Caveat before we begin. This is not exhaustive and doesn’t look at every facet of how Modern Western Culture causes harm. It’s not my intention to gather all those threads. This is just the lens I am looking through today because i am a fallible woman who is learning to use her voice and not the oracle at delphi.
Modern Western Culture (MWC) is a collection of forces that unconsciously shape our social landscape. MWC has a central theme that tough and hard is good. We see that in the honouring of the warrior archetype, the ruthless businessman, the go get ‘em entrepreneur.
The be the best, winner takes all, no prizes for second, go hard or go home mentality is the air we breathe.
If we try to navigate life in MWC without a critical eye, we can think the world is a pretty hard place. We learn quickly that neediness and vulnerability are considered weak and undesirable, that rest and disability and failing are not. an. option. We should just Do It ®. In relationships, news media, social media and current popular political movements we are encouraged to go hard regardless of suffering, regardless of the impact on others (aka the weak) and the planet.
To be human is to fail, it’s always going to mean stumbling and falling. It’s always going to be messy, painful, embarrassing, but this MWC thinking has us repelled by our own softness. It teaches us to be disgusted with our wobbliness as we learn, our own hurt and emotional response to the inevitable tender and difficult aspects of life. .
We are always going to need things aka be needy and if we are growing and learning we will always make mistakes. When we believe that these very human responses to life are things to hide and be ashamed of we begin to make maladaptations. In these mal-adaptations we attempt to shut down our neediness and instead try for invulnerability. We shut down to our failures and stop trying. We learn, for fuck’s sake, to think we have done well if we don’t cry at a funeral.
In a world where it’s not so much who we are, rather what we make that matters, we begin to jettison our innate humanness. We value how we appear and what we produce over our truth and experience. We become the ones who say what we do rather than who we are. We are repelled by the very things that encourage us to belong; things like story-telling, vulnerability, connectedness and nurturance.
The world nurture has its root in the word meaning to suckle or to nourish. A nurturing relationship then, is one in which we are nourished and where we are safe to bring our innocence and child-like tenderness.
In the view of the polyvagal theory regulating our system and coming into a sense of safety requires two things;
1. we need to make sure we are not under threat – there’s no sabre toothed tiger in the room and
2. We are able to connect and cooperate with trustworthy others. This connection is predicated on the need for nurturance, we have to be safe to be vulnerable and to receive nourishment.
Despite it being the central quality for a sense of safety which is the bedrock of development and coping for all humans MWC would have us dispise nurturance.
In a dog eat dog world there is little place for nurturance.
One of the biggest signals of value in MWC is where the money is. When you look at roles that are by nature engaged with nurturance you see the truth; parenting, childcare, teaching, nursing, death-work, all of these nurturing roles are low paid work. They don’t have value in MWC.
The impact of devaluing nurturance
How does this lack of value of nurturance impact us. Does it show up in our undervaluing of self-knowledge, the so called navel gazing of self-reflection? Does it show up in how self-care is considered a mani-pedi and a haircut or buying a bigger car? Does it show up in our vicious inner critic who has no limits on how cruel it can be if we stumble or fail? Does it show up in our rigidity, lack of rest and addiction to busyness? Are we lead to believe we are like a machine and drive ourselves into suffering while neglecting the signs along the way?
How does it show up in our relationship? Does it show up in our desire to give someone who is crying a tissue and a platitude, to hurry them into happy? The shiny impenetrable glaze of “think positive” and “look on the bright-side” that’s offered to people who are suffering? Does the nervous system, get what it needs? Is that need over-ridden so many times that we begin to feel we are intrinsically wrong? What does that do to a nervous system? To our wellbeing? To our ability to connect with others?
What does the social devaluing of nurturance do to the family system. Does it teach us to value pushing ahead and the striving into the outer world rather than the resting with and tending of nurturance. Does it have us stay busy in our outer lives rather than taking time to be with each other. Does it have us turn away from the vulnerabilities of ageing? Does it make people who are just mothers or just fathers or just guardians shrink or become invisible? Does it mean that the broken relationship to nurturance in a family system becomes a burden? Are children taking on the thinking that despite the neurobiological imperative, the fact they are missing nurturance means they are bad/faulty/not enough or too much? Does that mean we go into life trying to disguise our neediness and faultiness and doing so by not listening to ourselves and perpetuating the cycle?
What if on a global scale neediness is discouraged and shamed? Does it misshape neediness and the call to interconnectedness into entitlement? Does the denial of our own natural neediness twist into greed. Does it turn up in the behaviour of the “weak” being exploited by the “strong”? In the powerful taking what they want and damn the consequences?
What if we repatriate neediness?
Chris Zydel an expressive arts therapist in San Francisco and general glorious human encourages her students to be
“needy greedy and proud of it.”
This invitation opens the door to self-acknowledgment. As that long-shut door creaks open, often what rushes in is hunger, grief and confusion. How long have we been waiting for someone to tell us it’s ok to want and to need? How do we learn to understand that which we have taken such pains to deny?
This invitation is the beginning of a quiet revolution. It’s in this nurturance that we start to uncouple from important parts of the harm-making of modern western culture.
It’s in the living into the acknowledgment of this woundedness that we begin to come into clarity; clarity about what we long for, clarity about what works and doesn’t work for us, clarity about what is true.
It’s in this state of clarity that we can begin to resource ourselves and fill our cups with what works, without having to grab everything, we learn what is enough.
It’s in this well nurtured, replete state that we begin to understand ourselves, that we begin to humanise. We learn to listen to our bodies, we learn to rest, we learn when to leap and when to wait. We learn about who is with us and who is harmful to us, who to trust and who to turn away from. We build healthier connections and respectfully see ourselves as part of the ecosystems of our lives. We learn to connect to meaning and our sense of purpose and live into that in a respectful way.
It’s within the gentle holding of nurturance that we learn to respect. When we see ourselves as worthy of respect, through the nurturing eyes of another, we come into a new relationship with enoughness. When we respect ourselves we learn to behave in honourable ways; we learn to respect ourselves, our limits, of others, of the system around us. We come into an interconnected and respectful relationship that acknowledges if we cause harm to ourselves, we cause harm to the interconnected system we are a part of.
It’s in this right relationship with nurturance and respect that we undo the imperatives of dominance and control that MWC is predicated on. It’s in this right relationship that we can begin to find solutions to the challenges of this broken paradigm. It’s in the arms of nurturance and respect that we become free to be human.
So fuck harden up. let's go soft. let's nourish and nurture. let's create a rebellion of tenderness.
Are you in?