Acedia: A New Word For Me [en]

[fr] L'acédie, un nouveau mot dans mon vocabulaire pour faire référence à cette torpeur de l'inaction que je ne connais que trop bien. Explorations philosophiques en vue.

Many years ago the word “procrastination” entered my life. I had a word to describe that thing that I did: postponing stuff I needed to do. Waiting until the last minute, or until I was on the verge of trouble. In all these years, I have thought (and written) about procrastination quite a bit.

I still procrastinate.

Friday, a new word entered my world: acedia. It came to me through this article. It came on the heels of reading Laziness Does Not Exist, which amongst other things introduces the idea of executive function issues.

Acedia describes what I struggle with perfectly: I don’t feel like doing stuff — to the extent that it becomes a problem. And I feel bad about it. And I spend time faffing about, doing stuff I don’t really want to do, and feeling gloomy. Tie in recent discussions about social media and compulsion.

And the remedy — action — also feels familiar. Over the years, my quest to “solve” procrastination has led me to explore productivity techniques, forming habits and understanding habituation, establishing routines, happiness research… And one thing that I figured out was that when I was active, I was better. And that when I didn’t feel like doing anything, the best remedy was to do stuff. Catch-22, isn’t it?

Acedia is one of the seven sins. A lot of the literature around it is steeped in christian morality, or dated, but it’s still useful and interesting. That’s what’s wonderful about philosophy. We can learn from the ancient Stoics for our lives today, just like we can learn from Saint Thomas Aquinas. Go beyond the sin and figure out the psychology that is hiding in there. Here are a bunch of things I found.

I’d like to quote the really helpful comment on the first article nearly in full (thanks, Josh, whoever you are):

Throughout my attempts to change, I have thought long and hard about the question you raised. How do you choose to act when you don’t feel like it? How, in that moment when you are lying in bed about to fall asleep, and then you realize you didn’t take out the garbage which is going to be picked up early next morning, and you know you won’t get up early enough to take it out but you tell yourself you will get up anyway, how do you choose to get up and do it? This concept of knowing somewhere deep down inside that you should do something, but not doing it anyway, is known as akrasia, or the weakness of will. This is related to acedia but not the same thing: acedia is larger than akrasia but encompasses it.

The key part is that somewhere inside of you you believe that you should do that thing. If you didn’t believe that you should brush your teeth, then there wouldn’t be a problem (well, there would be, but it would be a whole different problem). And presumably you believe this for reasons. I believe that I should brush me teeth because if I don’t I’ll probably get cavities and lose my teeth which will be painful, expensive, and somewhat incapacitating. I believe that I should spend time with this person because I care about them, I want to develop their relationship, and it will ultimately be better for me as well. I believe that I should take out the trash now because otherwise it will overflow and my yard will start smelling like trash.

But apparently these reasons aren’t enough, or at least they aren’t always enough, evidenced by the fact that I don’t brush my teeth, take out the trash, or spend time with people a lot of the time. And yet if you look at the reasons I just gave, they should be completely sufficient for a rational person to do the given behavior. There are two factors as to why I don’t do these things in the moment. The first is because of little excuses I make in my head. For instance in the case of taking out the trash, I might tell myself, “I’ll take it out early next morning” or “I can go another week without overflowing the trash bin”. Or I might not even give a justification, like “It’s not that big of a deal.” The second is that I just don’t feel like it. I don’t have any energy. I feel empty. I don’t have the will. So I don’t do it.

So you have these two conflicting parts of you. The one that tells you you should get up and take the trash out. And the one that tells you should just go to sleep. There are six things that I have found most helpful in choosing the former self.

First, I think it needs to be said, you need to accept the reality of suffering. As much as I hate saying this and wish it wasn’t true, at some level, you need to accept that getting up will be unpleasant and move past that. As to how you accept and transcend this pain, it’s something I think that you need to learn in your own way. But there are certainly ways to help, which is what the next ones are.

Second, keep in mind your place in time. Remember how short your life is. Think about your funeral, and what kind of person you want to remembered as. Think about how the decision effect the type of person you’re becoming. Think about the percentage of your life that has already gone by, and the average human life span. Think about what you will think about yourself the next morning. Think, and think honestly, about the consequences of your decision.

Third, make and memorize rational sentences about why you should do the behavior, and then repeat them to yourself in the moment of ambivalence. This helps fight against the little lies you tell yourself to make yourself feel better about not doing the thing. For instance, if you’re trying to fight the urge to not brush your teeth, you might say the statement in your head, “By not brushing I am contributing to cavities, which in turn will be painful, expensive, make me less attractive, and I will never be able to get my real teeth back ever again.” Also you might prepare a mental image of what you would look like without teeth. Or you can also memorize and repeat more general things like a bible verse. “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:9-11.

Fourth, use mental pictures. People think in pictures: they are extremely powerful. If you picture yourself after having done the thing you don’t feel like doing, this will almost certainly help motivate you.

Fifth, if it is something that will take an extended period of time, do it systematically. Break the thing up into manageable chunks and consistently work on the chunks over time, consistently being the key word. Plan things out ahead of time. Structure. Order. And do it intelligently and efficiently.

Sixth — more of an encouragement really, the more you repeat the said behavior, the more self-respect you gain, and the more self-respect you gain, the easier it becomes the next time. Eventually it will develop into a habit, which you won’t even have to think about. It may seem to get harder the longer you do it, but if you do it consistently for over a month then I guarantee it will get easier.

So, acedia.

I think there is something logical in that idleness breeds idleness, and action, action. I can’t remember if I ever read The Moral Animal to the end, but I did find the evolutionary psychology approach very interesting.

Go back to our “cave-dwelling” ancestors. If there is nothing you need to do to keep yourself safe and fed, then maybe it’s good not to have an urge to go out there and hunt and get eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger. On the other hand, if you are busy keeping yourself alive, then maybe you want to keep that drive going. This is just an intuition of mine, an explanation I like, and I’m aware it’s a bit simplistic.

So, now that I’ve written this article, off to my next activity 🙂

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La chance d’être là [fr]

On ne parle pas de ça d’habitude, mais là, on parle de ceux partis trop tôt, des accidents, des maladies qui foudroient. On parle de l’absence de sens de tout ça. De la fragilité de la vie face au coup du sort, ou du hasard, au fait d’être là ou maintenant ou de faire ça ou pas. La bactérie qui passe, l’avalanche, la bôme, le ski qui se détache. La cellule maligne qui prend le dessus.

Je ne crois pas qu’il y ait du sens dans tout ça au-delà de celui qu’on veut bien y mettre. Je ne crois pas qu’il y a une intention derrière le monde au-delà de celle des êtres qui le peuplent. Les hommes, les animaux, et encore.

Il y a des années, pendant mes études, j’étais arrivée à la conclusion que l’Homme est une machine à produire du sens. Nous faisons ça: nous mettons du sens dans ce qui nous arrive, dans ce que nous faisons, dans ce qui se passe.

Mais il n’y a pas de sens “dans le monde”. Pas de transcendance qui tire les ficelles, qui nous dit quand c’est l’heure.

Je crois au hasard. Je crois que le hasard et la chance jouent un grand rôle dans nos vies. Bien plus qu’il n’est confortable de penser. Et je l’assume. Je veux dire que j’assume que ce que je crois, mes conclusions sur le monde, c’est inconfortable. Et franchement, il y a bien des moments où j’aimerais bien croire en des choses plus confortables. Mais je ne peux pas. Et je ne veux pas.

Et donc je refuse de penser que quand on meurt avant l’heure, c’est parce que c’était notre heure. Je crois au contraire au triste et bête concours de circonstances, à la malchance, à la faute de personne, souvent.

Et de plus en plus, je me dis que ceux d’entre nous qui sommes encore vivants, c’est que jusqu’ici, on a eu de la chance. Beaucoup de chance.

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Some Podcasts to Listen to [en]

[fr] Des podcasts à écouter.

Here are some episodes I recommend you listen to. There’s more to say, about these, other stuff, and life in general, but it’ll have to do for today.

By the way: if you use the Apple Podcasts app, like me, you probably also cursed the dreadful last update. Amongst other things, there’s no way to see what episodes are in my “play next” queue. I had high hopes when I saw there was a “recently played” list, but at least for me, it’s polluted by dozens of episodes supposedly played “yesterday”, at the top of the list. Thankfully, further down, there are the latest podcasts I’ve actually listened to. Which is something I’ve always wanted to be able to see.

So, here we go. A first batch on sexism and harassment at the workplace (you didn’t think I’d spare you that, did you?). Listen, particularly if you’re a man. Or if you think all this #metoo stuff is way overblown.

Then, about animal rights activists’ craziness. Remember the photographer sued for the “monkey selfie”? Well, listen to all the work he put in before thinking he’s benefitting from “animal labour”. (I’m leaving aside the discussion on the deeply flawed thinking – from a philosophical point of view – that underpins a lot of the antispeciesism animal rights ideology. Francophones might enjoy this piece by lawyer Maître Eolas on animals as subject vs. object of the law.)

99% Invisible is a podcast I didn’t think I’d like. But I do. It’s fascinating. Here’s a selection of stuff I’ve recently listened to, and that you should listen to too:

If you haven’t heard it yet and are up for a serial, you shouldn’t miss S-Town. And one of my favorite podcasts these days is Heavyweight — true stories, true people, going back to where things went wrong and trying to untangle things. Beautiful storytelling.

Happy listening!

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On Anger, Harassment, Sadness, Forgiveness, and Outrage [en]

[fr] C'est tellement plus compliqué que "les hommes bien, les porcs sexistes". C'est tellement facile de se donner sans retenue à la colère qui rejette en bloc, de juger les autres sur le pire acte qu'ils ont commis, aveugles au fait qu'on vient de passer de l'autre côté du miroir.

My heart sank when I read Quinn’s post. I’ve known, since the outing of a string of VCs, that soon it would be not just people who were one step away, or direct connections I had scant contact with, but also people I knew and liked.

Francine expresses what I feel the best. I’m not as close to the Scoble family as she is, of course. But I like Robert. We used to bump into each other at conferences. I’ve followed his struggles these last years from afar. I’ve met Maryam a couple of times.

The second part of Quinn’s post really resonates with me. About restorative justice. About not demonising people who do bad things. I’ve written about this, obliquely. Sadly, the pile-on in online media is going to be about “yet another tech pundit sexually harassing women”.

So, here are a few thoughts.

Sexism and harassment need to be fought

Does anybody have a doubt about this? The question is how. I see three levels: culture, institutions, people. You cannot deal with one without dealing with the others.

  • Culture is the way we raise children. Movies. Billboards. What is “socially acceptable”.
  • Institutions are laws, processes, systems that promote gender inequality.
  • People are humans who make choices and behave in certain ways.

Using a broad brush here. But these are the three levels at which I see we can act.

Everybody does bad things

People are fallible. People are broken. People can be trapped in behaviours they fail to change. Being a victim sucks. Being an abuser sucks too. I’m not putting them on the same level: but there is a difference to be made between a psychopath and somebody who hurts others as a way to survive, or because they don’t know any better. (And… it isn’t even that clear-cut for psychopaths.)

Systematic lynching of all Bad People (TM) (otherwise known as Good People who do Bad Things) will get us nowhere. Yelling at people who are trying to mend their ways, imperfectly, telling them apologies are not enough when apologies are already a hugely difficult step, will get us nowhere.

I get the anger. I cannot stand behind the outrage. It’s easy to be angry and club people to death. One thing to learn, when learning about one’s anger, is that anger is often anger that cuts people out. It’s much harder to be angry and continue caring. And stick around. When anger means outright rejection, then that is all the more reason to stay silent and hidden.

We are judging people based on the worst thing they have done. Now think of the worst thing you have done. Does it define you?

(I know I’m going to be lynched here for “defending the perpetrator”. So be it.)

People’s actions have context

We don’t exist in a vacuum. Powerful men who harass women do it because the institutions and culture enable it. It doesn’t make them blameless, far from it. But just as we women have to fight against a system that puts us in a place we don’t like, so do men. And that place might very well be the place of power and abuse.

I think we are well aware of the systemic issue here. I would like to question how much going after individuals really solves the systemic issue. It’s a real question.

Nobody is a harasser 

This is something that became very clear to me I was harassed a few years ago (not sexually, counting my blessings, but it was bad enough). The main perpetrator in my story did not see his behaviour as abusive, or see himself as harassing me. He saw himself as the victim. He was an ally of women. He was defending himself against me.

Nobody is ever the Bad Guy, in their eyes.

Coming to terms with the fact one is an abuser requires a 180 flip in how one sees oneself. It is no easy feat. Just as you can’t convince an anti-vaxxer that vaccines are safe by pounding your fist on the table and telling them to open their eyes and look at the science, which will only entrench them more in their beliefs, I don’t think publicly shaming people is the final answer to getting them to recognise their bad behaviour.

This should also be a cautionary tale to us when we feel justified in our anger and outrage. Anger is useful. I often encourage people to use their anger when something bad is being done to them. Anger is what will help you slap in the face the guy who put his hand on your butt. Anger is what will give you power to stand up, walk to HR and put your fist on the table to say “this is not OK and has to stop”.

But when anger leads to outrage over situations you are not part of, when you pile on Justine Sacco because she deserves it or on a “sexist pig” because he deserves to see his life destroyed, on which side of the harassment divide are you?

Trauma doesn’t have to destroy you

The fact I feel like I have to keep on saying “this is not what I’m saying” is testimony to how trigger-ready many are on these topics. But I’ll still say it: this is not me telling victims to “just get over it already”.

But.

Trauma, in a way, is a part of life. It sucks all the more when it was wilfully inflicted upon you by another person. But it doesn’t have to destroy you. Or define you.

I have thankfully never been raped. Of course, #metoo, I’ve had to swat away unwelcome hands or back off from grinding groins (wonder why I don’t like the dancefloor? look no further). I’ve stayed speechless in the face of comments on my sex life from colleagues or “friends” – though lately, each time less speechless, as I’ve decided to strive towards a zero-tolerance policy for casual everyday sexism around me. Easier said than done, but getting there.

My mother died when I was 10. This trauma was not anybody’s fault, granted. It’s had an impact on my life. Contributed to making me who I am. More or less broken like everyone, more or less functional despite it.

Many things that happen to us in life shouldn’t happen. We must work towards preventing those we can – and lecherous men in positions of power are definitely on that list. But we must work also on not letting trauma take over our lives and reduce us to a heap of fuming outrage.

Nothing is unforgivable

I talked about apologies earlier. Forgiveness is the other side of the coin. My title is provocative: you’re all thinking of things are unforgivable.

Remember when Snape kills Dumbledore? He uses an unforgivable curse. And it is an unforgivable curse. But is what he did unforgivable?

I would like to make a distinction between something being unforgivable and something one cannot forgive.

There are things people have done to me that I cannot forgive. I have broken (a handful) of friendships because of such situations. But these are not unforgivable actions per se. They are actions that I am unable to forgive.

Apologies are important. Because an important ingredient enabling forgiveness is the recognition by the perpetrator of the harm done. Apologies may be hollow, or insufficient. But they are necessary.

I am not saying we have to forgive everything. And we are not all Hector Black. But our world needs more compassion and forgiveness, and less outrage. When I say we need compassion and forgiveness, I’m not saying we should leave anger aside. Anger is there. But we can choose how to use it.

What else?

There is more to say, and I will certainly say more. My feeling right now is largely of sadness. Sad for my friend and his family, sad for the hurt he caused, sad for all the broken people we are, sad for the broken system we are caught in, sad for the deafening outrage, drowning out the much more difficult conversations that need to be had.

If you’re going to comment: please leave your outrage at the door.

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Piège de l’empathie [fr]

Je l’ai fait de nouveau. Je voulais poster quelque chose ici, et pour faire bien, vous savez, écrire un peu sérieusement, j’ai commencé à réfléchir, je me suis perdue dans un terrier de lapin, et je n’ai pas écrit l’article, parce que mes idées ne me satisfaisaient pas.

A ma décharge, j’ai envoyé une newsletter de liens, ce que je n’avais pas fait depuis longtemps.

C’est ceci dont je voulais vous parler:

Ça parle d’empathie, de compassion, et c’est l que je me suis perdue, car ces mots sont utilisés pour dire tout et son contraire (si si quasi) par plein de personnes différentes. La compassion de l’un est l’empathie de l’autre, et vice-versa. Bref.

Vous savez, il y a quelque temps, je parlais des gens aimant les animaux qui se permettaient d’être détestable et hyper jugeants avec les humains. Et en écoutant le début de cette conférence, je crois que j’ai trouvé la clé pour comprendre ce qui se passe.

L’empathie, au sens de “sentir/souffrir AVEC”, ne nous rend pas meilleurs. Quand on souffre, parce qu’on s’identifie à la souffrance de l’autre (ce qui correspond assez bien à ce profil “d’ami des animaux” vindicatif qui me dépasse), on réagit en être qui souffre. On attaque, on juge, on blesse, on veut faire mal.

La compassion, au contraire, implique une certaine distance. Comprendre, être à l’écoute, mais sans voir s’effondrer la frontière entre soi-même et l’autre.

L’excès d’empathie (dans ce sens, hein), nous associe à ceux qui nous ressemblent au détriment de ceux qui nous sont plus distants. C’est comme ça qu’on se retrouve à tuer des médecins pratiquant les avortements aux Etats-Unis, à justifier la haine de l’autre par le fait qu’il y a “d’abord une victime”. La perspective et la vision grand angle sont absentes. Une politique basée sur l’empathie “à vif” est catastrophique.

Même s’il s’agit “juste” de prendre soin des animaux, il faut réussir à trouver cette posture qui reconnaît la souffrance mais ne se laisse pas envahir par elle au point de ne plus voir que la victime, et de faire sienne sa détresse.

Un autre exemple très pertinent que donne le chercheur est celui du thérapeute. Si je vais chez mon thérapeute et que je suis angoissée, déprimée, en souffrance, je ne veux surtout pas que celui-ci, par empathie, sente en lui mon angoisse, ma dépression, ma souffrance. Il serait bien en peine de faire ainsi son travail. Au contraire, j’ai besoin de sa part d’écoute, de compassion, de compréhension, et de sérénité pour qu’il puisse m’accompagner.

Bref, je vous invite à écouter cette vidéo, au moins les dix premières minutes, si l’anglais n’est pas votre zone de confort.

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Fertilité féminine: un enfant à 40 ans? [fr]

[en] Numbers and facts about female fertility. Do you know what the success rate of an IVF is at age 40? and 42? Many links at the bottom of the article are in English.

Je suis, encore et encore (depuis quelques année) sidérée de voir à quel point les idées ambiantes sur la fertilité féminine sont à côté de la plaque. Régulièrement, j’entends parler de femmes de 40 ans (ou plus) qui pensent qu’elles ont toutes les chances de concevoir, si elles le veulent assez.

Vous êtes maintenant en train de penser à toutes les femmes que vous connaissez et qui sont devenues mères (ou qui ont enfanté à nouveau) autour de 40 ans. Ça arrive tout le temps, me direz-vous!

J’espère, chère lectrice (cher lecteur aussi) que tu es familier/familière avec les mécanismes du biais du survivant et du biais de confirmation. Le premier nous rappelle qu’on entend parler des survivants et de ceux qui ont réussi, et beaucoup moins de ceux qui ont tout tenté et échoué. Vous savez donc bien qui sont les femmes de votre entourage ayant réussi à enfanter autour de 40 ans. Vous ignorez peut-être toutes celles qui ont essayé et échoué, parce qu’on ne parle pas trop de ça, sauf avec les intimes. Ça nous fait donc surestimer les taux de réussite. Le biais de confirmation, lui, nous rappelle qu’on remarque et retient les choses qui viennent confirmer ce qu’on croit. Si on croit qu’avoir un enfant à 40 ans est facile, on aura dans sa tête une liste de toutes les histoires qui viennent confirmer cette croyance, et on aura tendance à ignorer et ne pas retenir celles qui pourraient l’infirmer.

Ce qui n’aide pas non plus, c’est la médiatisation extrême des célébrités qui font des enfants “tard”. Genre Janet Jackson, récemment. On retient “Janet Jackson enceinte à 50 ans” et on se dit “ah ben 40, j’ai encore tout le temps!” Mais ce qu’on ne sait pas, c’est:

  • combien de temps elle a essayé
  • combien elle a dépensé
  • si elle a porté l’enfant (les photos ne prouvent pas grand-chose)
  • et surtout, si c’était ses ovules du jour, ou si elle a fait appel à un don d’ovules ou si elle avait congelé les siens quand elle était plus jeune.

Ce dernier point est important, car l’âge de l’ovule est un facteur déterminant dans les chances de succès d’une grossesse, bien plus que l’âge de l’utérus dans lequel l’enfant se développe.

Quelques chiffres pour remettre l’église au milieu du village:

  • la fertilité féminine se casse la figure grave vers les 37 ans
  • 1 femme sur 5 née dans les années 60, et 1 sur 4 née dans les années 70, arriveront à 45 ans sans avoir d’enfant – jusqu’à 80% d’entre elles “pas par choix”
  • les chances de succès (naissance) d’une FIV à l’age de 40 ans tournent autour de 10% (et ça se casse la gueule grave après ça)
  • les chances de concevoir lors d’un rapport sexuel durant la période fertile, quand on est jeune, sont de 15-20% max (oui, vous avez bien lu)
  • FIV avant l’âge de 30 ans? au max 40% de chances de succès
  • les chances de succès d’une FIV ne baissent pas avec l’âge si l’ovule utilisé est jeune
  • si vous êtes une femme et que vous voulez des enfants et que vous attendez 35 ans “pour vous y mettre”, vous avez de fortes chances de ne pas réussir à en avoir (donc sérieusement, si vous avez 40 ans ou proche, passez sans attendre à la FIV si c’est important pour vous d’être mère… 10% de chances c’est déjà mieux que ce que vous allez avoir autrement)

Oui oui, je vous entends: vous connaissez tous des cas qui “contredisent” ces chiffres. Si vous pensez ainsi, c’est que vous ne comprenez pas ce qu’est une probabilité. Un événement peut avoir une probabilité de 1 sur 500 d’arriver, et arriver la première fois. Ou la dernière. On espère tous être “le miracle”, mais être un peu réaliste quant à ses chances permet de s’investir de façon mesurée, et peut-être de mieux supporter la dure réalité de l’échec quand il arrive. Donc quand je dis qu’une FIV à 40 ans a 1 chance sur 10 de fonctionner, et que vous me répondez “mais je connais Josette qui est tombée enceinte après une FIV à 42 ans du premier coup”, ce n’est pas une contradiction des statistiques. C’est juste que Josette a eu beaucoup de chance. Elle est “l’anomalie”, ou plutôt, “le miracle”.

Bon à savoir, pour la Suisse:

  • le don d’ovules est interdit (info critique quand on sait que l’âge de l’ovule influe lourdement sur les chances de succès)
  • le don de sperme n’est pas ouvert aux couples homosexuels, non mariés, ou aux femmes seules (du coup, exit FIV aussi)
  • la congélation d’ovules (qui n’est pas la panacée) n’est possible que jusqu’à 35 ans et pour une durée de 5 ans (je n’arrive plus à retrouver la source pour ça)
  • pas juste pour la Suisse, mais tout ça coûte cher! Entre 5000 et plus de 10000.- pour une FIV à Lausanne par exemple, et c’est pas remboursé…

 

Je vous laisse avec quelques sources pour creuser, vérifier, vous informer… Et faites passer ces infos autour de vous afin de lutter contre les idées reçues (fausses) concernant la procréation et la fertilité féminine!

Ne confondez pas les miracles avec la norme.

 

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Animaux, humains [fr]

Ce n’est un secret pour personne que j’aime les animaux. Bon, j’aime les gens aussi. J’aime comprendre comment on fonctionne, “on les humains”, mais aussi “on les êtres du monde”.  J’aime comprendre comment tourne le monde, de façon générale. Une quête qui ne risque pas de s’épuiser, pour nourrir mon besoin insatiable de stimulation intellectuelle.

Alors, sur Facebook, je suis dans pas mal de groupes “animaux”. De chats surtout, vu que je suis une mamy à chats. Il y a celui que j’ai l’honneur de co-administrer, celui du refuge où j’avais adopté Tounsi, et une poignée d’autres.

Laissez-moi vous dire que la plupart des groupes “animaux” sont terribles. Je ne compte plus le nombre de ceux que j’ai quittés. Parmi d’autres choses qui m’égratignent, je suis effarée de voir avec quelle violence certaines personnes (malheureusement pas rares) “amies des animaux” se saisissent du moindre prétexte pour accuser les êtres humains de tous les maux.

S’il arrive quoi que ce soit à un animal, ou même si on le soupçonne, il y a systématiquement derrière un être humain malveillant ou irresponsable, sur lequel on ne perd pas de temps à déverser tout son fiel, invitant les autres au lynchage public. Un chat se promène dehors et semble avoir faim? C’est sans aucun doute que ses maîtres l’ont lâchement mis dehors et abandonné. (Si vous avez des chats qui sortent, vous saisirez tout de suite à quel point ce raisonnement est… contraire à la nature féline.)

Pour ces personnes, les erreurs n’existent pas. Les accidents “la faute à pas de chance” non plus. Il y a toujours un coupable. On connaît ce mécanisme, qui se retrouve un peu partout: un mal est toujours “la faute à quelqu’un”. C’est ce mécanisme qui est d’ailleurs à la racine des excès sécuritaires du monde d’aujourd’hui. Ça ne vous étonnera pas que je vous dise que ma vision du monde ne va pas du tout dans ce sens.

Parfois, cette compassion poussée à l’extrême pour les animaux ne semble servir que de prétexte pour la haine de l’humain. Et je finis par me poser la question: ces personnes accusent-elles sans cesse les humains car elles aiment les animaux, ou bien aiment-elles les animaux car ceux-ci leur donnent en toute bonne conscience une raison pour vomir sur les humains?

On est des animaux, après tout. Les humains sont nos amis, il faut les aimer aussi… (Je sais, Les Inconnus, ça date!)

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Laisser tourner ma tête [fr]

Ces derniers mois, j’ai réalisé que… (J’ai toujours l’impression que c’est ces derniers mois. Mais ça vient sournoisement. Ça doit mettre des années. Bref.)

J’ai besoin de pouvoir laisser ma tête tourner à vide. Au ralenti. Au point mort. En roues libres. Être constamment soit en train de lire, de discuter, ou d’écouter des podcasts, ça ne laisse pas de temps à ma tête pour juste divaguer. J’ai pris conscience de ça de façon aiguë dans les semaines avant de partir en Inde.

Alors en Inde, j’ai fait un gros effort de déconnexion. Lecture de mon livre, oui. Facebook: très minimal. Trier des photos, oui. Podcast: lors des insomnies du décalage horaire. Ne rien faire. Laisser mes pensées se balader.

Ces jours, alors qu’il se passe plein de trucs dont je vous parlerai plus tard, je sens fortement ce besoin. J’ai arrêté d’écouter des podcasts en conduisant, en faisant la vaisselle, en mangeant. A plus forte raison vu que je ne peux pas faire de sport (repos complet pour ma hanche, toujours), à peu près la seule activité que j’avais “sans input ni cogitations intellectuelles”.

Ma tête a besoin de bande passante, elle aussi.

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Choice [en]

Earlier today, I was listening to Malcolm Gladwell on the TED Radio Hour podcast. He was talking about choice architecture. In short, how the way we frame the available choices influences decisions (think: opt-in or opt-out, for organ donors for example). James Clear has made me think about this a lot, under the title of “environment design”.

A podcast or two later I’m listening to Fresh Air, about Bannon and Sessions vision for remaking America. Terry Gross and her guest are talking about Breitbart and the kind of coverage it puts forward, namely crimes committed by immigrants.

Do you see the link?

The media landscape we float in, the ideas we’re exposed to, the articles we read — they are the environment in which we make our decisions about what to believe. They are the choice architecture of our beliefs. They follow the path of least resistance. That is why things repeated often enough become truth. Choice architecture.

Note: don’t see a title? Normal, this is my first aside.

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Tounsi: Hope Is Easier Than Grief [en]

[fr]

Une réflexion sur l'espoir et le deuil. Souvent, l'espoir est ce à quoi l'on s'accroche par peur de souffrir. Il vaut mieux faire face à cette souffrance, mais garder de l'espoir dans nos actions. Par exemple, en acceptant qu'un chat malade risque de mourir, mais en faisant tout ce qui est possible pour le sauver. Ou qu'un chat disparu est peut-être mort, tout en étant actif dans nos recherches.

On n'aime pas que les gens soient en peine, on veut leur proposer un remède pour les en sortir. L'espoir semble pouvoir jouer ce rôle. Mais il vaut mieux peut-être simplement les accueillir dans leur peine.

This is what I was thinking, after dropping off Tounsi at the Tierspital, our national animal hospital and veterinary school, at 3am just before New Year’s Eve.

I have noticed that in the face of hardship and pain, many want to offer hope. But I think we need encouragement to grieve, rather than hope. Even though I am pessimistic by nature, I find it easy to hope. It’s something you can cling to to avoid the pain. Depending on the shape it takes, it can even be fodder for denial.

Grief, on the other hand, is hard. It takes courage to dive into the pain. You need to trust that it is the way out, or at least forward.

When I got the preliminary diagnosis for Tounsi, I knew it was very bad. I know there were high chances he was going to die. There was still hope, though. Sometimes it is possible to dissolve the clot, and depending on how far along the underlying heart condition is, the cat can go on to have a few more months or years with decent quality of life.

I could have refused to grieve and hang on to this hope with all my might. This is what people around me wanted me to do. Don’t be sad! Don’t consider him dead already! You have to hope!

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m not superstition. I don’t think that hoping or giving up hope per se has any incidence on an outcome. I don’t think telling your friends about a job or flat you’re hoping to get will jinx it. I do accept, however, that our internal state (hope or not) influences our actions, and can in this way have an impact on an outcome.

Understanding this, I did what I think is the most sane thing to do in this kind of situation: separate emotions from actions. Let me explain what I mean by that.

  • Emotions: there was a high chance Tounsi wasn’t going to make it. I knew it. So I grieved, already. Trying to suppress my grief and hold on to the meagre hope he would be OK would have made me extremely anxious. Often, it’s better to face the pain and deal with it than have to deal with the anxiety that comes out of trying desperately to avoid it because you’re scared.
    I cried so much in those two days Tounsi was in the hospital. I stopped on the motorway to cry. I cried at home, along with Quintus. I cried when I visited Tounsi, and when I got news that there was no real improvement. All this crying helped bring some acceptance to the very serious situation Tounsi was in.
  • Actions: there was a hope that Tounsi could beat the clot, with the help of the medications he was getting. This chance was not so small that it was not worth putting him through the discomfort he was in. So when it came to my actions and decisions about him, I bet on hope. I could have put him down immediately, and we discussed this with the vet. As his pain was under control, we decided it was worth it (and ethical) to give him a chance. To hope.
    And when the situation changed (another clot to the kidneys that sent him into kidney failure), I was more capable of accepting it, because I’d been processing my grief in parallel, and making the decision to end his suffering, although it ripped my heart out. I did not find myself in the situation I have seen some cat owners, where the decision to end the cat’s life is the obvious one, because there is no hope left, but they just can’t let go, because they are unprepared.

A parallel “cat situation” is when a cat is missing. Emotionally, it is important to process fears that something bad has happened to the cat. These fears may be rational or not, it doesn’t matter: they are there. They are the fears of pain and loss and grief, and the earlier one faces them, I think, the better off one is.

It doesn’t mean that one should consider one’s cat dead as soon as it doesn’t show up one evening. But if a missing cat puts one in an immediate panic, as it used to do to me, it might be worse facing the fact that pretty much whatever happens, we’re at some point going to have to deal with the cat’s death. I remember the time when I couldn’t even entertain this idea.

Cats are there so we can love them, and they die so we can grieve them.

When it comes to actions, however, one must hope that the cat is not dead: call the shelters, the vets, put up flyers, talk to neighbours, call, search, ask people to open garages and cellars. Even if the place one is emotionally is facing the possibility the cat is dead.

I think loving a pet can teach us a lot about grief and loss, if we’re willing to listen.

So, next time you see somebody who seems to have abandoned hope – maybe they don’t need to be encouraged to hope more, but supported in their grief, so that they can free their actions from the weight of fear.

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