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Don’t Be a Chump, Be a Hell Raiser

Mother Jones in tent cityI’m struck by how often the catalyst for an extraordinary life is loss.

A friend of mine posts various nuggets of history on Facebook and the other day she featured Mother Jones. (Not the magazine that is named for her, but the labor organizer.)

Mary Harris Jones had a shit hand dealt to her if anyone ever did. Born in 1837, she became a school teacher, married a George Jones and together had a family of four children. Then as a young woman, she lost her entire family. Her husband and all of her babies perished in a yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. The children were all under the age of five.

That would be enough tragedy to send you to the mental ward for life, but Jones rebuilt and moved to Chicago to work as a dressmaker. By all accounts, she was quite successful at it. And then the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 hit and she lost everything. Again. Her home, her business, and all her worldly possessions.

Can you imagine? She reinvented again. In middle age! For the rest of her life (she lived to be 100), she was a fearsome labor organizer — called “the most dangerous woman in America.” What was she fighting for? To keep children out of coal mines and in school. Yeah, radical stuff. There were no child labor laws back in the day. The protections we enjoy today, we owe to protesters like Jones. I like this quote — she said: “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.”

She had a smart ass Irish wit. When denounced on the Senate floor as the “grandmother of all agitators,” she replied: “I hope I live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.”

In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Philadelphia to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

The picture above is her outfitting children with shoes for that march. She was in her 60s by then — leading marches on foot, hundreds of miles. The children she marched with, many were missing fingers and limbs — maimed from factory work. She tried to get the president to give them an audience. Roosevelt was unmoved, but she never stopped fighting for workers’ rights.

“I am not afraid of the pen, or the scaffold, or the sword. I will tell the truth wherever I please.”

Take those words to heart, chumps. Loss can make you brave. When your world has been obliterated, it can provoke a fearlessness that is a gift. What can they throw at you that you haven’t survived worse? Could the pen, scaffold, or sword be worse than losing four children, a husband, and everything you ever worked for? They couldn’t touch her.

She could’ve let that loss kill her. Send her into mourning or the care of relatives for life. No one would’ve blamed her, it would’ve been the expected thing for a woman her age back then. But she did the unexpected thing — she became a fighter. She transmuted that pain into a courageous empathy that did some good in the world.

The futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

I love that quote. I first saw it as a tag line in an email from an organic farmer. I think it appealed to her because she is part of a movement trying not to change industrial agriculture — but replace it with a new, sustainable, organic farming system, that bears no relation to the old order whatsoever.

My farm-y interests aside, I also think there is great wisdom in that quote for chumps. You do not change things by fighting the “existing reality.” If that reality is infidelity, you will not change it with the pick me dance, by trying harder, by chasing reconciliation unicorns. To change, you need to build a new model — YOU — that makes the existing model (chumpy OLD you) obsolete.

You need to invest in an entirely new reality. A BETTER reality (leave a cheater, gain a life). So often we “fight” instead — we butt up against the existing reality of being cheated on. We fight by trying to prove our worthiness, by obsessing over the affair partner, by staying locked in unhealthy ways of relating, by being the marriage police, when what we need to do is make our old crappy lives obsolete. It’s harder to mourn something, when you’ve got a better something to replace it with.

Did you know Buckminster Fuller was another one of those extraordinary people transformed by loss? If you’re not familiar with Fuller, he was a prolific inventor, architect and designer, who is best known for the geodesic dome. He was also a futurist and humanitarian, and a total odd ball. (He was expelled from Harvard twice: once for spending all his money partying with a vaudeville troupe.)

By age 32, Fuller was bankrupt and jobless, living in low-income public housing in Chicago, Illinois. In 1922, Fuller’s young daughter Alexandra died from complications from polio and spinal meningitis. Allegedly, he felt responsible and this caused him to drink frequently and to contemplate suicide for a while. He finally chose to embark on “an experiment, to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”

It’s a grandiose thought — to contribute your life in such a way to benefit “all humanity.” But then again, chumps — why the hell not? If labor marches and inventions aren’t your thing, find something that is. Invest in your better self. If you find your personal life destroyed by infidelity, yes, it’s tragic. It’s also an opportunity. Think of all the things you could be filling your new life with… making that past life obsolete. So what’s going to be next, chumps?

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”  — Mother Jones 

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  • I went through a big Bucky phase (read Synergetics, Critical Path, etc back in the 1980s 🙂

    Big admirer of Marry Harris Jones too 🙂 Maybe I need to move away from Memphis too? LOL. Worked for her.

    On a more serious note, totally agree with the sentiments. It’s a chance to start over and do better, and there are many, many options 🙂

    • I learned about BF when I had to cover the Buckminster Fuller award in NYC — this guy from Vermont won the first one with a water filtration system that was all natural. They showed these disgusting sewers in China (before) and then the stunning afters of clean water with this green system. There were some very old folks in attendance who knew BF — so I just started reading up on him. The whole Spaceship Earth thing. He was fascinating! He developed air conditioned cars AGES before Detroit. Such an imagination. I was surprised to read about his life that he started out rather a failure, a flop at business, and suffered the tragedy of his daughter’s death. Quite a turnaround!

      The Chump Lady site is unrepentantly nerdy! Glad you’re a fan of both BF and Mother Jones!

      • Tesla kind of spiraled out of control in the end, right? I think it was George Westinghouse who took advantage of him. He sold all the rights to AC generators, step up and step down transformers and so on to to GW who patented them, and then spent the proceeds of that transaction trying to transmit electricity through the air (and succeeded creating the first man-made lightning) which kind of makes no sense, because if you think about what happens when a conductor (let’s say a train or a car) moves through a magnetic field, that’s a generator, plus things like TV and cell phones would be impossible in broad spectrum magnetic fields like he tried to create, and that was kind of tragic.

        I put Tesla’s tragedy up there with Edwin Howard Armstrong’s.

        • he didn’t get chumped by Edison, he got chumped by their sponsor, there is a new book out on him BTW, pretty interesting stuff. Sad that the only way most people know of Tesla is cos of the ball of lightning you can buy that reacts to your touch 🙁

      • They did – and while it’s expensive (something like $85,000) – it received Consumer Reports’ first and only “perfect” score for luxury, handling, etc. Too bad it only has a range of about 200 miles… 🙂

        • oh yes the car, I love that freakin car but it’s actually more like $150K fully loaded – i will never afford to have it, sigh

  • Need to tip my hat to Bucky Fuller’s great aunt Margaret Fuller here — among many of her firsts, she was the first woman foreign correspondent journalist: highly educated, she brought higher education to many women in Boston by way of her “Conversations”. Her bicentennial was just celebrated. (see:

    She too was a remarkable person, scorned by many, who forged her own path. She was the first editor of the Transcendentalist Journal, the Dial, who published Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Peabody, and other abolitionists, women’s rights advocates and similar-minded reformers, trouble-makers, and thinkers. Margaret Fuller corralled them all. She was also the first woman allowed to use the Harvard libraries for scholarly purposes–sounds funny now, but it was a big deal then.

    She basically told the world ‘Fuck You!’ when they said, ‘But women don’t Do That’, and went out and did what she thought was right, which included covering the Italian Revolution (1848) — the Risorgimento– ’48 was a Big Year for democratic rebellions all across Europe, and our Margaret was determined to spread the word. She was a hellion. Many hated her because she was so damned smart, multilingual, and unafraid of saying what was on her mind.

    Sound familiar?

    She also had a (possibly out of wedlock) child with her Italian lover, ultimately husband. All three perished in a shipwreck off Fire Island in 1850.

    Her memorial is in the same Cambridge (MA) cemetery, Mt. Auburn, as Buckminster’s, right nearby. It’s the first Garden Cemetery in the US and worth a visit just for the horticulture.

    • Super cool! I was just in Cambridge, MA and I’m sorry I missed the cemetery. What a life.

  • Damned Submit button just jumps out at me sometimes!

    Anyway, wanted to say that it’s great to be reminded that we can face great difficulties and sorrow, pick ourselves up, and go on doing what we know is right, living according to our values, and supporting others who do the same!

  • Great post again Chump Lady, really what I needed right now and very inspiring, really does make you think, accomplishment in the face of extreme adversity.

  • Loved this article CL, perfect timing as usual, just what I needed to hear tonight!

  • Thanks CL for the inspiration! Perfect timing for it. For all of you nerds, if you are not familiar with THE VENUS PROJECT and Jacque Fresco, check it out. I think you will like it if you aren’t already familiar with it. I discovered this a few years ago and was fascinated by it. There was a film about him made a couple of years ago called Paradise or Oblivion.

    You can watch the film at this website…


  • This was a really moving column, CL. It gave me a lump in my throat. “…fight like hell for the living.” We certainly do need to fight for ourselves when we’re dealing with toxic partners, whether we’re still with them or not. I think that I shove that to the back of my mind when I’m in a tailspin over XWH’s latest idiocy, and I need to stop doing that. I need to fight for me, not fight with him.

    I hope you get that book deal. People need to hear this!

    • This post made my heart sing!
      During “the Troubles”, I became determined to emerge from the process a better person. I told myself that the pain must have a purpose.

      Several years ago, I read a great post that helped me deal with many of the folks we face daily, including some of the lawyers I work with and against, and my alcoholic, addict, cheating ex. It explained why one should never defend, explain, or justify one’s position. If you’re operating in integrity, you’ll never need to.

        • Thanks Doop!

          Just read both articles and found them both positively inspiring.

          Needed this today as I was spiraling into sadness and crying and I was searching for things online to help me grow from this pain and build the life I want and with grace.

          • Deborah – keep your eye on the prize! Transformation hurts, but fulfillment and self-actualization must be close behind!

          • hi deborah,i know how you feel,i am going through the same process.
            pain over pain,but we have to get over it.a cheater can not come back
            in my life,but it is not easy to get him out of my heart after 25 years marriage,
            it happened 2 years ago,i am still working with my therapist.
            but in time he will be out of my heart like i pushed him out of my life.
            i am glad i found you all in

        • thanks Doop, I’ve been using that for years and it really is good for you.

          • Datdamwuf – I wish I had figured this our years ago…think of all the pointless conversations I would not have engaged in!

    • MovingOn,

      “I need to fight for me, not fight with him.”

      Love that! It is as inspiring as CL’s post. That is going to be my new mantra. To get bogged down fighting with someone over something that will never change instead of looking to build your best life doing something in some small (or large) way to change the world, is a waste of talent and energy.

      CL, thank you! I so needed to be reminded that my best life could still be ahead of me. I was feeling so down – this has helped.

  • Thanks, CL. This history/therapy is good stuff.

    Frederick Douglass was also quite a guy. His autobiography is here:

    To start off as a slave and end up one of the most important Americans of the 19th century was pretty impressive. His book is interesting. He observes everything, which gives great insight into the semi-industrial side of slavery. He also never becomes a racist. He never hates white people, but only slavery for what it does to blacks and whites.

    In this connection, I’ve read a fair amount of books about slave owners and their wacky culture of honor, dueling, having relations with female slaves, etc. (See: Greenberg, “Honor and Slavery,” as one example). They sound like institutionalized narcissists. They were haughty and domineering and cheated on their wives, but they were also dreadfully insecure and violent, recoiling before the attacks of abolitionists (which got their insecurities going). I don’t want to spoil the positive vibes from today’s message. (I date myself by using a word like “vibe.”) But on another occasion, we could talk about narcs in history. But let that be another day.

    There were lots of folks who struggled against adversity, who broke the mold, who re-invented themselves. Just today, I was reading about George Foreman (the boxer). He was devastated after losing to Muhammad Ali in 1974, but in the account I read (written years later), Foreman says he’s grateful that he lost that fight, that it led him to find God, and ultimately to make a comeback and become the oldest heavyweight champ. Not to mention making a few bucks selling grills…..

    We are more afraid of change than we should be. Chump Son, too. Nice to have this place/space to charge up those courage-batteries!

    • On the subject of abolitionists, how about Thaddeus Stevens? Today in my feed (from the Thaddeus Stevens Society):

      Today in 1868 Thaddeus Stevens died at midnight in Washington, D.C. He laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda, an honor previously only given to Sen. Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. His funeral on August 15 at the Schreiner-Concord cemetery in Lancaster, PA, was attended by 20,000 people, half of them African Americans. Stevens had specifically chosen the cemetery because it allowed all people, regardless of race or creed, to be buried there and he made reference to that fact in his epitaph: I repose in this quiet and secluded spot Not from any natural preference for solitude But finding other cemeteries limited as to race by charter rules I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life Equality of Man Before His Creator

      When Congress paid tribute to Stevens on December 17, 1868, Rep. Ignatius Donnelly said this: “He never flattered the people; he never attempted to deceive them; he never ‘paltered with them in a double sense;’ he never courted and encouraged their error. On the contrary, on all occasions he attacked their sins, he assailed their prejudices, he outraged all their bigotries; and when they turned upon him and attacked him he marched straight forward, like Gulliver wading through the fleets of the Lilliputians, dragging his enemies after him into the great harbor of truth.”

  • This was very inspirational. Most days I feel like Jackie Robinson. All the adversity he had to take being the first black in baseball. He was told he had to have the courage not to fight back but, more courage to see it through!

  • Today’s post really speaks to me. Through the pain and betrayal of SW’s actions, two of the greatest gifts in my life were given to me. On Jan. 6th I accepted Christ and on Jan. 20th He revealed my purpose in life to me. That I am to serve my community. I threw my heart and soul into this and I’ve been nominated for the Community Champion award by our local Chamber. The award winners will be announced Sept. 19th. I’ll keep you posted on this.

    Sometimes you don’t get the life that you wanted, but if you trust and have faith, you can create a better one.

    • Congrats Eddie!
      That reminds me of a Garrison Keillor quote that goes “Life isn’t fair… but it’s often generous.”

  • Dont have time to write much as busy day/week ahead but I woke up this morning, after rather bad weekend, having had a dream about a project I’m working on. I felt renewed. Then I read this and feel even more renewed. Life will be ok, no matter how tough it gets.

    Carry on, Chumps. We shall not just survive, we will rise from this crap and live the way we deserve to live: with happiness and integrity.

    • Nord,

      I was just thinking the same thing. It’s really about integrity. That’s what separates us from the people that stay in this in denial. We know right from wrong and don’t tolerate wrong.

      My STBXW’s family has three categories; right, wrong, and family. So to them, family is when it is so wrong they just rug sweep. I wasn’t raised that way.

      Again it’s not about pride, it’s about integrity!

  • “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” – Galadriel, Lord of the Rings

  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Fredrick Douglass, Amelia Bloomer, Oskar Schindler, Rosa Parks – you’re right, CL – one person CAN make a BIG difference!

    This post is SO helpful right now. I ran into a problem with D 15 earlier this year and called XH. He helped, but told me flat out, “Quit calling me with your problems.” In the next breath, he told me how “fortunate I was he had the resources on hand,” because he “doesn’t shop on the Sabbath.” Such a good Christian…telling his teenage daughter to fend for herself on a cold winter night. What a guy!

    Anyway, I ran into another, bigger problem about two weeks ago, handled it, and didn’t mention it to him. When he found out, he went ballistic – and then starting telling me everything I needed to do…which I’d already DONE. I rendered him obsolete in the matter. He was flabbergasted. I felt empowered.

    You are SO right, CL:

    “When what we need to do is make our old crappy lives obsolete. It’s harder to mourn something, when you’ve got a better something to replace it with.”

    So, SO true! Thanks, CL!

    • Wow, what a father. Your DAUGHTER has a problem and that’s *your* problem you shouldn’t bother him with? BTDT, have the unanswered phone calls. I’ve learned, like you, it’s much better to handle whatever it is by yourself, or call a trusted friend. You want to believe they’d care for their kids, but so many of them don’t. And yes, making them obsolete does feel awesome!

  • I always say when you start liking your new life more than you miss your old life, you’ll know you’ve been healed. Thanks for sharing these inspirational stories with us CL!

    • “When you start liking your new life more than you miss your old life, you’ll know you’ve been healed.”

      LOVE this, Lyn! Thanks!

  • Thanks for a wonderful post. I’ve recently been reading about the early suffragists and they are tough women–some, like Alice Paul, did hunger strikes during her prison stays. I didn’t know anything about Mother Jones!

    I’m glad you chose Bucky as your architectural “comeback boy.” Frank Lloyd Wright also made a major comeback late in life, but, unlike Fuller, was a narcissistic serial cheater. Still, I admire his pluck, his persistence, and his architecture, but I’d never want to meet him in person 🙁

  • Tracy, I want to say I really loved this post. You are a superb writer. You have a gift.

    Thank you to all for sharing the inspirational and nerdy stuff.

  • What a fantastic piece,CL! Very inspiring, do you mind if I print to give to a LOT of my friends and relatives, and leave on a table at work? People need to understand this, always be grateful for having your wits about you, and some freedom, and you can move mountains!
    I’ve been getting ready for a phase I’m calling my Reset Button. I’m excited to see what happens next!

  • This infidelity deal has left me fearless(except for something bad happening to my kids).
    After this, there is , simply, nothing that I cannot take.

  • CL

    This is very motivational. If you have a large enough following, it would be great to try to get the Federal government to re-instate the alienation of affection laws. North Carolina has really good ones. This could be a quest to help our children’s generation and to help lower the divorce rate.

    What do you think?

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