Here is the full transcript of Kel Walters’ TEDx Talk: Polyamory and Emotional Literacy at TEDxUTA conference.
Kel Walters: Hello! I’m here to talk to you today about polyamory, emotional literacy, and the benefits they can bring to society.
Your first logical question is, “What is polyamory?” Let’s break the word down to its roots: you have ‘poly’ and ‘amory,’ ‘poly’ from the Greek meaning “many,” and ‘amory’ from the Latin meaning “loves”.
So, ‘many loves’ I found that a good, working definition for polyamory is the practice of having multiple, romantic or sexual relationships, at the same time, with all partners’ full knowledge and consent. And that part’s really important, “full knowledge and consent” Without that, you’re just cheating, and we all know how we feel about that. But how does that work? Society views romantic love as a well, and you scrape the bottom of it and that’s it, that’s all your love.
But, I’m actually going to quote “Romeo and Juliet” here. She says to Romeo: “My love is as boundless as the sea, the more I give to thee, the more I have.” And that’s how love works. It’s a positive feedback cycle. The more you give, the more you have to give. The more your receive, the more you want to give.
As a society, we’re fine with that notion as long as we’re talking about platonic or familiar love. We understand you get a new sibling and you don’t say: “I’m sorry I have enough siblings already, I can’t love you.” You get a new friend: “Sorry, one of your other friends has to go. Bye!”
But in romantic love you’re supposed to find your one person, and if you fall in love with anybody else, something must be wrong with you, or you’re not in the right relationship. And polyamory takes that possessive notion of love, that one person is yours and yours alone, and says, “Nah! We can do better than that.” Some of us want to. Once you understand what polyamory is, let’s move on to what is emotional literacy.
Emotional literacy is the ability to understand and communicate about emotions, both your own and others. That really starts within oneself. You build emotional literacy by understanding your own emotions; you say: “I’m feeling jealous. Why? I’m happy Why am I happy?” and you get into the deep roots of your own emotions and take a walk down the scary road in your own psyche.
As you do that, you begin to talk with somebody, and you find out that fights you may have had that were getting worse the more you communicate about your own emotions: “I’m sorry, I’m feeling jealous because you talk more to this guy than you talk to me.”
Once you try to do that, people reciprocate, they start to talk about their own emotions, and it creates another positive feedback loop. Polyamory is really good at building emotional literacy, because there is no ‘normal’ in polyamorous relationships. Each time, you have to sit down with your partners and say: “What do we want out of our relationships? Do we want to have sex, do we not, are we polyfidelous? Are we only dating people within our group?” And that requires a lot of emotional literacy, and the willingness to deal with it and say: “This is what I want and this is what I’m willing to compromise on.”
Polyamorous groups are really good at that. They talk about emotions, they deal with them, and they help the newbies understand what’s going on with them.
But what benefit does that bring to society as a whole? Obviously, the more emotionally literate you are, the better you are able to handle people being different. As somebody who falls under the bisexual umbrella, the polyamorous community is the most accepting of that. Do you like girls or guys? That’s great. Do you like them both? Even better, let’s have a party. They’re more accepting of people being a different gender or transitioning.
Any kind of difference is more acceptable in the polyamorous community because we’re already so far out there. There is no ‘normal’ as long as you are not hurting anybody. When society understands that monogamy is not the only way to have a relationship, that is perfectly acceptable and healthy to have polyamorous relationships, what does that do?
Let me start right here and say, we’re not going to convert everybody to polyamory. Some people are monogamous, some people are polyamorous, and there is a spectrum in between and that is all perfectly OK. But what happens is that now we have to confront the idea –that we’ve been socialized to have– that you’re going to grow up, find your one person, have a good wedding and live happily ever after.
Isn’t that the formula? Grow up, get married, have kids. Also a job. But when we accept that’s not the only way to do things, we have to look within ourselves, –even if we are monogamous– we have to look and make sure that that’s what we want, that’s the only thing we want. When we do that, we build our own emotional literacy. A more emotionally literate society is better able to handle crisis as a whole.
We might actually get something done in politics, if we can talk about things in a reasonable manner. And not supposed to do terrible, terrible things to each other. What I want to leave you with is this idea that love is not finite. It is infinite in all its many forms, and almost all of them are beautiful. Build your own emotional literacy, think about why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.