The notion of paying attention to that “sixth sense”, that not quite acknowledged knowledge we somehow have, has been coming up a lot lately.
In the past week, I have had several conversations about intuition, in reference to the ways in which we take away children’s belief in their own intuition in our society by telling them things like: “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “that’s grown-up talk,” or even the notion that they have to “ask an adult before doing something” or that they should “do what the teacher says.” While there is the sentiment in all of these pieces of advice that we are trying to protect children and guide them through their growing, be resources for them as the adults in their lives, there is an exclusion of personal knowledge, of the essence and strength that all beings possess inside of themselves, no matter what age. There is also the unfortunate truth that not all adults are to be trusted.
I talked with a couple of friends last night about the idea of doing trainings with young people, starting in elementary school, in which we talk about intuition and give kids language to navigate their experiences. The trainings could be around personal space, different notions of personal space, what sort of touching is okay and what sort of touching is not okay, and most importantly, giving them developmentally appropriate and manageable means of getting out of an uncomfortable situation. Here again, there would be an emphasis on intuition. Something is not okay if it does not feel okay. You know if something is weird. If you are uncomfortable, get out of the situation. Ways of doing this might look like saying you need to go to the bathroom, engaging another student and asking if they want to work together, or at the extreme end, giving our children permission to “break the rules” if their safety is at risk. I.E. If an adult is making you uncomfortable and you do not see a way out of the situation, something like screaming, spilling over a drink or telling an untruth is okay because when your safety is at risk, those rules become secondary.
This stemmed from a couple of experiences I have had in education. One was working with young adults with developmental disabilities and rewriting curriculum so that it was actually usable in real time and real life, as opposed to being a stagnant exercise on the page. We talked about personal space. With one student who was on the autism spectrum, we discussed his own desire to hug everyone he met. Is it safe to hug everyone? Does everyone want to be hugged? Is it socially acceptable? I would also add, in retrospect, “Do you care if it is socially acceptable?” and “What are the repercussions of acting in a socially unacceptable way?” and “Are you ready to deal with those?” In working with a population that was statistically more susceptible to sexual abuse and violence than neurotypical folks, it was important to discuss what personal space can look like, what each individual was comfortable with and to all practice saying yes and saying no in various situations. We role-played situations in which they were on a date and they wanted to kiss someone, as well as situations in which they wanted to say no. Each person had a different way they felt comfortable conveying the message and it was empowering practice to say the words out loud, to feel strong in them and it prepared them to be able to access them later, when they found themselves wanting to say yes or say no. This curriculum made a lot of sense to me. It is something I think we should be doing as a society. Everyone needs practice articulating their boundaries and a space to talk about what it feels like to do so. We are a society that does an excellent job of silencing our own intuition, our desires, our boundaries, all at the expense of remaining “normal” or appearing socially acceptable or in our tradition of bowing to scientific, proven facts, and discounting lived experiences.
Another experience that has stuck with me is a sexual violence training that happened at Cal while I was working with the football team. It was a check-off training with some white guy who had found a way to monopolize the market, seeing a troubling statistic about football players being perpetrators of sexual violence on college campuses as an opportunity to make money. The training was horrific. The two men who lead it started off by telling the entire Cal football team that any woman they are looking at or trying to get with is a woman who matters to someone else, meaning someone else who is a male. That age old reasoning that she is “somebody’s daughter,” “somebody’s mother,” “somebody’s cousin,” is problematic because it starts the dialogue off in a flawed place. The message here is: You shouldn’t rape these women because they belong to some other man. What they needed to start the training with is the radical notion that women are people, period. From there, they did a series of horrific things. The two that I remember most vividly were a theoretical situation that they put out there and their conversation around consent. The situation was one in which one of their football buddies was about to take a girl home who was visibly intoxicated. The question posed to them was “should they interfere?” Then they had the students go on one side of the room or the other, indicating their agreement with either interfering or not interfering. This approach encouraged them to go with the group, to show off their “manhood” to their peers and created an unnecessary rift between the two groups. The majority of the students were of the opinion that they should not interfere. Their reasoning were along the lines of “cock blocking,” and “it not being their business,” at which point there was a general degeneration into bragging and sharing experiences which was not very aggressively curbed. The minority group that thought they should interfere got to play the savior, the chivalrous knight, and sneer down their noses at their “less advanced” teammates, when this perspective should not equal superiority but simply be the norm. The leaders of this training did not clarify what the correct answer was or why. At the end of the training, they similarly asked the guys to share their notions of “consent.” These ranged from, “if she kisses me” to “if she takes her clothes off” to “if she comes home with me,” all of which are not consent. Again, the entire Cal football team left the training not knowing what the definition of consent was. It was essentially a paid meeting of bros, a brushing under the rug of the actuality of sexual violence and a huge disservice to all of these young men, as they didn’t have any more of an idea what responsibility they had in the equation or what consent really looks like after the training than they did before.
This training made me irate. I talked with the guys I worked with individually and with a group of them at dinner afterwards. I specified that consent was a “yes” and asked them if they would really want to have sex with someone who didn’t want to have sex with them, pointing out that good sex is had with someone who really wants your ass, someone who you really want, when that is made clear and mutual. I also talked about the notion of responsibility when you see something going down. Would they be okay with some white boy coming up to their teammates and discriminating against him based on his race? Would they say, oh that’s his business and let him get beat up? All of them said they would fight too. They wouldn’t let him be left there alone to get beaten up by some racist fool. I told them, well women are being discriminated against based on gender when they are looked at as disposable. It is an injustice being done against them based on the idea that a female is not as valuable as a male. If someone white deciding to perpetrate violence against you because you are black is not okay, why is it okay for a male to perpetrate violence against a female? It is injustice and violence as well. You would just allow that to take place? And you would allow someone you know and are friends with to act that way towards another person?
Being the owner of a small business based around women’s rights, the notion of having voice and a community that listens and encourages and fights together, and brings in writing and artistic expression in service of these priorities, is like a crash course in interpersonal relations. I was telling my boyfriend last night about the various interpersonal situations I was navigating. “Who needs therapy?” I said. “Want to deal with all your shit, all at once, from various angles and with all sorts of people? Just start your own business!” I have recently been noticing that I am too accommodating, and that I have a bit more than a bit of people pleasing in my nature. At the start of my business, I was way too willing to go out of my way to make people feel they were getting what they wanted, to give them what they wanted, even though many times what they were asking for was a taking advantage of me. More and more, I am getting firmer on my own boundaries around money, around services, around time and around what sort of notions I will even entertain or take up space listening to. When you are hustling to make something stay afloat and to pay your bills, things start to prioritize themselves real quick. I am coming up against my own desires to have everyone be happy with me, which I am finding has meant really over-extending myself and which is not an option if I want to be successful. It is also a disservice to my clients, co-workers and community, as much of what I am promising to provide, and also value as a core aspect of the space I am holding, is a container for difficult and vulnerable work. If I am a pushover, I am failing them. I can be giving in the ways that I relate, in the ways that I facilitate, in the emotional availability I model, but I cannot be “giving” in a way that takes advantage of me or makes too much space for people who are not in a place within themselves to be in community and respect others, or who are out to take advantage of my greenness and try to get things for free, as putting energy into giving in these ways depletes energy that can be put towards delivering on my promises to create and maintain safe space to explore and create. I am learning to listen to my gut more about matters of boundaries, as well as keep emotions out of it, so that it is just a firm, this is where the line is and no shaming, judging or other emotional entanglement that comes along with it. This is not easy. When I feel taken advantage of, I want to curse and scream. However, I don’t want to represent myself as a giant toddler/teenager mix and get a reputation for being explosive or unpredictable (thought this could have it’s own appeal…), but rather as a person who is compassionate, mostly reasonable and that you cannot fuck with, because she simply won’t accept it. People who are looking to grow and are growing want firm boundaries. We all need containers, where we know where the walls are, and part of finding them is also pushing up against them. These are things I am learning to hold more effectively.
These are reasons I am also thinking about where I can find my own group therapy again, as having someone to sometimes contain me sounds really nice right now.
Next Post Sneak Peak:
Speaking of therapy, the recent focus on this notion of intuition in my life has brought up some experiences I have had in therapy in the past, which led to the “firing” of my last therapist, as a good friend of mine says…