Life: Gentle or Painful Teacher?

Recently, during a morning meditation, I read something that said that life is a “painful teacher”. On the other hand – and on many occasions – I have heard people say that life is a “gentle teacher”. As I reflected on these two competing assertions, I thought to myself: which one is it? And, is life really a teacher?

In pondering this question, I also remembered what happened just the night before, as I was lying in the bed about to go sleep and thinking over my day. That night, as I lie there, I heard the sound of a bad car accident on the road below and outside my window. After it happened, I also heard the faint cry of a woman. As I got up to look out the window, there were soon many police cars swarming the area. I imagined, for those persons involved in that accident (on both sides of the equation), thought then of life as very painful. And, perhaps, each one was asking herself or himself, “Why me?”

On other occasions, life can be sweet and gentle, especially if you have no fear of running out of money. Money can make life much more pleasant for all of us; so when a person is born into a family with money or prestige or power, he might feel good about life, and most of the time. Or, if somehow you hit the lottery; if you come upon some kind of good fortune and you are in a position where you do not lack money to pay for what you want and need, life can be sweet. Perhaps these monied persons, or the rich, believe that they deserve such things.

Yet, there are many with money, prestige, power, and all the material things they could ever need or want, and still they are very unhappy with life, and they feel very lonely. For example, the well-known comedian Robin Williams seemed to have it all, and he was in the business of making many others laugh and smile. But, deep down, he was a very unhappy man, and to the extent that he eventually decided to end his life by suicide. And, there are many that seem to “have it all”, but they slowly but surely destroy their otherwise comfortable lives, bodies, and relationships with others and with the irresponsible use of drugs, alcohol, and all other kinds of compulsive abuses.

By contrast, what happens when things seem to be going well, but then life changes abruptly, and you get some bad news, like your newborn is soon to die, or you are diagnosed with cancer, or you lose your primary source of income? In 2018, I was involved in an unexpected hit-and-run accident. The person who caused this accident managed to get away and leave three totaled cars behind, including my car and a car belonging to one of my loved ones (who was there to help me). Getting through that situation was very difficult. Similarly, I imagine that those who endured the 2019 General Motors-UAW strike rightly questioned the fairness of life and work. Going weeks with little to no pay is something that most of us would not want to volunteer for, at least not willingly, and definitely not without other concessions in place.

Life is constantly changing and causing us to reassess what we feel about ourselves, about others, about the places where we live and work, and about life in general. Because of life’s constant changing (e.g., evolution), are we to think that life is purposefully being “a teacher”? As much as we try to deny it, life is very unpredictable and uncontrollable. And, no matter how much we may try, we do not have control over many of the events or the people in our lives. Sometimes, however, things work out in our favor, even when it did not seem like they would at one time or another. What seems like a bad experience can turn out to be something very positive, and even very good. Personally, I have known some people who have endured some very difficult life circumstances, and I stand in awe of them and their ability to take it all in stride (and without becoming super bitter and angry). These kind of people always give me strength and hope, and they have helped me to believe in the goodness of life, and in the goodness of human beings.

Thus far, I don’t think life is either a gentle or a painful teacher. I believe that life is very random, and sometimes things happen with no plausible rhyme or reason. Often, we find out what we’re made of and what we think of ourselves when we are forced to go through difficult times in life. Years ago, I decided to stop imagining life as a teacher or as a being with any human-like attributes. Once I stopped believing in gods and supernatural beings, I also stopped anthropomorphicizing things that I could not explain. I stopped giving false meanings to stuff or events that have happened just so that I could feel better about my own reality (or more in control). My philosophy is that life just is, and, most of the time we have no choice but to accept life on life’s terms. We do NOT control life or its many circumstances, and frankly I do not believe that anything does, and that includes me. Life happens. It is a power bigger and greater than we humans, and the sooner that we accept that, I believe, the better off we will be. As much as we might want to say that life is “all good”, the truth is that we do not know what will happen from one minute to the next, or even from one second to the next. Life can be good, but there are times when it can be or feel bad, and very bad at that. Unfortunately, we are often at the mercy of life, and thus powerless over our circumstances and those of the people around us, including the ones that we know intimately. The choices that we make in life, in response to life, and all that we experience ( the good, bad, and the ugly), will, consequently, have some kind of affect upon the quality of our lives, but that is another blog topic in and of itself.

That being said, my philosophy is also that we have life inside of us, and therefore, we are a powerful part of life as we know it. Furthermore, I believe that we humans – as a species – have what it takes to endure many of life’s challenges, whether we realize that or not. We humans, and all species for that matter, are part of the same life that befalls us all and, if we are lucky, we will have something to do with how it all turns out. At times, we will face life with a courage that we never knew that we had, and we will succeed; but, there are times that we will fail: utterly. There are also times that we may lose faith in life, in ourselves, and in others, and we may choose to give up our power or to succumb to the power that life and others (including addictive substances and behaviors) have over us, whether we realize that or not. I have seen this have devastating consequences for the loved ones in my life. Indeed, those are difficult and sometimes hopeless-feeling times. If we get to that point, or if they get to that point, it is important to be honest and to ask for help if needed, and if help is wanted (because everyone has the right to reject help if they do not want to be helped). On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying to ourselves and to others that “I cannot do this alone or all by myself.” There are times in life that we genuinely need the help of others.

So, is life gentle or full of pain and suffering? Moreover, is life a teacher? Well, only you can answer these questions for yourself. What we each think about life has so very much to do with the social construction of our lives. In other words, we are largely products of our environments and the people around us. Therefore, if from your social world you were taught that you could survive just about anything you put your mind to; or, on the other hand, if you came to believe that life and most of the people in it have been out to get you, then those ideas or beliefs will have some bearing on how you face the inevitable and evolutionary changes of life. So far, my approach to life has been informed by many philosophies (beliefs), people, and experiences (including the ones I rejected, or by the ones who rejected me). And, there are a handful of ideas, philosophies, and even people that I have encountered in life that no longer work for me. Believing that life is mysteriously out there (like a human being) acting on my behalf is one such belief that no longer works for me. On the other hand, the quality of my life has and will have everything to do with how I respond, or not, to what is happening in my life, and in life overall. In writing this blog, I am hopeful that you will embrace the philosophies and even the people in your life that make it worth living (starting with yourself). Because, after all, what is the alternative?

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When Someone Breaks Your Trust

When someone willfully breaks or damages the trust that you once had in them,

It is hard to believe in that person again.

When their actions and words (or perhaps their inactions) are no longer reliable or acceptable,

The connection you once had with them has been damaged, and it may be gone, for good.

When someone breaks your trust, there is no person or thing: not sex, earthquakes, tornadoes, alcohol, drugs, a material thing (like a new house, car, apartment, money), or the threat of impending death that has the power to bring it back.

Yes, a temporary remedy may stop or numb the pain that you feel when what you valued, or made you feel safe is broken, absent, or no longer there.

But trust is an abstract thing; it is something that you give to the ones you love.

It is not readily available, or growing on trees for anyone to gain at will.

Therefore, when the trust you have with someone is broken, or taken for granted, it is quite possible that you will never trust that person again. Unfortunately, sometimes people do burn their bridges.

But, if not, what will mend a broken trust?

For me, it takes many steps, and thus many thoughtful acts of penance, for a person to regain my trust.

The first is to “fess up,” to be honest, and to break through layers of shame and denial.

However, a person who has repeatedly repressed or denied the truth will probably not sustain honest behavior,

And definitely not when being dishonest has been their modus operandi.

And, if almost everyone around them is being dishonest; or, if their environment enables them – and others – to pretend that everything is “all good,”

At best, there will be many empty and broken promises.

They will often repeat the words “I’m sorry”, and probably more times than you care to remember.

Perhaps, they will also say that they intend to change, but their actions will make them contradict themselves, a lot.

Does this make the dishonest people that you love “bad” for you?

Should you write them off, throw them away, and try to forget about them?

Only you know the answer to that question.

Unfortunately, I have also learned that a dishonest person cannot be trusted until they are willing to be honest with themselves about who they are and about what they have done to discredit themselves and damage their own trustworthiness.

When someone breaks your trust, there’s really nothing you need to do until the one who has broken it is willing to admit their mistakes, and their problems. And that may never happen. Some people are too proud to admit that they have problems, and perfectionism is one of those problems.

Nevertheless, that is what it takes for me to begin the trust building process, but, again, I don’t believe that many people have this kind of fortitude.

In this world, it is much too easy to hide from the truth and numb the pain we have caused with all kinds of fixes and elixirs.

So, as badly as I might want to trust again, it is not my responsibility to make anyone an honest person, and especially not when the world that we are living in rewards thiefs, cowards and liars, but it punishes (and sometimes it assassinates) the truth-tellers.

It pains me to say (and to know) that the world is full of those who have mastered the art of lying, manipulating, and behaving badly to get the results that they want. Honest people are in the minority.

Being dishonest is a dominant way of relating to others and to the Earth; and, a good majority believes that it is acceptable and normal to act this way. Telling lies and hiding from the truth of who they are is the best that they can do; the ones who do this do not know how to be honest, loving, trustworthy people. And, as a result, they cause suffering in their own lives and those around them.

Therefore, when someone breaks your trust, and they want to get it back, perhaps then you must make a decision that will demonstrate how, or whether, you truly understand the measure of your own worth.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

You Are Worth It!

You are worth every pause that someone takes on your behalf.

You are worth every “ooh” and “aah” from a loved one or someone who is enamored by you.

You are worth every happy moment that you feel in your own life.

You are worth celebrating when something goes right, or when you get a new job.

You are worth all the smiles and kisses that your partner can send your way.

You are worth it when he or she stops what they are doing to come and see about you when you are scared, afraid, or in pain.

You are worth patience, compassion, and empathy, from your lover and friends.

You are worth a good listen to the stories that are buried deep within.

You are worth it when it means it will lessen the anxiety that you feel inside.

You are worth being heard.

You are worth being seen.

You are worth being valued and being made a priority by those who say they care about you.

You are worth it.

Say it to yourself – “I AM WORTH IT” – until you believe it, and

Never let anyone tell you that you are not worth their time or their attention.

However, in the event that someone shows you with their actions and their words that you are not worth anything to them,

When they show you that they could care less about what happens to you, or how you feel,

If they intentionally hurt you with their words and actions,

Then, please know, on the contrary, that they are not worthy of you or the love that you have to give,

And, more than likely, they are far too emotionally immature and unprepared to handle the ups and the downs of life,

With you.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When They Don’t Care About You: Love Yourself

When someone tells you that they don’t care about you or what is going on in your life,

They will show you with their actions what they really feel.

If they run away when there is trouble or pain in your life,

If they refuse to be with you in mind and body when it matters to you,

Realize what is happening, and who they really are in content and character.

They are gone, unavailable, and unable to be by your side, for you and with you.

In cowardice, they cannot look you in the eye and say that they will not be there and that you do not matter to them.

When this happens, you will have a decision to make.

Will you be there for them when they return to offer words of regret and sorrow?

Will you forgive them for not being willing or able to be there for you as you were there for them?

You don’t have to be empathetic or present to anyone who intentionally and repeatedly fails and abandons you in mind or in body.

There are many other people and causes that you can care about,

And they will want to be with you,

Perhaps they will even love you in return.

In the meantime, when someone you once loved fails to love you and chooses to leave you, let them go back to where they came from;

Love yourself, first and foremost;

And, you will know the power of your first and best love.

©2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

A Cautionary Note to Self on Surviving Abuse

Careful, that you don’t become just like those who failed you with hate, anger, and abuse.

You deserve a life that is truly free from their madness and confusion.

Just getting away from them is not enough.

Letting them go and surviving the trauma is also refusing to carry your abuser’s self-destructive thoughts and ways around inside of you.

© 2018 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

The Womanist Way of Loving the Self

Womanist as defined by Alice Walker:

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983: Harcourt, Brace & Howe.

Womanist

1. From womanish. (Opp. Of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown-up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non sexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally, universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?” :”Well, you know colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Several years ago, I resigned from a tenure-track job at my alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. It was a very difficult but important decision and I wasn’t sure how I would make it, especially financially. Needless to say, I survived, and in hindsight I truly believe that I made the right decision, for me.

Being true to yourself is never an easy task. Today, I am very grateful for the ones who were there for me and who cheered me on when I made the hard decisions. Their open mindedness, positivity, and sometimes their overwhelming support brightened my days and gave me hope. On the other hand, it was my critics and even my “haters” who lit a fire under me; and thus, they were the ones who have enabled me to know what it is to live my life, my way.

The truth is: I could not have made it to where I am today, be the woman I am today, without both groups of people in my life. Those who loved me and supported me taught me how to have compassion and patience with myself; and, those who questioned, criticized, and some who eventually left or abandoned me (including one wanna-be pimp) taught me how to love myself regardless of what others might think, say, or do. Because of them, all of them, I am learning what it means to love myself the womanist way: regardless.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

On the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.: From an Atheist

On occasions, I am asked if I would date a believer, or a person who believes in a god or supernatural being, such as a Supreme Being. Being an atheist, there was a time that I said unequivocally no to that question. But, about two years ago I began to soften my response. For example, in 2012, in an NPR interview with Jamila Bey, I said openly that I was “flexible.”

Recently, I met someone who is a believer, and we connected. Although he is not what I would call a religious enthusiast or fanatic, at times he talks about his god and his faith with subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to inform me that his god is real. Because of my feelings for him, I overlook it, and there are times when I engage him gently with questions about his religious thoughts and philosophies. I am willing to be in this kind of critical engagement with him because 1) I understand his actions; I once did the same kind of thing – used every opportunity to “witness” or share my faith (often when it was not requested) with others; and 2) because it is another way for me to get to know him and the basis for his everyday actions or behaviors in life. And, I have yet to encounter a Christian who does not feel compelled to be vocal about his or her faith. It goes with the territory.

So, what did it for me? How could I allow myself to be in an intimate relationship with a man who believes in something that I don’t? On what grounds is it conscionable that I get along or share myself with a man who does not share the same ideas or philosophies that I hold? These are questions that I am contemplating at length on the 29th anniversary of the Martin Luther Kr., Jr. national holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who challenged the white racist ideology or philosophies of his time. By the 1950s and 60s, those white racist philosophies and socio-political expressions of whiteness were incorporated into federal, local and state policies and institutions, such as urban renewal, which was a federal housing policy that had a disparate impact upon former urban Negro communities, and at a time when urban blacks were fighting institutional oppression at an alarming rate. Throughout my lifetime, I have come to understand Dr. King as a man who stood against social division and exclusion on political and personal grounds. I have also come to know him as a man who believed wholeheartedly in achieving a peaceful coexistence despite everyday unjust behaviors and inhumane practices, here in the U.S. and beyond.

With regard to my political and personal commitments, I have come to realize that I do not want to section myself and my life off to only those who think or behave like me. I want to meet and know others whose lives and philosophies are different from mine and without the compulsion or the need to willfully mock or dismantle their thinking or beliefs, just because they are different from mine. On the other hand, there will be times when I will be openly critical of ideas or philosophies (including religious ones) that are expressed in public that I reject or disagree with; that is something Martin Luther King Jr. did with the power of the spoken word, and he did it mainly from the pulpit, as an American preacher. Likewise, I am fundamentally empowered by the freedom of speech as we know it in a Western way. And, it is that freedom of speech that I rely on, as an atheist, to say publicly that I do NOT believe in gods of any kind. I have that right, even though the majority may respond to that statement or position with hate, rejection or discrimination.

In addition, what I have come to learn is that I am not responsible for the thinking or the belief of others, which, I think, is one reason that I can spend my personal time and person with a man who believes in a supernatural god or ideas. I am not his keeper. I am not responsible for what happens to him when he dies or really at any time for that matter. I do not choose an intimate partner on the basis of what he believes, but on the content of his character. In other words, my being with a man is essentially not predicated on where he lives, or how much money he makes, or how supportive he is of my thinking or behavior. My decision to be intimately involved with a potential partner is not determined by whether or not he believes in a god or whether he shares my worldview. Rather, my being with a man, or being with any person for that matter to accomplish any goal, is rooted in a healthy engagement of ideas and critical thinking. At the end of the day, I want to know who a man is overall. I want to know if he is committed to doing good; to being the best person he can be; I want to know if he is willing to use his talents and skills to help and empower others; and, is he a peaceful, loving person, even when his ideas are not supported or he does not get what he wants.

Indeed, this is not the kind of behavior that I have seen from many atheists or theists who use their positions and philosophies like weapons to discredit those who don’t ascribe to their ideas or theories of reality. These are extreme and unjustifiable attitudes that I cannot support, because the truth of the matter is that others may not choose to walk in the paths that I have taken. We each have our own paths to attend to. When I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I don’t worry about whether he was a Christian believer or not. I respect and honor him because he was a great human being who courageously endeavored to bring about fairness and equality, and not exclusively for his own clan or Christian friends. Of course, I know that there will always be those who choose to remain divided over philosophies and ideas, but I have lived long enough to know that there is no future in divisiveness, and fortunately I know that there are those who have found the wherewithal to accept those who are different or divergent in thought, word and deed without resorting to contempt, hate and violence, but they are also not willing to let injustice and hatred go unconfronted. This kind of boldness and willingness to speak compassionately and thoughtfully, I think, is a significant part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is, in my humble, atheist opinion, one of the attributes that made him one of the greatest human beings who ever lived on the face of the Earth.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Kim Socha for Writing Such a Liberating Book!

Every now and then I am asked to support the work of other writers and artists, and most of the time I am thrilled to do it when the author or the artist is actively engaged in promoting freedom and ending oppression, domination and abuse. Recently I was asked by Dr. Kim Socha, who is an educator and an activist, to write a blurb for her forthcoming book, Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed, which will be available on Amazon on October 7th, 2014 (published by Freethought House).

About a decade ago, I was a vegetarian, but it was primarily for health reasons; I wanted a healthier diet, which today is a very popular idea to embrace. In recent years, I hadn’t thought much of vegetarianism or veganism, but, after reading the advance copy of Dr. Socha’s book, I must say that I am seriously reconsidering my food consumption habits from a whole new point of view, and with atheism in mind – as an ethical/conceptual framework. Upon receiving the advance copy, I found many similarities between Kim and myself, but I also came to respect her for being a scholar-activist in her own right in spite of the challenges and the hostilities that she has encountered from loyal meat (flesh)-eaters. In addition, I was keenly aware and appreciative of the way in which some academicians and some of us with PhDs are not hiding in the shadows. We are making our ideas and voices heard in the public square and articulating education as “the practice of liberation” (Paulo Freire).

Thank you Kim for giving me and all those who will read your book so much to consider about the narratives and ethics we employ to justify human domination over non-human animals. Although I have much to learn about veganism, I support your efforts to stand up to the myths that have enabled us to do harm to non-human animals in the name of human survival and nutrition. And, I am inspired that you are challenging the treatment of non-human animals as an atheist! Indeed, there are many who cannot fathom that one can be morally good and atheist at the same time, which is often an attitude exhibited by religious narcissists and fanatics who are gripped by fear, paranoia and an unrelenting desire for immortality (when, in fact, most violent and abusive crime in the U.S. – and beyond – is committed by theists).

For those of you who follow my blog, it is without a doubt that I recommend Kim Socha’s bold, new book, and I applaud and stand in solidarity with her for daring to dismantle the myths that have informed and dominated our eating habits to the point where we are not really as free as we think we are. This book is a reminder that liberation is something that we must strive for each and every day for ourselves and on behalf of others, and especially for those who cannot defend themselves against violent, malevolent powers . For more about this book, or to learn about it on Facebook, please follow this link!

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Who Are You? My First Experience as a Humanist Celebrant

I have been certified as a Humanist Celebrant for a little over a year. Humanist Celebrants, who gain their status through the American Humanist Society, which is a part of the American Humanist Association, are legally qualified to perform weddings and any other special ceremonies throughout the fifty states and beyond, just as any traditional preacher, rabbi, imam, guru, or spiritual leader does so amongst their membership or community. It has been an awesome privilege for me to recycle or reuse skills that I once developed as a United Methodist Church (UMC) clergywoman but now as a Humanist Celebrant, and to be there in an official capacity to celebrate with those who prefer to leave the idea of god, or even the mention of a god, out of their most memorable moments. Though it is quite different from what I experienced as a UMC pastor, and I am in the process of developing new skills and creative new ceremonial formats and languages, it is a great way for me to support other atheists, freethinkers, humanists, agnostics and to stay grounded and in community with others. A few months ago, I was surprised when a reporter from CNN called me to inquire about my experience; the reporter claimed that CNN was “documenting atheism” and trying to learn more about it. At that time I had not yet been invited to officiate a wedding as a Humanist Celebrant.  

All that changed on Monday, March 24th, 2014, and I officiated my first wedding  as a Humanist Celebrant here in Atlanta, in Piedmont Park. On Monday, July 28th, 2014, an article that I wrote about my subsequent experience with the Atlanta Fulton County Probate Court was published and featured at The Humanist. Here is an excerpt from that article, but feel free to click the link in this blog to read all about it. And, if you are looking for a Humanist Celebrant in your city or state here is how to find one.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who openly identifies as I do must expect public scrutiny and possible rejection. People in the United States still discriminate against atheists, even though more and more people are using the word “atheist” to self-identify. In other words, just because one uses the term openly and proudly, doesn’t mean he or she will be accepted without question or won’t face rejection. In addition, the religious bigotry and social entitlement here in the South is so pronounced—by people of every color and background. Many, including African Americans, openly discriminate against or exclude other black people from social and professional circles when they learn that those others are atheists.