Fighting Alienation: Finding & Creating Meaning in Everyday Life

Do you have meaning in your life?

I have long been frustrated by how difficult it is for people in our modern (postmodern?) society to come together, create a community, and foster meaning. Everyone’s life has meaning, whether they believe so or not, and some more than others strive to find meaning in their work, school, children, friends, lovers, and an array of other outlets. For me, this has never been enough. I’ve always been frustrated that every community I enter, I have to leave. And when I speak of community, I speak of feeling as if you belong in a group of people, whether or not they have direct relationships with you.

For some context, I must explain that for most of my life I have not felt I had a literal, physical ‘community’, and I suspect that I am not alone in this. Each school I attended was not in my neighbourhood, I can count on two hands the number of friends I have ever been able to walk to in my lifetime, and my home until two years ago was not located in an area that had a lot of community events (that I was aware of). Even community soccer teams, which I did join as a kid, didn’t seem to stick.

School, from kindergarten to university, provides an excellent opportunity to foster communities. School spirit initiatives, charity drives, and social events all contribute to this feeling of belonging, this feeling of being part of a group. This can be more condensed for people who join smaller groups at school – sports teams, drama groups, and music kids all come to mind, for me.

But what do we do when school is gone?

I’ve had this conversation with my Nanny, a wonderful, incredibly spiritual and intuitive woman. Maureen, my Nanny, is part of a worldwide religious community, and found my plight interesting. I strongly believe that a sense of community is conspicuously absent in Western society – or at least the slice I’ve seen – and is indelibly linked to the escalating capitalism and consumerism rampant in our culture. This hole can be filled, I think, by belonging to religious groups and organizations, but why can’t I find somewhere else? In an age when so many young people seem to be saying “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious”, religious communities don’t represent a legitimate option when looking for community. But why does this mean that we must end up alienated?

I read once, and this is horrible of me but I cannot remember who to cite, that the greatest coup of capitalism was giving the Western world the impression that individualism results in empowered individuals. In truth, individualism removes our power – we are so focused on ourselves that we refuse to risk our personal goals in pursuit of something greater. Could the Industrial Revolution have happened in this climate? I don’t think so. The cost of individualism is obvious when you look at how work is being treated in the newspapers, by the government, and legislation. By picking off groups of workers one area at a time, people have refrained from banding together to protect workers’ rights because it did not concern them – and then, when it does, the momentum is too strong to stop. I might write another time about union busting and the new two-tiered systems that employer after employer is implementing, as it is so incredibly reflective of neo-Marxism that I keep waiting for it to show up in a textbook (if it hasn’t already), but I’m going to try not to get further from the point I wanted to make than I already have.

My point? There is hope. There is community, if you know where to look for it. Even in London Ontario, a conservative (lowercase c) city full of chain restaurants, suburbs, and temporary student residents, there is a community focused on supporting small businesses, shopping local, sustainable living/working models, and having healthy relations with people, the economy, and the environment all at once.

The Root Cellar is right – where you buy your food is political, but beyond that, it can give your life that third dimension it may be missing. Buying Christmas presents and meeting the person who made them at the same time can give your shopping a meaning that consumerism – even Christmas shopping – usually lacks. Finding out that one of your local theatres – for me, I am speaking of The Palace – is actually run completely by volunteers. The food at the Root Cellar is not only organic, but directly supports local farmers. On top of that, going to a co-op (are you guys officially a co-op yet?) for your lunch is really fun! Ellie always has a smile, and Max is really such an amazing chef. And how many places can you go and always know who will be there, by name?

The community I have stumbled across not only gives me chances to make necessary purchases mean something, but makes me feel connected to my city in a way I never have before. I call this a community because it is – while we may not have a Christmas party, all of the people that are passionate about local art and local business are connected. If this is something you care about, it adds a third dimension to your life, being aware of this connection and incorporating it into your life.

This involvement is, to an extent, not achievable for everyone. Shopping local, going to a local yoga studio, or supporting local artists can be more expensive than mainstream alternatives. However, volunteering is always free, and there are lots of deals to be had if you look carefully enough!

I do want to say that there is a lot more to this issue of alienation than I am delving into here. There are serious causes and enormous consequences to this issue, and I am particularly passionate about how criminology (often referred to as the ‘new’ criminology) tackles this issue. However, I am 85% sure a rant on this topic would be just for me, so let me know if you’re interested!

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, since I moved into an area that seems to be a central node for this community (but location really doesn’t have to matter). This blog was inspired by AAF, An Artist’s afFair, which I visited spontaneously today and really loved. In the half hour I had before it closed, I picked up a Christmas present from Ausable River Soap Co., a couple of amazing magnets for Zach and I to look at, and a little something for me – an ‘upcycled’ (love that word) necklace from a local jewelry artist/yoga instructor who creates all of her jewelry using reclaimed pieces!

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What do you think?

Do you feel that you are part of a community? What is it like?

I’m new to the London scene (despite living here most of my life), so if you have any tips on where I should be going next, please let me know!

For those of you on Twitter, that social media outlet is really a mindblowing way to connect and explore these options. If you live in London, Ontario, here are some to get you started:

@Downtown_London, @MorrisseyHouse, @KantinaLondon, @WFFarmerMkt and @WFArtisansMkt, @joelcadams

@CityLightsLdn – A local used bookstore that has a lot to say!

@atthePalace – The Palace theatre, the previously mentioned volunteer-run local theatre!

Aside from Twitter, all of these places (and so many more) exist in this city, and it is so rewarding to find them.

Thank you for reading, and please share your thoughts – discussions are so much more fun than monologues!

Confusion, Trepidation, and Politics – Bill C-45

Hello, people on the internet!

I have a disclaimer that I must share with you before getting into this topic.

I have very little background knowledge on these issues or relevant changing laws. If I have misunderstood something, please tell me! If I have inadvertently trusted a media source when they had it wrong, please tell me! If I have accidentally said something in a culturally insensitive way, please tell me because ignorance is no excuse.

For those of you that, like me yesterday, have no idea what Bill C-45 is, Bill C-45 is the second budget bill to be presented this year. Bill C-38, the first budget bill, similarly had huge changes for Canada and completely slipped under the radar. Between the two of them, the Conservative party has presented more than 900 pages this year in connection with the budget (when the average is usually in the double digits, prior to 2005).

The scary part is that a great deal of these changes are about so much more than saving a dollar here or there. I have had a very hard time trying to find any information on what exactly is contained in Bill C-45, so it looks like one of these days I’m going have to try to read the brick – yikes. And not only is it 400+ pages, but it is very difficult to understand proposed legal, legislative changes because they so often refer to lines of documents that aren’t included in the text itself, so a great deal of reading has to occur outside of the bill to understand the full effect.

That being said, I am going to attempt to summarize what I have read about Bill C-45 in the last 24 hours, what I see and what others have said about the potential or certain ramifications, and ask some of the questions that are driving me crazy.

Changes to the Indian Act

Now, idlenomore.ca is saying that Bill C-45 violates a number of U.N. conventions geared at protecting the rights of indigenous people, but again, I cannot seem to find which parts these are. If anyone knows, please tell me!

What I have managed to find (in the second CBC article listed below) is this:

Currently, if a reserve wishes to lease a portion of its land for commerical purposes (keep in mind that, to my knowledge [please correct me if this is not always the case], reserve land is communally ‘owned’ by the people of that reserve) a majority of residents on that reserve must vote in favour of this lease. The articles seem to paint a picture of inefficiency and unnecessarily wasted time when they discuss this part, which sets the stage for the proposed changes: when Bill C-45 passes, the majority of residents do not have to approve the leasing of land to outside companies/individuals/etc. A meeting or referendum must be held, and the majority of people that attend the meeting or respond to the referendum is sufficient to allow the land to be leased. Oh, except the Aboriginal Affairs Minister has veto power, and can reject a proposal for land leasing brought to him by a given band council.

This may be my paranoia coming into effect, but this sounds like it leaves a great deal of room for corruption. There are a few burning questions this has raised for me, and while some of them may sound rhetorical, I would appreciate input, information, or answers to any of these questions!

Does this mean that a band council could call a meeting, fail to give proper notice, and then lease out land based on those who managed to attend?

Does this mean that a meeting could occur in a location where those without cars could not attend?

Rather than expediting the leasing of land to non-reserve businesses and individuals, doesn’t this leave a great deal of room for abuse?

Why would the Aboriginal Affairs Minister be able to veto a motion accepted by the band council of a specific reserve? Doesn’t this infringe on independence and self-determination?

I would like to include another disclaimer: by mentioning corruption in connection with band leadership, I am not saying that reserves or their leadership are corrupt.Β I have been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people while living on a reserve for two summers, and I am sadly aware that sometimes, the needs and desires of the few in power may not reflect the needs and desires of the general populace. This is not unique to reserves (hello, Joe Fontana? Rob Ford?), and it seems like this change is part of a process that moves the administration of reserves closer to the way that municipalities are run, without consultation with the people it effects.

What do you think?

Changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA)

Did you know there is an act called the Navigable Waters Protection Act? I didn’t, either! It currently places a ‘protected’ designation on approximately 40,000 lakes and 2.5 million rivers. Bill C-45 presents a new list of protected lakes and rivers that includes less than 100 of each. In addition (it is unclear if this is part of the NWPA or somewhere else), fish that have no commercial value are no longer protected.

Environmental groups are saying that this is a shocking, tragic, horrendous change. Lakes and rivers that provide drinking water and fishing grounds will be even more vulnerable to pollution and corporate neglect. Large projects that affect waterways such as dams, booms, bridges, and oil pipelines currently have to run reports assessing the potential environmental impact of their project on these protected lakes and rivers – they will have to do this no longer.

My only question here is… what the f?!

Windsor-Detroit Bridge

Another ‘what the f’ moment: Bill C-45 creates a new law surrounding the creation of a bridge between Windsor and Detroit that changes “some legislation and exempting this bridge from other Acts which would have otherwise applied, including the Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act (which is being amended too, see above), and the Species at Risk Act.” (Second CBC article below)

Please forgive my sloppy citations.

Please let me know what you think of this. What am I missing? (I know there is plenty, but I have yet to find it.) What does this mean for Canada?

Do you think this can be remedied in 2015 – or is this indicative of the direction in which Canada is moving?

This is where I got my information from (ignoring news sources that shared the same article – for example, the first CBC link is also on huffingtonpost.ca and some lesser-known news sites):

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/12/04/pol-liveblog-budget-vote.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/10/19/pol-list-2nd-omnibus-bill.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/21/omnibus-budget-bill-c-45_n_1997300.html

http://idlenomore.ca/

http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17379

Thank you to Naomi Sayers (follow her at @naomisayers00). She is the only person across Facebook, Twitter, and the casual first-page checks I do of news sites that brought this to my attention. Evidently I need to expand where I get my news from… suggestions are welcome!

Competition

There is an interesting phenomenon I’ve observed. This phenomenon has happened, from my perspective, mostly to women, but there aren’t any men that I currently talk to in enough depth to know if this happens to them, too. And this phenomenon is the destructive nature of perceived happiness competition.

If you haven’t experienced it or watched your friends experience it, you will likely have no clue what I’m talking about. If you have felt it or seen it, you probably don’t even need to read the rest of this blog, but you should, and share with me what you think.

This perceived happiness competition is, essentially, a feeling that your happiness relies on comparing your life to someone else’s and coming out on top. The competition may take place with both parties being aware – perhaps over drinks or coffee, texting or telephone calls, as two “friends” share details of their relationships that are intended to show that they are the happiest. Or two people – colleagues, peers, coworkers – that feel that they need to be, not just good, but the best; this means that they have won the competition, and they have a right to be happier than their competitor.

Sadly, though, sometimes this can happen without one of the parties being aware. Perhaps you have a frenemy on Facebook who secretly checks your profile page once a week, and analyzes every status, profile picture, and friend post to see if you’re happy, and how happy you are. Your profile picture no longer features your significant other? You must be on the rocks. A friend posted “where were you last night”? That must mean you are a hermit, a shut-in. Ultimately, your invisible watcher – in another age, ‘stalker’ – feels gratified that their life must be better than yours, and they can move on with their day.

What is this?

I am happy. I am so happy. I am in a program that I enjoy and am capable of finishing. I live with someone I am deeply in love with, and I get to see him every day. My parents and sisters live right down the street, and they are all healthy. I am not rich, but I can buy food, and pay for school, and rent, and even internet.

I am blogging about this today because I have felt myself sliding into this trap yet again. I am far from proud of it, and it’s a slimy, horrid feeling. This has largely been absent from my life since high school ended (thankfully), although I have a couple of friends who are particularly prone to this type of self-doubt. My trigger seems to be that, if I feel someone else is doing this to me… game on.

I’m blogging about it because I want it to go away. I want to remind myself that I like me, whether or not other people do. I don’t want to be someone else, and I don’t need to aspire to the things others have.

If a person is obviously comparing their life to mine, and is trying to make me feel as if their life is better than mine, it does not matter.

I do not need to win. I’ve already won.

I am perfectly happy right now, thankful that I am, and need to remain so.

Have you ever felt this happiness competition?

Why do you think this happens?

Online Identity

I have a lot of thoughts rattling around in my brain tonight (this morning? It’s after 4am!). It’s really appropriate to bring them here, considering what blogging is really all about!

I am struggling with the degree to which I base my identity around my online identity, persona, whatever you want to call it. For me, I am mostly talking about my Facebook profile, although for others that probably extends easily to Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, WordPress, etc.

I started using Facebook in 2006. Six years ago I was not the person I am today, although I have some love for that girl – after all, she is who I used to be! Since the introduction of Timeline, I’ve had to (read: chose to) be faced with my past in all of its glory.

The immaturity of a first-year university student, having brutal fights with best friends right where the world can see them. My too-varied romantic life, in code – posts from flames, boyfriends, lovers that effectively map out when I dated who (to me, and occasionally obviously enough for others to figure out). The pains of a thought-she-was bipolar, isolated, alienated girl who took a while to get strong enough to stop crying for help in Facebook statuses.

Now, you may have heard the rumour about Facebook posting your private messages to your Timeline for the years 2007-2009 (approximately). Even though Facebook is flatly denying this (http://www.zdnet.com/facebook-private-message-issue-raises-more-concerns-over-privacy-7000005287/), it looks like it has happened to me. Just like when it first shifted over, I’ve spent over an hour tonight scrolling through these messages. And as I have done this before, recently, it was immediately evident to me that more messages are visible than were before.

I’m not going to lie, I was looking for something specific. In 2007, I had a boyfriend that cheated on me – horribly, repeatedly, and in a predictably manipulative fashion. In fact, the girl ‘on the side’ engaged in friendly and earnest Facebook PM communication with me to reassure me that nothing of the sort was happening – of course, this was not the first time we’d broken up due to cheating with the same girl (remember the part above, when I said how silly and sad early-Facebook-me was?). This eventual crisis served as my first emotional trauma, sent me into counselling, helped me develop a serious trust complex, and formed how I dealt with relationships for years afterward.

I couldn’t find those messages. Why did I want to see them? Who knows. Morbid curiosity. I did see phone numbers and addresses posted by friends, so I am fairly certain I got hit by this mysterious glitch. I also saw a lot of other messages that hurt: friends I have fallen out with, a boyfriend who seemed so nice and turned out to be a monster, and the exploits of the person I used to be.

I do not want this accessible to others. I don’t want to be associated with this person, this girl, this said pre-woman who so badly needed attention (or thought she did, at least). But I don’t want to forget her. I don’t want to kill her. I only want her to be private.

I am considering starting from scratch – I have a new email and could easily deactivate my Facebook, add the important people back, and start again. The thoughts that started going through my head after that idea are panicked in tone, and so astoundingly superficial. What about all of the photos I am tagged in? Those prove to people that I have had a life, and friends, even if I don’t have much of either right now. What about all of the comments on my profile pictures? They prove to the world that sometimes people think I’m pretty! What about the carefully constructed, mature (I think now, let’s see in six years), critical statuses and notes I’ve posted, in part to construct a specific image of myself in the friends and frenemies who frequent my online world?

Whatever is a girl to do when so much of her identity is out of her control?