ColumnThe health of a body politic can only be as strong as the individual relationships that comprise it.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, with pop-up solidarity encampments, sit-ins, and demonstrations sprouting in cities as far flung as New York and Nashville or Atlanta and Los Angeles, is a mounting cultural zeitgeist soon to enter its second month. The noisy convergence of a few-dozen Tea Partiers waving signs and causing a public ruckus always ends up dominating the nightly news, but not even NPR provided so much as a single story during Occupy Wall Street’s first nine days. People interested in following the occupation’s development had to look outside of their country’s borders, where international coverage by Al Jazeera and The Guardian UK had to suffice instead.
Now that it’s getting more coverage, many critics dismiss the protesters’ demands and frustrations as scattered and disorganized, but Occupy Wall Street’s disunity is actually its strength. Without a singular definition, there is more conceptual and theoretical space for a plurality of voices, whether that be a recent college graduate whose ambitions to find a respectable job have been dashed or a working class single mother who can’t afford monthly health insurance payments.
In a country where 24-million citizens, no matter how hard they try, can’t find decent full time employment and where 57-million citizens can’t afford full health care coverage, something has run amok. Systemic inequity and exploitation results in rampant societal sickness, and the current Occupation reflects an unhealthy body-politic. Citizens are clamoring not only for relief from economic malaise, but also calling into question the legitimacy of corporate globalization and the governmental structures that support it.
As a freelance American writer living and working in Berlin, my own participation in this movement is that of the pen. (Although I’m excited this weekend to attend an affinity demonstration here in Germany’s capital, especially because these protests always come with ‘party buses,’ huge platforms on wheels that groan under the weight of mega sound systems blasting electronic music and followed by dancing crowds – fun!)
I’m not a policy wonk, nor am I interested in prescribing antidotes to redress widespread social and financial injustice. Instead, I’m much more interested in what I can do on a micro-scale to directly impact my immediate environment. It is my conviction that the quality of our relationships – how we engage with and support one another – can have profound societal implications. How can people love their neighbors if they’re always pitted in battle against their spouse? How can people exercise sound reason at the voting polls if they can’t even create sane problem solving models with their partner? Our intimate relationships are the building blocks of our culture, and the way that we treat our lovers determines our capacity to develop a world that acknowledges human decency and dignity.
This week’s Sex by Numbers is inspired by the disenfranchised people in my home country who are taking to the streets. I am proud of their emboldened voices. I am proud of the DIY kitchens, free medical care, and solar-generated power systems that make up the encampments. I am proud that people of many stripes are banding together, collectivizing resources, and participating directly in the backbone of a vibrant democracy – dissent. In this vein, I will examine five ways in which we can also foster and nourish love relationships of which we can be equally proud, how we can create romantic partnerships that stimulate our highest selves and model the way we behave in society. A country can only be as strong as its lovers.
Meaningful communication so often gets lost in the muck of shoddy translation. Our egos are useful survival tools, and peace-and-love calls to stamp them out are not only naive, but also foolish. At the same time, excess ego creates uptight stinginess and increased readiness to be on the defensive. If you operate under the expectation that people are out to hurt you, then there’s a high likelihood that whatever they say – no matter how ultimately trivial – can trigger your too easily hurt feelings.
Err on the side of forgiveness for your partner’s petty slights of tongue or sometimes errant behavior. Consider first whether or not their words and actions are, in the grand scheme of things, worth causing a fuss about. Chances are, if you can exercise ongoing compassion for your lover’s own insecurities and imperfections as a communicator than you can save yourselves needless bickering and strife. At the end of the day, you are both flawed beings ever striving to become better versions of you. Sometimes people mess up; get over it.
Do It Yourself
Perception and pro-action mean taking matters into your own hands. If you identify something that needs to be done, do it yourself to show your partner that you’re invested in your shared lives with one another. Sure, it’s always fun to attend to quotidian tasks as a team, but sometimes it’s simply more practical to be efficient and be done with it. Notice his bike tire has gone flat? Take five minutes and fill it with air so that you two are primed for two-wheeling adventure when the mood strikes. Notice that his dirty underwear is piling up in the hamper? Help a brother out and throw it in the wash. Attend to these things with good cheer and without calling attention to them; it serves as a model for the type of thoughtful treatment you hope he also extends to you and weaves into your everyday lives a culture of sharing and equal consideration of interest.
Peaceful Conflict Resolution
I grew up in a family where daily warfare was the norm – what could and should have been minor upsets were instead a source of explosive epithets, irrational and embittered judgement, and exaggeratedly wounded feelings. As an adult, I now have the choice not to inhabit a psychological battlefield in a domestic war without end, and it surprises me how simple it really is to defuse emotional landmines. I’ve had lots and lots of help along the way to achieve this place of relative peace and ease, but at its core is a staunch refusal to invite men into my life who don’t know how to take care of themselves and others. With this requisite check-mark in place, developing a useful, effective template with which to weather a few storms is fundamental.
First Fix You
Be honest about how you feel, but you don’t have to share every damn thought that flits through your head. Instead, focus on the development of your own internal compass so that you can manage your emotions instead of asking your partner to shoulder an undue load. It frees up mental space for both of you to be independent and self-sufficient, so that when you join forces to solve a conflict you can meet one another as free, actualized adults.
Sex By Numbers is an ongoing look into the emotional and sexual lives of the modern day woman. Follow Abigail Wick weekly here for insight and inspiration as she explores the “sex” of women and the terrain they must travel.