A Self-Critical Paragon of Productivity

In The Lifelong Activist I talk at length about how destructive negative thinking is - and, in particular, the particular form of it that exaggerates one's perceived failures and flaws while minimizing or even ignoring one's successes and strengths. Just this weekend, as it happens, a woman with whom I was speaking on a business matter told me she was "really could use help" with her time management, citing as proof the fact that we were working over the weekend. She had forgotten, however, that the reason we were doing so wasn't because of anything she had done, but because I hadn't had a chance to return her call during the week. So here she was, blaming and condemning herself for something that wasn't even her fault! Along with pointing that out, I also pointed out that she did great at her complex and challenging job, a sign that, contrary to her words, she probably was a competent time manager. "This isn't even my main job!" she exclaimed. Turns out that she held a part-time job in addition to a … [Read more...]

Stop Feeling Guilty!

Liberal Guilt is a cliche, but that doesn't mean it's not a pernicious problem. All day, yesterday, when I was staffing the _Lantern Books_ table at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, I spoke with people who felt guilty - or, more precisely, ashamed. (Psychologists generally define guilt as regret over an action or feeling; shame is when you believe that an action or feeling makes you inherently a bad person.) I quickly learned to ask strangers who stopped by the table "Are you vegetarian?" instead of "Are you vegan?" because many non-vegans responded to the first question with shame, often launching into tortured explanations of their food choices. Then there were the people who felt they weren't doing enough activism - like the woman who had a houseful of rescued, traumatized animals she was caring for, but felt bad that she wasn't doing more campaign work. And then there were the many writers who stopped by the table to talk with me, writer to writer. Most had written articles, stories, poems, or … [Read more...]

A Great Day at Work

As some of you know, I work for a Boston nonprofit that specializes in helping refugees, political asylees and recent immigrants. I'm the small business counselor, which means I help people start and grow businesses. I help Bosnian construction companies, Russian computer programmers, and East and West African artists and importers. One guy, from Congo, specializes in the decorative mineral malachite Another, a photojournalist from a South Asian country that shall remain nameless, took pictures that earned him the ire of the local mullahs, and had to flee for his life. He was granted political asylum here and I'm helping him start a photo studio. My workplace has an extensive ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) program, and during the days hundreds of women - mainly, stay-at-home moms and night-shift workers, I'm assuming - take classes. (The evening, after-work classes have more men.) They appear to be mainly from China and Somalia, with some Afghanis and others mixed in. Why can't some of … [Read more...]