Neighbors Comic Series Landing Page
Part 2: Distance
Gonna make all these posts public. It doesn't make sense to put them behind a paywall. I want as many people to read and engage with this topic as possible. And I understand if people don't engage with them immediately. It's a challenging topic within a shitty week/month/year/what.
Read the comic^ first, and then come back here for the blog.
I am feeling pretty overwhelmed these days by the news cycles and my social media feeds. It’s tragedy after tragedy, violent trauma after trauma, and emergency after emergency.
To turn it off or to ignore what is going on seems irresponsible, seems a symptom of privilege that I might have the choice to turn it off at all.
To turn it off seems a straight path to overwhelm, burnout, and numbness.
Because disengagement from the human pain of it all is the first line of defense — at least it is for me. I think it is this same sense of overwhelm that causes me to start to normalize tents on the streets, to glaze over when walking past someone lying on the sidewalk, to avoid eye contact and ignore someone’s plea for help. And our self-protective defense mechanisms start to hurt others when we fall into dehumanizing habits.
In her book World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy talks about how natural it is that we should feel emotions of fear, anger, sorrow, and pain when we see what is happening in our world today.
“Pain for the world is not only natural, it is a necessary component of our healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action…The problem lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it. Our efforts to dodge or dull it surrender us to futility—or in systems terms, cut off the feedback loop and block appropriate response.”
This unwillingness to be with our pain and discomfort leads to short-term stop-gap measures on a systems level that obscure our ability to solve the roots of these problems. David Peter Stroh and Michael Goodman present a case study of how systems thinking* was applied within a community brought together by the Battle Creek Homeless Coalition to address chronic homelessness in Calhoun County, Michigan.
Calhoun County, like many cities, turned to shelters to alleviate homelessness, but this led to unintended consequences:
“One consequence of the effectiveness of temporary shelters and supports was that it reduced the visibility of the problem to the community overall. Many people were naturally reluctant to see the problem in the first place. People who were homeless were also fearful of being seen and hid their condition as best they could. The lack of visibility reduced pressure on the community to solve the problem, and a lack of data also reinforced the invisibility of the problem.”
The more effective temporary shelters are, the less visible homelessness is — which actually reduces a community’s motivation to put more resources into finding more innovative, collaborative, or permanent solutions.
“[These dynamics] represent a common dynamic found in many complex social systems where a quickfix to a problem symptom undermines a fundamental solution. This dynamic is known as ‘shifting the burden’ (to the quick fix) or in psychological terms as ‘addiction.’ The irony is that people committed to serving those whose homelessness sometimes stems from some kind of addiction can become addicted themselves—albeit to the noble response of providing temporary shelter to those in need.”
So please pay attention to your city’s proposals to ‘clean up’ their homelessness problem via displacement or removal. These are often violent and often politically-motivated acts fueled by short-term thinking. As an example, Prop Q was on the Bay Area ballot during the 2016 election, and SF State Legislator Scott Weiner has had a bad track record in his proposed treatment of people experiencing homelessness.
We can get involved in very hyper-local ways to hold our public officials accountable in service to our neighbors and to our communities.
Maybe these actions can feel like a more effective use of time than getting sucked into the hole of a timeline that is any social media platform these days. Not that I’m immune, but I've long turned off notifications, and I’m working on trying to log out as much as possible, and practicing carving out offline times -- especially during the beginnings and the ends of my days.
Towards the end of her livestream following Charlottesville, Brené Brown reminded us that practicing self-care means taking care of yourself, so that you stay engaged in hard conversations.
“When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break. And not from the conversation. Once you understand what’s happening in the world, it’s not like our break is going back to pretending it’s not happening. It’s taking care of ourselves. You don’t know how many activists I know who have burned themselves out so completely that they can’t be a part of the movement anymore 'cause they don’t have the will to show up.
"Look, we are fighting for civil rights, we’re fighting for equality, we’re fighting for justice. But we’re also fighting so that people have access to the most meaningful experiences in life: love, belonging, joy, purpose. And if we don’t have those in our hearts, we can’t fight for other people to have them.”
Take care, everyone.
* I first encountered this example from Calhoun County while reading David Stroh's book Systems Thinking for Social Change. I was doing research at Daylight Design while we were trying to help The Omidyar Group develop tools to spread systems thinking throughout their organizations and wider. If you want to learn more for yourself or for your organization -- here are: