On Neutrality to Oppression

Neutrality, or the impartiality to either sides of a discussion, exists only as an ideal. This is especially particular to discussions loaded and having real-world consequence. Many people claim neutrality in various settings, particularly those that can cost them a friend, job, and money. The purpose of this is centered on the preservation of self. In the realm of consequence, and especially in situations of oppressed and oppressor, the neutral party actively chooses the side of the oppressor. This serves him because he chooses the side of the “winning” party, without topically alienating the oppressed party. He believes himself in some sense immune to choosing, even though his indecision is a choice in itself.

There is no person safe from his or her person opinion – no matter how much self-convincing he or she has done to induce a sense of neutrality.

photo by Thomas Marban

The choice to claim neutrality in the face of an oppressor is a moral one. Joanne Ciulla paraphrases philosopher Robert Nozick in the following: “Being moral doesn’t always serve one’s immediate interests, but in the end an immoral person pays the price of having a less valuable existence.” If choice of action is tethered to morality, and the choice is neutrality where neutrality means choosing the side of the oppressor, immorality is in league with neutrality. While a claim of neutrality can, in effect, buy time and temporary sense of non-allegiance, it comes at the cost of making a choice without being declarative.

Whether the choice is declarative or not, the choice has been made, and rests in actuality with the oppressor.

We see an example of this when an individual is clearly aware of immoral actions in a micro-community and towards another individual, yet the viewing party makes pretense that the behaviors are not harmful. Or even more detrimental, those who have positioned themselves in places of power claim moral aptitude, yet neglect to address the oppressing party. It is far more detrimental to ignore moral positioning than it is to lose perceived rewards from an oppressor. Beyond binary thinking, neutrality in itself seeks another option without command of the situation. Rather, another option to neutrality is recognizing action and consequence from a standpoint of fluctuation. Therein, the groups of oppressor and oppressed are seen as the living community organisms that they are, and actions on part or representation of the groups are regarded as such.

A Need for Needs

In order for workplaces to function in the way that they do today, they require workers with needs. Ciulla’s The Working Life speaks about this necessity in a section aptly named “Needs Nobody Wants”. The issue is that employers, especially unethical ones, tend to have a skewed view about the needs of their employees. And they even go a step further – creating a need where there was not one previously. The misconceptions stem from a lack of self-awareness on the part of the employers. The kind of thinking is – all of my employee’s needs are the same, or all of my employee’s needs are the same as mine. Even more demoralizing – all of my employee’s needs I can determine from personality test results. Offering fulfillment of another person’s needs is a futile and damaging methodology in management today. And consider the outliers in this management attempt.

As Ciulla puts it, “Employees whose priorities don’t follow the order of the [Maslow] pyramid are a manager’s worst nightmare.”

She’s talking about people like me – preferring lower pay for humane treatment rather than higher pay for demoralizing treatment, choosing writing on the fringe rather than following the blog advice of the masses, refusing to stand among the unethical and illogically-minded.

photo by Jan Phoenix

Work is no longer just an exchange of time for money. It’s gone beyond, encroaching uneasy situations and demanding you “just deal with it.” Employment has become emotional work, draining where it is least appropriate. In my own employment, relationships with co-workers in the workplace were consistently compared to “marriages” and severing ties with a company was aligned with a “breakup”. Forging highly personal and romantic comparisons onto what should have been professional relationships creates for an absurd reality. It pierces into the utmost private aspects of life, conjuring side-by-side images that have no place beside one another. As is all too obvious, you choose your marital partner but you do not choose your co-workers. Blurring those lines often works in favor of the employer, who encroaches more and more into emotional territory, leaving his or her employees confused and even emotionally vulnerable to further personal comparisons.

Cuilla states, “One way to assert power over others is to determine what people need or create needs for them, and then define what they have to do to have these needs met.”

What do workers become when they continue to define their own needs? First, they don’t fair well in a typical regressive office environment. So they must seek an alternative form of employment that can fill their specific needs. Some people don’t even require needs from a workplace beyond a steady paycheck and ethical treatment. They seek their primary needs outside of work, through volunteering, family, athletics, and more. Still, the needs of others don’t even account for Maslow’s basic requirements such as food, water, and shelter. Even Maslow made room for outliers who have different needs, recognizing that some forgo even the basics for other sources they deem more important to their survival. For example, think of the writer who would give up meals, or the saying “starving artist.”

Workers need not have their psychological, intellectual, and social needs defined by their employers.

The outsiders, whose needs are not equivalent to the majority, are placed into odd spaces. They cannot fill a position at a company that assumes their needs incorrectly. It’s far more psychologically damaging to them. Some may get by well with having their needs defined, especially if they cannot come up with their own. Those people may “go with the flow” but only because they already have the needs their employers want them to have. As for me – my needs are not the same as those of the majority, so traditional and unethical office work is not what you’ll find me doing.

Weary Workers, Be Wary

“[Rousseau] said the primitive man is spontaneous and naturally wants to work and be creative. When people are made to work for someone else, they lose their creativity and their desire to work.” – from The Working Life by Joanne B. Ciulla

Since I began working, I’ve felt there’s an innate silliness to work environment and constructs. This is not to say that the environments and constructs themselves were silly, rather, they are obscure, nonsensical, and exploitative in many ways. The silliness derives from mannerisms, self-importance, and creeping conformity. It’s walking in every morning, making your regular (forced) rounds of greetings, settling into your desk, trying to predict your day while simultaneously tottering on the verge of madness, anticipating the thing which will set your manager off today, feeling physically chained to your desk while looking down to see the restraints are not visible, peeling yourself away from the cloying inappropriate conversations, standing the comments about your body and how you look in your dress, and sitting with your stomach rippling in unending whirls of pain, constriction, and grumbling.

photo by Shwetha Shankar

People want to work. It’s in their nature to do something, whether with their hands or with their minds. And people may well adopt hobbies for the purpose of fulfilling this want to work. The reward is innate, working is a pleasure in itself. On the opposing end of that, Western work requires individuals to devalue, degrade, and scale down their skills. It emphasizes weaknesses over strengths, and conformity over innovation. It places barriers while simultaneously consistently reinforcing a workers’ limitations. It fails to foster proper usage of an individual’s pronounced talents, thereby repelling large parts of his or her personhood.

Fundamentally, our work environments and constructs are not healthy for the individual psyche.

They impose false hierarchy that seep out and spoil in the sunlit world outside of the fluorescents and plastics of our office places. Abusive individuals are given freedom to thrive perpetually under the justification that “there is a place for all”, while those who speak out are mentally and emotionally reduced to the reprimands only otherwise left for the punishment of children. To rethink our workplace is not a passing examination meant to absolve some negative spats, it’s a request to garner truthful and accurate information about how, where, and why we work.

Overcoming the Profound

The profound – we seek it and claim it – though its existence has somewhat been defunct of public noteworthiness at the rate which it is used. I’m talking about repurposing and descriptive definitions, particularly in relation to those almost ethereal moments of insight that ting our existences. Declarations of profound change, or a want to change, seem to tether rather than clear a path to improvement. While we expect the latter after such a bold point of affirmation of thought by external announcement, we may not reap the satisfaction of remaining in our own favor. Much of this we attribute to those invisible mechanisms around us that seemingly alter perceivable reality.

Overcoming the Profound

Disclosures of intent have no regimentation, but live by their own principles and degrees of seriousness. The speaker’s words are understood in moments of passion, and perhaps in some cases, on moments of mental clarity and logical basis. Categorical profoundness can fit into the realm of body, mind, and spirit, leaving nothing untouchable. Can the profound be induced if it stems from internally and stamps itself onto the world, feebly or strongly? Or is the profound something far more primitive that we cannot grasp, we cannot locate the source to, but that we trust beyond measure when it seems to be in our favor?

Overcoming the Profound

Lest we not muddle quasi-profound outbursts as the impostor to a surge of irrefutable value. Once the intent has been set, we need not see a montage of preparation for the thought to become thing. Nor do we need to remain silent about our efforts, reducing ourselves to a stark before-and-after diptych. Though a statement can self-source cause, purpose, and vitality, it is the consequential occurrences that define it’s emission. Overuse of the declarative renders the source fickle, but a declarative not yet substantiated within a timeframe arbitrarily set forth need not be tossed.

28 Weeks of Morning Pages

Alright, it’s been 28 weeks of writing three pages (nearly) every morning. I checked in previously at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and most recently, 20 weeks. Last time, I talked about using writing as a tool to recognize life’s true simplicity, writing to work out the kinks as a groundwork for writing later in the day, and working to define my days in a different way rather than constrictive definitions, like the day of the week.

Morning, photo by Timothy Meinberg

I get paid to write now, so Morning Pages take a new meaning. In the past eight weeks, I’ve actually started to do something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do – I get paid to write. This is big for me. It’s my time to really elevate my writing game. Morning Pages feel more selfish now; they have no “real-world” value. I push through that feeling, and even talk about it in my Morning Pages.

Morning Pages remind me to formulate my complaints. I’ve been complaining a lot lately and when I go to write down my complaints, they don’t seem to make much sense. I’ll begin writing something I don’t like about my life, and my brain’s logical sensors (thank goodness) come in and remind me I don’t have much to complain about. If I can’t formulate my complaints logically and clearly, I have nothing to complain about.

Morning Pages make me feel antsy. At this stage, and with having done this exercise for about 7 months, I’m feeling a little antsy about it. I’m still pulling through the issue of distraction. I actually end up thinking one train of thought and then writing about another. I almost feel like I am censoring myself in my writing exercise. I have to reconcile my thoughts with what I am writing, like I do in my novels.

Writing Fallacies

Writing fallacies distort the purpose and reality of the wordsmith. Writers have a duty to represent their craft properly. This applies to all professions really. The job one holds should be represented properly and not inflated for the sake of appearances. We see this often when individuals tend towards spending an inordinate amount of time on a task or when they want to ensure their consistent employment. Alternatively, we see individuals undervaluing their own work, and in turn propelling this idea of lesser value of a craft onto clients. Below are some writing fallacies that may illuminate some of the common myths we see existing in the writing realm:

There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

Writer’s block is not an incapability to write. It’s a psychological hurdle to reign in. It’s not the thing itself, the writing, it’s the mind. Being preventative and proactive about the mind’s hurdle means getting into the exercise of writing every single day. There are tools that make this more organized, like Morning Pages, specifically designed for those writers to reclaim their creative potential. No state of personhood necessitates the complete and utter loss of creativity. The general rule is that the more creativity you use, the more you have. Sometimes “overcoming writer’s block” just means asking yourself why you think you cannot do something. It means replacing it with “why don’t I do something?”

You don’t need formal qualifications to be a writer.

Having certain formal qualifications doesn’t necessarily make a better writer. For some, writing is an intuitive process refined over years of trials. I’m always weary of advice from writers or others providing character and plot formulations. Contrary to it’s intended purpose, the advice actually functions to stop me in my tracks and quickly become overwhelmed with the “tasks” attributed to writing. I was only able to write novels once I had accepted that I would have the best idea of what I wanted to say and how I wanted to do it. I forwent ideas about my qualifications. Paying too close attention to my achievements and my perception of their worth has consistently led to undervaluing my abilities.

Writing, photo by Jessie Bell

The writer has a duty to portray his or her position in its realities, not in a myth of the eccentric or romantic notions often attached to it. On the other end, he or she also has a responsibility to value his own craft, regardless of his or her formal qualifications.