Radical Honesty & Perspective
By Shelley Beech
17th May 2022
On the way to Cwm Caredig in the car, we were stationary at some roadwork traffic lights.
“Wow, look!” said Paul “There’s a bird of prey on that post” and he pointed out of his window. I couldn’t see the bird from the passenger side, but I trusted there was a bird of prey as he said. I had to take his word for it even though I couldn’t see it for myself. It got me thinking. From my perspective, I couldn’t see the bird, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. And so it should be when someone tells us their perspective and what they can see that we should believe them even when we can’t see it ourselves.
When you trust someone, it’s a lot easier to believe what they see is true, so when it comes to perspective, trust is every bit as important as what you can see for yourself. With invisible illnesses and disabilities it’s even more important to believe when someone shares their struggles even if it isn’t immediately apparent. Your experience may be wildly different to theirs and true empathy requires disregarding your limited understanding and imagining how it is for them. All too often, people with autism, mental health issues and medical conditions that aren’t immediately apparent are accused of lying, ‘hamming it up’ and even faking to ‘get attention’.
People tend to decide what other people should be like based on what they would do; anything outside what they consider ‘normal’ is greeted with suspicion. If we want to create an inclusive society where certain minorities aren’t overlooked, we have to start accepting that people with special needs have a different experience and perspective, and it’s a valuable perspective that needs listening to. And being believed. Sure, there may be certain individuals that have mental health issues that include what we currently call attention seeking behaviour, but when we shift our perspective and see it as ‘connection seeking’ then we can address that too.
If someone shares their experience of you and your behaviour, it’s also important to believe them, especially if your actions are hurting them. To find excuses or give defensive reasons why they ‘got you all wrong’ is to avoid seeing the reflection they are holding up to you. It invalidates their experience and dismisses their perspective. All too often, people jump to defend their actions with claims of no bad intentions, but if you do this too quickly you miss the opportunity to see how you come across and deny yourself the opportunity to grow. We should be supporting each other's growth and seeing the giving of feedback (whether good or not so good) as an act of love.
Having my own special needs means I have developed strong boundaries when it comes to my safe space. To some, this can be seen as controlling; but again, a small shift in perspective will help others to see that autistic people in particular need to control their environment to some degree to avoid embarrassing meltdowns and triggered episodes. The outside world is impossible to control, but our home and sanctuary should be free from having to try and explain why the lights need to be lower or that noisy devices can be debilitating.
All too often, autistic traits such as the ‘info dump’, oversharing, being just a bit too happy or a heightened sense of injustice that leads to ranting can be alarming to people not used to such openness or free expression. For the neurotypical person, it may trigger alarms that the person telling them with zealous enthusiasm everything they know about the filming of Lord of the Rings or which fungi are edible is slightly unhinged and that can be scary and intimidating. A shift in society towards a more authentic way of being where we are all free to express ourselves (and be the beautiful weirdoes we all are really) without constant fear of rejection or judgement would go a long way to solving so many of the issues we have where people fear what is different.
A common cry from the neurodiverse community is that they are often so honest that they are thought of as rude, but as we need a global shift that acknowledges the crisis we are in, it's time to stop being offended by the truth and start embracing it. I've have adopted the mantra that you should say what you mean and mean what you say, but am still trying to master how to do that without coming across as mean. Please bear me while I adjust the volume on my rage.
I recently posted an opportunity on Facebook for someone to run Fferm Heulog, our community farm in Ceredigion. Ideally, we would like to offer it with a view to passing on ownership to someone who might not necessarily have the funds to buy it, but who has the passion (and time) to work the land. We could come to a bespoke agreement with an individual or couple whose personal dreams fall into alignment with our vision. It could be a similar arrangement to the ‘employee to owner’ scheme I devised to enable my shop manager to buy my retail business off me with no cash outlay.
Ideally, we would want to hand the farm to someone who is experienced in growing veg and is already a supporter of the Eden Movement so that the new way of growing together and sharing what we have is as important to them as it is to us. To me. I have a vision and the farm is an integral part of how we achieve our goals of forming community networks that work together to collectively grow everything we need which would shorten the food supply chain, reduce our carbon footprints and focus on self-sustainability and renewal. To share what we have and take only what we need. We are destroying the planet with our greed and consumerism, so it’s urgent we change our perspective collectively. We need to start being honest about the harm we are causing with our need for gratification and convenience and start being held accountable for our choices. It might be the brutal truth to say that your choices are leading to the destruction of our planet. To you it’s just a cheap flight, but to the atmosphere, it’s getting disastrously close to not being able to fix it. To you it might be a ready meal, but an animal had to die for it in one of the worst of the death industries.*
Finding someone willing to commit to running the farm full time and stepping away from using fossil fuels would be a good start. Someone with time to tend to the plants in the polytunnel daily would be fabulous. Someone who already knows how to grow food or is deeply passionate to learn – perhaps willing to take instruction until they become experts themselves. We are keen to experiment how to best create our edible forest gardens and veganic food productions with a mix of traditional and indigenous knowledge and modern technology so someone who loves growing and is open to new ideas would be ideal.
It’s a great opportunity for someone to radically change the way they live. It could offer an escape from the rat-race, in particular to someone who is caught in the rent trap cycle of working a job they hate to pay for a home they are never in because they have to work so hard just to pay the bills. We want to share what we have and give people a ‘leg-up’. It’s a huge part of the movement. To help people become custodians of our future.
In these transitional times, we must start seeing title deeds as just a piece of paper for us to name the ‘custodian’ or keeper and not that we are somehow selling ourselves short and shackling ourselves to a capitalist system when all land should really be common land. Stomping around saying no one should ‘own’ land creates too large a gap to bridge. Gentry and large landowners are unlikely to suddenly agree and give land back to the people just because their ancestors stole it. To change the system, we believe in changing it from within and offer stepping stones and transitional steps to a different way of organising ourselves to become more self-sustaining and resilient. Making it a safer world to share what we have is a crucial part of the evolution.
To bridge the gap and make it possible for those who have the means to facilitate those who have the skills and willingness to learn requires valuing each other and what we can each bring to the table without judgement. We still have to operate within this system to create something that can function outside the system, and we need to bring what we can to the cause, whether that's finances, skills, resources or time.
There are huge numbers of people wanting to live differently; wanting to lower their carbon footprint, wanting to do something to help divert the disasters our grandchildren are heading towards, and they aren’t all hippies and alternative types that eat quinoa and grow their own veg. It’s also regular folk who have spent the last twenty-five years going to work, having families and paying off mortgages that want to do something more than just buy a retirement villa in Florida and play golf when the kids have all left home. There’s a shift occurring and people who would have never have considered themselves to be pioneers are quitting their rat-race lives and choosing something kinder to themselves, to the animals and to the planet. Ordinary people are waking up and seeing that we need a new way. Part of that is buying up land and securing it to be rewilded and reforested. As dairy and sheep farming goes under and more smallholdings and farms become available on the open market, people will pool their finances and create eco-villages. There are eco-mortgages for intentional communities and new housing co-ops are springing up everywhere.
We see ‘securing’ land as a transitional step from capitalism to something kinder. Choosing who to share what we have with is a different matter and the challenges to remain inclusive yet have clear boundaries that honour our mission statement is more difficult than we expected. We have had to acknowledge that until we have a core team that we can hand over responsibility to and a more consensus-based decision-making community model, we are somewhat like kind dictators choosing who is allowed in. It’s a tricky role for someone as honest as me, as I am prone to telling someone when I do not feel they are ready for the responsibility.
My shop manageress is so grateful for the opportunity to be her own boss of a successful company that when she is ready to retire, she’s going to offer the same scheme forward to someone else who otherwise would never be able to buy the business off her. It’s a modern take on family continuing the family business, because our biological children are (and should be) free to go and create their own futures and not be held to a career that they might not necessarily want. We should all be free to follow our heart after all.
Handing over a business or a farm or a home to someone deserving who couldn’t otherwise have that opportunity is a powerful way to share what you have. It feels good to help people, however we have learned the hard way that sometimes people will say exactly what they think you want to hear to make the most of the opportunities we offer. It’s the cultural norm to go to a job interview and lie about your abilities to get a job. Or not reveal any challenges that might scupper your chances, but this not how we should be living at all. It's not what I expected when I opened my home and heart to share what we have and if I'm honest, the process has left me feeling broken on a regular basis.
We should all be able to be completely honest about what we can offer, what we are capable of and what our challenges are. My manageress was entirely honest about her dyslexia and we work with that; like delegating bookkeeping to someone who doesn’t see numbers as a jumble. It works. We had a volunteer at the farm for a while with ADHD, so we adapted how we operated and created itineraries and a choice of tasks that could be done in the whirlwind of activity that more suited our volunteer. If you aren’t honest about your challenges, whether that’s to your boss, your colleagues, your friends and even your family, they won’t be able to accommodate your needs the way you require to be mentally well. So begins the ‘masking’ that so many people do in order to fit in. As an autistic woman attempting to live authentically, I am dropping the mask. I say it as I see it these days. I attempt to always temper my words with kindness as I have only good intentions but it would appear my honest disposition is somewhat of a novelty to the majority of neurotypicals I encounter.
It’s been normalised to pretend to like people; for example your boss because you want to keep your job, or your mother-in-law because you don’t want to be openly unkind but for me personally, I can feel the dishonesty of disingenuous visitors or employees and it makes me feel unsafe. I used to think it was something I was doing and I would try a little harder to be liked, but I don’t do that anymore. Instead of slipping into trauma-based chronic people-pleasing, I now step back and notice my discomfort, acknowledge it and either remove myself from the situation or tell people when I feel unsafe. You really find out who is capable of empathy when you present them with a request to modify their behaviour to enable you to feel safe. For those who jump straight to “I’ll do what I like thankyouverymuch” or “I will not be controlled” and other delightful clichés like “Don’t tell me what to do” that are often followed by accusations of being over sensitive, faking it or being in the wrong highlight a lack of compassion that is dangerous. It’s born of the same cognitive dissonance that makes carnists angry with vegans and criminals oblivious to the harm they cause their victims.
I have met a few genuinely lovely people who despite being of cheery disposition and having very likeable personalities fell at the first hurdle of being able to accommodate another whose needs were greater than their own. Whilst they may mean well by putting their 'best foot forward', overestimating the level to which they are able to think of others is all too common. It doesn't help that we are living in the age of ‘why should I?’ and the idea that no one has the right to make you feel bad about your choices, but this has led to a complete bypassing of our moral obligations to leave this world a better place than how we found it. To treat each other like family we value. To hear each other. Even the loudest of declarations that we are heading towards disaster is falling on deaf ears. It would seem most people would rather focus on the disruption or inconvenience to their lives that protesting or campaigning brings than hear the message. People often hate the messenger and refuse to acknowledge the message because it would mean changing too much.
We live in a world where we compete for success and recognition. Where people take advantage of others to get ahead. Or to just survive. I've been witnessing more and more trauma responses that look a lot like narcissistic personalty disorder from people unable or not ready to face themselves and be held accountable but I find it hard to be angry or hold a grudge. We are all a product of our experiences after all and cluster B personality disorders are a product of trauma that we should be trying to help heal, not demonise. It doesn't mean tolerating abuse or mistreatment to have compassion towards those who were utterly charming to begin with and then shockingly toxic when they discover a deeper connection is required than they can offer. It's part of their journey and I have finally learned not to take it so personally; people can only meet you in so far as they have met themselves.
We want conscious connections based on honesty and awareness so that we can create a safe space for everyone to thrive. Not just survive; we can thrive if we want. We just have to want it enough to get on with living authentically and addressing the issues with honesty. No need to blame or shame, just focus on what we need to change.
I’m all for being authentic, seeing if that fits and if it doesn’t, thanking each other for the lessons and moving on with no grudge. Most people we encounter are lovelies. We have found that vegans are statistically far more likely to be making kinder choices when it comes to their core nature. However, there are too many vegans that have taken to loving and protecting animals and hating people. It isn’t helping our cause. To evolve and save our own species, we have to learn how to get along. The current system is failing us, so choosing kindness as our priority in all our decision making and waking up to the true consequences of ALL our actions, not just those that direct our consumer choices is how we will evolve.
Neurodiverse people are more inclined to be honest so it’s no great surprise that our tribe is made up of largely autistic and highly empathic people. By the very nature of how we talk to each other, we have created a way of being that takes getting used to for some people who are used to politely eating a meal they don’t want or ‘keeping quiet to keep the peace’. For those that find it a refreshing change and welcome the authenticity I am well regarded. I do not play games, but as I challenge inconsistencies in a quest to reach better understanding and grasp the truth in all situations, there have a been a few people that have come to us and left quickly when they found they were unable to live authentically.
People say they like to know the truth and are fine with having uncomfortable conversations until they are presented with one. I like transparency and a consistent narrative that isn’t altered depending on who you are with. If you are struggling, say so. If you want something, ask. If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands. Or flap them. Be yourself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of trying to hide all your flaws, you found yourself in a safe space where you could be yourself without shame, heal from trauma without embarrassment and be loved even when you are working through something?
We need to normalise speaking up to say how it is, good or bad and be willing to be held accountable when we get it wrong. My last PA called it radical honesty. I call it honesty, but in this twisted and shallow world I guess it is radical. There are some interesting opinions out there about radical honesty so I would encourage you to read up on it, for although I am not about to start labelling myself as radical, I believe in true authenticity, and in turn finding your aligned place in the world. To find where you truly belong, it relies on absolute honesty with yourself and those around you. Here are a couple of interesting articles on radical honesty
To find where you truly belong, it relies on absolute honesty with yourself and those around you.
My post on Facebook looking for a custodian for the farm mentioned that we want to sell to someone that wants more than a hobby farm they squeeze in around their 'proper job' or somewhere to store belongings and have mates round. We considered whether saying such a thing would be seen as a dig to someone who offered to buy the farm that didn’t seem to understand our vision, but here’s the other thing about honesty – or radical honesty if you like is that we are all free to tell our stories. If that story includes information that has led to parameters shifting or lessons learned, then I believe that’s something worth sharing. The idea that we cannot talk about something if it perhaps paints someone in a less than favourable light needs challenging. Expressions like ‘washing your dirty laundry in public’ or talking about people ‘behind their backs’ are clichés designed to shame people into silence when things go wrong. But that doesn’t hold people accountable or lead to greater understanding. So I say tell your story. Tell it from your perspective. It’s yours to share and if someone doesn’t want you to tell people what they said or did, they shouldn’t say or do things that they wouldn’t want people knowing about them. Tell the truth. Own your mistakes. Be willing to change. Be prepared to suspend disbelief and believe someone’s story. If we lived that way, and all held ourselves accountable, the world would be a very different place.
*Death industries include fossil fuel industries, aviation, animal agriculture and plastic production. They are the industries most responsible for the destruction of our planet and by supporting them, the consumer is equally culpable.