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Margins of Error

And there it was: that little signal. It came from one of the least suspected places, a handcrafted sign being held by a fellow Occupy activist. Later I would learn this person did not intend its effect, but I didn’t have the luxury of considering that at the moment I first spotted it in the photo.

“Occupying is in tents.”

Although those words would be benign to most who would see them, people within Occupy Des Moines—and myself in particular—would clearly understand the message. There had been tensions growing within the group for some time about what our next step should be, and whether or not resources should continue to be dedicated to the camp. A wide divide was growing between members that physically occupied the camp, and those that did not.

By then, most of the camps in major cities had been shut down, including Liberty Plaza in New York City. Ours was still going, despite the fact that less than a dozen people stayed there and the local fire marshal kept finding ways to prevent the camp occupants from maintaining heat. Iowa’s winter, and the patience of the city government, loomed large.

And, in the process of debating the decisions ahead of us, Occupy Des Moines slowly became a group eating away at its own flesh and paring itself down to its hardest bone. People began to turn away from the negativity, and as a result, away from the movement.

My personal reaction to this sign was one of anger. I thought it was terribly selfish and disrespectful that the one message someone would choose to express at an action designed to speak up and speak out was—instead of being directed at an injustice--aimed antagonistically at others within the group.

I took it personally.

But, I do that too easily: take things personally. So much so that I have had to develop mental tricks to make myself step back any time I feel a reaction to something building within me. It doesn’t always work, and most often doesn’t work in my interactions with those dearest to me, but when it does it usually yields useful introspection.

In stepping back and away, I’m able to disengage and see myself, and the situation, from a different perspective that makes it easier to deflect anything intentionally directed at me, or dismiss something that I shouldn’t have interpreted as being directed at me. From that space I can also often determine someone’s motivation. Motivation, to me, is the single, most important thing to recognize of something someone has done to cause my reaction, and whether or not I should give it any more credence than I already have.

And so I began to mull this over, this sign, and its intention, and my feelings about it, and I began to wonder why it mattered to me so. That was when I was struck by the thought that I was possibly too involved, too connected, and that stepping back and away—not just for introspection, but for emotional protection, as well—was the best thing to do. It would be the safest thing to do.

Step back. Stay on the sidelines.

Because on the sidelines, in the margins, I could remove myself from the judgment of those words, that I was not really a part of the movement as defined by this person. And in removing myself from that judgment, I also removed the emotional risk, or harm, caused by that narrow definition. I also removed myself from any future risk, which, for me was an even greater motivation to move myself to safe harbor.

It was as simple as that. Or maybe not so. Because, to be honest, it pained me to not feel a part of the group, because so many I had come to know in my involvement with Occupy had become very important to me. I had come to know their personal stories that brought them to the movement, and I had come to care about them. I had learned their struggles that were common with mine, their morals and sense of fairness I shared, their concerns for others and for a better world, and their deep desires to affect change. I was going to miss all that, and them.

So instead, I resolved to hover. I decided that if I placed that buffer between myself and what I saw as the new definition of the movement, I could still maintain those relationships from a comfortable and safe distance. I could even serve a role—a practiced one—as observer and recorder, that would allow me to still feel involved, and would allow for the personal relationships, but would position me out of harm’s way.

It seemed appropriate. I have often thought that some of us are wired to be on the edges looking inward, be the ones that observe, record, and recount from a perspective that allows for a detached commentary. I’ve been a writer and a photographer for much of my life, or thought myself as much, and both of those are skills that require, at least, a certain amount of detachment, because you lose the ability to artfully, and completely, express something if you are essentially involved in what it is you are trying to capture, portray, or project.

However, there is a danger in turning yourself into Life’s spectator; you can often miss out on the sweeter nuances that life itself can bring you. You can make your life absent of real passion, or utter joy, or even contentment. You can forget what it is like to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that are supposed to be an innate aspect of the human experience. You can also lose that sense of sharing that comes with genuine attachment to others, or to one, and, both easily and imperceptibly, you may turn yourself cynical, or bitter.

It is something I have toyed with for much of my life; I’ve carefully and curiously studied and observed others for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been intrigued by the actions of others and what motivates them to those actions. I imagine, when I am not allowed to know, or have not had shared with me, the personal narrative of others that has brought them to be the person I know at the moment, and what motivates them to do the things they do.

When I was younger and traveled a great deal for my work, I used to spend a lot of time in airport terminals, and I found the people there fascinating. I would pass the time and entertain myself by imagining the lives of people I would observe there, and what it was they were coming from and going to.

At social events I could almost always be found near the corner watching everything happen in the room from an advantageous perspective. Add a touch of alcohol and a little music, and human behavior becomes a fascinating spectacle to observe.

In thinking about all of this, I realized that I have often placed myself at the edge of things to be able to observe them. But in considering it within the context of what prompted this particular contemplation, I also realized I’ve done so for other reasons. I’ve done it most often to protect myself.

And, that has also been the case with relationships; it’s safer. The single most frightening thing I believe we may ever do with our lives is to entrust our feelings with someone other than ourselves. Those feelings may be the most precious thing we personally own, and giving over control or care of them, or placing them in a space of vulnerability, is to risk great emotional harm.

Nearly every time I have, I’ve been reminded somehow of the safety, comfort, and ease of those margins, and I’ve returned to them. But, I’ve done so, at times, with some regret, and with an understanding of what I may have denied myself.

And, I’ve even realized at times that doing this can sometimes be a mistake, as was the case with the misinterpreted protest sign that I took personally, and that made me consider my usual retreat. Because this time, I felt too much was at stake, and too many people had become too dear to me. I couldn’t simply resort to being a casual observer. This time, I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did.

I might just try doing that again sometime.
© 2012 Cody Kilgore. All Rights Reserved worldwide under the Berne Convention. May not be copied or distributed without prior written permission.

This post first appeared on Tomorrow, Full Of Promise, please read the originial post: here

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Margins of Error


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