Children of Children

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SQUIRREL AROUND THE WORLD

In our last episode I mentioned that Squirrel and I were interviewed by the Seattle Times. That article has since been syndicated, and is now showing up in newspapers around the country, and internationally.

The following week I spoke to Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW, which means I’ve been on public media, just like Mister Rogers.

I also fielded inquiries from some television outlets—A local NBC affiliate and a national daytime talk show—but both of those inquiries came to nought, and the emails have since dropped off.

I’ve seen a blip in donations, a few more YouTube and Substack subscribers, but the wave seems to have come and gone.

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My TikTok has entered an algorithmic doldrums, which is a peril of the platform. The algorithm giveth and it taketh away. There’s no rhyme or reason, no metrics or warnings. It just goes quiet.

I did record my first “Live” on TikTok, essentially a livestreaming broadcast. I’d avoided livestreaming for months because it sounds stressful, and I’d also heard that TikTok creators who livestream are frequently banned without recourse.

But two weeks ago, I was inspired by the specter of television and radio interviews to give live broadcasting a shot. It was a dark evening, so I set up all of my lamps next to my iPhone. Then I took a deep breath and hit the record button.

When I finally hit stop, fifty minutes had gone by. I did find livestreaming stressful, in the same way that I find live performance stressful. But I was enlivened by the steady stream of comments and TikTok “gifts” that showered on me. Squirrel’s fans were ecstatic that he was hosting a live. Squirrel led some breathing exercises, answered some questions, dodged others: “Are you vaccinated?”

I’m interested to do more, but probably not on TikTok, due to the dangers I mentioned. I wish we had sufficient data service in the old growth so I could broadcast from the woods. Because that would be amazing.

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The journalists I spoke to were very interested in my other characters, eg Rage Rabbit, Worry Fox, and Carla Raccoon. I invented those characters to inhabit other perspectives and emotional states (anger, fear, etc.) And the supporting characters figure into many of the early episodes of Squirel Dialogues. But on TikTok I found that the time constraints made it difficult to involve multiple characters.

I’ve decided to unleash Rage Rabbit on TikTok. He has opened with a couple of videos lambasting capitalism.

Squirrel’s followers are ready for La Revolucion, but I did notice a handful of critical comments. A common refrain: Yes, well, communism is evil too. Which is weird because Rage Rabbit never mentioned communism. It seems Rage Rabbit put his paw into the middle of a culture war. In his next video, maybe he’ll rant about the false binary of communism and capitalism. DISCUSS.

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BROUGHT TO YOU BY NONJUDGMENT

I was raised in a judgmental family in a judgmental town in a judgmental country. So naturally, I was quite judgmental for many years.

Then, six years ago, I read a book called Nonviolent Communication. In the book, Marshall Rosenberg frames judgment as a form of violent, or “life-alienating” communication. The idea is that violent communication pushes us apart, closes our hearts, and causes very real hurt. He then outlines a nonviolent communication style which perhaps you’ve heard of. Example:

Violent Communication: It’s really disgusting how you leave your dishes everywhere. You’re the laziest roommate.

Nonviolent Communication: When you don’t clean your dishes, I get frustrated, because I need cleanliness and order in my home. Would you please do your dishes?

NVC spotlights action and effect, without muddying the waters with judgmental or blamey jabs.

A common critique I have heard about NVC is that it is clunky or robotic. Which it is, if rigidly adhered to. But I find NVC more valuable as a loose communication framework, than as a script. And even more so as a philosophy for human relating. The key is to honor the two separate internal realities of two separate human beings. I own my piece and you own yours.

Nonjudgment is foundational to Nonviolent Communication. The nonjudgment starts in the language, but I’ve found I’ve had to absorb it deeply to truly enact it.

Radical nonjudgment has increasingly become a core spiritual belief of mine. I see it echoed in other beautiful nonviolent ideas, like restorative and transformative justice, nonviolent resistance, and prison abolition.

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I say this because I want you to know radical nonjudgment informs everything I do. It has been a spiritual balm in this time of strife and polarization. And it has helped me navigate my reckoning with my childhood trauma.

I also want to say that despite having almost finished several books on Buddhism, and having spent almost a full day at a 10-day meditation retreat, I am not enlightened, and struggle with judgy thoughts constantly. But I no longer take them seriously.

Now I imagine a lovable buffoon chattering away in my head. On Squirrel Dialogues, Rage Rabbit and Worry Fox speak for the judgy part of me.

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The nice thing about nonjudgment is that life gets less dark and awful, and more comprehensible and kind. I now see human beings as understandable, wounded creatures who are just seeking survival, comfort, and wholeness.

I’ve also won back considerable mental and emotional energy by shutting down my extensive judgmental machinery. I now reject labels like criminal, or republican. I’m skeptical of any worldview that leans on an us vs. them, black and white mindset.

It also means that I find labels like victim and abuser to be inadequate, because I find their oversimplification of the human experience to be a kind of violence. Instead, I am forced to seek context, to better understand why people do what they do.

My first broadening of the victim—abuser binary was the idea that we are all victims of victims. In that a person who abuses is invariably someone who was themselves abused. And that this passed-down trauma travels back in time, perhaps to the beginning of the human story.

But for those of us who were not parented right, who did not have “good enough parents,” I have a new frame:

We are children of children.

It’s a recent idea in my healing work and I suspect it explains much of childhood and intergenerational trauma. And also, much of the human-generated mayhem we see in the world.

Lindsay Gibson, author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, describes the phenomenon evocatively (Therapy Talk podcast):

“These are like little kids in grown-up clothes…Imagine the little boy in his daddy suit and the little girl in her high heels.”

Therein lies the tragedy of intergenerational trauma. Adult-sized children playing house, who lack the adult emotional resources to safely raise real-life children. And as we look back in time we realize the parents were themselves raised by adult-children, and so on, and so on.

There are no bad guys here, there are just children, just victims, hurting children.

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So as I tell you what happened to me, you’ll just have to trust that judgment and blame do not fuel my words. When I let go of judgment, it’s easier for me to see what happened, to trace cause and effect, without being clouded by unhelpful things like resentment, or retribution.

I think of this as a truth and reconciliation process, which begins with a nonjudgmental accounting of what happened.

I also invite you to join me in letting go of judgment as you hear this story.

If you have anger, as I do: Hallelujah. Let it be your torch, let it be your engine to set compassionate boundaries, to insist on nonviolence, to stop the cycle of harm.

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