Tribe: Fitting In and How We See Ourselves
Our sense of who we are and how we fit in — or don’t — alters over time. The gawky growth phase — whether as an adolescent or as an adult going through complicated transitions are the most memorable — usually due to the mess involved. In the midst of it we feel awkward, restless and just plain out of sorts. Choose your metaphor. A eucalyptus tree shedding its bark. An ugly caterpillar. A rumbling dark storm cloud.
The growth and change that accompanies these periods is sometimes fast and obvious, but it can also be imperceptibly slow — complicated by a society that doesn’t always know how to make sense of nuance or dimensionality. We only know we’ve arrived at a place of peace and acceptance one day when we wake up feeling different in a good way, lighter and liberated.
At various points with this blog I’ve talked about the challenges of fitting in, finding a tribe and striving to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’ve wrestled with how people perceive women like me, how I perceived myself and whether I was invisible or too visible.
In our modern society we invest a lot of time creating labels, categories and rituals to define ourselves and others. Some of these can be reassuring but others can cause conflicts. This week offered up some fascinating examples across the globe of the restlessness and the challenge of finding our place and fitting in particularly when stereotypes arise, perceptions don’t align or misunderstandings linger.
For example, there was Isa in Germany. We swapped direct messages via Twitter. A journal contacted her to see if she would be willing to participate in a series on infertility. Isa had rightful trepidation and we weighed the tradeoffs. How would it feel to be profiled as a CNBC (childless not by choice) woman. She decided to forge ahead in the hopes her story could help others. All was feeling right until the journalist made clear that the journal was bringing some loaded stereotypes to its reporting. The editors wanted photos that depicted a sad, depressed woman complete with grey skies. While she made every effort to convince the reporter that there was more to the story, the editorial team wasn’t interested in profiling a woman happy and at peace. That’s when Isa ended the conversation. Instead of a complex, nuanced and balanced article, the editors wanted to fulfill their own pre-determined narrative: the focus is on winners (those who succeed with motherhood) and losers (those who don’t).
Perhaps one day we’ll reach a point there is an appetite for stories that get beyond a narrow or one dimensional view. While there is significant grief and healing and compassion needed in the wake of failed treatments and related losses, Isa and I agreed we are multidimensional women living vibrant lives along with many of those reading this very blog post.
Then there were email exchanges up north in Canada with “A,” a thoughtful, warm woman who regularly shares insightful, complex ideas. This week she talked about how a type of indifference to infertility has been “one of the most common experiences of our journey and how it undermines positive change. ”
Perhaps readers here have faced it, too? “A” writes, “this is when someone chooses to completely bypass compassion and absolve themselves of the deep examination of attitudes and therefore any helpful action. The issue of infertility is so often dismissed under the guise of ‘personal responsibility.’ It let’s society off the hook. This is a attitude that, when wielded without deep wisdom and/or compassion, allows society to not have to examine their beliefs and then take compassionate action.”
“A” then pointed me to a talk given by Bhikku Bodhi on Conscientious Compassion: Why Mindfulness Alone is Not Enough. (You can register for free access to a Beyond Mindfulness conference and have access to all the videos for about 48 hours.)
In her words:
He discusses the pitfalls of taking mindfulness practices out of their Buddhist context and then using them “unwholesomely”. Around minute 18 he speaks to how this might lead people to become accepting of “whatever arises”. He continues, and this is almost a direct quote, Therefore when one faces oppressive, destructive, vicious social structures, rather than reacting against them and seeking to transform them and just takes this as part of the given…that one has to accept and deal with by monitoring and regulating one’s own subjective reactions to them. This needs to be counterbalanced by conscientious compassion.
I’ll be watching it later this week — sounds like there will be more to mull over.
Finally, I had a chance to speak by phone with Missouri-based Justine, a therapist, blogger and author of Ever Upward and the blog post titled “I Want More: Can We Create a New Tribe.” In it she raises some important questions, including:
Is the infertility community no longer my tribe?
Do I no longer belong there?
Am I holding onto something that doesn’t even want me any longer?
Do I care too much?
Is change even possible?
Read Justine’s thoughts and share your own.
So much to contemplate. In addition to watching the video link above, I’ll also be reading Justine’s book.
Now it’s time for a walk. Meanwhile, welcome your thoughts.
*More beautiful images of the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees here.