Last night my friend, Lauren, posted this article from MomLogic on my Facebook page. I am writing this post as a response for her, for myself, and for all Americans, though I am not in any way suggesting that I speak for all of us with this response. Reading this article, as well as several other responding articles, has confirmed for me that we in America are currently suffering from a cultural epidemic of utter disconnection. Our disconnection is widespread, and because it is rooted so deeply in our culture, it’s hard to see where we lost our way. However, it’s relatively easy to see the symptoms of this disconnection.
#1 Symptom of Disconnect: Common courtesy within dialogue has disappeared.
Throughout her article, MILF Mommy personally attacks and devalues people who are, apparently unlike her, size 12 and up. I think it is beneficial at this point to refer MILF Mommy (and everyone else on the Internet) to the Wikipedia page on Rhetoric for both definition and illustration of effective and courteous discourse. As long as we see ourselves as one (right, justified, whatever) and others, well as “other,” (wrong, stupid, whatever), we fundamentally have a conversation rooted in disconnection. I certainly take issue with MILF Mommy’s expression of her opinion and her actual opinion, but for me to debase and devalue her as a person makes me no better than she is. In the all the responses to MILF Mommy, I cringed at how embarrassing Internet Trolls are to the human race; and let’s face it: we’ve ALL been an Internet Troll at some point or another. We’ve all found ourselves caught up in some such debate, whether on the Internet or not. But there is a difference between arguing, debating, or attacking a “point,” and attacking a person.
My Courteous Response to MILF Mommy
When trying to communicate with people, it’s not ideal to begin with attacking the physical aesthetic of your audience as MILF Mommy did with her first point. Firstly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What MILF Mommy specifically says about women size 12 and up being unattractive is simply untrue. In some cultures, having a more rotund physique is a sign of wealth, and therefore desirable.
MILF Mommy’s second point about people lying to themselves may not necessarily be untrue, but the way she expresses it certainly doesn’t do her argument any favors. I agree that we as Americans are not actually “in touch” with how we really feel. If we were, then all those times we became winded walking from our car to the mall would actually motivate us to not have the meal or sweet treat offered in the food court. That MILF Mommy focuses on the size of the clothing as an indicator of health is where I think she went wrong in her second point. Just because a woman may be a size 12 (or higher), doesn’t mean she doesn’t have “toned arms,” or that she does have a “muffin top belly and huge thighs.” Depending on a woman’s height, a size 12 may, in fact, be the perfect size for her. Consider the women on this page. They are all so tall they put Amazon women to shame, but none of them have a “muffin top belly and huge thighs,” and I can guarantee you all of them wear greater than a size 12. Essentially, healthy size proportion is a crucial point that MILF Mommy missed when she based her entire argument on something as arbitrary as a clothing size. I wonder if it would freak her out to know that a size 12 in America is something completely different to clothing designers who typically use European sizing guidelines?
MILF Mommy’s last three points are all different iterations of the same argument; so I will address them together. There is no such thing as “one diet to rule them all.” Every person is different and has different dietary needs and restrictions. So, the simple caloric intake/burn method of dieting and exercising isn’t always accurate. It even changes depending on exactly what type of exercising you’re doing. I am a perfect example of this. When my physical activity was fairly limited to yoga only, I noticed that I ate things that were lighter and fresher, more organic and less likely to be cooked. As I have added running to my active life, I’ve noticed I need more dense foods, but less fibrous than with yoga-only activity. I need more cooked, full meals instead of frequent small ones. My daily caloric intake has definitely increased just so it can fuel my running activities. And the scale hasn’t changed one iota, but my size has gone down. I am living proof that MILF Mommy’s sweeping generalizations about diet and exercise are wrong.
Because every person’s needs are different, it’s false that skinny people “work harder” than larger people, or that they are healthier somehow, and a lot of it is directly connected with genetic makeup, contrary to MILF Mommy’s personal, unsubstantiated opinion. While Type II Diabetes is linked to lifestyle and obesity, conditions like Heart Disease and problems with cholesterol are deceptively stealthy killers because people generally think like MILF Mommy in that if they “look good” they’re healthy. Even if you’re under a size 12, you need to get your blood work checked to make sure you’re healthy. And anyone who’s suffered with juvenile/Type I Diabetes knows it has nothing to do with your size and everything to do with how your body produces insulin.
#2 Symptom of Disconnect: We use comparison to define our self-worth.
Probably the most destructive thing we can do to ourselves is create our self-image and find our self-worth by comparing ourselves to others. Here in America, we see life in linear and ladder form. We are born; we live; and we die; and that’s linear. We spend our whole lives working to get the best grade, graduate from the best college or university, get the best job, and make the most money so we can have the best house and car and clothes and so we can send our kids to the best schools to continue this cycle; and that’s the ladder.
The only thing that perspective has done for our society is establish a class of generational wealthy elite who are so far removed from the average person that it seems impossible to find a sense of connection because there seems to be so many ladder rungs between “us” and “them.” When we’re always comparing ourselves to the people higher up on the ladder, we’re constantly devaluing ourselves in the process. Conversely, when we’re always comparing ourselves to the people below us on the ladder, we’re constantly devaluing others.
We would benefit from a more circular perspective on life. We all live TOGETHER. We have success only because someone else made it possible, and therefore we rejoice in our success TOGETHER. When we fail, we fall back on all the others around us, and we mourn and recoup TOGETHER. The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” really should extend throughout all of life, and we’d all be better off for it.
#3 Symptom of Disconnect: We have allowed our consumerism to turn us into zombies.
Because we are a culture of consumers, we have bought, eaten, and satisfied ourselves into a zombified stupor to such an extent that we don’t even realize how broken and disconnected we are as an entire culture. We are a society of generally overweight, unhealthy, unhappy people weighed down by our “pursuit of happiness” in which we willingly accept the debt, weight, disease, and mental illness that comes with the American, capitalist, consumerist culture. Because we think we can buy and/or own the means to our happiness, we think this is the only way to live. But, young padawans, there is another way to live happily, and it doesn’t involve the pursuit of anything at all.
A Cure for All that Ails Us
I know I’ve referred to mindfulness as the approach to fix a plethora of ailments, and I’ll reiterate it again. We’re all looking for a panacea to fix all our problems, but most people assume it’s something they can buy (like a pill or a diet book or a gym membership). I think the panacea for our cultural epidemic IS mindfulness, and you can’t price it because you can’t buy it. It isn’t a thing; it’s an action. It can’t be owned; it has to be done. Mindfulness may be a noun but its function is more accurately aligned with the verb class of words.
As it pertains to this post’s focus on dieting, in his most recent post, “The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring,” Leo Babauta from zen habits offers up mindfulness as a realistic, long-lasting approach to dieting. And really what he’s doing here is outlining the “lifestyle change” we constantly hear about from our family doctors as well as famous doctors like Dr. Oz and the coaches on shows like The Biggest Loser with specific and small examples.
When you start paying attention to all the minutia of your life, you’ll see how eating the #1 combo at any fast food restaurant hurts you as well as the local and global community. Likewise, when you start being mindful of your purchases, you find that you really do have the power of the almighty dollar to change the world. Are you going to buy this kind of chocolate that is only available to you in its condition and at its price because it was farmed for by the hands of child slaves in Africa? Or, will you spend a little more, thus requiring that you have the treat a little less frequently, and instead buy this chocolate that’s likely better quality, likely better for you, but definitely better for our world because you bought it from a certified fair trade farmer?
Taking a mindful approach to life will un-do all the damage of our epidemic of disconnect. It will help you with your diet, your domestic budget, your road rage, your marital relationship, your work-life….the list goes on and on.
Suggested Reading for Reconnecting
The book and PBS documentary, Affluenza explains our cultural epidemic of disconnect much better than I do and with better references that I have here, and it is what inspired me to take an “epidemic” and “symptomatic” approach with this post. We read the book as part of our required Biblical studies senior-capstone course (Christ & Culture) in college, and it challenged us to enter the world as recent college grads with the knowledge that we were about to enter an all-devouring machine, but only if we let ourselves be consumed by it.
David Korten, an American economist wrote, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth-A Declaration of Independence from Wall Street in which he proposes an alternative culture to the current Wall Street economy. His suggested culture is based on the Main Street economy of locally owned, community connected enterprise in which success has more than just a monetary or consumerist value. We read this book during our congregation-wide focus on economic justice at Church of the Savior in the fall, and we were charged with passing it along to other interested persons to continue the work of economic justice. So, if any of you locals want to read this book, let me know and I’ll GIVE you my copy!
Suggested Practices for Reconnecting
Breathing. Yup, that’s all I’ve got. Really, you can do lots of things to try to reconnect, but breathing is the easiest, cheapest, best way to get started. Just breathe. In and out. Slowly, or quickly doesn’t matter as much as paying attention to what it does in your body.
Time Management Update
Last month I started logging and tracking my time usage as I did when I was in high school. It was eye-opening for me then, and I thought practicing it now might help me see where I am wasting my time. Time logging is a fairly simple practice because people tend to do the same things every day. In my daily logging, I noticed that the greatest percentage of my time is spent at work, followed by exercising and volunteering, which tied for the second spot, and then family time and personal writing. The data essentially confirmed what I’d been feeling, and I’ve also reorganized a few things to make living such a busy life more manageable. Here are a few tips I’m using to keep my time managed:
- I use my Google calendar, even for little things. Before I would just schedule meetings or workouts, but adding details that I would typically overlook gives me a better perspective of when I am actually available. I schedule what time I get up and how long it takes me to get ready. I schedule drive time to and from work/activities. I schedule a bed time. Keeping this schedule shows me where and when I can be flexible, and exactly where I can’t, and knowing that helps me manage the stress of maintaining a busy (sometimes over-committed) life.
- I have limited when and how often I check my email and other social media. This means I don’t spend an hour (or more) every day reading emails, blogs, news, etc. I check my email and social media once in the morning, once mid-day, and once in the evening. I have moved all of my blog subscriptions to a weekly digest, and I read them all on Saturdays, which is my freest day of the week.
- I have intentionally scheduled Saturday to be a mostly free day to allow me to do random chores as needed. Also, keeping Saturday open gives me large chunks of time to read and write, which is exactly how I’d prefer to do it.
- I leave evening time open for family. Whether I am folding laundry while my husband and I catch up on Dr.Who, or I’m reading while he and Shiloh play video games, I purposely leave evening time open for daily family time. We don’t do things as a family every day, but at least this way I know we have the time to do it.
The Bigger Picture
In doing yoga, learning to run, and participating in several different spiritual and secular groups, I have come to see that my life is best (most productive, most positive, etc.) when it is a life of practice. Practice is both a verb and a noun, and life should be as well. A life of practice is something I intentionally do (verb), but it is also something I continually observe and learn from (noun). A practice life is one of intentional habit formation and conditioning. It requires discipline and mindful observation. A life of practice results in lifelong learning and skill development. And knowing that I’m practicing something gives me room when I inevitably fail or fall short. As long as I am observing my shortcomings as opportunities to become more skilled…to hone my practice, then failure loses its power to keep me down when it happens.
Here are three things that help me live a life of practice:
- Yoga. Yoga has been the catalyst for a tremendous change in my life this past year, ultimately making my life one of practice. It may have foundations in physical exercise, which may or may not be life-altering for most people; but learning to pay attention to your body is a fabulous tangible way to learn mindfulness, which can be a rather abstract concept.
- Buddhism. Though some live according to Buddhist precepts with religious motivation, I see it as a way to help me observe myself and the world around me. Living a Buddhist life for me, is one of practice and not of faith. It helps me discern how I might change myself to live in the world with as few ripples as possible. As an environmentalist, one may be concerned about a carbon footprint, but what about our thought footprint or our spiritual footprint? What kinds of ripples are we putting into our local environments in the way we talk to one another; the type of entertainment we subject ourselves to; or even something as simple as the way we drive? Learning and practicing Buddhism helps me see just how I am connected to others, and it gives me ways to learn how to live peacefully in and with the world around me.
- Christianity. This is definitely a religion with fairly rigid definitions, and though those are not something one can necessarily practice, I do find a lot of meaning in maintaining certain Christian spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline is a great place to start and focuses on the classic Christian spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, studying, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Though I may not fit the mold of a Christian, I wholeheartedly enjoy practicing these spiritual disciplines, and I think they build a solid formation for a practice life. Though one can practice these disciplines in any faith, understanding them in a Christian context helps me relate to my Christian brothers and sisters in spite of my great skepticism. I have a feeling that if more Christians gave themselves over to practicing these spiritual disciplines with as much motivation as they devote toward vocalizing their religious stance on political issues, the nature and demeanor of Christianity would be different and so would our country.
As always, thank you for reading, and please feel free to share your thoughts! Maybe you can give suggestions for how you practice life?
What I do with my time is a good indicator of what I think is important, but juggling everything can seem overwhelming. Working full-time means that finding time for chores, daily exercise, family time, reading, and writing is nearly impossible. Add in the mix that I’m committed to certain areas of social justice in our community, and it’s a miracle I find time to sleep and eat. To gain some objectivity about my overwhelming schedule, I started keeping a daily journal of my time. I log when I wake up, leave for/arrive at work, and what I do after work, including going to bed.
I’m a week into logging my time for October, and I’m realizing I have more flexibility than I thought I did, especially on the weekends. Aside from this past weekend, which was packed to the brim, I have been careful to only plan one thing each weekend, leaving me with at least one day mostly “free” to catch up on all the things I couldn’t get to during the week, therein being flexible about my time management! Keeping a to-do list is helpful, but only with the perspective that the world won’t fall apart if the list isn’t completed every day.
I’m also surprised at how much time I actually get with my husband. Lately he’s expressed how difficult it is to get time with me, and I’ve felt it too; but in the last 8 days, we’ve spent at least 15 waking hours together, which I think is impressive considering we both work full-time with only one shared day off. We’ve had time for each other every day; and we had an entire evening together with friends.
In spite of all the couple time I’ve logged, it doesn’t seem like either of us went out of our way just because I’ve been keeping track of it. So, if nothing’s really changed, then why do we feel like we never get time together when we clearly do? I think it’s easy to take our daily time together for granted because it may not be quality time.
Typically, Dan spends the evenings playing a video game or doing something with his brother, Shiloh (which is usually a video game, lol). But he’s recently become interested in Doctor Who, one of my favorite television shows. I love snuggling up with him to watch it, but I think watching tv makes us forget that we’re getting time together.
Because I have daily and weekly chores to maintain, I typically multi-task while I’m watching tv; and that really takes away from the time spent with Dan being “quality” time. I don’t want to take advantage of the time I get with my beloved, but I also can’t do all of my chores on the weekends either. With work and exercise combined, I easily have 10-11 hour days. I certainly don’t mind coming home to tv time with my husband after long days like that; but I’m usually confronted with daily necessities like general tidying, dusting, and sorting the mail, or weekly chores like laundry and cleaning the bathroom. I’m grateful for practicing flexibility by shifting these things to the weekend, but it means I have to accept living in a bit of chaos.
Hopefully by the end of October, I’ll have a better plan of execution than what I have now (one with more “plan” and less “chaos”), and I hope keeping my time journal continues to be a positive practice. I’ll update again next week, but in the meantime, maybe you can help me out! How do you manage a work-life balance? Do you multi-task? Can chores or exercising be “quality” time for couples?
If you keep up with reading this blog with as sporadic as I have been with offering you stuff, first: thank you very much, and second: you’ll likely glean that I tend to over-schedule myself. In my defense, it hasn’t always been this way for us as couple, but it kind of always has been for me.
When we first moved to Knoxville we didn’t have schedules that allowed much of a life other than work because my husband and I worked alternating night shifts back then. We never saw each other, and we were always sleep deprived. This June, for the first time in six years, we BOTH have the same, daytime schedules. I think, after four months, I’ve come to the realization that I need more time management, but with more flexibility.
I am a HUGE fan of time management and can personally attest to its working wonders in my life. As a sophomore in high school, my Government teacher told me I needed to get my shit together, and then he taught me how to do just that. (Thank you, Mr. Owens!) He challenged me to log every hour of time I spent and to sleep on a strict schedule. Those two, incredibly simple life lessons turned me, a B-personality type, loner, fairly apathetic person into a high gear Type A with elite efficiency skills. By my junior year, I was working 20-30 hours a week, a member of several service groups, competitive academic team(s), and a straight A student. In the long term, those life lessons earned me an impressive financial aid package at a four-year private college. But even then, I worked three part-time jobs and held a class load between 15-21 hours per term.
When we moved to Knoxville with our crazy work/sleep schedules, all the “other” stuff of life fell away, and we fell into a rut. This last year has been a return to the over-scheduled life of my college days, and I have to confess that I sure as hell can’t do it like I could then. My body tolerated much higher quantities of caffeine as a college student than it does now. And then there’s the fact that I’ve essentially been sleep deprived the greater majority of my life. I’m exhausted.
So I’m refreshing myself on Mr. Owens’ life lessons. I will keep a log of my time for the month of October, and I will make it a goal to get a solid seven hours of sleep, at the SAME time each night. Hopefully this gives me something fairly innocuous, yet helpful, to write about for the next few weeks while also getting me back on track before November when I begin training for my first half-marathon.
Please feel free to leave your own tips/advice for how you manage your busy lives! As always, thank you for reading, and come back often.