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 gentle or painful 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 lay 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), that what they had just experienced in life was very painful.

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.

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, sad, 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 sad 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 with the use of drugs, alcohol, and all other kinds of compulsive abuses.

By contrast, what happens when things seem to be going well, but then go abruptly wrong, or 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? Last year, in 2018, I was involved in an unexpected hit-and-run accident. The person who caused this accident was able to get away and leave three totaled cars behind, including my car and a car belonging to one of my loved ones (and who was there merely there to help me). Getting through that life experience was very difficult. Similarly, I imagine that those who are enduring the General Motors-UAW strike are questioning life right about now. Going three weeks with little to no pay is something that most of us would not want to volunteer for, at least not willingly (by the way, it makes me sad to see that the national media sites are spending so little time reporting on such an important strike), 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 s we try to deny it, life is very unpredictable and uncontrollable. Sometimes things work out, even when it did not seem like they would in the beginning. And, it doesn’t happen all the time, but what seems like a bad experience can turn into 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 go on without much resentment and bitterness. Their courage always gives 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 neither a gentle nor a painful teacher. I believe that life is very random, and sometimes things happen with no plausible rhyme or reason. 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 meaning to stuff or events that have happened just so that I could feel better about my own reality. 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, or even the ones that we know intimately. The choices that we make in life (good, bad, or in-between), in response to life, and all that we experience, will consequently have an 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 part of the power that life has to offer. Consequently, 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 tap that power and 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 ourselves and others, and we may choose to give up our power or to succumb to the power that life and others have over us. This is often not good, and 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 with those we trust and to ask for the help if needed, and if help is wanted (because everyone has the right to reject help if they so desire). On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying I cannot do this alone or all by myself.

So, is life gentle or full of pain and suffering? Moreover, is life a teacher? Well, only you can be the judge and perhaps the jury of what you experience in life. What we each think about life has so very much to do with the social construction of life as we know it (indeed, I am a social scientist!). In other words, we are largely products of our environments and the people around us. Therefore, if from your social world you learned that you could survive just about anything you put your mind to, or if you learned that life and most of the people in it were out to get you, then that will have an affect on how you face the evolutionary changes of life. I too have learned about life and my approach to life fom the many philosophies (from people and experiences) that I have learned to embrace for myself, or not. In my book, it is definitely okay to reject ideas and things that we have learned when they no longer hold true for us. And, in writing this blog, I am hopeful that you will find the philosophies that make your life worth living. Because, after all, what is the alternative?

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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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 more times than you probably 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.

Nevertheless, that is what it takes for me to begin the trust building process, again, but, 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 cowards and liars, but it punishes (and sometimes assassinates) 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.

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.

Misogyny: A Definition

Anger and hate from the past destroy relationships of the present

Because everyone else is to blame but the one who numbs and denies his pain from women who are dead and gone, no longer a part of his life or able to hurt him

He fills his mind and body with angry and hateful messages spoken by angry, hateful, incredulous others who make women their loyal servants and concubines

Some of the women he hurts manage to go on to the future and recover from his hatefulness and angry acts

While he stays painfully and tragically stuck in the past, haunted by the women who undoubtedly hurt him

He is bound to be angry and hateful again

He will hurt other women again

To subconsciously make them pay for the hurt he endured in the past

And this he thinks this is normal or even acceptable

Worthy of of his own life – that he is willing to sacrifice to the ones who didn’t have the capacity or the courage to love him so very, very long ago.

When with conscious, thoughtful work and support, he could be free to love himself and others, without destroying his own hopes of happiness and those of others along the way.

Instead of unfortunately believing, due to his own angry and hateful actions, that he will never find the happiness and peace he so desperately desires.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

You Call Me Out of My Name

You call me out of my name every time you ignore me or my calls

Every time you walk out and act as if I never even existed

Every time you accuse me of owing you for what you allegedly gave to me out of love

Every time you pretend that what you said and did were not intended to hurt

Every time you threaten to strike me with your hands or your words

Every time you dismiss me and my feelings like they mean nothing to you

Every time you refuse to acknowledge your part in destroying what we built together

Every time you put what we had in unnecessary danger or jeopardy by neglecting to take care of yourself

Every time you let your anger and self-righteousness demolish the trust we came to cherish

Every time you negate the love that some black women have given to you, including me,  because of the actions of those who did not

Every time you despise and hate me for what others did to you

Every time you blame me for your fears, shortcomings and failures

Every time you fail to understand the difference between the past and the present

Every time you assume that you know more than me or are better than me because you are male

Every time you forsake your own integrity and happiness

For a drink.

© 2017 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.