sex, money, and miscellany: talking about what matters

turn the volume down

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2009 at 6:23 am

In Anne Lamott’s fantastic book of essays on writing and life, she talks about a metaphor involving a heavy glass jar and a volume control. It’s a tool for managing the inner critics and editors and other shaming voices that might prevent a writer from ever putting a word on the page. She turns each voice into a little mouse or rat, and imagines a large jar on her desk. She picks up each mouse, listens for a moment, and then puts it in the jar. When all the voices are in the jar, she screws the lid on tight. Then she turns up the volume all the way for a moment, listens to the cacophony, then turns the volume all the way down and gets back to writing.

Shame is one of the most debilitating things we can do to ourselves. We don’t get anything from shame. We don’t learn anything, we don’t grow, and we don’t change. There is no strength, no hope, no reconciliation in either shaming someone or being shamed. All it does is create immobility and listlessness and resentment.

So it’s no wonder that we have so much trouble with sex and money talk. How do you talk about sex and money if there’s so much shame tied up in it? In our world, everyone is touched by sex and money–even a novice in a cloistered religious order will be affected by the economy and the messages about sex and sexuality carried by her faith, and her own childhood experience, and her own body and brain.

If we are ashamed to talk about what our bodies do and how our bodies feel, if we are ashamed to talk about our struggles and our uncertainties and the things we don’t know; if we continue to co-create a culture where two of our pivotal experiences cannot be named in “polite company” then we are always going to have problems with unhealthy sexual and financial patterns in our world. More often than not struggles around sexuality and money stem from lack of information and communication. Then the person who is struggling doesn’t/can’t/won’t talk about it with other people and get help until the last possible second, or until it’s too late. It happens with sexual misconduct and with debt and with pregnancy and STIs and long term financial planning and with paying the bills and with losing a job. That’s awful. That’s unconscionable. As a culture we should be absolutely unwilling to allow that to continue.

And how do we change it?

We start with ourselves. We pick up each one of those wiggling, screaming voices, listen for a moment, put it in the jar, screw on the lid, and turn the volume down. Then we say to a friend that we’re celebrating or struggling with something related to money or sex, something we want to feel less ashamed about, something we can handle, something they can handle. We might get their consent first and then say the thing we need to say, politely, considerately, among people who are willing to take the chance with us. We just start. We leap.

And when a small circle leaps, and then each of them carries it out of that circle and leaps again, the circle grows, and the ripples spread, and the culture changes. It really can be that easy.

So leap. The world can’t wait.

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