Working with Joy

These are perilous times. This election has become a focal point for a growing mountain of danger and stress. What is the way forward, whether there is chaos after this election, or not? As we continue to be threatened by the out of control pandemic, economic collapse, and environmental chaos?

Working with Joy

It is not surprising that most of us have distorted relationships to work, including work in mutual aid groups. The conditions and systems we live under make work coercive, create severe imbalances in who does which kind of work and for what kind of compensation and recognition, and make it hard to feel like we have choices when it comes to work. Working to change the world is extremely hard because the conditions we are up against are severe. We cannot blame ourselves for having a difficult relationship to our work, even though we understand that learning to work differently is vital for our movements and for our own well-being and survival. We must be compassionate to ourselves and each other as we practice transforming our ways of working together.

We need each other badly to share what is hard about the overwhelming suffering in the world and the challenge of doing work for change in dangerous conditions. Even in the face of the pain that being awakened to contemporary conditions causes, all of our work for change can be rooted in the comfort and joy of being connected to one another, accompanying one another, and sometimes being inspired by each other. Reflecting deeply about our own orientations toward work— what it feels like to participate in groups, what ideas we are carrying around about leadership and productivity— is crucial to building a practice of working from a place of connection, inspiration, and joy. This means intentionally creating ways to practice a new relationship to work, and diving into the psychic structures underlying our wounds from living and working in brutal, coercive hiearchies. The following chart may be a useful reflection tool for individuals and groups trying to change harmful cultures and practices of work.

Dean Spade. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Kindle Locations 1469-1481). Verso.

We are experiencing the end stage of capitalism and the political system built on it. As my friend Ronnie James puts it:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?

Ronnie James

So the point is, I think it would be better to work by means of the mutual aid model, since capitalism is not something we want to perpetuate, anyway.

Through Ronnie I have been blessed to learn about, and participate in Des Moines Mutual Aid. When he told me about the Free Food Store, I thought it sounded like a great project, and that might have been the end of it. But I was led to see if I could join in this work. Thankfully, that came about.

And I found it was about much more than distributing food to those in need. As quoted above, “even in the face of the pain that being awakened to contemporary conditions causes, all of our work for change can be rooted in the comfort and joy of being connected to one another, accompanying one another, and sometimes being inspired by each other.

As I’ve shared these experiences, I noticed I was using joy to express how it feels to be part of the free food store work. On several occasions different people I’m getting to know told me these Saturday mornings when we distribute food, are the highlight of their week. And I find that’s true for me, too.

So, especially in these dark and stressful times, I would like you to know there are ways to work for change that have an immediate impact, on those who are hungry, for example. And besides that, can feed your soul as you engage with this work with new friends. This is mutual aid, that I’ve been writing about recently.

Following is part of a table that compares working compulsively to working joyfully. If you click on this image, a readable version of it will appear.

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