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(bell, breath and occasional balloon sounds)
Me : Have you ever had the feeling that you were being observed?
Observer : I’m observing you.
Me: Who are you and what are you observing?
Observer: Ah, well, I’m a part of you and I’m observing the traps that you fall into.
Observer : Do you remember the Facing Human Wrongs course you took during the summer of 2022
Observer: The one about navigating paradoxes and complexities of social and global change and all those trappings along the way?
Me: Ya, I remember. Easier said than done, though.
Me: So. What are you observing?
Observer : Well, what can I say? I notice that you’ve fallen into a trap called ‘exit fixation’ which is where people feel a strong urge to walk out on an existing commitment. For example, when someone realises that the path they are on is full of paradoxes, contradictions, and complicities. Often their first response is to find an immediate exit in hopes of a more fulfilling and/or more innocent alternative or maybe even an ideal community with whom to continue this work.
Me: Like an escape?
Observer: Ya, something like that
Me: BTW where are those balloon sounds coming from?
Observer : Oh, that’s from your imagination
Me: Hum. It sounds like …
Observer: (laughter) It could be anything…
Me: OK. Anyway, what else do you see?
Observer: Well. I also see a trap called proselytizing which happens when people try to teach and convince others that a particular issue of interest should be the most important thing for everyone.
Me: Wait a second, I do that all the time as a climate activist and with my art and ecology podcast and…
Observer :(interrupting) of course you do and well you should – no worries – but, the danger is that your work could be perceived as an effort to assert ‘moral high ground’ and while this trap may be driven by a genuine passion for an issue, and you certainly are passionate about your work, it has the potential to impose onto others in a way that does not respect their own un/learning journey, and often actually has the opposite effect, pushing people away rather than inviting them in.
Me: Ok. Ya, I see. Let me think about that.
Observer: Sure and when this trap occurs, it can be useful to ask, you know, why do I need to teach or convince or inspire others about my learning experience? Where is this perceived need stemming from? And if you really feel you need to bring something to the attention of others, maybe you can ask yourself: What is the most pedagogically responsible and effective thing to do so that your message can land?
Me: Ok. What else?
Observer: I also see some virtue signalling and self-righteousness trappings, which is when you assert yourself as having the best, most righteous, most critical, most insightful, most creative, most valid or, the most marginalised perspective.
Observer: This approach tends to be focused on wanting to be seen in a certain way by others or by oneself, and may be motivated by a desire to minimize or deny one’s complicity in harm.
Me: Maybe subconsciously, but it’s a catch 22, isn’it ?
Observer: (interrupting) More like a labyrinth or a dilemma that you need to sit with… You remember when Donna Haraway says that we need to ‘stay with the trouble’. Something like that. (silence) ok. one last trap?
Observer: This is a tough one for you.
Observer: Hey I need you to be strong here buddy, OK?
Me: Ya ya ya I’m listening.
Observer: It’s called spiritual bypassing and it happens when spiritual ideas or practices are used to sidestep, avoid, or escape sitting with analyses of historical and systemic violence and the difficulties of one’s complicity in historic and systemic harm. Do you know what I mean?
Me: Yes, I think I do but I don’t think I do this.
Observer: (interrupting) maybe not consciously but spiritual bypassing often manifests itself alongside with cultural appropriation which is something you think about every time you record a soundscape with that microphone of yours, right?
Me: I see what you mean. You’re quite a good observer.
Observer: Thank you, but right back at you. Think of me as a guardian angel.
Me: Or the devil…
Observer: Whatever (laughter) Now one of the dangers with spiritual bypassing is to project interpretations of ‘oneness’ that erase the realities of historical and systemic inequalities, and interpretations of ‘Enlightenment’ that tend to reinforce exceptionalism and you tend to do that…
Me: Yes, sure, I do, but it’s all part of being an artist..
Observer: (interrupting) True but that does not necessarily make it right, does it? Something to think about…
Me: (interrupting) That’s a lot to think about, to learn and unlearn.
Observer: what are the traps in your life?
This episode is longer than the usual 5 minutes (7 minutes) because that’s how long it took to tell this story.
This episode comes from learnings I received from taking the Facing Human Wrongs course during the summer of 2022 with support from Azul Carolina Duque.
The sound of balloon came to me while I was deflating a balloon while creating sound for a theatre production called Why Worry About their Future, produced by my colleague Sanita Fejzić, as part of the undercurrents festival here in Ottawa, when I realised that the sound of air being released from a balloon was the right sound to accompany this 2 person play.
I am grateful and accountable to the earth and the human labour that provided me with the privilege of producing this episode. (including all the toxic materials and extractive processes behind the computers, recorders, transportation and infrastructure that make this podcast possible).
My gesture of reciprocity for this episode is to the South American Indigenous Network Emergency Fund (second donation).