Be Who You Are, Not What You Do

The things that I do for a living do not make me who I am. I work, primarily, so that I have money to pay my bills. On the one hand, my work is – to some degree – a reflection of who I am and what I value in life. On the other hand, and this is something that I believe we have all learned during the Coronavirus pandemic, is that work (as in a job) is temporal. It is time- sensitive and often limited by the environment in which we live, whether we understand that or not.

I know people who define themselves by the work that they do (or for more superficial reasons such as the benefits of work, i.e., money, prestige, power, material possessions). But what happens when that work dries up or goes away? Who would they be if their day-to-day work duties came to an end through no fault of their own, or through some fault of their own? It is good to take pride in our work, but it is even more important that we learn to define and express ourselves by what is within us, as opposed to what is outside or around us. And, we must know that who we are is not contingent upon what we do for a living, rather who we are is contingent on the beings that we are deep down inside.

There are people who I know in life who define themselves by the work that they do day-to-day on “the job.” Often, those very same people are workaholics, which is, as I have been told, one of the most acceptable yet destructive addictions that a person can have. Because, without that work, they feel meaningless, worthless, and very lost (in a world of so many possibilities). These very same people, who display so much pride and ego about their jobs may easily feel like nothing if and when their jobs come to a complete halt (and so do the things that that work provided). And, this should tell us something about their character, huh? Perhaps they lack the ability (or the courage) to reinvent themselves when life calls on them to create new ways of being and doing; and, unfortunately, that work and those things are what they use to define themselves. It does not have to be that way. 

In summary, who we are is connected to our character, which is an intangible thing and something that we develop over time, ever since the day that we came into this world. Are you a lover of trees or nature; are you a friend to the broken-hearted or the homeless; are you a fighter for peace and justice, or a natural-born leader? Are you a person who genuinely wants the good or advancement of others? Or, are you only concerned about yourself and your earthly possessions? Do you misuse and abuse others? Is it easier for you to hate than to love? Of course, I know people who do not know who they are; or, they pretend that they are someone who they are not, usually to (cowardly) get what they want. These people do a lot of damage to themselves and to others. Nevertheless, our character will always tell us (and others) who we are: good, bad, or in-between. And, I do know some people who genuinely know who they are. They are in touch with their own sense of self, which can exist on its own, apart from work, others, and the environments in which we live. Our character comes out in word, and most of all, in deed. Yes, the work that we do on a day-to-day basis may be a reflection of our character, or maybe it is not. It all depends on how and why that work is needed. Perhaps the work that we do today for ourselves simply sets the stage for what is to come later, or maybe the work we do today will last for a lifetime. Only you can be the judge and the jury for the place or value that work will take in your life. But, in times of uncertainty, it is always important to remember to be who you are, not what you do.

©2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When You Are Loved

You will know when someone loves you and wants you in their life

When they make themselves present and available to you,

When they tell you about their day and how it went, but they also want to hear about you and your feelings;

They will want to be there for you, emotionally

Because the power of love makes room for reciprocity.

Most of all, when you are loved, they will show you that they care about you in word and in deed.

When you are loved, you will be a priority:

The first thing in the morning, and the last on their mind at night.

You will be to them like a light at the end of a dark tunnel,

Like an oasis in the middle of the desert or a dry place.

And, when you are loved, it will be hard to go for a day without you.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Please Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

Please don’t tell me you love me when you could care less about my feelings, my work, my life, my day, and my accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me and you want to be with me, but you really don’t. That’s just what you say because you think I want to hear it,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you always run and hide behind your phone and all your other material possessions, especially when you know you have disappointed or hurt me,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you have rejected and scared away dang near every well-intentioned woman who has come into your life with deception and abuse,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are more than willing to lie to get what you want or need (even when you don’t have to), and even if you know your lies will hurt others,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you prostitute yourself daily with people that you say do not care about you, yet they are the ones you run to for attention and affection,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you constantly abandon yourself and the ones you claim to love (yet you cling to the ones, and the habits, you despise),

Please don’t tell me you love me when you destroy the love that we have made with out-of-control drinking and anger that belong to a past that continues to define and control you,

Please don’t tell me that you love me when the only things that matter to you are your feelings, your work, your life, your day and your accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you know that you are not the person that you say you are,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are not willing to be honest and ask for the help that you know you desperately need, and for the help that will potentially bring you to what you need and want,

Please don’t tell me you love me until you can muster the strength and the courage to forgive and ultimately love yourself,

And please don’t tell me you love me until you know how to love and value yourself.

©2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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.

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.