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Be a Hell Raiser, Not a Chump

Mother Jones in tent city

Every year, in honor of Labor Day weekend, I rerun this column about Mother Jones. Happy Labor Day and see you back on Tuesday!  — Tracy

I’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 

Ask Chump Lady

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    • I’m not sure that it’s harder to leave a cheater. I found the mental gymnastics involved in trying to incorporate the total mindfuck that is serial infidelity into a working relationship virtually impossible. I’m only 9 days from when I kicked him out and I’m feeling GREAT! I’ve engaged a solicitor, got the property valued, seen the accountant to wind up the business partnership.
      What made it easier was finding him fb messaging an old flame with his sad story ( I have his old phone which I used to check up on him when I was the marriage police). Despite his conversations on needing to grieve& heal before he gets back into the dating scene. While I’m going to wipe the phone clean of his shit it was good to see that he hasn’t changed. He sucks and always will. It hurts but I’m leaning towards my future and I can see it will be great without fuckwit blocking it.

      • chumpdownunder69

        Congratulations of seeing the light so quickly and moving on. Took me ages to really get it all as the wasband was very good at trickle-truth and I was running high on hopium via the RIC crowd but the light did finally penetrate all of that after I found LACFAL and I learned about NC.

        All said it took a bit over a year and I agree, things have been so much more ‘calmer’ since then. A rocky ride somedays with issues with grown children and such but mostly I feel like things just keep improving without all the shenanigans he tried to put over on me once I gave up trying to win him back and went NC.

        .He is a covert narcissist so the ‘mean’ didn’t rear its ugly head until I said ‘no more’. DARVO presented itself pretty blatantly and quickly shortly thereafter.

        Good Luck

        • Oh it still took 10 months of pick me dancing, time in the marriage police and a hefty subscription to the RIC before I saw the light. My cheater has covert symptoms too. I’m awaiting DARVO to read it’s ugly head as soon as he finds another poor chump to love bomb

          • Its what cheaters do when confronted, or on any occasion that they deem as a appropriate setting in which to turn any wrongdoing on their part onto someone else so that they can look good, stay in control, image manage etc…..

            I think of it as a combination of gas-lighting and blame-shifting all rolled into one.

            Once I learned this pattern of behavior, thanks to CL, I have begun to see it all the time when I have to have contact with the x.

            In simpler terms ‘ tis a ploy cheaters employ so that YOU can never win 🙂

            D – denial

            A- accuse

            R – reverse

            V – victim

            O – offender

  • It is easier to stay and “fight for” your marriage, never mind how unworthy that marriage (or that spouse) might be to fight for. That’s what your pastor, your therapist (unless you’ve got good pastors and therapists which, I’m finding, is a whole lot more rare than I had supposed) and your Facebook “friends” tell you is the right thing to do. THEY wouldn’t give up without a fight! They’d WIN!

    It is a far better, more difficult but ultimately more satisfying thing to leave a cheater and build a new life for yourself, a better life. And if you develop the strength and resilience to do that, you’ve learned a skill you can apply in every area of your life for the rest of your life.

  • Thank you so much for running this again, CL. This essay shines on so many fronts: the message of perseverance and reinvention, the spunk of one older woman mobilizing an army of limping children, and not least your stellar writing style. It is a true pleasure to read this again, and I look forward to hearing from readers who are seeing this for the first time.

  • Mother Jones is from my home town Cork City, Ireland. We are known as the rebel county. We are fighters who fight for what is right and buck the trend of obeying the status quo.

    I have channelled my inner mother jones several times in my life. While my impact on the world while be tiny in comparison i will tell the truth where ever and whenever i please.

  • I traded in a high paying corporate job that I hated but kept because it supported all of us. Post divorce I realized my son and I did not need that income to be happy. We needed for me to have a job that gave me the flexibility to be there more for him and for me to be happy again.

    I make half of what I used to. We live in an apartment that is about 1/3 the size of our old house. But I am doing work I think matters and we are happy.

    Turns out it was the ex that “needed” all the stuff that old job bought. Now he has to earn it for himself.

  • I forced stbxh to cooperate in selling the marital home. Took my half and moved 1000k miles away to be near with family, my kids followed, and we have all started a new, better life completely absent of narc Chester and his manipulation. I am so happy, we are happy!! I fought for 2 years for this.

  • This is much needed inspiration for me today ! I recently have been feeling old at 63 ( i am recovering from a painful fractured sterum) . I just returned from Zambia volunteering at a school. The children there have so many needs. There really are starving children in Africa ☹️… If Mother Jones did it in her 60’s , So can I !!

    • I’m with you at 63 and stronger than ever!
      Hang tight! We still have a lot of light to shine in this world.

  • “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” What a powerful message. That quote sums up what I need to do with my life moving forward. None of my past relationships worked, but I kept doing the same things over and over. I must change my expectations for what is acceptable in a relationship and a partner.

    Buckminster Fuller taught at my alma mater, but I don’t know much about him. Thanks for the history lesson.

  • Thank you for this. Since Im a fairly youngish chump of 33I often get asked the question of when Im going to start dating or what Im looking for in my next partner. I keep saying ”im not ready for that yet” but what I really want to say is ”I dont NEED a man in my life to make me complete. I am happy being alone. Just because others see me as a sad and lonely chump, doesn mean I have to be”

    Ive come to realise that I dont HAVE to follow what is expected of me, jump back into the dating scene and find a white knight to rescue me from the perils of single motherhood. Im doing a pretty good job rescuing myself thank you and have enough on my plate to stop me feeling lonely or bored. I also have wonderful friends and family that help out if i ever need it

    Now I will admit that I started a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship with someone I already knew. We both arent interested in a relationship but both have not had intimate contact in a few years prior, so this serves the purpose. And why shouldn’t I? These are modern times and Im reinventing what my life should be like to suit me. Im happy like this at the moment and thats all that matters

    • I know what you mean! It’s been said to me by people not so close “it’s time to move on” Which meant a new relationship. This was first stated a year and a half after a 21 year marriage and family was destroyed by the blindsiding, abandoning cheater type.

      I wanted to reply “wtf makes you think I’m not moving on?” Sheesh, I want to figure out how to create a life that is fulfilling and then maybe find someone that compliments whatever that is. A friend with benefits is ideal while you’re content “doing you”, kudos! IMO focusing on your kids and self in the immediate aftermath of infidelity is the best thing you can do…and it’s going to make you strong, the kids too.

  • What a delightful start to the week! This is inspired and a great example of triumph. Thanks Tracy for the re-run, very timely as always!

  • Listening to this book now and felt like it fit in with today’s title although I am not the author 🙂

    How am I changing now that I have seen the ‘light’? Discovering a me I didn’t know existed – warts and all at being closer to 70 yrs. old than 60 these days.

    Speaking the truth, which my mother couldn’t do 50 years ago when she got discarded, when people ask about my ‘situation’. Simple truthful responses I learned here.

    Spreading the word about narcissists to people who are confused by really malignant people in their lives- in their homes or as neighbors or at work.

    Telling them about NC and grey rock and all the things I have learned here and elsewhere due to my situation that I never dreamed existed. ( I was a very naive SAHM living in the suburbs….)

    Giving my full attention to my grown children who have all been discarded too. The wasband was a serial cheater so their past changed along with mine when the truth came out.

    Not up there with Mother Jones or B. Fuller but I like to think I am making my meager contribution in my own little community – especially with young moms who are raising children in this wild world of ours.

    The house remained mine so I am surrounded by ‘my village’ all of whom were witnesses to what I lived though and what my children lived through too. Talk about compassionate people. Not a one has turned their back on me or my children. In truth many of my neighbors spent more time with my children than the x did. So I lost a cheater but I have gained a much larger family in the process.

    Thanks for the topic Tracy. Love knowing that adversity doesn’t mean failure. There may be occasional dips and dives but as long as the momentum is moving forward – anything can happen 🙂

  • What an inspiring story; one tends to forget what people have achieved when we are allowed to forget it.

    In other news, I am so disappointed to learn about the callous behavior of TR; I had thought better of him.

  • Great post! Tomorrow is my 50th birthday, and I am calling it my rebirth day. It is time to fully explore things I have been interested in, and it is time to get my health in order–though it is amazing how I have not been dealing with a lot of illness since the covert narc left. Something I read recently said the body know something is wrong before the mind does. And I want to see how I can contribute to the world, too. This Chump is on the move!

    • Happy Birthday Medusa,

      I too turn 50 in a few weeks. A part of me is feeling so old but a part of me is excited that I can now choose things for myself- the X dickhead always had to have his way and would put pressure on continuously.
      Happy freedom to all chumps.

      • Thanks, Dee! Hope your birthday goes well. Go out and find the things that make you happy!

  • The courageousness of picking one’s self up dusting off and moving forward is so healing . To simply wallow and not fight against the indignity and stigma and heartbreak causes more long-term harm than the offending act. What makes you drives you inspires you to be your better and best self is all that really matters . A hurting heart still beats

  • This is really a wonderful post, so glad you re-run it every year!

    I had the good fortune of being able to prepare for months while hunting down my whore of an ex-wife, so was able to bounce her out pretty cleanly, which really helped my boys.

    Now i try to “raise hell” by helping a couple other people see the light after years spent hitting the Hopium Pipe inside the RIC.

    Last week i heard a guy i knew years ago had caught his wife cheating, and she was trying to convince him her 3 year affair was actually an opportunity to “open up their marriage”

    So i sent him a polite email offering another perspective:

    smelly trash like her needs to be taken out ASAP & that there are many younger, prettier non-trash women to choose from once he does.

    Raise that Hell, Chumps!

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