Finding the coin’s edge

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A Venn diagram showing three circles, one saying “A is true,” one saying “A is false,” and a third asking “What is A?”
If your thoughts do not sometimes leave you this confused, you are not thinking hard enough. lee lim

Holding conflicting thoughts is a life skill

Seeing both sides of the same coin can take quite a mental toll some days. But, if you’re not making an effort to do that, you’ll only have partial understandings when you should be considering full pictures. 

One example of this is knowing that we’re all responsible to work to better the world, but also holding the fact that we have to work within the systems available in the world if we’re going to do that.  

Inventors working toward electricity had to work toward that by daylight, candlelight, or maybe the roar of a fire. Labour activists fighting for better worker treatment may still have to earn a living through organizations with questionable practices (thanks, capitalism). University students who’d like to see a freeze on post-secondary tuition rates still pay those rates to attend the institution they want to better. You can still work toward good while acknowledging the limits. 

This comes into play with communication expectations as well. On one hand, you don’t owe anybody an instant response to text messages. If they feel anxious or experience some rejection sensitivity dysphoria, those are their emotions to learn to manage in healthy ways.  

At the same time, you have to put effort into the relationships you want to maintain. If communication is a need for somebody and you’re not willing or able to fulfill that need, you will have no right to get upset if they choose to cope with that in a healthy way and prioritize other people in their life who do meet that need. 

I can also see this playing out in the ways adults treat children. I strongly believe that the only people who should have children are the people who really want to be a parent, and that many people would’ve been much happier in life if they didn’t give into the peer pressure to reproduce. Some people don’t want to orchestrate their adult life around a traditional family dynamic and that’s absolutely fine. Some people straight up just don’t like children and don’t want to have to raise any, which is also fine. 

However, that doesn’t mean you get to be an asshole to kids. There is no problem with not wanting a flock of your own, but you must still treat kids with care and respect. They’re just people, after all. People born later than you were, but people all the same. If it pisses you off when people older than you treat you poorly for something out of your control like when you were born, you’d better not be treating kids poorly for something also out of their control.  

Along these lines is something I’ve become intimately familiar with through studying religion. If you want to find some of the greatest acts of kindness, some of the most serious and consistent efforts to better the human experience, you should look at religion. If you want to find some of the most disgusting acts of dehumanization, violence, and control, you should also look at religion. To put things simply, religion is a tool, and it can be used to do good work or it can be used to cause unimaginable harm.  

This also becomes deeply important when looking at the ways that you yourself have been harmed throughout life. On one hand the hurts, betrayals, and traumas you carry are not your fault – no victim blaming here, you were subjected unfairly to those things. On the other hand, the healing for what you’ve gone through is your responsibility.  

To illustrate this a bit more concretely I’ll use a personal example. I just finished going through a nine-week group counseling program called Insight which is run by Family Services Regina for people who’ve survived domestic violence and are wanting to heal.  

The program itself didn’t “cure” me or anything, it takes a lot longer than nine weeks to recover from the sorts of harms experienced in these situations. But, it helped me concretely lay out the foundation for the sort of person I want to be from here on out, and that’s priceless. I do not take responsibility for the ways another person decided to treat me, but I had to take responsibility for the healing I require after being subjected to that sort of treatment. 

This last example I’m going to cover hit me like an absolute freight train when the two sides of this coin came together. You know how sometimes you can intentionally think through things and come to a conclusion, and other times the conclusion moreso comes to you? This one was the latter. 

On one hand, comparison is a thief of joy. Comparing your accomplishments, your work, your appearance, your status, or your dreams to those of others will practically always cause harm. If you wind up feeling better than them then you only feel better because you’re being condescending. You’ve decided your ways are best and if others aren’t doing things your way, they must be lesser-than. If you wind up feeling worse off because you see yourself as not measuring up, obviously you’re harming yourself that way too.  

On the other, much more complicated hand, trauma responses are comparisons. And I’m not saying that to invalidate trauma responses at all – sometimes your nervous system is going to legitimately realize you’re in a situation you’ve experienced before, and it will make alarm bells scream to try to prevent the same hurt you were subjected to previously. Ultimately it’s trying to protect you based on patterns that have led to harm in the past, and sometimes those alarm bells are absolutely correct.  

Other times, however, they’re not. Sometimes what you’re currently experiencing isn’t what your nervous system is desperately trying to avoid, and you wind up missing out on experiences or distancing yourself from a person who could have brought good into your life. 

The best way I’ve found to work with these two realities is to do what you can to judge people based on their own actions. Yes, your body is still going to respond based on what’s similar to what you’ve experienced and you should take that seriously, but you also need to take it with a serious grain of salt and weigh more heavily how the experience or person is in and of itself/themself.  

Be willing to flip the coin. Be willing to legitimately consider multiple perspectives, to hold perspectives that may appear at first glance to conflict, and find the coin’s edge that relates them.  

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