachers, peers and guidance counsellors – that the “academic” stream in high school was the place for me. When I continued to excel in secondary school, University was the next logical step – I wouldn’t want to “throw away” my grades and potential, after all.

On top of this, I was – on a daily basis and like pretty much everyone around me – fed the lie that university education = job = stability = “it all worked out” = university education, etc.

As logic dictated, I went to university after graduating high school and after grinding my way through four meaningless years (from an education point of view) I graduated that, too. I was, then, somewhat surprised by the discovery that no one gave two shits about my major in Peace and Conflict Studies (But it’s from the Munk School of Global Affairs!! He cried, to no one in particular).

And so, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty. The exact opposite has been drilled into my head consistently, since the day I successfully printed my name from left to right. I grew up on a straight path with one start and end point (education -> career). Is it any wonder that now, finding myself amid a large, open field, I was at a loss?

Compounding all of this, is the fact that I have always held my values close to my chest. The result is an, at times, paralyzing amount of thought that goes into even the smallest of life decisions. Is this really what I want? Is this the kind of impact I want to be having? Is it enough? Am I really happy?

You can see, perhaps, how the combination of these two things may act as a recipe for ambiguity (lollll).

All of this is just to say, that as I sat and digested my 28 days and counting of employment, as I pondered all of this yet again and considered just WHAT the hell I was going to do with my life, Anna’s questions struck something of a chord.

It’s this idea of “the narrative we tell ourselves” in particular, that stuck.

As someone interested and experienced in storytelling, the idea of narrative is one that is often on my mind. In response to Anna’s questions, I began to consider my own narrative – the one I tell myself about the world and the place I occupy within it. Some of this will be familiar to those of you who read my last post, but:

I very strongly believe that life should be filled with meaning. Within that, I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people, and in doing so, my aim is to leave behind more than I take. I want to live my life in service of this planet and these people and I’m terrified of complacency and settling for something that “pays the bills” and nothing more. I want to change the world. Or, at very least (and more realistically), the tiny fraction of it which I occupy. Failing that, I want to go out knowing that, if nothing else, I fucking tried. Because I’d rather be wrong and moving than right and stationary.

And maybe I am very full of myself in saying that. Maybe I’m giving into an inflated sense of self importance. Maybe it is (it definitely is) a privileged thing to even have the ability to say. And maybe, it’s all for not. Maybe, it is, as Tim Minchin once said in a commencement address:

“I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist after 13.8 billion years’ worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them.”

Even if you don’t ascribe to such an extreme view, maybe, it is, as Anna says:

“What if at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit and it’s really just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it?”

OR MAYBE, it is, as another friend, Sarah, recently said to me:

“I don’t believe in right and wrong and good or bad, I believe in choice and consequence.”

If I’m choosing sides and swearing fealty, it’s in somewhere in between these last two bits of wisdom that my allegiance lies.

Because the “right thing” has to matter. It has to. Life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. It has too.

Because for all of our shittiness and intolerance and absurdity and injustice, humanity is – for all intents and purposes – pretty fucking beautiful. And sure, it needs a little poking and a little direction every now and again (read: pretty constantly). It sure as hell is not perfect. And it never will be. But it is, and can be, so much.

And maybe I’ve naïve as all fuck to think that I can alter anything, but if in my 90 some odd years in this body on this planet I manage to inspire, affect or alter one person – hell, one moment in time – I’ll consider it 90 years well spent.

So it has to matter. It has too.

Because if the “right thing” is bullshit, and if it is just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it, if it is as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it, then my narrative – the thing I choose to tell myself – is that it does matter.

I won’t, and can’t, believe anything else.

Because it has too. If I get to consciously decide what has meaning, then I choose this life and the decisions that impact EVERYTHING. I choose my actions. I choose working hard day in and day out for whatever I’ve naively decided in that moment, day, month or year is the “greater good.” I choose saying fuck you to a life of complacency, comfort and routine – to a job that is misaligned from the values I hold dear. I choose the path that is uncertain, difficult, stressful and, at times, emotionally exhausting – it will be my reminder that I’m doing something that truly matters to me, if no one else.

Because it has to. The “right thing” can’t be bullshit. It can’t. Because “choice and consequence.” Because if it is, what’s the alternative?

For all its beauty, this world is also one of poverty, injustice, war, sexism, racism, systemic inequality, animal abuse, child abuse, rampant exploitation, environmental degradation, climate change – pick your fucking issue – in the world of all this…shit, what’s the alternative?

For all those wide eyed University frosh with dreams of “changing the world,” for all those who mature and learn and grow and become leaders through the Oxfams and the Amnestys and the War Childs and the UNICEFs of the world, what’s the alternative to unending, youthful optimism, hope, and the pursuit of meaning? The pursuit of the “right thing?”

I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter.

Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. To quote my friend Sarah, once again:

 

“How could a person not just be totally floored by everything??”

And I’m not saying that any of this makes the hard, complicated, stressful, shitty and unending process of “figuring it out” any easier – my naiveté only extends so far – I’m just saying that it gives you a reason to do it.

Because it has to matter.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On CHANGE (or: This one time, in Ottawa…)

Goodbyes suck. I was reminded of this fact a couple weekends ago, in Ottawa. Reminded of it over and over and over again in rapid succession as one by one, the people I’d spent the preceding four days with trickled back to their respective pockets of the country.

It’s amazing how quickly bonds can form when you stick excited, passionate people with similar interests, values and beliefs into the same small space to discuss, debate and learn. We were gathered in Ottawa for an Oxfam Canada Conference, and in attendance, a cross section of the organization’s campus (and alumni) presence from cities across the country. 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people.

It was in watching these energetic, lovely and inspiring young people enter their cabs that I was reminded that goodbyes suck. Reminded of it in every farewell hug that decoupled momentarily, only to snap back together like a set of magnets, determined to demonstrate the truth of the notion that opposites attract. I was reminded of it in every attempt to prolong the farewell, in every mushy showering of verbal affection, and in every promise to keep in touch.

I was reminded of my disdain for goodbyes each time the Oxfam corner of my heart felt a small pang of ache with the slamming of each car door. I have missed this community, this cause, these values, and these people.

And so while the conference made clear that which I already knew – about goodbyes and about a longing to be more involved with Oxfam – my four days with 40 inspiring leaders and a dozen or so insightful facilitators also reminded me of something else.

For the last two years, since graduating, I have felt adrift in the terrifying sea of young adulthood. I graduated UofT after 4 years of contempt for the University process, environment and culture. Graduated UofT with an uncertainty about who I was or what I was doing or where I was going, but also, with an unshakeable certitude that whatever the answers to the who, what, where were, they sure as FUCK would look nothing like how I had (formally) spent the previous four years.

After graduating I applied to every job under the sun. Street outreach officer, Communications Guru, Campaign Manager, Freelance BBQ Sauce Inspector, Event Coordinator. The list goes on. Hell, for giggles I even applied to (and was somehow interviewed for) the ED role of a small upstart.

Despite countless resumes and cover letters, proclamations of how I was the “best candidate for the role” and “please oh please god just hire me I won’t burn anything down I swear…” I had found nothing.

Imagine my shock – no one wanted to hire me?! My undergrad degree in Peace and Conflict Studies doesn’t allure you, you say? Would a nice crisp Queen Elizabeth II help? No? Ok…

What did help, however, was taking my university degree off my resume. I was no longer “Tyler Blacquiere, Honors BA with High Distinction from the University of Toronto”, and instead, was “Tyler Blacquiere…I’ve worked at a library before and I probably won’t burn anything down.”

Well, the latter must have been just the ticket, and thus set off my summer of pretending to rearrange shelves full of bagels, in the bakery at my local Loblaws.

Now, look. There’s nothing wrong with working in a grocery store or a Walmart or a WHATEVER. At least, not inherently. There WAS something soul crushing about erasing my last four years to get said job. There WAS something problematic about the amount of food that was thrown out, often even before its best before date. And there WAS something about the experience that was fundamentally at odds with who I considered myself to be – or rather, the person I wanted to be, and the place I wanted to occupy in the world.

For a long time I have been someone with a core set of values held close to my chest, and in times like my summer at Loblaws, when my actions have felt at odds with my beliefs, I have been met with great distress. Put simply, I try my best to hold myself to two main things:

  • I want to leave behind more than I take
  • I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people

My time spent in the bread aisles of Loblaws was not facilitating either of these, or other, values. Unless, I guess, you count helping people find bagels as “living life for other people” (sometimes you just really need some pumpernickel?).

You can imagine my joy, then, at being offered an internship with Engineers Without Borders at the end of that summer, in September 2012.

I was unsure of exactly what I’d be doing, and unsure of how exactly I’d live off an $800/month stipend, but these questions were irrelevant when weighed against a continuation of my current reality.

EWB was a charity. It was working to end poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, for the most part, doing “development” in a smarter, more innovative way that most other charities.

Me, and my values, couldn’t be happier.

I now stand at the start of September 2014, and I’ve reach my two year anniversary with the organization. During that time, my roles and responsibilities have shifted considerably. From a videography and fundraising focused internship (September 2012 – January 2013) to a series of short term, part-time and full-time contracts, focused on EWB’s charity run and holiday campaign (January 2013 – December 2013), to a full time non-contract role in January of this year, focused on fundraising and communications.

These past two years have not been without their ups and downs, but on the whole the experience has been a good one. I’ve had the opportunity to occupy and lead a number of different roles and projects, worked with some pretty incredible people, and – not insignificantly for someone in this “transition to real people life” – have been able to keep myself consistently housed, fed and clothed.

These positives aside, however, things have been growing increasingly challenging. Motivation has been hard to come by, excitement has been relatively non-existent, and the days have started to drag. I have felt “there”, and not much more. The passion, felt so strongly in these 4 recent days in Ottawa, has not translated back into my work with EWB since returning to Toronto.

For the most part, I’ve been unsure as to why. Certainly, there have been some clear challenges in life and work that would explain part of my declining happiness in my current role, but nothing that really gets at the feeling of just being sort of…done.

It was not until this one time, in Ottawa, surrounded by 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people, that I was reminded of the reason why.

All throughout my “activist days” (if I can call them that) of University, I spent late nights working on things for Oxfam, Canadians for CAMR, and the Green Society Campaign (to name a few) and early mornings working on essays which, at that point, had taken a back seat to more important pursuits. Through the petitions, the protests and the press releases; through the MP meetings op-eds and videos, I felt like I was “doing something”. Felt like I was leaving behind more than I was taking, and like I was living life for other people. And sure, maybe I was just young and naïve and dumb, and now, in looking back, maybe I’m romanticizing, but still. It felt as though there was inherent purpose in what I was doing. It required a certain fire; required boots on the ground and coffee in the veins. And naïve dumbness aside, it did, in one way or another, and regardless of size, contribute directly to change.

And I know. I KNOW. Fundraising and communications are important. Fundraising is what enables the “on the ground” work. It lets EWB’s ventures operate, and provides the backbone for worthwhile programs like Kumvana, which connects young African leaders to the resources and training they need to amplify their impact and reach within their communities. It’s important work.

And communications puts knowledge into the hands of the people who we rely so heavily on to sign our petitions, run in our fundraising races, and become monthly donors. It helps them make informed decisions about where they’ll invest their money, time, and support. And, it shares the successes of our ventures, funded in turn by those donor dollars. It’s important work.

But. As important as it may be, I’m realizing that it’s incompatible with some central tenets of who I want to be. It’s incompatible with my strong desire for direct purpose and action. It is, I think, one step too far removed from the change creation process – from creating the kind of world I want to live in – to ever be truly and consistently satisfying. I was reminded of that in Ottawa, as I sat with 40 or so inspiring young leaders and talked about Oxfam’s new campaign to have a third televised leader’s debate, specifically around the issues affecting women. I was reminded of it as I participated in and lead sessions that drew me back to the days of yore. And I was reminded of it in the flurry of brain activity that followed.

In the last two years, as I’ve jumped from role to role, I’ve endured through any moments of doubt or question about what it was I was doing by, in part, rationalizing that “at lease it’s not Loblaws”, and, in part, by giving into the fear of leaving and stepping into the unknown once more. In doing so I have become disconnected from my desire for direct, purposeful action. And it’s starting to wear through.

I miss the days of being so excited by what I was working on that I’d gladly stay up all night and push through to the morning. I miss the days of frantic, furious inspiration that comes from pursuing something you truly love. I miss the feeling of being truly and deeply tired from a day’s work. Not the kind of tired that comes from being bored and grinding, but the tired you feel in your bones. The tired you earn after a day’s worth of pouring passion into a vessel of your own creation.

If I’ve learned one thing about this journey to adulthood, it is that this whole thing, this whole process, is one of crossing all that from your list which you know is not for you. So as difficult as it is to find myself in this spot, I know that I am, at least, getting a bit closer to finding my place.

Whatever the hell that actually means.

…and then I found $20.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On The Love That Does Justice

Surprisingly, this is not a post about sadness.

I read a a blog post a while ago about the versions of our selves we present to the world, and near the end of the post the author says, “What endures is a resistance to, and fascination with, the notion of the authentic self. Like most people, I don’t know what the authentic self could possibly be; authentic compared to what?”

Shortly thereafter the latest Sun Kil Moon album, Benji, was released. It’s full of love – the artists Mom is described as his best friend, former lovers are thanked, and one track is just called “I Love My Dad”. As I listened to it couldn’t help but look at the strangers around me a with a new light of appreciation.

On Valentine’s Day I came home from work and found a package in my mailbox addressed to me, but with no return address. When I opened it, origami paper hearts spilled out along with a mix CD and a note that read “Hope you’re feeling better friend.” I opened it and felt loved.

These events, while relatively unrelated, remind me of a speech Michael Edwards gave on “the love that does justice” where he says,

“Great inner strength is required to confront the structures of power in the world unselfishly, without demonizing one’s enemies, alienating potential allies, or holding on too tightly to a particular vision of ends and means that can eventually become a prison. In the “love that does justice”, remember, personal and structural change are self- reinforcing. Only by operating from the space where we are joined together in some deep sense are we likely to find true common ground in facing up to the collective problems that confront us.”

So what is at stake, should we strive to live the love that does justice? The more we continue to discount others over quibbles about their approach, their method, their leadership, the more we exclude people from joining us in action toward a better world. The more we develop and use language specific to our understanding of social justice, and use knowledge of that language as a prerequisite for joining the movement, the more language is a tool of repression. The more we other the members of our broader social justice community, the more we stray from our values and reinforce the system we struggle against.

The events above are random, subjective, experiences but I think they note something important to remember: love, in small and unassuming ways, surrounds us. This is certainly easy to lose sight of in the face of Facebook flame wars, Twitter hashtag offences, and seemingly daunting organizational culture. Those struggles are real, and hurtful, and take a kind of energy that I’m not sure our emotional reserves are built for.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m quick to judge, and hate, and disagree. The little critical voice in my head carries around a bullhorn, and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of my sense of “humour” you’re well aware commentary from said bullhorn does not come from place of love. It would be so easy to write that off as academic social justice conditioning – that somehow school and being involved in the movements that I have been or currently am have moulded me in to a hyper-critical unloving asshole.

The reality is that I take this practice of critical thinking and, instead of applying it to things I have control over (my self, my work, my way of being), I use it against others and demand of them a perfection to a standard I’m not sure I can even ascribe to. If I were truly being critical I would examine why I demand something of others that I’m not willing to do myself. However, here lies an opportunity  to slowly transform a critical pursuit of justice from one that attacks, to one that leads with love. We have a responsibility to show one another love because, really, we are fragile beings, and I rather be the kind of fragile that creates and perpetuates good will toward others than the kind of fragile that shatters under the pressure of trying to be all of the critical.

In small, beautiful ways I think Frederik, Mark, and Mystery Friend have created, and are continuing to create, the kind of love Edwards is talking about. Their self-awareness but consideration for others allow for true connection to their ideas, or to their presented authentic selves. These are powerful tools for change, as connection can lead to understanding, and understanding to collective action.

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on being left behind

I have a really awkwardly located bike burn from a combination of wet shorts and a hard seat. I eat a lot of pulled pork burritos (no spice, no dairy). I read and reblog articles about gender issues in pop culture on tumblr. You can no longer count the number of freckles on my elbows as a result of afternoons in parks. I find it easier to talk to people who are close enough to touch, and I’ve been using more “I feel” statements… much to my own embarrassment.

You’ll notice that none of this has to do with social justice.

My life was previously a whirlwind of planning, organizing, and coordinating people for money, all for the purpose of eradicating poverty (because you know, “SMART” goals) and today it exists in very singular specific details with no SMART intention in the least.

I was let go just over a month ago. For a while there I could tell you the number of days it had been, but time is much more fluid now and the sharpness of hurt and anger have softened to more of a dull ache. These are potentially indicators that I’m moving on, however the reality is that it is the others, previously my colleagues, who work in social justice who have moved on. Their work hasn’t stopped, their purpose remains the same, and their lives remain stable with income and community.

As I get more and more wrapped up in the minutiae of my every day, I’ve lost touch with the forward motion that is being a part of a social justice organization. I’m not “in it” right now, and with my termination comes the feeling that part of my identity has been stripped from me. Who would have known that this was something to keep up with? That you have to actively work to be a part of this movement each and every day or else you lose touch, and you get left behind?

It’s strange to think of joining a new community of equally as passionate planners, organizers, and coordinators. Strange to think that I have to seek that out, and discover for myself a new way of being “in it”. I question now if its worth running to catch up, or taking some time to enjoy a much slower pace. I don’t know what is going to make me happy, but I do know that there is happiness for me in the details of the day to day. There are worse things to do than apply lotion, eat burritos, read articles, sit in the sun, and talk about my feelings (though I’m still hesitant on that last one) and soon enough there will be even better things to do.

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on my beliefs

If we’re going to do this whole “growing up” thing, we’re going to do it my way

There are a lot of things I don’t know right now. There are lot of open questions and a general uncertainty that can, at times, be overwhelming. With this in mind, I recently sat down to remind myself of all the things that I do know. This is the result:

I want…

  • to leave behind more than I take
  • to pursue meaning over happiness
  • to let my values and morals guide everything I do
  • to maintain my youthful idealism, optimism and imagination – even as my beard turns grey
  • to continue to be a cheerleader and remind people that they are wonderful (we don’t do it enough)

I never want…

  • to stop caring about this planet or all of the people on it
  • to work a standard 9-5 desk job
  • to let $, or what is “the norm” guide my decisions
  • to hold in an opinion for fear of how it will be perceived
  • to lose my faith in people and the incredible things they are capable of
  • to stop wearing my heart on my sleeve
  • to take the little things for granted; to be too busy to stop and watch the wind blow through the trees

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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on giving a f*ck(?)

If you’ve read most of my posts on this site so far, you’ll probably notice that my focus has been more on the personal side of things and I’ve only briefly talked about social justice issues or my role in them.  There is a reasonable explanation for this, and that comes as a question: Do I actually care about international development, social justice, and social change?

I’ve spent the greater part of the past 4 years of my life (my graduate degree and the last 2 years of my undergrad) getting involved and increasing my involvement with a non-profit organization (what can I say, I was a late bloomer), starting at the student chapter and slowly making my way up to national level work.  What got me started on it? Simple, a couple of very amazing friends in my engineering classes invited me to take part in the local student chapter of the NGO.  At first, it was addicting!  All I wanted to do was learn more, and my curiosity became a great fuel for discussions as I was trying harder and harder to understand everything that was being thrown at my face and how little I truly knew about worldly matters.  What made me stay though, ultimately, were the people that were also heavily involved.  I have never met so many engaging, critically thinking, intelligent, and passionate people before.  Basically, I wanted to be more like these people, because I genuinely wanted to be a better person and individual.

To clarify quickly, the work I have done has mostly been here in Canada, and not overseas.  I’ve recognized from an early point in my involvement that my greatest impact would be here in my own community or country and not internationally.  Because of this, I have always felt a sort of disconnect with the issues of poverty and social injustice abroad, but I know and acknowledge their existence. My friends have witnessed these injustices first hand and have retold those stories to me, yet I still feel disconnected to the entire thing.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m graduating soon (seriously, I’m really excited, and will take every opportunity to tell people this because at one point I wasn’t sure if I’d be stuck for another 3 years trying to do this thing).  Once again that question of what I am going to do afterwards comes up.  And whenever this question is asked of me, I always ask myself, whether or not I give enough of a fuck to try and keep doing this social justice thing instead of engineering, and if so, am I doing it for the right reasons?  Do I care enough about the issues at hand anymore like I used to?  Or, fuck it, let’s be honest here, I want to work with these amazing people I’ve grown to love and care for dearly.  And if I find myself in a situation where I do work in that environment, but my friends have chosen to leave, will I have the drive to stay put, or would I see myself leaving soon after?

So am I a bad person if I’ve figured out that I’ve been giving my time in this sector of work, not primarily for those that are suffering, but for the people who have chosen to work in this line of work themselves?  Is investing in those around me, and caring about their work because it is important to them, a good enough reason for my involvement in the social justice community?

This time I don’t have an answer, and I don’t know if I’m going to like it when I actually figure it out.

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on thunderstorms and optimism

So as I was standing at the bus stop in the middle of the night, there was a thunderstorm starting to gain momentum. At that point it was still silent flashes of lightning at very regular intervals. They lit up the clouds in the best of ways. But aside from the poetry of it all, it also made me feel incredibly small. Thunderstorms tend to do that. I looked up at the sky for a good seven minutes and just marveled at the weather trying to wrap my head around just how big the world around me was. I couldn’t conceive it; it was like hugging someone who is just too big to put your arms completely around.

It made me feel like anyone attempting to make this world a better place, including myself, has a hell of a challenge ahead of them. I don’t mean the people who “help the world” by putting their Starbucks cup in the recycling, although – thanks, I guess. I mean the people who pour their entire lives into helping others, into righting wrongs. People whom others call crazy but who are actually the most valuable kind of human being there is. I love that those people exist, I love surrounding myself with them, and I have a glimmer of hope that I could maybe one day be a fraction as awesome as they are.

There is a whole lot of fighting left to do before things start looking up. It’s a huge uphill battle.  That’s why I’m so thankful that I have the gift of optimism. I’m not sure where it stems from, as most of my family are total cynics and in my general experience people kind of suck. Still, there is some tiny thing inside me, with its own energy and vitality, which makes me truly believe that things will be OK. Maybe that’s naïve, but I like that this thing lives inside me, so I let it be.

On the other hand, I have met and discussed with a lot of negative people, pessimists, cynics, whatever you want to refer to them as. I’ve heard their arguments, and frankly, it’s bullshit. I’m calling them out! If there really was no hope for anything and people are awful and the world is going to crumble like a poorly baked dessert, then what’s the point? Why even keep doing anything at all? Why keep trying? The fact that these so-called pessimists have jobs, families, homes, a role in society means that there’s something keeping them going. It could be their kids, maybe they really fucking love watching Sunday night football or Pinterest is just the best thing since sliced bread to them. Whatever it is, there’s always something people enjoy that keeps them from giving up. That’s hope! Hate to ruin your pessimist rep, but that’s something to fight for, no matter how small.

In the grand scheme of things, all this really doesn’t mean much and I doubt I’ve converted many negative Nancies. I simply wanted to share how easy it is to be an optimist, and that maybe you should give it a try sometime.

-M

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on something you probably already knew anyway… but sometimes I cry and learn things.

I’ve only cried at work three times since I started eighteen months ago. Two of those instances have happened this past week, and each time I’ve cried because my feelings were hurt.

The last couple of times I cried outside of work, it was because my heart was broken. Broken by a boy, broken by sadness, broken by sudden death. Broken because something I held near and dear was gone, for reasons that are hard to grasp without first pulling at thin air and beating fists against chests without beating hearts. I cried because it was deeply personal.

I’ve been thinking about crying, and feelings, and me (wow, that didn’t sound narcissistic at all!) a lot lately because of a spring of life events that have lead to a lot of cries and lot of feels. Pair that with stressful work and the slow erosion of close friendships and I find myself much more vulnerable than usual. The relatively orderly lines that keep me feeling like my life is in check have begun to blur, and with that my feelings creep more and more in to how I operate in all spheres.

It turns out that believing in, and actively striving for, social justice might not adhere to my clean line life what with the whole personal belief side of things. It turns out that regardless of the environment I’m in at any given time I am still a person with feelings. It turns out that I might take my work very seriously, invest a lot of time and energy in to it, and then wish at the end of the day someone, anyone, would say thank you.

My work, and the community that comes with that work, are deeply personal – something I’ve conveniently closed my eyes to. It takes a bit of vulnerability and pain to continue to learn what this kind of work means to me, and ultimately I think thats ok. I have to recognize that today, tomorrow, and the next day are not a 9 to 5 endeavour. It is a full feeling, lines blurred, adventure of ambiguity.

This doesn’t mean I’m ok with crying the office. Or ok with my feelings being hurt. I am, however, ok with knowing that this is also a part of maybe becoming a bit more adult-y. Whatever that means anyway.

… But maybe you already knew this?