Wendy Talks About Benevolence
...and feels a little weird about the titles of these essays. Does she know she's writing in the third person?
I mean, honestly, this morning, I have an image of Ukrainian grandmas on my mind. As I write this, as I say this,
What would a benevolent world actually look like? It's been on my mind all week.
This week has been interesting.
I think what I came to at least for my own world is that a benevolent world would be moving a lot more slowly. It seems as though it's the actions and thoughts that happen in the moment really quickly without thought that really sort of push forward a world that's less benevolent. I have a tiny story — Yesterday.
I did a simple seemingly benevolent thing for one of my progeny. I made them a smoothie. And no, no one was hurt. But in counseling later that day, this smoothie making became the event that helped me unravel what keeps me from benevolence in my own life. So I'm going to try to try to unravel that here.
That thing is safety.
I made a smoothie filled with lots of really healthy stuff. Also delicious, just sweet enough. They drank most of it, but not all of it. And so what I ended up doing was even bringing that tiny amount with us in the car. So that they could have one more chance is I implored them to finish the whole thing.
He very politely said, no, thank you to their credit and stayed relatively calm while I was, I, I think that the voice I have right now, perfectly sort of mimics what my voice was that morning. Come on. Just one more sip. By the time I got back home, I was aware enough to realize that something was going on.
I actually forced myself to measure it out and show myself clearly what was going on that what had been left with negligible. If I were really worried about malnutrition, I don't think that that was a problem. So what was this all about? Obviously not nutrition. The feeling in my body when the smoothie was refused, or again, this tiny amount of smoothie was refused.
It was one of foreboding and dread. I'm really not proud of admitting this. In fact, I hesitated, hesitated as I was like, come on, just say it out loud.
But it's true.
As I drove home from counseling and ran a couple errands on my way home. I was unpacking more, what I think was going on. And I think it is this universal feeling that comes up for all of us, but all of us in a slightly different way.
Robert Sapolsky, the Stanford. I believe he's a biologist, almost sure of that. He's written a book called Behave and has several lovely videos out there talking about his work and, and in one of them, he explains that the love hormone, oxytocin, amplifies feelings of love for people who are in our “in group”. But it also amplifies feelings of not love or more exclusion for people who are outside our in group that sets up something kind of interesting.
Think about it. We all need to create a sense of I'll call it Eden. A sense of safety. A perimeter around ourselves within which we're at ease.
I don't really like noticing that I do this, but I think it's key. I think it's really that key to why benevolence is so hard. Sometimes even with people we adore.
My castle walls are built around an idea that our family in our family, we are healthy. Yikes. As you may be aware, there have been marauding vandals and thieves and whatnot banging on my castle walls for the past couple of years, past few years.
My castle is also built around an idea that we're immune to violence.
Violence happens out there to other people. I'm still not really ready to talk about the super publicly, but it's important for this essay to mention that extreme violence at the hands of the system did happen to our family about a year ago. As I say this, my hands are shaking and my heart is racing.
The system metaphorically took a battleram and knocked out one of the metaphorical walls in my metaphorical castle.
Metaphorically, but also in a well, in a realer way, realer way, my family, my Eden became fragile.
And so I can very much understand not being benevolent. It's literally why I'm in counseling.
Back to the smoothie because the smoothie drinking episode deconstructed in counseling began to help me unpack all of this. As I drove home from counseling, a police car passed me and as it did, so I literally sat up straighter tensing up because they are that symbol of the system who introduced violence into our family.
I've found my body aware and then. I thought to myself, if we're all quiet, no one gets hurt.
And then less humorous a flashback to a scene that had come up in counseling, a scene of early kind of violence in my life at gymnastics. I would have been around 11 years old and at least once we had to sit cross-legged along a wall perfectly still for two hours.
And then there's another tiny scene I had just finished bars and was moving to floor, which was a brand new spring floor. And back in those days, very few gyms had those Olympic quality spring floors. My hand was bleeding as it would, uh, from the bars they would rip. Um, so I showed my coach out of fear of getting blood on his floor instead though he took my head hand, considered it a moment of weakness on my part.
I think he clearly didn't understand that I was worried about the blood on his floor and was thinking that I was upset because I had a little bit of blood on my hand. He took my hand, yelled at me for being such a baby and ripped this skin off the blister, which was common back in those days.
The ntold me to rub chalk in it, which again was common. But I think the key there was the importance of remaining, perfectly neutral showing absolutely nothing on my face. So composure and we won't get hurt. Composure as adults raged was definitely how I stayed safe as a child.
In the newsletter I mentioned another early childhood memory, my infamous rubber band incident. I clearly remember that teacher — grade one. I was six. I liked her. She was really lovely. This one day we were all quietly stringing rubber bands onto a grid of nails that had been kind of nailed into a little wooden block.
It's hard to explain. I was in a progressive school. I think it was math. I'm not sure how one rubber band got loose to this day. I remember the name Allen as the little boy who shot the rubber band. It was an accident. Immediately though, the teacher commanded all heads down and we stayed there for what seemed like an eternity.
I know in this case, it wasn't that. But as she admonished us about the dangers of rubber bands, and I remember being also at the same time, really scared and also understanding how funny this was, even at the time, I really can't remember how it was resolved, but all I know is that we all knew then that it was an accident and that none of us could say that because she wanted a bad guy to punish.
So these stories taken together.
It's why we can't have nice things. I'm only kidding a little. That was another thought that had come up.
As I drove home from counseling, all this came together and I realized that I occasionally create little talismans, little incantations. To keep my personal Eden secure to keep my castle walls strong unconsciously, of course. And it's possible that I making too much of this smoothie, a Tempest in a smoothie cup, perhaps, but also I think there's at least a grain of truth here.
There's a feeling in the air recently of needing to magically create safe spaces around certain groups where we feel secure. Certain incantations we do to help delineate a perimeter within which our in-group resides. I don't have any answers. As my dear husband always says, when I bring up the unhoused: “Well, as a Christian, shouldn't you invite them to live with us?
But he's got a point he really does.
Here's what I think is impossible to do without inviting the sacred into our lives. Not the spiritual exactly, but sacred love, the holy. I think it's impossible to do benevolence.
Chances are the unhoused in my city would like a house not to live with me. And chances are certain people who are not in my in-group are perfectly happy being, not in my in-group. We don't all have to have a kumbaya moment together necessarily. What we need, I think goes beyond oxytocin, beyond science, beyond politics.
What I need, what we need, I think is to inject an acceptance of sacred love into our daily lives. I think it's essential. This comes not only from my admittedly huge bias as a Christian, but also from my recent book. Books that I've read, not written obviously, but the master in his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist and the Dawn of Everything by the two Davids, I always forget both of their names Wengrew and Graeber.
And I think we need possibly a little less spirituality. Bell Hooks said
“I'm often struck by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement. And so little to the practice of love within the context of community.”
She was onto something there.
I'm going to leave us here.
I think all this needs to settle. I think I need a cup of tea, a long walk.
And I welcome feedback about these oral essays as well as the conversations that I've had next week, as I mentioned is likely going to be a conversation that I've worked on for over a year. Now it needed time in contemplate. I am enjoying sprinkling these shorter essays in now. And again, so feedback's welcome.
They aren't as amplified as the conversations, but I'm not sure yet if that's because they suck or because they just don't amplify them on social media in any case. Thank you. And please rate, review and subscribe on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts. If you want to rate review. On a podcast platform, but you don't know how just ask and consider subscribing to the Monday morning newsletter too.
You can find everything that I'm doing right now at underbelly, which is at U N D E R B E L dot L. I have a lovely week.