Saturday, 18 July 2015

Unsolicited Criticsm and opinions

Me, every time someone feels the need to express their unsolicited opinion.

So I have been recently dealing with some criticism in my personal life over my choices. It's been a bit of a thing, but it has ended my relationship with an extended family member. I have had some other things happening in another sect of my more immediate family that I do not agree with, but I have held my tongue (because it's none of my business) which have been kind of weird as well.

So I got to thinking, because I like to take things like people being assholes and turn it into a lesson that can apply to other people and other situations. There should be a way to turn something wretched into something you can learn from. It's not about putting a positive spin on things - sometimes, things just suck and there is no turning that frown upside-down. It's about taking the situation, removing the emotion from it, and using it as a blueprint for other, similar situations so you can have a plan for how to deal with these things that crop up in the future.

I thought it might be a good thing to talk about dealing with unsolicited criticism and opinions about your choices, your life, and your craft.

I really believe that the choices we make in this life are ours to make. I think too many people are willing to stick their noses into things they have no business being wrapped up in, and it causes more grief than it is worth. Everyone feels their opinion is valid, important, and needed. This is not always the case.

People should ask themselves these four questions before the open their mouths/type away on their keyboards:

- is it true?
- is it kind?
- is it needed?
- is it something I need to say?

Opinions or criticism should have some grain of truth to them. They should be constructive (aka kind). They should be necessary - and actually necessary, not just because you feel 'it's the right thing to say', and it should be something that you feel you are required to impart to the party receiving it.

How do you know if it fulfills these simple requirements?

Firstly, and always, you need to look at where the criticism/opinion is coming from. Is it someone you trust, or whose opinion you value? Is it some random stranger? Why do you think they are saying what they are saying? Have you decided to become a drug mule or join a crime family, or did you just get your hair cut short or paint your bedroom? Most times, when these things are coming from trusted people, like family members, they are coming from a place of love. Most times. Because they are family, there is a certain expectation that their opinion carries more weight. When your old Christian aunt is telling you that you are going to hell because if your beliefs, it could be coming from a place of love. It could also be coming from a place of condescension. Maybe auntie thinks your beliefs are stupid, or silly, of that you aren't capable of making your own decisions? The key is learning to interpret the tone of their concern, and act accordingly.

My old Catholic grandmother, gentle soul that she is, told me at 14 that I was going to hell because I would not get confirmed. It was so matter of fact, with not a lick of condescension. She merely said she would pray for me, hugged me, and we both moved on with our lives. It came from a place of love. The recent drama of a few months ago came from a place of condescension and foolishness, and it was rebuked.

Secondly, use your own critical thinking skills and judgement to determine if the criticism/opinion holds any merit. Sometimes people around us try to present us with situations that we may be otherwise blind to. Maybe you're culturally appropriating something and it's offensive to the people around you and to that group. Maybe something you present online or in person is actually super racist. Maybe your practice includes some manner of hurtful or harmful practice, and people are concerned for your wellbeing. Maybe you're mentally ill, and off your meds, and people are concerned for you. We can't always see things that are right in front of us, and sometimes it takes an outside observer to clue us into what we may be missing. There are valid points in being criticized - we often learn from it in a beneficial way if it is constructive and seeks to better you as a person. Hell, a large portion of my schooling was learning to take constructive criticism, which is super important as an artist who works commercially. Not everyone is going to like what you present, or agree with your own opinions.

Thirdly, you have to realize that you have every right to disagree or rebuke the criticism/opinion. If someone is disagreeing with how you are practicing, you have every right to tell them to go pound sand. Depending on the source, you should be able to decide how you want to act. It also depends on how forceful or backward the opinion is - if the person is family but is holding a bigoted and hurtful opinion, you have every right to disagree with what they are saying, and explain to them how they are incorrect. Opinions are not factual - they are not immovable, or static. They are moveable and should be ever evolving. If they then refuse to alter their opinion, and choose to continue to hold a hurtful viewpoint - for example, they're racist, homophobic, bigoted, sizeist, etc - you can make the choice to be willing to accept that as a part of who they choose to be, or move on in life without them.

Now, I have a pretty strict policy on just cutting people out of my life. Part of that reason being I spent a large portion of my life being a doormat and letting people treat me poorly. I decided a long time ago that life was better spent with those who can respect me and love me rather than out of obligation. Life is too short for bullshit. I know I am a good person who deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect I seek to treat others with. I will not lower my standards to expect any less. Second chances are given, but if someone wounds me badly enough, no amount of 'I'm sorry' is gonna cut it. I can always forgive, but I have the memory of an elephant and I will never forget.  (Short version: I know I'm a good person, and if you treat me like crap I will cut you.) 

How you choose to proceed is your choice. Always know that as an adult, you have the choice to have a relationship of your choosing with family or friends. Some families suck, some people have had abusive upbringings or have been kicked out by parents, and it's not feasible to maintain a relationship. There is no obligation - no one owes anyone anything. You owe your parents nothing - the gratitude for bringing you into the world and raising you is fine, but that was a choice they made in having you. Realizing that is liberating, and can also set you up to address issues and problems that could be hurting your relationship with family. It can help to form real and lasting bonds built on mutual respect and equal footing. The same goes with friends - they are people you choose to surround yourself with. How and what relationship you choose to have with them is just that - your choice. The quote 'the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb' comes to mind - we often build secondary families outside of our blood relations who we often have stronger bonds with because we can choose those people based on their merits and that they closely align with our own sensibilities. I have relatives that are crazy conservative, pro-life nut jobs, I have an aunt who physically and emotionally abused me as a child. I actively make the choice to disavow those people because we have no common ground to stand on - we are so vastly different there is no way to reconcile it. We are blood, but we are not family, if you get what I'm saying.

I should also point out that not every opinion should be aired. Sometimes, there are things you just need to keep to yourself. Yeah, okay, Susie's hair does look like it was cut with a weed whacker, but telling her that will only hurt her and serves no purpose other than to be judgemental - maybe Susie likes her hair like that. Assuming you know better than Susie makes you a dick, because Susie is her own person and can do whatever she goddamn pleases with her hair. Maybe Joe's altar looks tacky and cheap - still not your place to comment, because that's Joe's space and has nothing to do with you. Unless it involves the serious well being of someone or involves you directly, it may serve better to keep your opinions to yourself.

In the case of this criticism coming from an outside, anonymous source - I normally evaluate it, but often ignore it. It is hard to make personal judgements on someone without knowing who they are. If the person is actually making a really good point, even if it contrary to how I feel, I will take it under consideration and use my critical thinking to evaluate it's usefulness. I try to approach all of my problems in a logical, matter-of-fact way. I often try and put myself in someone else's shoes  - like if I was an outside observer in the situation, how would I react? If you remove the emotion from the situation, and look at the words said and the intention behind them, you can get a fairly clear sense of what you should do.

I'm not advocating cut and run - not even remotely. I am advocating personal choice, and telling you that if you are an adult, it is okay to make that choice if it is better for your wellbeing overall. Don't keep people around out of obligation - it serves neither of you any purpose, and just builds resentment. It breeds guilt and doubt. Cut the ties, move on, and maybe someday you can get to a point of reconciliation and trust again - people grow and change as life and circumstances change.

When you are expressing your own opinions, remember those four points - is it true, kind, needed, and are you the vehicle to impart it? It makes conversations and discussions a lot more functional, that's for sure. Anything that can make socially awkward people communicate effectively deserves a high five or self five.

I'm going with self five. Socially awkward FTW.

Friday, 10 July 2015

So I'm getting married. It's legit a thing.

So, I realize that I don't talk too much about my home life - that's for a lot of reasons. It really doesn't have any bearing on what I write about. My home life is sort of complicated, and I've been sort of hesitant to talk about it for a number of reasons. I figured that it's been long enough, and I am old enough not to give an actual shit what people think of what I am doing. I realize that were I to talk about my upcoming nuptials without context, people may get confused.

So here is the lowdown.

DPM and I have been together for 17 years. Since high school, actually. We didn't really like each other at first, but as these things go, we grew to like each other, to become good friends, and eventually to have real feelings for one another. He is a beautiful, kind, and intelligent soul with a calm stoicism that I appreciate. He has always had my back, but he is not afraid to tell me when I am doing something stupid or misguided. We moved in together back in 2000, after I graduated high school, and we have been common-law spouses since around 2001 sometime.

We discussed over the years the prospect of getting married, but it never really appealed to us. As we have grown older, we thought about registering a domestic partnership. We had the paperwork printed out, but life has gotten in the way and it got put on the back burner. As we were watching the fight for equal marriage rights unfold in the US, we came to see that a domestic partnership is really not the same rights or privileges as a marriage. So, after 17 years together, we have decided to legally marry in September. It is a courthouse deal with the family, nothing insane, but a nice meal out that night to celebrate with our nearest and dearest friends. Nothing huge, but perfectly us.

Now, I have mentioned before that I am in a different sort of relationship. I have a second partner, D, whom I have been with for 10 years. We started out as friends after I had a rough summer and was on medical leave, and it blossomed into real feelings. He is bright and sunny, goofy and giving, with a heart of gold. We have been talking about our options for a few years - on all government paperwork, he is a single man as we cannot be legal partners or legal spouses. He files as single on his insurance. We do nothing illegal. However, we wanted to celebrate our partnership, so we have decided to plan a handfasting for this summer - purely a spiritual ordeal, no bigamy charges forthcoming. Again, a small and simple affair with a member of our coven officiating and a BBQ afterwards.

Just to clear up some things. It's not:

- a cuckold situation, so don't even go there
- illegal
- easy
- an open relationship
- immoral, as we are all consenting adults
- about sex
- anyone's goddamn business

It is:

- pretty much our choice to do what we want, as 3 consenting adults

We consider ourselves as family unit - we share finances, we go to family events together (and yes, our immediate family knows), we care for and support one another. Our friends are supportive and lovely. We don't even really think about it as a weird dynamic, until someone says something and then we remember that this is not the norm for a lot of people.

Now, you can like this, or you can not. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter to me. I am happy. They are happy (why would they want to marry me otherwise?). In life, it's all about being good people and finding love and happiness where you can. Score 3/3. Judge, or don't judge. The people who know us and love us support us, and that is all that matter to me. Anyone else can just mind their business and go pound sand.

...on the upside, I am getting to do something I never thought I would do, and I get to do it twice in two different ways. How cool is that?