The Little Black Yippy Dog Does Not Want a Hug

Let me add my voice to the “No! Don’t do that!” chorus, because that’s not just the opposite of help, but actively dangerous and skeevy as all hell.

First, let me introduce you to my imaginary dog Yippy, who is my metaphor for anxiety. The world is a terrifying place when you’re a nervous little black dog, so he barks at everything all the time.

This metaphor works particularly well for this trash advice, because dogs in general really don’t like hugs. A dog might accept a hug from a loved and trusted human, but a random acquaintance who picks Yippy up and gives him a hug is likely to get bitten. If he’s scared or agitated enough, and you ignore the warning signs, you might get bitten even if he knows and likes you.

Likewise, if you randomly grab me against my will while I’m having a panic attack, and continue to hang on while I’m struggling to get away, I make no promises that I won’t deck you. I’ll probably be with it enough to realize that this is a misguided attempt to help, and try to fake calm long enough to get your grabby hands off me, but that’s not a guarantee.  And if you try that with someone who has PTSD and is in the middle of a flashback? Bad call.

Panic attacks are different for everyone, but when I have one, I often feel trapped and warm, like the room is closing in on me and I can’t get enough air. Putting your warm body up against me and closing me in is going to make both of those things worse, and be the exact opposite of help.

One thing that strikes me about this advice is the many ways in which it’s dehumanizing. First and most obvious is the hostility to consent and the assumption that you can restrain someone “for their own good” as a random bystander. It also treats people having panic attacks as a problem with a single solution. Dude, if it was that easy, everybody with anxiety disorder or PTSD would pass this sheet out to everyone we know, and all our panic attacks would be instantly fixed. Humming or whispering might help some people in some situations, but I’d just find it irritating. And there are few things *less* helpful to say to me during panic or anxiety than “It’s going to be okay.” Especially since November, because it may very well not be.

I can picture a couple situations in which it would be reasonable to grab someone who’s having a panic attack. (This is as a friend, acquaintance, or other random bystander. If you’re an actual medical professional, I won’t presume to tell you how to do your job, but I certainly hope you have more training on the subject than a random Tumblr post.)

The first is if they’re in imminent physical danger that they seem to be ignoring or unaware of. If I’m too busy hyperventilating to leave a burning building, and don’t respond to “Hey, Kel, we need to get the hell out of here,” yes, please, drag me out physically.

The second is if they, specifically, have told you, specifically, that this is how they want you to help them handle their panic attacks. People vary wildly, so it’s entirely possible that this is helpful for some people, especially from someone they trust. I do find hugs helpful when Yippy is losing his shit, but offered, not forced, and from my husband, not anybody and everybody.

If you want to help a friend or loved one who has panic attacks, *ask them* what would be helpful. If you want to be a generally useful good Samaritan to anyone who might have a panic attack or other mental health problem in your general vicinity, mental health first aid classes are a thing.

Love for the Real Person

Ragen Chastain has a fantastic post called Hate the Fat, Not the Fatty about how you can’t claim to like or respect someone while not treating them as a credible witness to their own experience.

While I appreciate someone treating me well, what I truly value is people respecting that I am the best witness to my experience. So when I say that my body is fine, that I’m happy with the path to health I’ve chosen, the proper response is “awesome”, not “Well, I don’t think you should be treated badly, but I do want to eradicate everyone who looks like you from the Earth and make sure that there are no more.”

When you try to separate people from parts of their identity, to love the fat person but not the body that they live in, or to love the gay person, but not their sexuality, you’re not really loving them. You’re loving a pretend version of them who only exists in your head. Actual, real love accepts the other person as they are. You don’t have to like or understand everything about them, but you can’t pretend that you know them better than they know themselves, and you can’t try to make them into something that they’re not.

Something I see a lot aimed at both fat and LGBTQ people is tolerance without acceptance. “Oh, I don’t think you should be bullied or discriminated against. I just think your lifestyle is sinful/unhealthy.” What irritates me is that the people spouting this always act like they’re doing us a favor. Oh, wow, you don’t actually want me to be thrown in jail for my sexuality or be mooed at on the street. You’re such a paragon of love and acceptance. Do you want a cookie?

I mean, yeah, sure, I’d rather have grudging, “But I still think you’re wrong,” acceptance than to have someone actively fighting against my right to exist. But it’s the bottom of the barrel baseline of being a decent person, not some extra special compassion for which you deserve an award. Especially not if you cry that you’re being branded as a bigot for telling people they’re going to hell and/or driving up insurance costs and going to die horribly.

But not actively harming people isn’t love. It isn’t even like. It’s just not actively being a jerk. It doesn’t merit any special praise.  Acting like it does just reinforces the idea that the people you disapprove of are broken—look what a good person you are, letting them exist in your space and breathe your air, how hard it is to accept their existence.

To really love someone is to see them and appreciate them exactly as they are.

Missiles and Futility

This week’s attack on Syria seems like the ultimate in futility.  We didn’t damage much of anything, except whatever tattered shreds of credibility we might have had left as a nation. We showed off that we have lots and lots of Tomahawk missiles, and the ability to blow shit up whenever we’re so inclined. We didn’t affect Assad’s ability to carry out chemical attacks in the future, beyond providing a deterrent.

But, then, I’m becoming jaded enough to think that none of that was the true purpose.  Doing something that Russia publicly disapproves of both provides an argument against Trump being Putin’s puppet and distracts from the ongoing investigation.  And the media lapped it up.  Oh, look how Presidential he is.  He’s leading with his heart.  Yeah, and he’s got ocean front property to sell you in Arizona.  Truly fabulous, great ocean views, right in Arizona. Really just the best.

It’s probably too uncharitable for me to say that I have not yet seen evidence that our President has a heart, much less that he leads with it. But it would do a lot more to convince me that this action was out of compassion for murdered Syrian children if he was willing to allow some of them to resettle here.

Nikki Haley’s justification for this blatant hypocrisy is that we just want *vetting.*:

What this president has done is said, ‘Prove to me that you are vetting these people properly. And if you are vetting them properly, then we will resume where we are. But until then, you have to prove to me that these people are being vetted in a way that we’re not putting American citizens at risk.

That would actually have some credibility if the administration had come out with any sort of plan for improved vetting, requirements for what “proper” vetting consists of, or specifics on what’s insufficient about the most extensive vetting of any means of getting into the country.

It would also be more credible if any refugee had at any point carried out a terrorist attack in the US, and if we weren’t currently in the midst of an epidemic of violence carried out by white, ostensibly Christian, native-born citizens.  If you check out the gun violence archive, we rarely go more than 2 or 3 *days* without someone shooting up a school, mall, or place of business. We’ve become so inured to these constant, near-daily acts of terrorism that they don’t even make the news unless there’s a body count in the double digits.

America is driving down the road doing 30 miles over the limit in a rainstorm, with bald tires and dodgy brakes, cell phone in one hand, cigarette in the other. But we refuse to stop for a terrified, desperate hitchhiker, because she might be dangerous.

Jesus Wept

This past week, a US airstrike in Iraq killed over 200 civilians. While the US military says that the rules of engagement have not changed, it seems a rather suspicious coincidence that the civilian death toll skyrockets just after President “You have to go after their families” Trump takes power. Particularly when Iraqi special forces told the New York Times that “there had been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office” and that it’s become much easier to call in airstrikes.

There are no easy answers, and I don’t want to armchair quarterback a war when I myself have no tactical expertise whatsoever. But I know without a doubt that we have to give a damn about civilian casualties. If the simple fact that they’re precious human beings who don’t deserve to die alone in the dark doesn’t do it, the fact that it gives civilians in ISIS controlled areas more reason to hate the US and the new Iraqi government should.

Christianity, Relevance, and No True Scotsman

Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity Is Actually Relevant, Okay?, despite a pretty clickbaity title, is a very good article. The author laments that so many Christians have become so focused on keeping out refugees, plastering the Ten Commandments on everything, and keeping the legal definition of marriage tied to their particular religious definition. All of this at the expense of loving your neighbor and doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you.  I share his frustration with some Christians’ total inability to grasp the concept of freedom of religion.  The money quote is:

It’s a strange practice to ask people who don’t hold the same beliefs as you to conform to your morals because you quoted a book they don’t read.

He gets into the history of Christianity, talking about how in the early church, Christianity was about radical love and inclusion. Church funds were used to free slaves, women were treated as equals, the poor and the sick and the dying were cared for.  I think every progressive Christian on the planet, myself included, wants to go back to that as the core definition of Christianity, especially if it doesn’t come with a side of being thrown to the lions. (Actual lions that eat you, not fake lions who require public businesses to serve the public or courthouses to refrain from endorsing a specific religion).

He also talks about the amount of freaking out that Christians are doing because of the church’s loss of influence:

much like a parasite trying to reconnect to its host for fear of dying, many Christians are thrashing about trying to create waves and convince people they are relevant within our culture

But there are two major places where I think this article misses the mark.  The first is that he drastically underestimates the amount of power and influence traditional Christianity still has in the United States.  Evangelical Christians elected Donald Trump. They had help from epic levels of misogyny (which that form of Christianity supports and promotes), Russian hackers, and the FBI, but that demographic was crucial in the last election. The majority of public officials at any level are still Christian, and even though the ACLU keeps fighting it, plenty of public schools, courthouses, and government buildings prominently post the Ten Commandments or other Christian messages. In large portions of the country, it’s perfectly legal to be fired from your job for being gay or trans. There are plenty of places where not going to church or not being a Christian puts you in real danger. It may not technically be legal to fire someone over their religion or decide a court case against them because they’re not a Christian, but it happens.  Hell, Alabama took *years* to actually protect kids from violent abuse because the abuse was “Christian” in nature.

I think the author makes too much of a poll stating that only 18% of millennials view Christianity as relevant.  In 20 or 30 years, when most positions of power are held by millennials, that will make more of a difference.  Right now, the average age of members of the House is 57, while the average senator is 61. For incoming S&P 500 CEOs, the average age was 53 in 201. At age 35, I’m either an old Millennial or a young Gen Xer, and I’m just barely old enough to run for President. If you take the later cut-off for the millennial generation and include birthdates in the early 2000s, not all of the millennial generation can even *vote* yet.  So, “relevant to millennials” and “wields significant political and cultural power” are not at all synonymous.

But it’s the second error that I think is worse.  The author longs for Christianity to lose its political power because he hopes that this will get rid of “cultural converts.”

Everyone is a Christian because they grew up in Texas. Or they go to church. Or their mom and dad raised them that way. Hell, according to the U.S. census 70% of Americans identify as “Christian.” But the vast majority of those responses are nothing more than cultural identification, not Christianity. I imagine that’s why so many people despise Christians. Their belief is cultural, and no one intends to follow the man they claim governs their life, so we end up this giant homogenous blob of hypocrites that judge and condemn people, instead of looking like they did in 165 AD. Instead of rushing to the aid of others, or paying for pagan burials like our ancestors did, we have half-hearted followers who run rampant through the streets of social media pointing the finger to everyone except themselves.

The problem with the “homogenous blob of hypocrites” is not that they’re “half-hearted” or “cultural converts.”  Nobody with lukewarm faith opens up a camp to preach and pray gay teenagers straight.  Nobody who’s halfhearted about their beliefs drives a giant bus around the country proclaiming that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. Nobody who only goes to church out of habit showed up at Franklin Graham’s Donald Trump Is Our New Messiah Tour Decision America Tour and prayed fervently for God to put Donald Trump in the White House.

Here’s another example of judgmental Christianity being anything but half-hearted. Last week, there was a board meeting for my local library to discuss a controversial sex ed program. Controversial in that it teaches safer sex and acknowledges that gay and trans people exist. There were speakers from Together We Will, Planned Parenthood, and the LGBTQ community.  And there was a random guy sprinkling holy water on those speakers without their permission.  Yes, someone actually thought that wanting kids to get accurate sex ed indicated a need for divine guidance, or maybe an exorcism.  Fortunately, the guy was asked to leave. Unfortunately, the religious zealots won, and there will be no sex ed at the library. Holy Water Guy was the most blatant zealot, but nobody who took time out of their busy lives to make sure kids didn’t get sex ed because it’s against *their* religion did so out of lukewarm religion.

If anything, toxic and destructive Christianity suffers from an excess of conviction rather than a lack of it. The focus on faith as the only important virtue pushes people toward dogma and makes it hard for them to question what they’ve been taught.

I sympathize with the desire to paint theological opponents as half-hearted or insincere, because it’s hard to make sense of the alternative.  When you can’t fathom how someone could read the same Bible you have, adhere to the same core beliefs as you do, and have such differing outlooks on absolutely everything, it’s tempting to assume that they didn’t actually do the reading. Or they haven’t really thought about it.  But that’s the same  tired argument that gets lobbed at progressive Christians all the time: “If you read your Bible, you’d be a Republican” or “If you really pray about it, God will show you that being gay is a sin.”  The assumption of thoughtless superficiality isn’t any more correct when we lob it at conservative Christians then when it gets thrown at us.

Labeling the ugly side of Christianity as lukewarm, half-hearted Christians is also a textbook example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.  If we can separate “them” from “us” then we don’t have to wrestle with tough questions about our own beliefs, and we don’t have to take responsibility, as a part of the whole church, for the damage caused by Christianity. It also makes it easy to ignore or dismiss abuses in our own churches. If “we” are sincere and “they” are half-hearted, then “we” couldn’t possibly enable abusive pastors or ignore racism or contribute to injustice.

As difficult as it is, we have to acknowledge that Christianity–specifically Republican evangelical Christianity–still holds a huge amount of power in the United States, and that isn’t changing any time soon. We also have to acknowledge that this kind of Christianity is adhered to by believers no less sincere or committed than we are–probably moreso if you look at church attendance numbers. We can’t hide behind the idea that they’re not real Christians.

 

When someone says, “I can’t eat that,” believe them.

This thread on the ridiculous harmfulness of moralizing about food is a good read. It starts with the ludicrousness of mocking Trump for ordering his steak well-done and branches out into how harmful it is to be that rigid about the “right” way to prepare a certain food, other people’s allergies or intolerances be damned.

This needs to be shouted from the rooftops, because way too many people apparently think it’s okay to ignore allergies or intolerances, or give people grief about having them.

Just today, I heard yet another story that proves the same point.  Kid is lactose intolerant, and has gotten soy formula all through infancy.  Grandmother, who occasionally watches Kid, does not believe this, and gives Kid cheese, milk, and pudding.  As a result, Kid has lots of diarrhea.  Because Kid is a toddler who wears diapers, said diarrhea causes two urinary tract infections.

Not only are urinary tract infections miserable in and of themselves, but having two urinary tract infections so close together made doctors suspect kidney issues, so the kid had to have testing done to rule that out.

Hearing this made me pretty angry, because the idea of a little kid suffering because someone could not be bothered to take their food issues seriously just bothers me on a fundamental level.

So, let me amplify this yet again, because it apparently cannot be said enough. If someone tells you they cannot eat a food, do not serve them that food.  If they tell you their kid cannot eat a food, do not serve the kid that food. Period. Whether you believe them or not, whether you like their reasons or not.

The Sacrament of Feeding People

I’m currently reading Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday. In the introduction, she talks about the book’s organization, based on seven sacraments, and she notes that the church has many more sacraments that she could’ve chosen, like the sacrament of bringing someone a casserole. I smiled a little at that, but there’s something deeply holy about feeding someone who’s in a rough spot. It’s practical assistance and pleasure and warmth and love and effort all wrapped up in a package.  Like Captain Awkward says, “The sandwich means ‘I love you.'”.

The Quaker meeting I attend with my husband has been participating in Safe Sundays, where a group of homeless people come hang out at the church on Sunday, to have someplace inside out of the cold. It’s an extension of the Safe Nights program, which gives people a place to stay at night, as well as dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch. Most of the places homeless people can go inside during the day, like libraries and community centers, are closed on Sundays, so this helps fill the gap.

When we do a shift, we bring food. We don’t have to, because the church that hosted the previous night provided bag lunches, but the goodies are always appreciated. On cold days, like today, we bring hot cider. Usually we bake something.  Today it was brownies and a “tropical pound cake” from a Tastefully Simple mix.

One of the guys was complaining about the lunch he was provided. He really can’t stand apple butter, and that’s what was in his sandwich. A lot of people might say he should be grateful that they gave him food at all (and he probably is), but imagine how discouraging it is when the only thing you have to eat between 7 AM and 7 PM is a sandwich and chips, and the sandwich is something you really don’t want to eat. So, I hope he had a brownie or three, because everybody deserves food they like.

There is this cultural thread, a combination of Puritan self-abnegation and diet culture, that teaches that pleasure from food is suspect, probably sinful. It can be earned, through exercise or through cooking everything yourself with the “right” ingredients, or through having the money to buy what you want, but it isn’t a given. Yeah, screw that.

This is not to rag on the folks who made the sandwich. The sandwich still means “I love you,” even if the message got garbled through food the recipient didn’t like. And for everybody who thinks, “Why, *why* do they keep giving me apple butter?” I’m sure there’s someone else thinking, “Woo-hoo, apple butter! Best day ever.”  Feeding people can be a guessing game, and volunteers do the best they can.

For me, participation in the sacrament of feeding people means trying to make tasty food that they’ll enjoy, being sensitive to allergies and intolerances, and refusing to participate in any shaming or moralizing about the food itself. If you don’t want the brownie, don’t eat the brownie. But don’t guilt anybody else about the brownie, because the brownie means “I love you.”