Done in by the isms

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We are in the last throes of finishing our city house refurbishment and couldn’t wait any longer, so it’s just gone on the market despite the fact that the top landing hallway still needs to be painted, and the shed still needs a roof. I have yet to render part of the garden wall and paint the new shed so that the transformation is complete but it’s all come together rather well and I’m delighted with how it looks so far.

I’ve enjoyed ‘dressing’ the house with all my cushions, paintings, plants and throws and it looks like something out of an interior design magazine it’s so lovely. It would seem I’m good at this, and if the amount of viewings is anything to go by, other people like my taste too. We may even have an offer inside the first week of marketing it, which would throw us slightly as we haven’t prepped the other things that need selling if we are to pool our assets and put it all into our next home. And we haven’t found our next home yet, so there’s that too.

We have been house-hunting to try and work out what and where we will go next and Pembrokeshire is looking high up on the list. It would mean selling Pi Acres as well as our house, so it’s a big move and needed investigating properly. So we took a trip in our caravan and fell in love with the place.

Four out of the five houses with land that we looked at would have been great for us, but until we sell our house, we can’t make any offers on anything. There was one house set on 31 acres that we loved, but dismissed it as an option because of the amount of work required to tame it and make the house nice – it’s been left un-lived in and unloved for some years by the look of it and felt too much. However, since dismissing it, the place has kept popping back into my head and it won’t go away. We could re-wild it, plants hundreds of trees and set up a green campsite. We could create a nature reserve and animal sanctuary and sell off a handful of acres to like-minded people to join us in the venture. My mind has been whizzing with ideas like making the most of the Welsh One Planet Development for building eco-homes and how we could make a living off the land. It could be a really cool little vegan village set in a garden of Eden.

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Tuki loved all the beaches!

I posted a couple of pictures and appealed for other eco-warriors to join us on Facebook groups like ‘Diggers and Dreamers’ and ‘Alternative Living’ and couldn’t believe the rage from non-vegans. How dare I tell people what they can eat? People were so angry, they posted pictures of dead animals and wrote vitriolic rants in the comments feeds. Why does my being vegan and looking for other vegans make people so angry? It could well be classic cognitive dissonance at work. If you’re not sure what that is, let me give you my take on it. Let’s look at it in the context of veganism. Lots of people claim they love animals and yet eat meat. This is an odd concept, because you don’t slaughter and eat something you love. This contradiction that you can love one species and go out of your way to protect it, yet pay to murder another because it’s tasty are in complete conflict with each other. So to cope with this, non vegans follow a script that has been given to them. I certainly did before I went vegan and had a full set of justifications but I knew I was wrong really. In fact it was the feeling bad about my choices that precipitated the change. It’s good to feel bad sometimes. The culture from which you hail will set the script as to which animals you have been told are okay to slaughter and eat and which ones are supposed to be pets and don’t eat. This all works well for the the meat eater convincing themselves they are free to make their own choices without anyone judging them until they meet a vegan. cognitive dissThey may find themselves feeling uncomfortable because deep down, they know that the kindest choice they could make would be one where an animal wasn’t killed or exploited for their tastebuds.

In summary, being kind and good makes other people feel shit about their own choices that might not be as kind or good. The ego will do its best to protect that reasoning and not allow someone to make themselves feel bad. It is easier to be angry with the vegan and transfer all the negative and uncomfortable feelings onto the vegan than take a look at their own choices. I had to switch off comments on my Facebook posts as people were being so unkind, but I’m grateful that people are so willing to reveal their true nature as it sorts out straight away who the lovely people are.

The irony is that I don’t expect anyone to justify their choices to me, but as soon as it transpires I make my own choices based on kindness, people think I am being superior and will either get angry with me or try to excuse themselves by saying they’ve cut down on their meat or have gone dairy free now, or maybe they’ll tell me they only eat a bit of chicken occasionally. I don’t need to know this stuff – your conscience and the battles you have are your own! If I can be an inspiration and help people see how easy it is to switch to a plant based diet and make kinder choices for the animals and the planet then that’s great but I don’t set out to make anyone feel bad. I can’t ‘make’ anyone feel anything, and that how someone receives well intentioned commentary is down to them, not me. Obviously, practicing kindness and trying to deliver truth in a way that inspires change is preferable to destroying someone’s myth with some kind of patronising set of statistics that proves them wrong but no matter how good my intentions are, it will still rile the ones who are resisting enlightenment.

I have been working on creating a 12 week course on kindness and think it would work really well in a home group set up with a meal or as a pastoral course taught to tutor groups in schools. Rather than dictate what my idea of kindness is, it would raise ethical questions for all areas of life including relationships, friendships, neuro-diversity, bullying, animal welfare, veganism, planet and nature kindness and hopefully create some thought provoking material that would facilitate change within, because that’s what’s needed globally – a shift where we all consider the consequences of our actions and choose the ones that cause the least harm. Choose kindness!

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Many years ago, I trained a a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor but because I am too empathic to remain professionally distant and cope with other people’s pain, I never practiced it as a job. One of the things that we were taught as counsellors was that when people get angry and hurl accusations, it can be quite revealing to change the vocabulary from a projection to a confession about self. So for example, someone shouting ‘you’re an idiot’ may be them saying ‘I’m an idiot’  – a confession perhaps that they feel an idiot but would rather blame you for being an idiot than owning their own shit and admitting to a mistake. It’s classic transference, and although it doesn’t apply to everything, it’s worth considering as an insight into what the real issue is. If something riles someone, it is often because it hits a nerve, and it might be quite revealing to explore that than respond defensively to an accusation.

One of the houses we looked at in our search was in Chawleigh, Devon – a barn conversion set in about an acre of land. It wasn’t quite right for what we were looking for but the elderly couple that owned it were very interesting and the old boy, a chap called Terrence was very keen to show us all the work he’s done for his own charity in India. His office wall was covered in newspaper clippings of schools he’s opened, villages he’s supplied solar power to, orphanages he’s funded through his own building and entrepreneurial endeavours with property ventures here in the U.K. and all profits going to his projects India. He talked of doing God’s work and listening to the divine for direction and spoke about his Indian wife Rohini with affection. When I mentioned our more altruistic ventures, he insisted on giving me his email and offered us advice and guidance in our ventures. He invited us to dinner, and I genuinely thought it would be lovely to connect with other people who also do good deeds.  However, I wonder now if the our budding friendship with these people changed course when we told them we were vegan. I always knew it would be a slightly awkward dinner because not only is veganism often an issue, but so too is my autism. We didn’t tackle feminism but I suspect that would have been an ism too far, as it all went horribly wrong with just two isms coming into play and it ended with him demanding we leave his house immediately. It’s not the first time someone was done in by my isms, but this was the first time Paul had seen how volatile it can make people. Getting trolled online is not anywhere near as dramatic as someone kicking you out their house and calling you killers! I think the mixture of my autism (and information retention for my special interests coupled with a heightened sense of justice and the need to correct wrongs) and my veganism was too much for Terrence.

The dinner started well, if a little tricky for me as we all politely chit chatted and I got accustomed to making eye contact with both Terrence and Rohini. It’s always a challenge for me, but I’m more comfortable asking elderly people to tell me about their lives than trying to make conversation with my peers. There’s been a void in my life for guidance from someone I respect and I went to dinner hoping to come away inspired and maybe feeling honoured to have been in their company for a couple of hours. Instead I left feeling utterly disappointed. Flabbergasted at first, then disappointed. So, where did it go wrong? It was apparent from the start that Terrence liked to talk about his adventures and projects and we were a willing audience. He’s done many amazing things. We asked him how it came to be that he was able to do everything he had done. I wanted to know what his motivation was in the beginning – was he certain of what he was meant to do and and where did he get the cash to kick start it all? We heard his magic beans story of good fortune and bad and it was really quite something. Rohini had made an Southern Indian dahl with rice and poppodoms. We sat in a garden room overlooking their gorgeous leafy green garden with huge trees and shrubs – it had a very colonial feel, almost like we were actually in India. Terrence sat in a chair I suspect was his usual seat from where he purveyed the world with his hands clasped in a contemplative playful stance like a jolly king. I told him about the course I am working on to promote kindness as a way of life, but he was skeptical. He didn’t think that kindness could be taught so I tried to explain that the course was more about raising questions that encourage people to make kinder choices in their lives rather than dictate how they should behave. He was quick to play devil’s advocate. There were a few awkward moments like when he referred to Rohini as being his coloured wife, and Paul and I exchanged glances. But there were also endearing moments of them being very cute together and clearly very loving but at the demise of the evening, they were quick to clasp their hands together in what looked a little like delight at having upset us and claimed that our distress was a sign of their victory over us. What was their victory? Well, let me tell you.

The topic of veganism finally came up as we were finishing the last bits of dahl and rice on our plates and praising Rohini for her cooking (although Paul didn’t like it and didn’t eat much). Terrence had a bizarre way of saying veganism, pronouncing it vayganism which disarmed me slightly as I had to swallow the urge to correct him. But I remained polite and nodded and listened while he said that it was all a fad. I asked him what his thoughts were on climate change and he said that too was a fad, and that when he was a young man, his life expectancy was 25 because of predictions of the hydrogen bomb being used. He asked Paul how long he had been vegan, and when he answered about two years he exclaimed: “Ha!” and said “Try being something for your whole life!”

Terrence then went on to talk about deforestation and that it needed to stop, but just as I was about to delight that we agreed on something, he then blamed the deforestation on the need for soy bean crops for vegetarians. Perhaps he didn’t take kindly to my telling him that approximately 70% of soy bean production is for animal feed to produce meat and if we all stopped eating meat, the need for soy bean production would drop dramatically. “Oh I don’t take any notice of statistics.’ he said. I looked at Paul and our glances confirmed it would be pointless trying to challenge him on this, so I steered the conversation in a different direction that was lighter and less emotive. Looking back over the whole event now, I think this is the point where it went from cheekily challenging to dark. He gave a bizarre speech about how it’s all very well being vegan but if you don’t look within and self reflect you will be cruel to people. You should listen to the divine and reflect and not be cruel to people, he said.  I was about to ask where cruelty to animals came in that but instead I just said ‘Absolutely’ and agreed with him. It should have been a softening moment as our eyes met, but I think now that despite what was being said, he was offended by me. Offended that I agreed with him as well perhaps? I felt his anger, and could see his hatred towards me. It’s almost as if he revealed a lost darkness to me in that look and he knew I saw it. It was a look that let me know whatever I said, he now considered me his adversary. I’ve seen that look in movies so I know that one. I get others confused but there was definite clarity in our opposition.

I hoped the subject would change after that, as it had all turned quite dark for a moment, but Terrence wanted us to know that even though he ate meat, it’s okay because he is a true vaygan. When I enquired as to why he thought that, he said it was because when he was a young man, a Buddhist/Hindu monk tested him. The test was a set of questions and how you answered them revealed your true nature. As a result of this test, Terrence had been told he was a true vaygan you see. Well of course, I wanted to know the questions, so he explained that you have to imagine you are in a desert with nothing there. No food. No water. A man brings you a bowl of water and a live rabbit. If you don’t eat the rabbit you will starve to death. Would you kill and eat the rabbit? Another scenario was a bowl of water and a dead rabbit. ‘What would you, as vegans do in either of those situations?’ he wanted to know. I was dying to ask where the man who brought the rabbit and the water was from and why couldn’t you just go home with him and not starve but I decided to just check there was no other option – it was either eat the rabbit or die, which he confirmed so I said yes, in that case I would kill and eat the rabbit. But only if my survival depended upon it.  Paul agreed he too would eat the rabbit if his survival depended upon it. “Killers!” Terrence exclaimed and pointed rather aggressively at Paul “And hypocrites! Call yourself vaygans? You’re killers!” This, ladies and gentlemen is classic transference because cognitive dissonance would not allow him to be anything other than the good guy who has dedicated his life to charitable works.

I was suprisingly calm despite my racing heart thudding so hard in my chest I thought he might see it, but I asked him how he himself had answered those questions. In scenario one, he told us he had said he would die rather than kill the rabbit and in scenario two he would eat the dead rabbit because it had been killed for him. That was why he was a true vaygan. But you! he said and pointed again, you’re killers! vegan1I think we were both utterly flabbergasted by the ludicrousness of being vegans invited to dinner only to be told we are killers. By a meat eater as well! I think our exasperated responses at that stage were interpreted by the pair of them as some form of weakness and that an emotional wobble in our voices somehow invalidated the point we tried making which was that we aren’t in a desert and we do have a choice and we choose kindness which means no animal has to die for our meals. He then accused me of being all superior and said “who do you think you are? I told him it’s precisely because I do not feel superior to any other creature or person that I am vegan. This possibly angered him more, but it was at this point Rohini seemed rather delighted at Paul’s distress. “Look darling!’ she exclaimed, clapping her hands together “You really got to them. They don’t know what to say to that!” and implied it suggested our guilt at being caught out as killers. “They don’t like to hear the truth do they?” she said. Paul’s eyes widened and he spoke so passionately, I wonder if Terrence felt intimidated. “You’re right, I was a killer” Paul said. “When I think about the amount of bacon I ate. The amount of animals that had to die for my tastebuds, I’m deeply ashamed. But I have a choice now and I choose not to allow animals to die for my meals. We have that choice. You have that choice” he said. Terrence shook his head and explained once more that he wasn’t a killer as the animals he ate were already dead. Paul tried to tell him that he was paying for them to be killed and that’s the same thing and they all started talking over each other. I interjected. “Tell me something” I said. I said it again twice more to get their attention and had to insist I had a really good question for everyone to get them to pipe down and listen. I took a deep breath. I have a tendency to talk too fast and too loud when I am upset so I tried to be calm.  I’m very sensitive to tone of voice and can’t bear the raised voices of an argument, so I tried to bring it down a notch or two, but whether I appeared calm to them or not I don’t know. Paul said I sounded calm and he knows my manic screech when I get too excited about making a point. So, my question was this: Imagine you are a big Mafia boss. You have never killed anyone yourself and consider your hands clean of any killing. However, you have henchmen who kill whoever you ask them to kill. Does this also make you a killer because you ordered the killing? Terrence tried not to answer because he could see where I was going with it, but Rohini nodded and said it did make the Mafia boss a killer. “A killer by association’ she said. “Well then” I said “If you pay for your meat, you’ve paid for an animal to be killed for your dinner and you are just as much a killer. This was too much for Terrence. I believe he was disgusted that we should call him a killer and he said as much, at which point Paul reminded him that he had just called us killers. “I most certainly did not!” he said. We both looked at him and told him that he did. For a moment I thought that would be it. He went quiet and looked at he floor and I thought perhaps he was about to apologise and say he got it. “Leave my house. Now” he said instead, raising his arms but kept his eyes still staring at the floor. At first we thought perhaps he was joking, but within a couple of seconds, Paul looked at me with realisation that he wasn’t and so we gathered up our things as hurriedly as we could to leave. As I put my belongings back in my basket (I’d brought them my homemade flapjacks and scooped them back into the basket without even thinking about what I was doing I was so flustered. I wish I’d left the flapjacks now, but hey ho) I said I was sorry things had taken this turn and I wasn’t quite sure what why it had gone like this. “Blame him!” shouted Terrence and pointed at Paul who guffawed, clearly incredulous and confused as to what he’d done. I looked Terrence squarely in the eyes. “Do you think you are all knowing and so wise you never need question yourself?” I asked but didn’t really give him time to answer. My voice had dropped an octave by then and I could hear my teacher tone coming out. I took a breath and reminded myself that no matter how cross I felt, I had a duty to be kind. “I really want you to go over all the things that were said tonight” I said, growing aware that he would probably find the statement deeply patronising, so again, I consciously softened my tone “and think about all of it and try to work out what went wrong, because I know I will. I will go over and over it. I looked at Rohini and did Namaste hands and swept out with what felt like it could have passed as a dignified exit, I don’t know.vegan2

I wish I was more like Earthling Ed who manages to make people feel good about all the good stuff they already do whilst also challenging them to go even further and be vegan. He appeals to their good nature and implores them to see it differently but he does it with questions. I think I achieved a little of that but as we drove off, shaking our heads and wondering what the hell just happened, I couldn’t help cringing and wondering how I could have handled it better. I find it really hard not to just prove someone is stupid with patronising tones and clever tag-lines that punish them for their stupidity. I want kindness to be my main motivation and not just a desire to correct someone who isn’t seeing it straight – so I know I could have done better.

Paul and I spent most of today and all of last night after we left discussing what happened with Terrence and Rohini. I think my expectations were too high, and I learned the hard way (with an old acquaintance who set up an art therapy charity yet was deeply controlling in a rather sinister way in her personal life) that just because someone does good deeds, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily a good person. It’s not as simple as who the good guy is and who the baddie is. I wish it was! Good people do bad things sometimes and bad people do good things because it feeds their ego to get praise and admiration for being so good. I know the feeling well because I am autistic and I used to love being recognised for being a good girl at school, but there’s a danger that  addiction to the feel good factor could become the motivation. I wonder if Terrence felt threatened by our ‘goodness’ because his philanthropic ventures comes from a darker place? I hope not! I would like to think he has all good intentions, but the more I have thought about it – putting together evidence like the pieces of a jigsaw, I think Terrence and Rohini have lost their way, but as they would never thank me for saying so, it might be best if I say nothing. Perhaps we planted seeds? Neither of us said anything nasty, or swore or raised our voices so maybe it’s best left there where they were the ones who behaved badly and not us.

I think what I’ve found most disconcerting is my confusion that someone can dedicate their life to good causes yet end up being such a dick. I can’t help wondering was he always like that? It’s not until I come away from situations like that and unpick what was said and go over it all do I realise all the other things that were said were pretty awful. It’s as though I had switched my danger radar off in my eagerness to think the best of them and didn’t see the other clear signposts that pointed towards a couple who weren’t very kind on a personal level. I told them I was selling my business to my manageress and needed to set up a payment plan for her as she had no equity to buy it in a lump sum but he told me I was mad to part with it if it could continue to give me an income, possibly for the rest of my life. I tried to explain that I’d have happily given my business to my manageress for nothing if I didn’t need the money but it seemed an alien concept to him. He adamantly argued why I shouldn’t sell it and in the end I had to tell him that this is what I do – start a business, make it successful, get bored and go onto a new venture. I don’t care about the money – if things go according to plan, Paul and I will have enough to pay for our forever home and create the life we want working with nature. We don’t need or want much because we stopped believing in the capitalist bullsh*t that consumerism is the path to happiness.

I explained I was autistic and Terrence said he knew very little about autism, so I started to briefly explain what it was, and how it manifests very differently in girls than boys. Ironically, I was just talking about my hyperlexia when he interrupted me to turn and ask Paul what he did for work. Paul ran through a list of things he’s done and talked of how we are now just finishing off a refurbishment when Terrence told him maybe he should get off his lazy arse and get a job! Perhaps we thought he was jesting a little so we didn’t rise to it, but in hindsight, I’m now thinking that’s pretty rude and presumptuous. Paul’s a grafter, just like me and we barely stop with all the things we are doing. I could see Paul was a bit offended and at one point when we were left alone in the room (well before the real drama kicked off), Paul leaned forward and whispered that he didn’t like him. I could see that Terrence didn’t warm to Paul either and barely addressed him the whole time except to grill him or point a finger at him to call him a killer and a hypocrite.

I’ve been trying to work out what the lessons are for me and resist the temptation to ping off an email to Terrence to show him the error of his ways. Instead I have asked myself what are the errors of my ways? How should I have handled it? There was one point over dinner when I said I wanted to write ( I even suggested it might even be my calling but that made Terrence visibly cross and he shook his head and tutted) and he said how selfish it was to pursue creative things and even asked me who I thought I was that I should afford myself the luxury of writing or painting? creativityI wonder now if this is the reason he has lost his way? Is he denying himself the chance to express his inner being because he thinks it a luxury? It makes me want to write to him and tell him he’s wrong and that it’s through being creative that you find God (or Chi, or love or inspiration, or joy or whatever you wish to call it). That it expresses your soul and is essential to well being and not just a luxury. It shows you who you are.

I’m sad that Terrence and Rohini turned out to be such disappointing elders; it’s highlighted my desire for guidance and for parental figures in my life, but sadly I think I have reached the age where so many of my elders are now losing their marbles and have grown too stubborn to see the truth. Like my stepfather and so may others who are reaching the end of their time, it might be just too difficult to look at yourself and realise you might have been a dick all your life. Perhaps the kindest thing to do would be to just let them be?

I didn’t offer the same exclusion from the harsh truth for Step-heavy up the road. (If you haven’t read any of my previous blogs, Stephanie had the flat above me in the last place I lived in and ripped up all her carpets and clomped around above my head for two years until I could bear it no longer and moved out). After moving out, I loaned my allocated parking space to a neighbour but Stephanie took against that and started a battle that resulted in me sending her an email that laid it out very clearly what she was responsible for. I read it a zillion times, slept on it, edited it over and over and finally sent it knowing it was harsh. Harsh but necessary. She didn’t reply but we as we walked up the hill this evening we noticed that a carpet company was parked outside and could be clearly seen measuring her rooms to get carpets. Perhaps my letters do work after all?

Author: Shelley

I once asked my ex father in law why he didn't like me. His answer? 'You're one of those arty farty types'.

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