Brigid's Fire at Kildare Abbey
Brigid’s Fire at Kildare Abbey

“But human beings are not trash. We are the civilizing force on the planet.” ~ Chris Offutt, “Trash Food”

I came across a couple of articles this morning that stirred the fire-pot … you know, that liquid lava center that lets you know when something has hit nigh on “what breaks your heart, what makes you angry” — two questions that help you get right at your innate motivation.

The fire-stirring articles are about class, wealth (or the lack of it), poverty (in financial terms, cuz there are a whole lot of ways a person or culture can be impoverished), and internalized shame and thus internalized oppression … and likely a lot of other potentially debilitating conceptions that get laid on thick in a Bully Culture.

The whole issue also points to a certain wealth of spirit, and considerable creativity, among other things, that enrich otherwise seemingly (financially and materially) impoverished grounds. As a much-used proverb notes, necessity can be (and often is) the mother of invention.

But let’s get right to the fire-and-ire, lava-stirring articles … so perfect on this Aries New Moon day, should our fiery passion need constructive focus.

Ariadne in Naxos, 1877, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. (Images courtesy of Wiki-Commons)
Ariadne in Naxos, 1877, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. (Images courtesy of Wiki-Commons)

First, in her Salon.com article, “Too Many Limes” (about Gwyneth Paltrow’s SNAP challenge), Mary Elizabeth Williams shares some of her own experiences, and quotes from Chris Offutt’s moving essay in the Oxford American.

Williams points to how Offutt’s piece zeros with laser-focus on, “… the way we impose so much shame on poverty and the way people living in poverty eat.”

Offutt, for his part, shares in a stunning (as in evocative, truth-speaking, well-written) Oxford American essay, “Trash Food,” about an encounter that stirred up a hornet’s nest of internalized conditioning — internalized oppression — around class, poverty, and shame. He writes,

“My behavior was class-based twice over: buying used goods to save a buck and feeling ashamed of it. I’d behaved in strict accordance with my social station, then evaluated myself in a negative fashion. Even my anger was classic self-oppression, a learned behavior of lower-class people. I was transforming outward shame into inner fury. Without a clear target, I aimed that rage at myself.”

We know, by now, that these things are really important, because they speak to the very internalized conditioning — the very toxic and potentially crushing conditioning — that runs like a malefic, soul-consuming virus through a bully-centric culture, in which empathy-lacking bullying behaviors are normalized. There’s a cost to that; an enormous one.

Demeter Mourning for Persephone, 1906, by Evelyn de Morgan.
Demeter Mourning for Persephone, 1906, by Evelyn de Morgan.

And stories like these are vital now, too, as so many of us do the hard work of shucking free of the internalized conditioning that distracts or diverts us from the expression of the gifts that we bring innately into this life, the gifts we are and thus give just by being.

Those gifts, that soulfulness, kindness, humaneness, and empathy are so often brutally damaged — and they are for most people in a bully culture that basically normalizes and celebrates nasty, abusive behavior and makes gods of the Seven Deadlies (you know, pride, envy, greed, and so on? More on those coming up.).

But particularly for those who are different from bully culture norms: the sensitives, the empaths, the artists, the nonconformists — too many gifted ones and their gifts go by the wayside, buried under the sense of worthlessness that was piled on them early on.

“Nevertheless, history is fraught with the persistence of treating fellow humans as garbage, which means collection and transport for destruction.” ~ Chris Offutt, “Trash Food,” Oxford American

Many of you will relate; I know I did, and do. I remember more than one instance of that right-to-the-core “you’re not good enough; there’s something wrong with you; who you are is deficient … not enough” shaming that had its roots in Bully Culture toxic norms, including class-based elitism and the hubris and lack of empathy that are so often a part of it. And then feeling even more ashamed and angry that I’d ‘let myself’ feel ashamed — as if to be ashamed of where you come from, of who you truly are, is one of the worst forms of disloyalty and betrayal to tribe and self.

And so the toxic-loop ensnares us. Sociologist Brene Brown has written and spoken about how shame is lethal, and how healing the shame and reclaiming the courage to be vulnerable, can restore more than one person’s sense of worthiness.

The Priestess of Bacchus (1889), by John Collier.
The Priestess of Bacchus (1889), by John Collier.

My mother used to tell me, “Not everyone is as resilient as you are.” I sometimes felt irritated that I had to be as resilient as I have had to be in my life, yet her comment is true.

For those who aren’t, for whatever reason, as resilient, or who didn’t have the blessing of a true believing mirror in their lives, their gifts are lost to us.

And that’s a heartbreaking national and global tragedy.

Thankfully, there really is a Great Turning underway, and with it an awakening and a stepping out and a speaking truth of some of those misfits, sensitives, empaths, artists whose gifts and medicine and humanity — that gift of humaneness — are more needed now than ever to alchemize the toxicity that leads us collectively over the chasm’s edge.

For everyone who does the difficult and sometimes brutal work to wake up (to the toxic patterns and indoctrination), to decondition, to embody the gifts and the virtues, to speak the truth (however imperfectly and awkwardly), to share their gift, to stand for who and what they truly are — who dare to fly the freak flags — they, we, you help to open that portal a bit wider, raise the tide a bit higher, so perhaps more of those who would otherwise be lost will find their way.

Here’s to ya. Seriously.

Big Love, Jamie

I invite you to visit and read Mary Elizabeth Williams’ articles — here and here — and Chris Offutt’s essay in the Oxford American here.