7 Years Later & a Spiritual Shift

me2011I never figured out what happened to that jacket haha.

It’s hard to personally conceptualize that it’s been seven years since the incident.

Over the last seven years, I’ve managed to write and post an essay on my FB about once a month. For the first two years, most of those essays were about the nuances and contradictions of the radical Left. The next three years’ essays centered around organizing theory. And the last two years’ essays have largely been about trying to understand how the social world and the emotional world interact with each other and how the social and the emotional manifest themselves in everyday life, including in politics. (A few months ago, I went through all those essays, curated the best ones, and organized them on this blog.)

I started my journey extremely traumatized, alienated, and depressed. Somehow through my journey I’ve managed to find happiness and fulfillment. That’s so weird to me; my experience of my experience doesn’t make sense to me. What sense I do have over it, though, comes from the fact that over the last seven years, the questions I’ve tried to grapple with have grown larger and more abstract in scope.

Questions like “what is this infighting within the Left about?” became questions like “how can I actively use organizing skills to circumvent infighting within the Left and create effective real-world campaigns?” became questions like “what leads to unaddressed emotional trauma, how do those emotions manifest themselves in the social, and what emotional mindsets should we take on and what actions should we manifest to address those emotions?”

And the deeper I’ve dug, the more clarity I’ve gotten for myself; particularly in the last two years by asking paradoxically more narrow but universal questions I’ve found more truth and practicality in answers I didn’t even know I was seeking when I first started my journey.

That journey hasn’t been easy. Throughout the last seven years, I’ve tried my best to root my questions and answers in the tens of thousands of real-world organizing conversations I’ve had with workers as part of my career as a union organizer. As an example, my opinion that it’s better to go into an organizing conversation not worried about the conversation’s outcome but rather in establishing an authentic connection (informed by technique) is an opinion I’ve arrived at after A/B testing literally thousands of conversations in the field. (Indeed, beyond just being emotionally healthy and ethically the right thing to do, not putting emotional stock in the outcome of an organizing conversation but rather the process of the conversation ironically *increases* positive outcomes in organizing conversations.)

I’m proud of my journey so far, and lately I’m sensing that the questions I’ve been asking are almost spiritual in nature.

By “spiritual,” I mean that in the secular sense. “Relating to or affecting the human spirit.” Questions like: How are we to interpret meaning? Why do people take action? What is the nature of human change? How do we live a good life? Etc. First principles, etc.

I think thinking deeply about these questions over the next few years — and importantly, seeing how the process of answering these questions interacts with organizing workers in the field — will be interesting. (I’ve already started in this “spiritual” frame of questioning. See the newest essay on my blog “Start with Experience, Not Ideology” if you’re interested.) I suspect the process of answering these questions will be useful to me and provide even deeper clarity.

I’m aware that some people think the essays I’ve written over the last seven years are sort of pretentious and silly. I’m also aware that some people think they are interesting and sometimes useful. Every now and then someone will message me saying that an essay really helped them out in deep ways.

I think that last part is why I keep publicly posting these essays; regardless of whether or not I’m publicly posting them, I’m still on my journey and I’m still writing them. (True story, I write more of these essays than I actually post haha.)

So if you’re interested, or if you read these posts occasionally, that’s where I sense the direction of these posts going — in a deeper line of questioning of what I’m calling “spirituality.” And thank you for reading.

Almost accidentally, I’ve used this anniversary date to post “my biggest organizing epiphany of the year.” So alas: my biggest organizing epiphany this year has been that it’s profoundly useful to go deep and ask broad questions about how to live life, and that doing so has profoundly, profoundly improved my organizing.

One last thought to clarify this point.

The vast overwhelming majority of people who have Leftist ideologies never take massive action to manifest their beliefs into the world. Or if they do, they don’t sustain their massive action for very long.

When I first started my journey, how I approached this question would have been as follows: “The reason most Leftists don’t take sustained massive action is because the world is oppressive. Therefore, I have to take even more massive, massive action to make the world a less oppressive place so that more people can take action in a snowball effect, etc.” (This was literally the central argument of one of my first essays back in 2011.)

When my focus shifted to organizing theory, this is how I approached the question of why most Leftists do not take sustained massive action: “Most Leftists do not take sustained massive action because of bad organizing. What they need is a realistic ‘plan to win,’ which as an organizer I need to construct. If Leftists genuinely believe that their actions will lead to real-world victories, they will be inspired to take action.”

Most recently as my focus has shifted to the complex interactions between the social and the emotional, this is how I’ve been approaching the question of why most Leftists do not take sustained massive action: “Most Leftists do not take sustained massive action because doing so is hard emotionally. Sometimes Leftist ideology can be used more as a psychological coping mechanism. Sometimes Leftist ideology is informed by deep trauma. There are lots of different emotional reasons one may have that prevent them from taking sustained massive action, but by figuring those emotional reasons out, you can interact with that person in the social world to help inspire them to action.”

Here’s the thing. All three of these approaches to the question are all correct in their own way. But! I would argue that the way I’ve been approaching these questions has increasingly become more useful and more, how should I put this, “deeply true” with time.

Where am I going from here? I’m beginning to question the very assumptions of the questions and answers. Why take action at all? When people do, why do they take action? How can I best encourage people to take action? How does “human change” work? How *do* the social and the emotional interact? Is there meaning in organizing, and what is it? Is “meaning” or “fulfillment” important to organizing? How does “meaning” interact with organizing? What is the process by which we should think and feel about all this? What are my foundational values, principles, and assumptions? What should those foundations be?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and maybe I never will — but it’s the place I’ve been writing from most recently, and I’m pretty sure it’s where I’m headed over the next few years.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. Every year of my organizing journey my life has improved tremendously and the work has fulfilled me more and more. Even, my organizing gets better. Exponentially so. (That’s a weird “spiritual” phenomenon I’m realizing is deeply true: the more I work on my emotional and social landscape, and even broader, the more I work on myself and my own life, the stronger my organizing skills seem to get, and the more I’m able to empower workers.)

I’m so excited for these next few years.

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