Life Inside a Bubble ~ Unequal Relationships of Power

We’ve been living life
Inside a bubble
We’ve been living life
Inside a bubble
” ~ Coldplay “High Speed”

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
― Aldous Huxley

I used to think of myself as a lone wolf, apolitical and agnostic. I am aware that many people think of themselves those ways: tired and frustrated of organized political parties that lead nowhere and sell themselves for anything; disillusioned and skeptical of organized religions which impose human-made rules and interpretations for the convenience of abusive leaders and regimes; and experiencing loneliness and rejection from other human beings who use prejudice and finger pointing to relate to others who they perceive as “different”.

No more…

If we don’t do anything about the things that we perceive as wrong, who will?

Today, I would like to talk about some unequal relationships I have observed in my everyday working with immigrants and job seekers in general; in my everyday volunteering with both grassroots and formal institutions or groups and in my everyday life as a middle-age woman, immigrants myself, ex-refugee and many other roles and hats I have/had in my life.

I hope this can help you to look at life a bit differently.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
~ Paulo Freire

Job Search: Who has the Power and how to Get it Back

Have you searched for a job anytime in your life? Job searching may be different for everyone depending on their particular circumstances. For some, job search last a few days or weeks, for others it never happen (companies searched for them and offered a job), for most people, however, job searching is a nightmare, a roller-coaster, a blood-sucker activity that takes your life, your self-esteem and the best of your energy away. It can make you a monster or break relationships and shatter many dreams in its way…

The reality is that employers, no matter how “good” they may be as regular citizens, have most of the power and the job seeker has none or very little. This makes this, one of the most unjust and unequal relationships we have as a society.

The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had some one pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!”
~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and The Discourses

We educate our children to be “competitive” and “good workers”: schools are designed to make children used to rules, routines and long-boring hours of nothingness and useless facts-learning; even when nowadays schools have switched from competition to teamwork, they continue focusing on competition in other subtle ways: grades and roles, extra-curricular activities, honour-roll, punishment and “counselling” for those who dare to be a bit different, drugs and treatments for those who don’t “behave” and teamwork for everyone, even those who may need more time to work in groups or may work better alone…no respect for individual differences or preferences and focus on the approval of the group (not necessarily consensus or what’s better for the real community AND the individual)

Universities and colleges have become a money-making machines, convincing unaware students that having an education (the higher, the better), they will be safe and settled for the rests of their lives.

Job seekers put all the effort and energy: they study the labour market, they invest in training and more education, they go volunteer to gain experience and connections, they learn all the tricks for interviews, buy clothes, apply, do all their acts they are supposed to do…but the reality is that they are competing with others in an unfair race that has a few winners and lots of losers.

It is not inequality which is the real misfortune, it is dependence.”
~ Voltaire

Employers have all the power: they decide who stays, not necessarily based on education, experience or skills (although these things do count in their final decision), but on “fitness” (similar when you are “nicer and prettier”, you get the best deals in marriage and dating)…and what exactly is “fit”? It can be many things: in a broad sense it means your personality, skill-set and general experience match the job description and the organizational culture. It is understandable that employers want to work with people who won’t cause trouble and will blend easily with the existing team, suppliers and clients. However, “fit” also means matching their own ideals of what a good worker is and their own pockets’ needs (and wants)…are you “expecting too much” ?(i.e. hoping to be paid what you deserve?), are you “over-qualified”? (i.e., you’ll be probably bored, feel underutilized and exploited and may want to leave the place as soon as you find something better), are you “inexperienced” (i.e., they will need to invest money and time to train you…why would they do that when they can find another soul working underpaid who will produce profits for them right away).

Immigrant job seekers have it even worse: they have the disadvantage of having studied far away, English is not their first language in many cases and they are not that familiar with the culture, the market or the products and services the employer is creating.

Furthermore, there are a few groups of immigrants (usually those on work permit, work-study permit, refugees and those with multiple barriers) who don’t have access to any coaching services unless they are willing to pay. Most services are offered under certain guidelines and if you are not “eligible” or are considered “not ready” you are on your own…

The end result of all these factors is that job seekers enter what we know as the job-search “roller-coaster”: a nightmarish process where you feel down and frustrated most of the time and everybody makes you feel it is your fault (“you” are not doing enough, not paying attention, not researching well, not writing good resumes, saying the wrong things during the interview, dressing in inappropriate ways, you don’t have proper soft skills and you may not even be qualified at all for that job you want so much…)

The reality is never black-and-white: as a career counsellor I know that a big percentage of the people I work with don’t make enough effort.  Why is this? What I want to emphasize here is that although some may be just lazy, clumsy or unskilled, most are struggling to make these efforts because this roller-coaster is taking away their own sense of worthiness and dignity. They stop believing in themselves and the job-search process becomes even more difficult. Sadly, statistics show that the bigger the gap between your last professional (or any) job and the next, the worse are your prospects…employers tend to hire people who are already working at their full capacity.

Is this their fault? NO!

What is sad is that this society has made us believe that our worth is related to pleasing those in power (in this case, the employers). Our worth is also related to “status” and our ability to acquire more, bigger and shinier “stuff”…and we have been brainwashed and trained to become “happy” with new gadgets and constant rewards and materialistic pleasures. We also have been brainwashed to believe that only certain jobs (or the job-employer relationship) are of value and that if we can’t get what we want we are a “failure”.

Then, when your job search lasts more than a couple of weeks, you start seeing your finances dangerously dwindling and rejections (or worse, silence) is all what comes your way, you feel worthless, rejected, unloved…

The greatest glory in living
lies not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Nelson Mandela

So, how do you break this cycle? How do you set yourself free from this unequal, unfair, unjust and disempowering relationship you establish when you look for a job or even when you are already employed (trying to please your employer all the time, even if this means going against your values, your loved-ones needs, your own health and worth as a person?)

In Permaculture I have learned about what are called “circles of abundance” and “circles of scarcity”

Our society teaches us that we are in constant scarcity, that we are unsatisfied, we are in need, we are not worth; we are the problem that needs to be fixed. I’m not going to go too deep on this topic, but our social-economic-political and religious institutions all conspire to create these feelings in us.

Opposite to this, we are also told that we are “in control”, that all around us are “resources” (even other people) and that we are somewhat “chosen” and entitled to take what we need and want.

This painful dichotomy makes all of us very unhappy, needy and always looking for ways to protect ourselves from the “if’s” of life…always looking for security and stability, always looking to do all to please those in power and to be loved and admired by our peers.

No wonder why we are all so unhappy, no wonder why we accept these unequal relationships with employers and tend to think we are not what “they want”.

Stop feeding the scarcity circle!

There is another reality: the circles of abundance teach us that life in this planet is actually blossoming and that there is enough for all…if we understand that we are not “chosen”, that we are not “entitled”, that we are worth as others are and that we don’t need to accumulate and ask for more all the time in order to be “safe”…because “safe” is NOT a natural part of life.

And here comes my point: we need to stop thinking as 2-year-old children. “I want this” and “I want that” and ‘I want to be safe forever” are unrealistic thoughts. We need to stop the cycle of “give me” and “why you don’t love me?” and change it for one of “I will create this for myself and others, and I will share my abundance or fight against what is not right” and for one of “I know I’m worth”

We have many things around: air, water, nurturing soil, plants, animals, and other people. And we do have ourselves. Most of us are healthy and able and still an age where we can care for ourselves and carry others who have fallen or temporarily need our support.

What if we start thinking on jobs as something different? What if we start creating our own jobs? What if we start creating opportunities for others? What if we start valuing what we already have and stop desiring what we don’t so we may need a different relationship with jobs and employers?

What if we start accepting that illness, discomfort, a bit of sadness, loneliness and even death are all part of life? What if we start looking at what we already have? What if we start looking at ourselves of beings of intrinsic value, not for what we have studied or done in the past, but for what we learn and do now for others? What if we go for interviews with our heads high and “play the game” for now until the game will eventually change and try changing the game ourselves?

What if we stop seeing the circle as one scarcity and failure, the half-empty glass and start seeing that at least there is some water in the glass and that we may be happy with that amount of water? What if we try to share that half-full glass with others in more need?

At the end of my workshops, I remind my clients that they need to stop saying “I was this” or “I was that”…they still are and they will! I encourage them to dig deep in their lives, their learning, their skills, their values and come up with who they really are…sometimes a physical object, such as a portfolio (binder) may be enough to reflect and remind people who they actually are and what potential they still have.

Never allow an employer “rejection” to make you feel powerless and worthless. We live in a terribly unfair system of scarcity where all are competing to have more. That’s it. You are who you are and no employer or authority will take that from you…

And start looking at what you already have: see beyond the boundaries they have taught you and discover the abundance, create the abundance, share the abundance.

Poverty: Life inside a Bubble

Some of you know that I sit on the board of the local Food Action Coalition. I also teach Emergency Preparedness and First Aid to groups of vulnerable people, mainly refugees and newcomers. In my day-to-day, I see professionals with years of studies and experience looking for work and finding whatever is out there for a minimum wage: engineers packing boxes in warehouses, teachers working as cashiers in big-box stores, economists working in call centres selling stuff they hate, lawyers helping customers in as stations…

I am also aware of what exactly the “unemployment rate” means: that ~7% doesn’t mean that 93 out of 100 people are working. What that means is that there are probably 15% or more of people actually unemployed, but they have given up and are not reporting. From those apparent 97% working, many work on call, part time or in odd or seasonal jobs that don’t provide any satisfaction or stability. And many others work in jobs that underpaid them and underuse their skills.

Those working are what is also known as “the working poor”.

A few days ago I attended a presentation from a local Food Bank. The math is blunt: if you earn anything close to minimum wage and you need to feed others in your circle (children, parents, spouse, friends) you are poor and you may be in need of accessing the food bank…

Among some people I know, “accepting” a minimum wage is unacceptable, counterproductive and beneath one’s dignity.

What they don’t understand is that sometimes, there is nothing else…

I know I’m sounding contradictory with my post above and the circles of abundance and scarcity…but there is another principle in Permaculture: Observe and Interact.

The way I interpret this is not as just “observing” but noting what is working and what is not. And for this, we need to stop being babies and wishful thinkers and walk outside our own bubbles.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have a “stable” job, live in a safe and clean neighbourhood and get away with a middle-class lifestyle tend to see life through coloured glasses…

Life is not like ours for many out there. Life was NOT like this even for some of us for years prior to this…

For many out there, taking a bus to work means not feeding lunch to their children that day. Paying the energy company to keep their houses warm means not having a phone or eating less or living on the edge all the time.

I am not happy when some middle-class “Permaculturists” think that people may heat their houses with passive solar, wood or by creating better insulation. Or that they may feed themselves by growing part of their food and having chickens. And voila! We have a solution for all, why didn’t we think about this before?

As much as I love Permaculture, I need to use what I learned in a realistic way: I personally know and work with people who don’t have land or containers or access to soil or sun. Many can’t afford a package of seeds; let aside any type of insulation services or thinking on moving somewhere better…

A lot of people don’t have gardening skills (nor interest) and they don’t have the time or energy or ability to garden (think two/three jobs and graveyard shifts, think seniors, think mentally ill, think disable, think single-parent, think multi-barrier)…

I recall a time when all my Permaculture classmates would use a bike to go around all the places we had to visit. Only two of us walked. I challenge my Permaculture teacher: why? Isn’t that discriminatory? I didn’t have a bike, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn to bike so well when I was a child (never had access to a bike), I lived far away in a very hilly place with difficult or inexistent bike-paths and for me, I was way older than all my Permaculture classmates of that time and I am not in shape: taking a bike to the course would have been a nightmare…I recall how many were not happy with this: they thought biking was the transportation of the future, biking was healthy and they enjoyed their biking together…

Now I do ride my bike. Sometimes. I have ridden my bike for fundraising race collecting money for refugees…but I am not a professional, and I am not able to ride my bike to work or from my house to downtown Vancouver (~41 kms)

And I wonder how unfair we can be sometimes when we think all out there would be exactly like us. I know many people who wouldn’t be able to ride a bike even if their lives depended on it. Is it their fault? Is it their fault that they are disabled, sick, old or too poor to afford a bike? Is it their fault that they live in places where riding a bike may be dangerous and unsafe?

I call this way of thinking “living in a bubble”…and we all are living in one, some more than others…

Many out there live in the bubble of “everything is OK”: “whatever is wrong is somebody else fault or responsibility” and “they (governments, scientists, gods) will solve whatever is wrong with the world”…these ones have pushed away any source of doubt, any curiosity, any scepticism, any sense of responsibility and realism…they live in the biggest of the bubbles we have.

Others live in other types of bubbles: there are those who think people are poor or unemployed or sick or addicted or obese or ignorant because they want it that way, because they are lazy, or clumsy, or just worthless.

There are those who think we are exaggerating or creating a storm in a glass of water and that all those things we talk about so much (climate change, peak oil, peak water, collapse of fisheries, ecosystems collapse, species extinction, economic failure, poverty, inequality, wars, abuse, etc.) are either happening “somewhere else” (in a parallel Earth?) or not happening at the level we say they are happening…

And are those who live in the bubble of “one size fits all”.

I’m trying to escape all the possible bubbles…

Can we create a world where Food Banks and Salvation Army stores are no longer necessary? Yes, we can.

Can we create a world where people come together to create the things they need instead of competing for jobs and where jobs occupy a small time of our lives and we can dedicate more to enjoy life and relationships? I think it will be hard and it will take time, but we surely can.

Is this world going to be created by forcing all to go through the same funnel? No, it won’t happen.

Is this world going to be created by “them” (who is “them” anyways?) No.

It will be created by us…when we are able to really OBSERVE AND INTERACT, when we understand that not everybody is at the same level of awareness, ability, energy or even commitment.

That world is possible, and that is why I do what I do

Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have.” ~ Lao Tzu

One Comment on “Life Inside a Bubble ~ Unequal Relationships of Power

  1. Reblogged this on Building blocks: science graduates networking space and commented:
    Absolutely amazing and pure true article about one of the bisggest problems societies around the world are facing nowadays. Sad on a side, though optimistic on the other, Silvia’s approach to the problem as both, Employment Counsellor as well as a lover of nature and Permaculturist (among many other things) make it a priceless piece of thought and information. Even more for those who have or are experiencing it currently…


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