Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: April, 2013

Honesty for Neutral People

I get my energy from people.  I have a yearning need to have people look at me and talk with me and listen to me talk.  That’s the way I am and I love it.

But it gets people like me in trouble sometimes because we get all giddy and warm when people approve of us.  And all mopey and weepy when people criticize.  It’s usually not because the people around us are mean or anything–we just have a hard time figuring out how to handle disappointment.

And that puts us in the dangerous position of being influenced by The Neutrals.

Neutrals are a class of relationship that has been empowered by social media.  You can tell you are in a Neutral relationship when the best interaction you have with a person is silence.  Silence is the Neutral’s stamp of approval on your life.  So long as they don’t talk to you, you’re doing something right.

But when you step out of line, when your words or lifestyle fall short of their standards, then they let you know.  Gently, of course.  Mindfully, even.  Hell, they might even be dead-on-right in whatever they are saying.  And they form everywhere–at work, at church, online, at school.  Everywhere.

If many of your relationships are Neutral, you will find it hard to be yourself in those venues because your self-expression risks waking the Neutrals.  And if you are not careful you will find your conduct dictated by people who ignore you at the best of times and oppose you when you step out of line.

The Internet makes many relationships potentially in The Neutral.  And I guess I could whine about that.  Maybe get some cathartic victim-talk going on.  But I’m thirty-one now and, like Nick, too old to lie to myself and call it honor.  The problem isn’t with Neutral relationships at all.  They are a partially a product of our tech and partially a product of well-meaning lovely people who just don’t have time to invest in every single one of their eight hundred Facebook friends.

No, the solution isn’t some victim rant.  It’s not the melodramatic pulling of hair and wonderment as to why the world can’t understand us.  The world never understood us–any of us.  It never will.  It’s too big, and so are we.  The best way to deal with a Neutral relationship is to not deal with it at all.

What do you get when you behave the way they want you to?  Silence from The Neutrals.

What do you get when you behave the way your heart leads you?  Opposition (maybe) from The Neutrals.  Stirring approval from your heart.  Constructive empowerment from your invested friends.

It’s not hard to see which path gives you more.

The Neutrals are useful–sometimes they have great points to make.  But they are only useful for information.  They should never be the reason you do (or don’t do) anything.

Talking About Anarchism – A Foundation

The foundation for what would eventually grow into anarchism was laid for me in grade two by a mean-tempered teacher named Miss Martin. Every Friday Miss Martin quizzed us on the times tables. It was a grueling test of a hundred questions. It was so long it made our hands ache. That was the point. Because if you ever finished the test without a single mistake, you’d be exempt from taking it for the rest of the year.  I got a perfect score on the third try.

I knew it as soon as I turned it upside-down on the desk next to me. I had been so close the week before and was completely fed up with the tedious and pointless work. I paid attention, avoided every careless slip, and nailed it. But when my peer marker handed it back, there was a tiny red X beside the fourth question.


But I was right. I knew I was right. I pointed the mistake out to my peer marker. She said my 9 looked like a 4. No problem, I thought. We’ll take the case to Miss Martin. The One Who Knows.  But Miss Martin took the Marker’s side.

I remained calm. I still knew I was right and I had lots of ways of proving it. I pointed out that 4 wasn’t even close to the right answer and no one in the whole class could have made that mistake. I showed her examples of how I wrote the number 4 compared to how I wrote 9 and clearly proved that my 4s looked nothing like 9s and my intention was obviously to put down a 9.

“This will teach you to use better handwriting,” she said, dismissing all my facts with a wave of her hand.

“But it’s a math quiz, not a writing quiz.”  It was no use. I wrote the quiz again the next week

I was disappointed. But more than that, I was shocked. Because I had proved I was right. How could she not have seen it? Did I argue my points wrong? I wrestled with it all day long and eventually this seed was planted deep inside my consciousness:

They don’t know everything.

I started to notice that no one at all seemed to really understand what was going on with life, despite all their apparent confidence. The Ones Who Had It Right looked no happier and were no kinder than The Ones Who Had It Wrong. The most common answers to the most interesting questions were supremely confident, “Because [your teacher / your parents / the elders / my version of God] said sos.”

Eventually it stopped making sense to submit my mind and lifestyle to The Ones Who Know. Because they don’t know—not any more than I do, at least. Because if they are no better than me, why would I follow their conscience, intellect or goodness instead of my own? Miss Martin’s seed grew up and a new idea hit me.

I have no need of governance.

That is anarchism. And it tastes delicious.