It’s not always rainbows and unicorns. Life doesn’t always feel as if it’s flowing. Sometimes things really suck. Getting a new car or new carpet in the bedroom or going on a super vacation will keep you happy for a moment or two – but then the way you live your life returns and either you’re content or you’re not, or you balance between the two.
For most of my life, I was always thinking that a new pair of shoes, a date with a hot guy, the new patio furniture or whatever was bright and shiny would make me blissful and complete. I know. Pretty naïve and lame, but it seemed to be a pattern. And, I would imagine that one or two of you have lived that pattern in the past. You may be living it now.
But, something changed and I’m not exactly sure what “it” was. It just did and probably was a combination of things that involved the sun, the moon and the planets all lining up, being in touch with a Higher Presence, and just being okay with myself and what’s going on in my life.
When this realization hit me, it was the day after I had all my cardiac tests for that afib experience I had several weeks ago and while I was on my way to see an endodontist to determine if a tooth could be saved or if I needed to see an oral surgeon for an extraction, and then, an implant. Yippee, huh?
I was driving through the morning fog and the sun was coming up over the mountains and I felt this feeling of real happiness in my heart to be witnessing the beauty of the morning. I thought to myself, “I’m going to see the endodontist and I’m effing happy.” And, it hit me. I’m happy just because I am. Not because of something happening or buying a new toy. I am just happy.
While I’ve had many glimpses of happiness over the past several years, the drama or other stuff always seemed to win out in the long run. But the more I let go of the ought to’s, the to do’s, the should do’s and all of the associated guilt, shame and fear that go with them, life started feeling lighter. And better. And more wonderful.
I know there will be days when it doesn’t feel so fabulous – probably the day I go to get that tooth extraction. I know there will be days when I growl at Bob for nothing he did. I know there will be days when I want to shoot someone the bird. That’s life and how it can show up.
What I am noticing is that the bliss feelings are coming more often and hanging around, and I believe that once you grab onto that feeling, it’s like crack… you’ve gotta have more.
So, I am addicted and I want more. I’m grateful for the feeling.
And, you? How does bliss show up for you and is it something you notice and say, “Whoa… I want more of this!” Is it happening more often than not?
“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust
[Note from Ann: I am so grateful to Elizabeth Hall Magill for the work she is doing in my childhood community and the place I attended high school. In areas, where there are deep, psychic wounds, the only healing that can be done is when people come together and make the effort on a long term basis to heal those wounds and change the culture. Thank goodness for Liz and those who are joining her in this effort in this little town in Virginia. And, this article isn’t just for women, but I love the fact that a group of women have come together to make a difference. That’s how things happen. Imagine what could happen in other places.]
Consciousness-raising, or awakening to the ways in which our society privileges some people while hurting others, is a vital part of social justice work. This awakening is deeply personal, requiring us to confront long-held, unconscious beliefs about self and society. It is also deeply political, requiring people to come together and work through the issues, both past and present, that divide us. As we raise our consciousness, we must face some very uncomfortable truths—for example, that we live in a rape culture that encourages misogyny and violence against women, and that our criminal justice system sanctions state violence against people of color. These truths can be so uncomfortable that many would rather not face them, and some flat-out deny them—which means we are caught in endless rounds of debate about the existence of oppression, even as millions live lives defined by oppression. When these debates get specific, the public face of an institution (like UVA) or a revered individual (like Bill Cosby) is often at stake—and consciousness-raising must contend with our desire, and sometimes even our need, for good public relations. Is it possible to reconcile truth-telling with good PR? And should we even try?
The answer to both of these questions is a resounding, and absolutely necessary, yes. But to get there—to live this yes—we must examine what we mean by good PR, and how we approach it.
Good PR is about bringing people in and making them happy once they’ve walked through the door. It’s connected to audience, customers, impressions—and money. Bad PR might chase customers—be they university students or audience members or potential new community members—away. Unfortunately, this fact tends to set truth-telling against PR: we think we can either be honest or we can flourish, but we can’t do both. Social justice issues—racism, sexism, homophobia, and their often violent consequences—are ignored in an attempt to create a positive impression. While this approach allows short-term gains for some, it costs us all in the long run. On some level, people know when the story that PR tells doesn’t match reality, and the truth tends to come out one way or another. This is where consciousness-raising comes in—if we allow it to shape our public impressions, truth-telling and PR wouldn’t have to be at odds. Instead, they could complement one another.
The town in which I live—Farmville, VA—is beginning to take this approach to PR, and could serve as a wonderful example for other communities and institutions. Farmville is at the center of Prince Edward County, which closed its schools for five years rather than integrate them fifty years ago. As author Kristen Green explains in her book about the school closings, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, the past shapes our present. The majority of students in Prince Edward County schools are black and poor: approximately 65% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Test scores are low, and the schools are not adequately funded, with the local government threatening to add its own cuts to state and federal reductions in recent years. As Ms. Green points out, we must acknowledge the role that racism—both past and present—plays in these demographics. But what does acknowledging this truth mean for our community?
When people are considering the ideal setting for their children’s education, they don’t usually conjure up a town where the schools aren’t adequately funded and the SOL scores are low, where most of the kids are struggling to get enough to eat and don’t have all the resources they need to learn. Exposing these negative truths could drive people who might otherwise move here—bringing positive energy and ideas—away. In addition, the problems connected to poverty and race in our public schools are institutionalized, nationalized, and painful to think about.
Ah, but what if we did think about these problems—what if we raised our consciousness about race, poverty, and education? Isn’t that the first step toward change? If we tell the truth—the truth Ms. Green tells in her book, and I have told in an open letter to the county—couldn’t that be the beginning of the best PR campaign imaginable? This, indeed, is the direction Farmville is moving—and I believe it will have incredible results.
For when we tell the truth—the whole truth—we talk about the people who are working toward change. We talk about the great stuff that is happening—the dynamic, caring teachers (I have known many, one of whom is profiled here), the nonprofit groups and community programs that are tutoring and feeding children, the local museum that is partnering with Longwood University to tell the Civil Rights stories of the past and work toward a brighter future, and the grassroots movement to ensure the schools are always funded (which was recently featured in our local paper). When we tell the truth, we admit that there are some shameful things in our society—our nation, our culture, our town—and we formulate a plan to address them.
A PR campaign informed by consciousness-raising doesn’t have to sound a tone of negativity—on the contrary, it can be an inspiration. These two forces in shaping community perceptions can meet on the common ground of change. When this happens, we leverage the best of who we are to rectify our worst mistakes—and we create a future that doesn’t deny the past, but overcomes it.
Elizabeth Hall Magill has been blogging about pop culture, religion, and politics from a feminist perspective since 2011. Posts from Yo Mama have been featured on BlogHer (Spotlight BlogHer), The Representation Project’s Sexy or Sexism campaign, and Girls Re(write) Herstory. Ms. Hall Magill has also written a series of articles for the news site .Mic, and her essay “Jesus and Sophia” appears in the anthology Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak, edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly. She is currently researching and writing a book entitled American Sexism: Questions and Answers.