Why things stay the same

So this happened:

Last September, I started a degree course at Dundalk Institute of Technology. It’s a great college, and I’m very happy here. But there’s always a but.

Part of the (mandatory) orientation included all of us being addressed by a Catholic priest. I left the room before he started speaking, I happened to have a legitimate excuse, but if I hadn’t, I’d still have left. It felt so, so wrong to have an address by a religious figure included in the orientation for a course at a secular college. But that’s just my own, private, personal feeling so I aimed to handle it discreetly, and I think I succeeded. I just want to keep my head down and get my degree, then move on.

Then boom, I got these emails from the priest. The first one was understandable, he had to let everyone know he was there if they wanted to confess something, right? But the second one was not okay. Nor was the third. By the time I received a fourth email (this at a rate of about one a month), I asked very politely that I please be taken off their mailing list. That was not possible. The priest, in this college, has blanket access to every single student email, he has licence to inject his religious invitations into your inbox if you study here, whether you like it or not. He couldn’t exclude me even if he wanted to.

I tried to block emails from his address. It was not at all an obvious process, and why should I have to be the one to have to actively resist this spam? Why is the onus not on the person actually sending this stuff? But hey, I just wanted to quietly and privately opt out of this, so I figured it out and changed email settings to make sure I at least didn’t have to see this ridiculous assumption of entitlement stuffed under my nose into my inbox every month.

What do you know, it didn’t work. So in January, I emailed the college president, explained as politely as I could why I had a problem with the current state of affairs, and got a great, understanding response. That is not sarcasm, my faith in humanity was restored. In February, I got another feckin’ email from the priest. And again in March. I replied and asked him to please stop spamming my email account.

Finally, an email from an administrator, offering for me to go to her office for her to help me set up my email to no longer receive these emails. They had changed back-end stuff since December, so now it was in fact an option to send such crap directly to the shredder. This doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that the college assumes by default you want to receive all the priest’s news every month, and that you have to jump through hoops to get it to stop. It doesn’t solve the problem that the RCC is given outrageous privilege in access to students who never asked for it. It doesn’t change my extreme discomfort that something that’s not exactly secret but also most certainly not public – my student number, which is part of my student email address – was given to the RCC’s servant. But by now I just wanted to get this over with and I was exhausted after a rough week. Just… whatever.

So finally I’m in the admin’s office, and I tell her I’m ragged but am going to try very hard not to swear. Just so’s you know, I don’t think this solves the problem. I mean, how can it be right to send religious emails to people through an academic communication channel? What the fuck?

POUNCE! I swore. Bad girl, to quote her, “watch yourself.” Fair enough. Because, I then realised, firstly I was wrong to swear, no matter how many months I’ve had to struggle to get the extremely simple request met to not be spammed, no matter how frustrated I was, no matter how outrageous the situation seemed to me. It was not on.

But also:

Reason One why things stay the same:

When you point out something that has always been done this way is wrong, you’d better make sure you’re perfect because The Powers That Be are going to nail you to the floor for every single flaw you show. I decided at that point to be courteous and under no circumstances to try to argue my point. Just to emphasise, I was wrong to swear, I don’t deny that, but the “watch yourself” was a reminder how the game is played. I just had to shut up and get the priest’s spam to be dealt with then leave.

So. When she said our student email is not an academic communication channel, I didn’t argue. This:

not_academic_comm_channel

…is not an academic communication channel. Which brings me to:

Reason Two why things stay the same:

When you dare to complain and they can’t fault your arguments, we’ll start getting extremely technical about definitions, for instance, to create, out of thin air, a way to invalidate your complaint. So God for instance may get redefined until they claim when they pray to Jesus to open a meeting, when you hear Jesus you should understand it to mean some vague deity which totally can include whatever you believe. Wink wink.

I saw the light. Of course, this email with the college logo and which has your student number and the college acronym as part of it, through which you get notifications about classes changing or being cancelled and when your assignment has been submitted successfully and through which you’re notified when an assignment has been marked and through which lecturers notify you of changes in deadlines, it’s not an academic communication channel, therefore presumably it’s okay for it to be used to circulate the RCC’s notifications and invitations and shit.

How could I not have understood that from the beginning.

Reason three why things stay the same:

Bad, bad me! The chaplaincy is a requirement for all academic institutions in Ireland. How can I ask anything to change that is required from on high?

So that was indeed new. Wow. The state actually requires SECULAR academic institutions in Ireland to have a chaplaincy for students*. But her next sentence blew me away:

“We can’t afford to pay for representatives of all faiths, so we pay the priest and he covers all religious needs.”

Okay. Right. So I’m not even going to begin to try to begin to START discussing everything that’s wrong with looking at religion that way. I mean, I’m an atheist, but I used to be an evangelical Christian and I can give you a written guarantee I would not EVER have turned to a Catholic priest for my religious needs. We viewed the RCC as a corrupted version of Christianity and the Pope was speculated to be the antichrist. I remember my mom being very progressive and controversial when she said, years ago: “You can find true Christians even in the Catholic church.” That statement blew me away back then. What a novel thought, that you’d find an actual real Christian in the RCC.

But yes, sure, great, I’m sure all students of all religious persuasions are just grand to have a one-size-fits-all priest. I wonder does he have a collection of signs in his drawer, and he pops one around his neck to just let whoever is with him know today he is an imam, tomorrow he is a guru, day after that he is a shaman.

And there I was fooled by that black outfit. Looks just like a Roman Catholic priest, but you learn something new every day. No doubt nobody would ever feel reluctant to go see him fearing he’d either deliberately or uncosciously steer them towards his particular religion. The RCC is after all not known for indoctrination.

So now we have to go back to that little sentence and have another small inner explosion. I’m sorry but WHAT THE FUCK is this time totally justified: the college has to PAY the priest???!!! I… let’s just move on before I sprain something.

Reason three, summarised, is that if you complain, you create problems for often already overburdened organisations who are just doing their utter best to comply with the demands made of them. This is usually true. You may not be a villain, you may just want to stop receiving spam, for instance, but you will end up feeling like a villain and chances are if you make more of a fuss you’ll look like one, too.

Reason four why things stay the same:

You may not need this service, but others do.”

How dare you object to 100% of students being subjected to an intrusion by a religious organisation through a non-academic communication channel mandatory for all students, with no opt-out possible unless you email the college president and eventually make an appointment with an admin to show you how to implement the instructions secured from the IT department? How dare you feel it’s not right for a representative of religion A to be paid and given an office on campus to minister to people from religions A through Z? You’re so selfish.

Things stay the same because if you dare complain, you always end up feeling like the sea couldn’t wash you clean.

Reason five things stay the same:

“Really?” said my husband when I told him about the one priest to rule them all, one priest to find them approach to ministry on campus. “Why don’t you make an appointment with him, tell him you’re a satanist and you need religious guidance. Ask him to have the Satanic Bible on hand, you really need an expert’s advice. Go on, I dare you.”

I laughed. “Nah.” Because I just don’t have the energy or time. Reason five things stay the same is because It’s Always Been Done This Way is like a huge blob of… let’s say jelly. If you try to push it, it doesn’t really resist, but it’s also not moved. You end up covered in it, exhausted, possibly ruined, and the jelly will be exactly where it was before you started.

Not for me, thanks. I just wanted to stop some spam.

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*A friend asked a legitimate question: really required? By the state? I realised it was an assumption, she didn’t specify who required it. So now I am puzzled and intrigued. I can find no explicit info online. It would be interesting to know. If I find out I’ll update this. 🙂

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Nothing to do with me

I really, REALLY struggle to deal with things I see around me which are wrong. This is especially a problem for me when I’m in traffic. Being on a bicycle, realising how severe the consequences can be for me if a driver’s actions cause me to crash, I can get very worked up. This leads, sometimes, to me completely losing my nut and scfreaming or gesturing at people. And this in turn leads to me beating myself up about acting like that for days, weeks sometimes.

This week, I remembered a piece of advice from Fred Luskin’s Forgiveness methods: you cannot enforce your rules on others. Even if your rule is to obey rules we as society have decided we need in order to function for the maximum good for us as a group, such as stopping at a traffic light when it is red, you cannot enforce your rule of abiding by rules.

And I started repeating the mantra: “Nothing to do with me.” Cars parked in a space reserved for bicycles to be able to enter the cycle lane and, you know, GET OUT OF THE WAY OF CARS? Nothing to do with me. What has got something to do with me is figuring out how to get past them, so really that’s all I should focus on. Why they’re there is none of my business. It is especially not something I can influence or change, so no amount of anger or frustration on my side is going to be helpful.

Instead, I can raise the issue of lack of enforcement with someone who can do something about it. I can raise the issue when a politician comes to look for my vote. I can help with whatever efforts are being made to increase cycling numbers in my town – the more of us there are, the more provision and consideration becomes important.

But shouting and swearing? Pointless. At best, counterproductive, creating a negative image of cyclists in general, and of me in particular.

That’s everything to do with me.

Hotness, and other madness

Yesterday’s cycle was… strange. It was my first trip with my brand new very swanky bib tights, and lo, they are good. I had to stop soon to take off my rain jacket, though, as the deluge promised by the forecast was nowhere in sight, and I was boiling, boiling hot. Yes, I too think this is somewhat strange in 10’C weather, but well. I at least gave two guys in two different cars something to get excited about, it seemed.

Because, ya know, without the jacket I was clad in the tights and my sports bra. Which in my defence looks like a crop top, not a bra. I hope. Feck it, I was very, very hot.  Continue reading

Shredded Nerves at Pink & Gold

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Please note – I didn’t go to the tri intending to take photos, so what I have here was taken with my phone. Which doesn’t, as you’ll see, boast a very good camera. My apologies for the poor quality of the images.

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“Marie,” I said, “is it just me, or is this thing not very well organised?”

“Not just you.” There were many things making her, Sydney (who had just completed his first Ironman the weekend before) and myself very uncomfortable. Some of the stuff happening at the Pink and Gold Sprint Triathlon in Virginia on 1 August 2010 seemed downright dangerous. Continue reading

Analysis of a Decision

The text took me by surprise: We might have a space on Mizen to Malin for you. Weeks ago, when I’d asked for a place and found the quota filled, I asked to be put on the waiting list as one of those things you do without expecting or even hoping that anything would come of it. Now the possibility of joining the group of cyclists travelling between 220 and 250km a day for three consecutive days was real.

I spoke to Kevin on the phone later. He was serious, realistic about what this undertaking would require. We worked through the obstacles I faced, and in the end it boiled down to two questions for me: Can I do the distance at 28km/h average, and can I cycle with a group? I undertook to find answers to these, and let Kevin know my decision as soon as possible. He didn’t give me a deadline, but I saw on Cuchullain Cycling Club’s website that the fee for the trip was due 25 July. Counting the day I received the text, it left me nine days to make a final decision.

Continue reading

An Honest Answer

This was written around 14 March 2010.

“So,” he said, “what do you think of all this stuff?”  He gestured to the display of nutritional supplements for serious athletes.

I hesitated.  How do I put into words my neurotic, stupid, probably mistaken and likely insulting impression that the triathlon community looks at me with a slightly puzzled expression?  I think it waits for me to give up my silly notion to enter this prestigious world, and go away.  “I don’t even know where to begin with all this stuff,” I said, meaning more than the nutritional supplements, but he didn’t need to know that.

“It’s all just common sense,” he said, and I felt a tiny little bit better.

However, I was not completely fooled.  This casual statement sounded very much like the responses to my tentative questions to determine whether triathlons would be a good idea for me.  ‘Just stick a bit of swimming and running onto that and you’ll be all right,’ someone had said on the forum when I laid out my history of touring cycling.

Ha.  A bit of swimming and running.  And what, Sir, made you forget about core strength training, about swimming stroke drills (do I even call that the right thing?), about brick sessions and practicing transitions?

‘Best place to start,’ another added, ‘is to join the local triathlon club.’  So let’s look into what that means, being a member of the club: Continue reading