This statement from American Anthropologist Editor-in-Chief opened the December 2021 journal issue and cut right to the heart of a bubbling frustration that has been rising in me for the past few months, or years–I am not sure how long anymore, my sense of time has become warped.
No matter where live or where we work, it seems that there is this back-and-forth between trying to be empathetic considering everything we are collectively experiencing and a desire to just ‘get back to normal.’ There is a pressure to somehow use these challenges as an opportunity to be productive. Make something of yourself in these times. And/or, perhaps, there is an expectation that our whole global situation shouldn’t even have that big of an effect–just keep doing your job, do your part to keep the status quo. Keep chugging along in a global system that is wreaking havoc on all beings.
Of course, it takes a while for us to reimagine and remake new systems in which we (not just humans) feel well, safe, and loved. This sounds idealistic, but I would go so far as to say that this is what we all want in our own way. And in this process of reckoning and opening our eyes to what we (humans) have done here, it hurts. Deeply. There are some days where gathering the motivation to work, to act ‘normal’ or ‘professional’ is serious work in itself. Some days, I don’t feel OK and I am not able to care about the banalities of work life, let alone am I able to give my best. Given everything, shouldn’t I just simply spend my time with people I love out in the nature that I love while I can? Spending my time and energy on much else often seems trivial now.
But no. Money has to be made, groceries have to be bought, bills need to be paid, social expectations need to be met, professional standards have to be achieved, promises need to be kept. Sometimes it feels like my heart is not in these things (as if my heart was ever really into paying bills), but I know I have to keep participating for some reason. The majority of my heart would rather be elsewhere, preferably out in the fresh air with other beings, not alone in my office, staring at my computer screen, responding to emails, or checking the news to see what crisis we have on the menu today.
I don’t want to drone on in negativity, but I do want to recognize that this is hard, and I want to propose that we reconfigure what it means to ‘do our best.’ My best does not look like trying to get back to ‘normal’ or being super productive. I think our ‘best’ should be trying to do things differently and explicitly trying not to go back to how things were before. I think our best means to understanding that we are all feeling a mass uncertainty and that we will continue to feel this. Our best means to be kind to ourselves and others, especially in situations which challenge our expectations of how things should be. Our best means to not put so much pressure on employees (or employers for that matter) to keep up with production. Our best means to breathe deep, step outside, and remember that we are human, not machine. Our best means to slow down.
If I had to boil this rant down to one request, it would be: Please, can we stop expecting so much of ourselves and of others in this time? And here’s my utopian plea: Can we please create and uphold systems which encourage vulnerability, kindness, gentleness, honesty, and rest?
I want to finish by again quoting Elizabeth Chin, because I think she sums it up perfectly. She writes, “You are under no obligation to be OK. Nopity nope. Whether you’re convinced you’re managing or not, doing good work or not, feeling good or not, you’re doing the best you can. Keep it up. Be with your loved ones, whether the human or the more than human. Feed your spirit. Revel in moments of joy. Get the sleep you need. Be kind to yourself and those around you. Keep doing the best you can. That’s good enough.“
Girl Museum Inc.