The other night, I was snuggled up with my partner watching FED UP, a documentary about the food industry, sugar addiction, the obesity epidemic and the government’s complicit participation in it all. We had to press pause so I could have one of those snotty nosed sobs.
When we were choosing what to watch, I hesitated. I kind of hate watching these documentaries. Love/Hate. They get me all fired up. Before I know it, my mind has started formulating some way to mobilize a collective around making change. It’s rare for me to be able to kick back, watch something that educates and illuminates, particularly around the exploitation of the vulnerable and not want to DO something.
While there was nothing surprising to me, it was infuriating none the less. But it wasn’t the rage at the system that coursed through me, it was feeling the deep and real suffering of the children who were featured. It was the deep and real suffering of the parents who felt powerless, who were dealing with their own ignorance, their own addictions.
The pace and striving of our culture has hardened us. The overwhelm, the too much to do in too little time, the sold and purchased beliefs that we need to achieve more, consume more, perfect more, have ripped our hearts out. At least that’s what I’m seeing at a large scale. Too busy to care. Or perhaps we care, but are too wrapped up in trying to get the bills paid, trying to get through the race of a day to stop and feel the larger heart of the world.
In a culture where comparison and competition are the obvious and reflexive paths over collaboration and care, an unfortunate symptom is the assumption that those who are suffering deserve it in some way, have failed, don’t have will power or are just not as good as those who are affluent, thin, beautiful or achieving.
But let’s make no mistake, those who are apparently meeting our culturally constructed notions of success or goodness are still suffering. This attitude about will and achievement nip at the heels of the successful, threatening their demise, reminding them of what they must do to stay on top, lest they become pathetic failures too.
You are suffering. I know you’re suffering. I know because I know human beings. While those around us are suffering, we cannot be free. We may think we’re free. We may think our own individual thriving is enough to free us from suffering. But we’d have to dissociate from the fullness of our being in order subscribe to that. And that creates suffering.
It is that dissociation that allows power to corrupt, that perpetuates the appalling places capitalism has grown to and stoops to. It is human beings running that show, human beings who cannot feel the suffering their greed is causing, who cannot feel the suffering they’ve caused themselves. The race and chase and closure needed in order carry out the will of the sociopaths running the asylum is both massive and subtle.
So many of us agree that we cannot carry on the way we’ve been going. We want something else as our organizing values. We want something else for ourselves, for each other, for the planet. Like, maybe a planet that’s not going to barf us off of her. The shifts won’t come from the top down. We know this. So then they need to come from us. But how?
Feeling is a start. I know, I know, trite right? But it’s not. When something becomes painful enough in your own life, you either do something about it or you become consumed by it, right? It’s when the pain of what you’re feeling becomes too much that you know you need to take action. This is what we need as the consumed and privileged. We need to feel what’s actually happening. We need to feel our pain, feel the pain of our neighbours- the ones next door and the ones our countries declare war on.
If we stopped pretending that a bigger pay cheque or a new pair of shoes or losing 10 pounds or drinking a green smoothie was going to alleviate our suffering, maybe we could slow down enough to face and feel. Maybe we could recognize that getting out of the suffering will actually be uncomfortable, that chasing greater comfort and convenience is hurting us. All of us.
When we pressed pause on that documentary, I could feel how I wanted to close up to that kid. I could feel how it could be easy to spectate his suffering from my cozy living room and not let it harsh my chill. But honestly? If feels good to care. It feels honest to care. It feels appropriate to acknowledge my feelings of hopelessness and even despair. What else am I going to do? Spend my life trying to get somewhere and be someone? Seems pretty empty to me. I’d rather spend my life trying to heal something and be loving.