Poisoned Minds

I don’t think I saw a person of color before I was five or six when we went down South to visit my mother’s relatives for the first time. In the modern world that’s a surprising thought. After all, I grew up in Maine, wouldn’t you think that there would have been at least SOME Native Americans? We (European-Americans) certainly took over the available space, didn’t we?

I remember my grandmother, who’d grown up in Tennessee, explaining to us that “darkies” were just naturally lazy. They would never work as hard as a white boy. She spoke from an experience I never had, so I simply accepted it. By the time I reached my teens I’d learned enough history to recognize that simple logic refuted her assumption. Anyone being treated unfairly, being asked to do the worst jobs for less pay would not be motivated to exert themselves. Yet somehow in their minds when they saw exceptions of colored men and women working hard when there was a reason to do so, they twisted it around in their heads so that the assumption remained untouched. I have to wonder what she was told when she was young that led her to interpret what she saw the way she did, and why she never saw past her conditioning. Perhaps I wouldn’t have done so had I lived in an area where the prejudice was constantly reinforced from all sides.

When we say something has “poisoned someone’s mind”, we often don’t think about what we mean by poison. Poison is something that when taken into the body can make it sick or even kill. We think of dramatic situations like slipping rat-poison into the food of someone you want to murder, or taking an overdose of sleeping pills to commit suicide. We forget the gradual poisons like sugar and tobacco we us to commit slow suicide by diabetes or cancer. We are more likely to remember that the difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose when convincing ourselves that a small amount of sugar in the food tempting us isn’t enough to hurt us (especially when we are reassured by advertising that everything on the market MUST be safe). Like the person dashing through traffic, we assure ourselves that “we haven’t been hit yet”.

My mother told me once of a friend who said “I’m never affected by Poison Ivy” and rubbed it all over herself to prove it- and got a terrible case. I used to brag that Aspartame didn’t effect me- until it did. There are many poisons that don’t have any apparent effect until they hit their loading dose and the symptoms show up.  I think that may be true of poisons of the mind as well. You can ignore the foolish statements, the tacky jokes, the crass remarks of those around you for so long, then one day you hear yourself making one of those jokes. But it’s OK, you don’t really disrespect “those people”, you just know that your co-workers like jokes like that. But then one day you realize that you’ve gotten into the habit of using language you used to avoid. There are two major options, you can try to go cold turkey or you can convince yourself that it’s fine, everyone else has the same problems. Go ahead, drink the Kool-aid, everyone else is.

I hate leaving a post on a depressing note. But the only hope I can offer is that sometimes people do stop, sometimes they change course. That’s something we all can do. Sometimes the poison hasn’t gotten so bad that we can’t come back. Humans are really good at healing. Sometimes we just need to recognize what’s making us sick.

Getting hit in the face

I saw this poster on fb and it really bugged me. It’s such a “jock” attitude, and yes, it can be freeing to stop being afraid. But as in the movie V for Vendetta, when Evey lost her fear when she had nothing left, I don’t think that’s necessarily worth it.
A lot of us have been “punched in the face” whether by a school bully, or an abusive parent or partner, or even,occasionally, a stranger.
What most of us learned from being beaten up, whether as kids or adults, is that there are situations in which we are powerless to protect ourselves, and that’s not freeing, it’s debilitating! Whether you are left alone, crying, with your possessions destroyed, or whether it’s in a group where those around you are mocking your pain and loss, this is NOT freeing, it’s destructive. It’s liable to lead to PTSD.
Whoever came up with this is probably thinking of when two guys agree to punch each other in a culturally supported situation, whether sports or kids on a school ground who walk away bloody but still friends.
When it’s positive, when you got “punched”, you probably had supportive people, friends or mentors, there to tell you that you were OK, and that they were there to support you through the pain. Something like taking a peyote trip without a shaman to help you negotiate the craziness, without that support, it’s a dangerous situation that can leave you damaged.
This is part of the reason I never liked school sports. In a non-sport bullying incident your pain and fear is too often downplayed by those who should protect you, and in gym class there’s a huge amount of mocking and denigrating the kids who admit the pain they feel, adding emotional pain to the physical.
OK, in a sport you chose to play, the physical risks were accepted (if not really understood) when you went in; but in school everyone is forced into the ‘jock’ mentality venue, which doesn’t work for those who didn’t choose it. It rather creates a venue where bullies can get away with hurting their victims while adults look on and join in the mocking. (sorry, I never met a gym teacher who didn’t try to “kid” -read shame- the victim into pretending that “it didn’t hurt”. I suppose it’s because they had the positive support needed because they were the strong, fast, coordinated ones. But few seem to understand that for it to be positive, the others need to be supportive, not mocking.) I’m not denying the positive aspects of sport for those who choose them, but it’s not for everyone.
What would be good is that when you were at risk for being hit (whether by a ball or a fist), that there would be someone there to make sure that you were supported through the experience. Then MAYBE you’d come out of it feeling better able to deal with your next blow.