Verbalising the idea of care

Shirin Neshat’s All Demons Flee. Image description: A black and white photograph by Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat. Hands of individuals wearing all black are seen nestling a sharp weapon, placed in the middle of all of these hands together.

I have been trying to articulate this edition of this newsletter a couple of times over the weekend, only to scrap everything out, which usually explains that I am in currently in a weird place mentally at the moment — so this is a whole garble, forgive me. At the surface of things, I am just like every single one of us out there, regardless of countries and regions and only to be defined by several different contexts — pissed with our leaders’ thirst for power which inadvertently (although I wouldn’t say so!!!) put us all in a fatal rut. 

So first, call to action:

I broke down briefly this morning, thinking of how much I long to hug my nieces and nephews, of whom I could only see through the little Zoom squares — contrary with the pictures of our politicians disregarding social distancing, shaking hands and touching people in the midst of their reckless political campaigning (a 1-year-old died). The rich and the powerful continue to be oblivious of the grief of this all, plundering the future, waldenponding in their mansions, getting bailouts, entirely unaffected by the growing economic cavern. And now this whole technoractic language of it all as we are reduced to data — numbers of positive, number of fatalities, contact tracing, r-naughts, numbers of unemployment — how do we reclaim ourselves beyond data points? How do make sense of all sorts of grief at this point of time — of people we have lost, of the social lives we have lost, of the blurring boundaries of offline and online — provided we have the privilege to be able to be online, of the intensification of class divide, of the growing uncertainties of our employment/unemployment — have you ever thought of the notion of having to work to ‘earn a living’ by itself is undignifed? Imagine being told you have to earn to be able to exist! How do we write when nothing makes sense anymore?

I have nothing much to offer this week except that I have been relearning the idea of care after years coming from a place where it was so foreign. The conversations I had been in last week had made me think that the idea of care, while I have always thought is always possible, would be made possible if we (as in organisations/companies/startups etc.) could step up further and verbalise it. Imagine reiterating the idea and having a framework of care and safety in every process of our work to remind yourself and the people we work with that it is possible to have this safe, respectful space, where we no longer have to absorb and manage someone else’s second hand anxieties, where we could have reasonable expectations of each other, and celebrate each other’s milestones, no matter how small. It’s like having a poster of motivational words to remind ourselves every so often of your goals on your wall, or if you are a Muslim, it’s like playing the Quran recitations so many times the poetry and the values are embedded in our minds, and if we choose to do something about it — in our practice. If we could imagine the idea of care, if we could verbalise it, reiterate it every step of our process — then we could do something about it. And when I am talking about ‘we’, I am not talking about individual employee or a mere member of the organisation — I am talking about how it should begin from the leadership, I am talking about a collective responsibility. 

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, I was reminded of this line from Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie’s poem, On This, The 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of The Titanic, We Reconsider the Buoyancy of the Human Heart, “The trouble with you humans is you’re so concerned with staying afloat. You’re not a boat — you can go under and come up again with those big old lungs.” This week I am sinking into some sort of feelings, but I am recognising that I am not drowning in it. And so, I will resurface when I am ready.

Reading in my tabs:

  • The students left behind by remote learning, and the students exposing the invasive test-taking software through TikTok.
  • “Why are my sides so sore and achy? It’s from crying, I’m told. I did not know that we cry with our muscles. The pain is not surprising, but its physicality is, my tongue unbearably bitter, as though I ate a loathed meal and forgot to clean my teeth, on my chest a heavy, awful weight, and inside my body a sensation of eternal dissolving.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote on grief after losing her father, every bit of her word I could relate to so well.
  • And another one on grief in the digital time, as the author lost her best friend to the coronavirus: “How does one measure the support of digital grief anyway? Would I have loved her more if my “story” had received 400 views? Would our friendship mean more if a few more people had sent crying emojis in response?”
  • “Before the pandemic, I was thinking a lot about how jobs with vocational awe — from librarians to teachers, from pastors to zookeepers — ironically expose the workers with those jobs to exploitation. Complain about pay? You don’t love the job enough. Attempt to unionise to advocate for a better safety net? You don’t love the job enough. Complain about systemic sexism, racism, or other exclusionary practices at your institution? You don’t love the job enough.” PREACH.
  • And on that note, employers need to know how to handle grief, personally and especially collectively these days.
  • There’s this article about ‘data sprawl‘, now that people are starting to work from home and companies are concerned that company data is going where it should not be, as normally “employees using personal devices for work” so their IT executives are worried that “their employees are not following the policies for keeping their data secure.” This reminded me of several discussions I was in over last week on the questions of the cost of equipments and labour now that people start to work from home and use their own devices — are they going to be compensated if their devices break down? What if they have to go buy new devices and fall sick in the process? All in all, that just like the requirements you have for people to work physically in the office, provide your employees all they need to work from home, which means — small stipends to cover for their WFH equipments or Internet access, and do all you need to assess and close the security and control gaps in your remote work setup etc. Policies would be the last thing to implement once you have made sure the gaps are addressed and filled.
  • Another tale of how each of our innovation has considerable human impacts — including, and especially, those that started as a joke.
  • Because we might need it: the best animal live feeds from around the world.
  • “Drowning people / sometimes die / fighting their rescuers.”


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