Assertive Spirituality https://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sat, 11 Jul 2020 22:49:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.7 https://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality https://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 Creating a Healthier Serenity Prayer for Stressful Times https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/07/11/healthier-serenity-prayer-stressful-times/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/07/11/healthier-serenity-prayer-stressful-times/#respond Sat, 11 Jul 2020 22:49:16 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1088 I’ve long loved the Serenity Prayer in its classic version. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” When this prayer is paired with a rich understanding of the emotions and stress response processing that has to go with it, it’s great. The problem, of course, is that when it is separated from those things and only viewed cognitively, this prayer can...

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I’ve long loved the Serenity Prayer in its classic version. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” When this prayer is paired with a rich understanding of the emotions and stress response processing that has to go with it, it’s great. The problem, of course, is that when it is separated from those things and only viewed cognitively, this prayer can become a tool for an unhealthy form of spirituality called spiritual bypassing. In this article I’ll be explaining how all this works and revising the classic prayer to create a literally healthier form that’s less prone to abuse.

My Personal Context

As a reminder, I’m a communication scholar and a pastor’s kid whose primary research area is stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve talked a lot about stress and its relationship to conflict the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” that’s free to email subscribers (I’ll offer instructions for how to get that at the end of this article). Here on the blog I’ve also talked about how “Christian Nice” can actually make us sick.

The Broader Context

The truth is that we’re living in very stressful, contentious, and emotionally overwhelming times. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, an election year, grappling with centuries of racial injustice. And that doesn’t even get into the murder hornets!

In these times our bodies are processing a LOT of stress. And as I’ve explained before, a lot of stress tends to give rise to a lot of interpersonal and group conflict.

The Temptation toward Spiritual Bypassing

In times such as these, there’s a strong temptation for those who are spiritual to fall into a form of spirituality known as spiritual bypassing. Buddhist teacher John Welwood coined this term in the 1980s to describe ways in which people use spirituality to avoid engaging with their emotions and psychological wounds—which as he describes it, is the opposite of what spirituality is meant to do.

(NOTE: Subsequent neurobiological research shows this practice is pretty terrible for us physiologically as well.)

Last week’s guest post by Rachel Contos gave a nod to this unhealthy form of spirituality when she talked about God’s will, the pandemic, and why it’s important not to frame not wearing a mask as a form of “faith.”

This week I will explain the benefits of the serenity prayer, but also how it could be weaponized to enable spiritual bypassing if turned into a purely cognitive exercise. I will suggest a revised version as well. (I had introduced this concept in my very first COVID-19 article, but that feels like several decades ago now in pandemic time, so it’s high time I flesh these ideas out better!)

The Benefits of the Classic Serenity Prayer

First, let’s just acknowledge that the serenity prayer, when understood in a context of emotion- and stress-response engagement, has a lot of strengths. Taken within this context, it actually fits in pretty well with stress research.

If you’ve forgotten, stress is the body’s physiological response to felt threat or challenge. This  means it’s energy that’s designed to help us rise to the occasion—but its responses can of course be taken too far in some circumstances. And sometimes we react strongly to things that carry perceived threat but won’t really hurt us.

Overcoming Some Emotional Fallacies

Our stress responses, like our emotions, can be really useful as signs that something might be wrong. They aren’t infallible signs that something necessarily is wrong. And depending on how we respond to overwhelming stress, we may either fall into the fallacy of perfection or the fallacy of helplessness I discussed earlier this year, and both of those are unhealthy.

Taken within an understanding that our body’s responses are natural, the classic serenity prayer helps to work as a corrective to both of those tendencies—to an extent.

By encouraging us to think through what we ought to accept what we CAN’T affect, it helps us deal with the fallacy of perfection.

By encouraging us to think through what we CAN do, it corrects the fallacy of helplessness.

And by encouraging us to recognize that it takes wisdom to decide between the two, it proposes a healthily situational model of spirituality, suggesting that discernment is needed in order to determine whether to change things or accept them.

The Limits of the Classic Serenity Prayer

Here’s where my stress research nerves begin to jangle with the classic version of the serenity prayer, though: There are more options than changing what we can and (especially mildly) accepting what we can’t.

See, coming from a culture of toxic “Christian Nice” which suppressed the “negative” emotions, the original serenity prayer—again, with THAT context in mind, rather than the stress research context, leads me to feel like we’re just supposed to swallow our feels if we can’t change things. (I talked about how “Christian Nice” gets mean about emotions here.)

And all of the research shows avoiding emotions is incredibly, literally unhealthy. As John Welwood pointed out when he identified the problem of spiritual bypassing, it also becomes a way of avoiding some of the most real spiritual work there is to do. It’s also just really impractical from a stress research standpoint.

The Leftover Stress Energy Problem

See, physiologically, you may change what you can, try to accept what you can’t, and you still may have a lot of stress energy swirling around in your body affecting you. In order to maintain health and wellbeing, you need to do something to healthily work through, as Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski helpfully point out in their book on Burnout. You can’t just will it away.

The classic serenity prayer may imply to those with healthy emotion practices that there’s a need to work out the emotions and stress responses that come with changing what we can and accepting what we can’t. It’s great when that happens. But when it doesn’t, it can too easily be weaponized into a tool toward spiritual bypassing.

My Proposed Revision

To avoid this problem, I propose the following version of this prayer, which helps emphasize the context of stress and trauma research. Granted, it rolls off the tongue a bit less fluidly than the original version, but it doesn’t really have all that many more components.

I’ve also adjusted it so that it can work for those with non-theistic spiritualities.

Overall, this version of the prayer lends itself much less to spiritual bypassing, as the wording shows the need to work through all that emotional stress energy that we naturally deal with during stressful times.

Here it is: The Healthier Stress Research-Based Serenity Prayer

“May I have the ability to grieve the things I can’t affect, to (channel my stress energy into) influencing what I can, to reduce and burn off the remaining stress (through healthy modes), and have the wisdom to cycle through these techniques as needed.”

The major changes and additions are as follows:

  1. In the first part, instead of the word accept—which is commonly held to be at the end of the complicated grieving process—I’ve substituted the word grieve. This acknowledges space to deal with all the many stages of grief about things we cannot change.
  2. In the second part, I’ve highlighted the fact that changing things doesn’t require outside energy to do, just taking existing stress energy and channeling it to influence what we can.
  3. In the second part, I also shifted the word change into influence to help further with that whole fallacy of perfection problem. Changing can sooo easily slide into that control category, whereas influence requires more mutuality between parties.
  4. I’ve added a third part about burning off or reducing excess stress through healthy modes. This can include exercise but also meditation/prayer or other physiological and spiritual practices that help burn off and reduce stress energy that can’t be managed through the grieving process or through working to influence the world.
  5. In the final part, I’ve kept the word wisdom, but moved beyond implying that it’s a relatively simple choice between two options into suggesting that we often need to cycle through these techniques to work through the emotions and stress responses that come with facing challenges.

So there you have it, friends! Whether you choose to use the classic serenity prayer or the adjusted version, or some variant between the two going forward, I hope you’ll do so with the full awareness of the need to work through your emotions and stress energies as you do so.

Why It’s Key to Keep All of This in Mind

As so much good scientific and spiritual research implies, it’s not a healthy option to ignore this emotions and stress dimension of moving through challenges long term.

Certainly, as we continue to cope with this remarkably strange and stressful period in history, I hope for all of you the ability to grieve what you need to, to influence what you can, to burn off that excess energy, and the wisdom to work through what you need to in order to keep doing what you can.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to work through our emotions and stress responses in order to keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up and dealing with the conflict that results?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Not Wearing a Mask as “Faith”? A Theological Exploration of God’s will and Mask-Wearing https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/07/04/mask-wearing-theology-gods-will/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/07/04/mask-wearing-theology-gods-will/#comments Sat, 04 Jul 2020 22:08:30 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1080 Guest post by Rachel Contos In the spirit of “Independence” Day in the US (in quotes because we know not everyone was free that day in 1776), I’d like to take some time to examine freedom from a theological perspective and how God’s will and our own free will fit together in order to address questions of unhealthy theology around mask-wearing. As many people finally begin to peek out from their quarantines for the first time and consider whether to...

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Guest post by Rachel Contos

In the spirit of “Independence” Day in the US (in quotes because we know not everyone was free that day in 1776), I’d like to take some time to examine freedom from a theological perspective and how God’s will and our own free will fit together in order to address questions of unhealthy theology around mask-wearing. As many people finally begin to peek out from their quarantines for the first time and consider whether to host a BBQ or other celebration in their backyards, it’s important to talk about how healthy theologies address wearing masks and keeping our communities safe.

This post is going to examine the ways in which different theological understandings of God’s will can excuse our lack of collective action to stop the spread of COVID-19. Particularly, we’ll explore the use of God’s will as a reason not to wear a mask, while also understanding how free will and God’s will together can move us toward working collectively. If you haven’t read the most recent Assertive Spirituality post, I highly recommend you do so, because this article builds on what D.S. Leiter said last week.

Quick Introduction:

So, let’s address the elephant in the room here—who am I? The short answer is that I’m an Orthodox Christian who is working on my MA in theology at Marquette University. Before we begin, I want to make it clear that this post is written as a theological exploration from my Orthodox Christian experience and study, and because of that I use “God and us” language that is meant to express my theological understanding in the way I best know how. However, I know people experience spirituality differently from me but I hope we can still explore the toxic theology I dismantle here together, even if you dismantle it in a different way! 

Frankly, I’m concerned about the rhetoric being used by conservative leaning Christians to justify not wearing masks, and their desire not to put the collective needs of society above their personal freedom to stop the spread of a deadly, novel virus. The last AS post discussed a lot of conservative Christian rhetoric in depth, but I’m hoping I can add to the conversation from an Orthodox Christian theological point of view. (OK, seriously, read the AS post first, it’s here.)

What is theologically at stake here from a Christian theistic frame?

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and memes lately that say something to this effect: “I’m not wearing a mask because whether I get COVID or not is God’s will.” There’s a lot at stake in this understanding of God’s will:

  • Does God will people to get diseases?
  • Does God want people to spread the disease to others?
  • Is God’s will the same as what happens to people?
  • Do people have free will?

This comment, “If I get COVID, it’s God’s will, so I won’t wear a mask,” is theologically saying, “I don’t need to take preventative actions because if God wills me to get this disease and spread it to others, I can’t do anything about that.” But we know we have free will—so what’s going on here?

Now, a note that for some Christian denominations this is the theology subscribed to, where God’s will is absolute even above free will. However, for many Protestant Christian denominations and the Catholic and Orthodox theological Traditions, this isn’t the case. Free will is an important part of these Traditions, and God’s will is understood both personally, and as defining characteristic of our communal history. However, like I said before, even if you are from one of the aforementioned Traditions who see God’s will as absolute over free will, I urge you to stick this one out because I think a lot of what I have to say still applies.

Let’s start at the beginning:

In the beginning, God created the earth, stars, universe, doggos, humans—everything! Importantly, God says “Let us make humans in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). In the early Church, the theologians believed that this image and likeness were two different things.** The image related to how we operated in a more static sense—how we looked, our ability to reason, our capacity for free will and choice. Those things were innate in us because of the image of God.

On the other hand, the likeness aspect relates to our process of becoming more like God, or becoming holy by loving God, following God’s will, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This means we have the capacity to make choices and reason because we are made in the image of God, and a deep calling from the time of our creation to fulfill the likeness of God—in other words, to enact behaviors that are similar to God’s character and to collaborate with God in doing good.

Okay, but isn’t this post about God’s will?

I wanted to start with an examination of our free will because it sets the stage for our freedom and capacity for reasoning. But yes, this post is about God’s will, so let’s get to that!

First, God’s will isn’t mentioned a whole lot in the Bible—and when it is, unfortunately, there’s not a whole section about wearing masks or spreading deadly viruses. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple examples of its usage:

  • Matt 6:10 “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (This is part of the Lord’s prayer.)
  • Mark 3:35 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (This is a statement by Jesus.)

In the Lord’s Prayer the person reciting is asking that the community (i.e.: our Father, not my Father) can manifest the will of God on earth, just as God’s will is manifested in heaven. In Mark, Jesus explicitly clarifies that God’s will is something one does, and that in doing God’s will we are brought into family with God.

We see here a pattern of God’s will being a companion to human free will. They are two sides of the same coin. However, most importantly, the relationship goes in one direction. God gives God’s will, and humans choose or do not choose to follow. It doesn’t work in the opposite direction, where a person makes a bad decision, and because it turned out OK in the end, it’s a sign the bad decision was God’s will. It only works starting at God.

Clues to discerning God’s will for us:

Now, I’m not going to tell you what God’s will is for you. I can’t even discern what it is for me a lot of the time. That’s part of the process of fulfilling our likeness, right? Working to understand God’s will in our life–and freely submitting to it.

However, there are some clues that can help us understand generally what God wants in our lives personally and as a community. In three of the gospels Jesus, either in his own voice or by asking someone to answer about the law makes it clear that the greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s important to hear Jesus calling these the greatest commandments in light of our earlier exploration of Mark 3:35, where Christ invites us to be part of God’s family by choosing to act on God’s will.

Another clue comes in John 3:16, when the author says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Christ became incarnate so that we could fulfill our image and likeness and have eternal life. While this passage could seem like an excuse to say “YOLO, going to live again anyway! #COVIDPARTY,” I think it’s better read as an example of the lengths God would go for us. Specifically, it sets a path for us toward life through God’s own sacrificial love towards us. It is an example that we should follow, that preserving life is an important part of God’s will towards the entire human race. It’s an example of how God’s will is not just personal, but communal. How can we so love the world that we work towards, not death, but life? Ultimately, following God’s will on this path is an action we choose.

What’s this got to do with masks?

Let’s recap a little about what has already been purported by right-leaning Christians about God’s will—they don’t need to wear a mask because it’s God’s will if they get COVID or not, if they spread it or not, and if they die or not, and that nothing can be done about that.

I hope it’s clear from my sampling above of the theological concepts of image and likeness, free will, and God’s will that this is a really messed up way of interpreting theology. Let’s remember the directionality I talked about earlier:

  • God’s gives us God’s will–>We want to live up to image and likeness–>we use our freedom to follow God’s will.

What’s happening with the mask conversation is the opposite.

  • I have freedom at all costs–>I want to feel like I’m living up to my image and likeness of God–>So I’m going to say that everything that happens is God’s will and out of my control.

People who say that it’s God’s will for them to get COVID or not, and therefore they don’t need to wear a mask are making faulty assumptions about what God is willing us to do and using God as a scapegoat for their “freedom at all costs” mentality.

God wills us to action, not diseases to infect us. God is not going into a bunch of COVID-19 droplets and saying who they should and shouldn’t infect. Diseases happen, natural disasters happen, technical failures happen, people go against God’s will and it hurts us—but we need to remember not everything that ever happens to us is God’s will. In my Tradition, we believe that in the case of the natural events they happen because we live in a fallen world. In the case of someone going against God’s will, that’s choice.

But sometimes these two things interact. Nature has given us a deadly novel virus. We don’t need to compound that by not using our God-given capacity for reason, and by ignoring God’s emphatic pronouncements that we are to strive for life and for love of God and neighbor.

God’s will, our will, and masks:

So, what do we know and how can we use our free will with that knowledge?

  • We know that in healthy Christian theology, God’s will is about what we should do, not about what the virus does.
  • We know from scientific research that wearing a mask can protect us and our communities.
  • We know God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • Lastly, we know that this virus continuing to spread or not is based on our free choice to take preventative steps or not.

To me, that means Christians have the obligation to wear a mask to protect our communities from the spread of COVID-19. We need to use our God-given image to use our reason to see the fact, to love as God did and sacrifice (even if it’s just our own comfort), and we need to use our free will to choose this.

Following God’s will in this case leads us to freedom because if we all did this we wouldn’t need anyone to tell us to! We would be theologically, ethically, and epidemiologically in the right. Starting with God and using our image towards manifesting our likeness leads us to a loving act of communal action.

When someone says “getting COVID is God’s will, so I don’t need a mask,” they are putting their personal freedom first–above their ability to reason, above God’s directive to love our neighbors, above their own ability to manifest God’s likeness. Most importantly, by saying it’s God’s will, they are doing nothing more than taking their free will out of the equation to feel better.

Wrapping up:

It isn’t always easy to discern God’s will, and I’m not trying to make it seem like it is. There are truly difficult choices in this world where options of love, mercy, and life get confusing or messy. There are tragic situations where personal, familial, and communal needs become confused. God’s will is difficult to discern in these cases.

So please, don’t make wearing a mask one of those decisions. We know God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we know that masks work as a form of communal love by stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we can make a choice to wear one or not.

Please, for the love of God and neighbor, wear a mask.

**See John of Damascus “An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith: Book II” and Origen “De Principiis” as examples. Both can be found at https://www.newadvent.org/

Rachel Contos is a life-long Orthodox Christian living in Milwaukee, WI. She is currently a Trinity Fellow at Marquette University where she is working towards an MA in Theology, with an emphasis on theology and society. Before starting her MA, Rachel worked on ending homelessness at a systemic level. She received her received her BA in Religious Studies from Hellenic College in 2015.

Like this #AssertiveSpirituality and Want to Speak Up Yourself, and Deal with the Conflict that Often Results?

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Mask-wearing as “Liberal?”: Christian Nice and Partisan Divides over Public Health https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/27/mask-wearing-christian-nice-partisan-divides-health/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/27/mask-wearing-christian-nice-partisan-divides-health/#comments Sat, 27 Jun 2020 19:30:08 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1077 I remember those wide-eyed days of Early Pandemic, when people were assuming that the reality of the virus would overcome partisan divides and bring us all together. Even then, while I hoped it would be the case, as a communication and rhetorical scholar focusing on stress, trauma, and conflict communication, my instincts and training both told me it would likely not. I blogged about my concerns about partisanship and anti-expertise rhetoric here, even in the earliest days of COVID-19. In...

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I remember those wide-eyed days of Early Pandemic, when people were assuming that the reality of the virus would overcome partisan divides and bring us all together. Even then, while I hoped it would be the case, as a communication and rhetorical scholar focusing on stress, trauma, and conflict communication, my instincts and training both told me it would likely not. I blogged about my concerns about partisanship and anti-expertise rhetoric here, even in the earliest days of COVID-19. In the present article I’ll discuss the ways in which subsequent events have unfortunately justified those concerns I had back then, specifically in the case of mask-wearing–which has been recently branded as “liberal.” At the end I’ll address what we can do in the face of unhealthy rhetoric in this area.

My Specific Focus

I’ll especially try to unwrap the ways in which mask-wearing has been targeted as a “liberal” thing, and how conservative Christians enacting “Christian Nice” have ended up advocating against love of neighbor as themselves via mask-wearing.

In doing so, I’ll extend some of the other things I’ve been talking about elsewhere, getting into how the current administration’s rhetoric has built on existing foundations of conservative rhetoric that see both expertise and care for others as devil terms to be fought at all costs.

In the process I’ll talk a bit about how this creates cognitive dissonance for politically conservative-leaning Christians in the US that often leads them to minimize the effects of government action on COVID-19 in order to maintain their conservative ideologies.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! This article’s on the long side–because even reactive and unjust rhetorics have nuance and context to their usage and reception.

Let’s Get Started

Okay, so let’s talk about mask-wearing and how it came to be such anathema to large swaths of those who support conservative ideologies and the current administration, and an optional extra to others.

This is no overgeneralization, by the way. Several recent polls have shown a strongly partisan divide between those who wear a mask and those who don’t.

In addition to the polling data, I’ve seen this in my experience as well as hearing it from others who know a lot of people across partisan lines.

A Really Sharp Divide

Even as someone who studies this stuff and mostly-expected it, the starkness of how this has emerged down partisan lines has somewhat taken my breath away.

How the Demonization of the Common Good Comes In

But it makes sense when I think about the political rhetoric. See, mask-wearing, in most cases, according to the research, is like vaccines—in most cases, it requires others as well as yourself to do it for it to work for all parties well.

In light of this, those who seek their own autonomy in terms of not wearing a mask in public spaces, especially indoors, are doing so at the expense of others and often themselves as well, according to the research.

The Discomforts of Mask-Wearing

Now, naturally mask-wearing isn’t a perfect solution: it can be uncomfortable. It can be sweaty. It can be difficult during hard-breathing activities sometimes, such as workouts. But other than a small percentage of people who have medical issues such as asthma that make mask-wearing particularly dangerous, most people have no major risks associated with mask-wearing.

How People Started Literally Dying Over Asking Others to Wear Masks

This is all according to the research put forth by the medical world, though—and it’s natural that those who have suspicions of such advice as coming from “liberal elites,” or the “lamestream media” delivering the information would doubt that.

It’s to the point where people who are conscientious about mask-wearing are specifically being called names by some conservatives for wearing a mask—and that’s not even getting into the service workers that are being shot for enforcing mask-wearing policies, and visible public health officials resigning their posts because of death threats.

How This Ties into the Election

Election rhetoric regarding the pandemic is also split down the middle, with the current administration’s rhetoric directly denying that the pandemic is an ongoing problem and Democrats making it part of their stump speech that they think we should listen to doctors.

Just Really Sharp Dividing Lines Here

Again, even to people like me who study this stuff, the lines seem REALLY sharply drawn right now. One party largely minimizes the pandemic, flat out defies its existence, and/or makes up conspiracies about it, while the other largely says it exists and that we need to do what we can to mitigate it and listen to public health officials’ advice.

So how did it happen that things got this starkly divided?

Socialism as a Devil Term—Again and Still

Well, as I’ve described before, for at least a century the US, the term “socialism” has become detached from its dictionary definition and defined as something to be fought at all costs. This, as I’ve described before, is what it means when a term gets taken and used as a “devil term.”

Those Pesky Dictionary Definitions

As I’ve discussed before, the dictionary definition of socialism involves looking out for the common good, which is why regimes such as the Third Reich that start off claiming the term socialist for themselves (false though that was from the beginning) actually jump ship on living out the dictionary definition when they become totalitarian dictatorships and kakistocracies instead. If you’ll remember, that latter term refers to being governed by the worst people.

Planting and Exploiting Fear

So leaders that use socialism as a devil term (as opposed to recognizing most healthy forms of government are a mix of capitalism and socialism) are actually implanting fear of being governed by the worst people when they use the term. And in consequence, they’re planting fear that people who are actually trying to work toward the common good, and asking others to do so as well, are the enemy.

Fear of Win-win Conflict Styles

Ironically, they’re painting those who see the highest form of conflict management as collaboration—working toward the good of all, including ourselves where possible, as much as possible—as those to be fought at all costs.

Sure, collaboration isn’t always the best conflict style, especially when you’re one-on-one, and it doesn’t work for all situations, but generally, research shows it to be the most effective style where it’s feasible. (Obviously, there’s no point in collaborating with bullies who refuse to look out for the good of the other person or group—which is why I recommend speaking up against them for the good of the audience and to record a countervoice rather than to expect to have an influence.)

Quick Note

This doesn’t mean this is people themselves in their attitudes divide so evenly between caring for others or working together with others or not. But the interesting thing about mask-wearing is that it has strongly divided them in mask-wearing practice, at least to a strong extent. So even though devil terms are disconnected from real dictionary definitions, they lead to real consequences for real people in terms of viral spread.

What I would guess happens in the case of those 35% of mask-wearing conservatives, from what I know of conservative ideologies, is you have a group of people who see caring for others only as a private enterprise, not to be mandated by or enacted by the government in any form, over and against a group that sees caring for others as, well, a collaborative enterprise that should happen at all levels as much as is feasible.

Mask-Wearing and Morality

This dynamic is particularly interesting when it comes to mask-wearing, as it creates this rhetoric in which people either choose to wear masks and justify it as their own personal choice, and feel all moral about it, but fight for others to be able to choose something different, even if it hurts others.

But because the positive effects of mask-wearing in group settings only works if the large majority are wearing them, by standing up for autonomy over and against the common good, these people end up advocating for collective harm. They do so in the name of individual freedom.

Now, to be fair, sometimes individual autonomy is more important than collective action. But in a situation in which humans are hopefully working to defeat a strongly organized virus, trying to stand up for individual freedom is, well, really unwise.

“Freedom” as a “God Term”

In this view, “freedom” is the god term to be defended at all costs, and divorced from the large majority of its dictionary meaning.

The History of Freedom as God Term in the US

So, a little history: Freedom as a god term has at least as long a history in the US as socialism as a devil term does. It’s telling that there’s a long history of these two things being opposed in American political rhetoric.

In fact, this century or more of history with these terms has laid the groundwork for today’s current events, and that’s important. The way the usage has shifted, though, is important as well.

Liberation from Oppression? Maybe Not.

Interestingly, the closest dictionary definition of freedom that seems to fit with the usage of the term in these recent stay-at-home order protests is that of “liberation from oppression.”

As I’ve discussed before, the fear of tyranny from above has been an issue since at least the Revolutionary War, so this would make sense if put in that context, and if enacted by people who were actually being oppressed.

Yup, the Founders Were about Collaboration and Such Within the US System

Unfortunately, the current strain of conservative politics has strayed far from the Founders’ initial solution to the problem, which involved a series of constraining checks and balances so that no one person or party should be allowed to gain too much power.

That’s right: the Founders’ vision involved people having to work with others: to collaborate and compromise and accommodate as needed—a mix of the different conflict styles.

Unfortunately, this particular view of “freedom” as a “god term,” especially paired with those who are representing it in the public eye holding “don’t tread on me” signs and machine guns, suggests the conflict style of competition/domination, and not the kind for the common good—which, again, was the Founders’ vision for the country, actually.

A Zero-sum Worldview Strikes Again

In fact, the current conservative ideology, in painting “liberation from oppression” as the enemy of the dictionary term for seeking the common good, has associated the term “freedom” with a zero-sum view of the world in which some people (only those aggressive bullies with the loudest voices, sadly) shouldn’t actually have to do anything they don’t want to, even if it hurts them or others.

Freedom for Whom?

In short, these are not calls for freedom for all, but only for those who are holding the guns to get their own way—and for whoever happens to fall in line behind them, provided they’re the “right kind of people.”

Enter “Christian Nice”

Whoever is willing to fall in line behind them is where “Christian nice” comes in (I’ve written a whole series on Christian nice starting here and talked about how it enables authoritarianism and covert abuse here). After all, as I’ve said before, Christian nice sees accommodation as the highest form of spirituality, and conservative versions of that have also absorbed fears of collective collaborative action.

After all, if you want to hang around people who want to win at others’ expense, keeping them happy through accommodation is necessary. Aggressive competitors really are not up for negotiation or collaborative solutions.

How Christian Nice Folks End Up Being Hypocritical

What you get is this weird situation where Christians who have sublimated their fight instincts end up getting to avoid doing what those on the side of “the enemy” tell them to do—and they get to avoid it by placating the bullies in their midst.

They do NOT actually end up accommodating to their perceived political enemies, as Jesus told them to. In fact, they end up participating in their own domination and that of others while symbolically feeling like they get to stand on the side of “freedom.”

In short, these conservative-leaning Christians who have absorbed the spirituality of “nice” end up following those bullies and oppressors who champion “freedom” at the expense of those who are fighting for love of neighbor as self.

Again, they may, individually choose to wear masks, so they can feel individually virtuous and protected. But ultimately they join the side of those fighting the efforts to listen to those learning about what’s needed for the common good. They may do so in a variety of ways, but ultimately it comes to the same result.

No Absolute Morality—Knowledge of the Disease Is Still Evolving

It’s a tangled web here—and there are no easy answers, as knowledge of this disease are still evolving.

But with an emerging consensus that mask-wearing paired with as much social distancing and other reasonable precautions such as remote work and curbside where possible are our best chances of as much collective survival as possible, the ethics of mask-wearing when possible and reasonable in public are pretty clear-cut for the time being. I hope this explanation has helped you understand why conservatives, especially conservative Christians, might be against mask-wearing while claiming to love their neighbor as themselves (which is admittedly a confusing position).

What Assertive Folks Can Do

What can we assertive folks do in the face of this? For starters, we can:

  1. Wear a mask if in public around people, of course, and take other reasonable precautions recommended by epidemiologists whether or not the government is mandating them.
  2. Advocate for policies that uphold reasonable precautions wherever you can, from the people you meet to local organizations to government.
  3. Stand up against any bullying against mask-wearing.
  4. Speak up to our government representatives about working toward the common good, and hold them to policies that reach toward that.
  5. Work to elect those who are in favor of evidence-based practices and policies that help people as much as possible.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality!  Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against unhealthy rhetoric and practices toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward diagnosing and speaking up against unhealthy rhetoric?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. Sometime this summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Loving Day, Christian Nice, and Political Disgusts Enabling Racism https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/13/loving-day-christian-nice-political-disgusts-enabling-racism/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/13/loving-day-christian-nice-political-disgusts-enabling-racism/#respond Sat, 13 Jun 2020 23:09:41 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1070 As I write this, yesterday (June 12) is Loving Day—the anniversary of when interracial marriage became legal in the whole US in 1967. Today I will talk about this anniversary from my standpoint as a (white) communication scholar, discussing what my personal reaction to the recency of anti-interracial marriage sentiment in the US tells us about the continuing problems of racism and white supremacy going forward among right-leaning moderate populations, as well as how we can stand up against them....

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As I write this, yesterday (June 12) is Loving Day—the anniversary of when interracial marriage became legal in the whole US in 1967. Today I will talk about this anniversary from my standpoint as a (white) communication scholar, discussing what my personal reaction to the recency of anti-interracial marriage sentiment in the US tells us about the continuing problems of racism and white supremacy going forward among right-leaning moderate populations, as well as how we can stand up against them.

In explaining from my own experience of encountering this history several years before the 2016 election (but after I got my PhD, mind you!), I’m hoping to understand how today’s highly polarized religio-political dynamics had their roots in earlier more subtle dynamics most of us white people were socialized into. I’m also hoping this kind of analysis can help us understand how to unpack and fight the more overt dynamics going on today, as well as the more subtle forms of racism we find in ourselves and others.  

Disclaimer: I’m not trying to speak for all white people or all forms of racism here by any means. While I’m hoping this piece will unwrap some dynamics that can be generalized to other areas, I don’t expect these findings to be one-size-fits-all. This article is written from my standpoint—I don’t expect it to be automatically representative. But I hope it, like last week’s piece, will contribute to the ongoing dialogue on race in the US, and that it can play a small part in fighting individual and systemic racism toward the greater good for all, especially the oppressed and vulnerable.

The Work I’m Continuing: Moral and Political Disgusts

As a reminder, this piece is continuing the subtle and visceral work I’ve been unwrapping on the nature of what I’m calling “political disgusts.” In a series starting here, I talked about how our brains have our sensors surrounding morality in the same place as our senses of taste, meaning that our moral distastes and disgusts are just that: visceral gut reactions about what is right or wrong.

Often, as I described here, my upbringing as a pastor’s kid in a moderate Protestant denomination which leaned just a little conservative offered competing disgusts and subtle ways for us to maintain our senses of being “righteous good people” despite our preaching of Jesus as one who tried to take down unhealthy “works righteousness” worldviews among the religious systems of his day.  

Since America tends to unhealthily view racism as an “individual sin” issue, my Midwest Protestant community didn’t see ourselves as racists—in fact, as you’ll see, we identified ourselves with historical and distanced examples of anti-racist and anti-white supremacy work.

And yet our “Christian Nice” ideology (I talked about this most recently last week) encouraged us to try to silence those who would protest here and now about continuing racist actions. This week’s installment unwraps my own reaction to learning about Loving Day and other continuing white attitudes about interracial marriage a few years back and analyzes how my Midwest Christian Nice upbringing kept current protest at bay.

A Little (Much Too Recent) History: The Loving Case

If you don’t know what that is (I only learned a few years ago myself, which I’ll be talking about), Loving Day is the day that the interracial couple whose last name was Loving won their case against the state of Virginia in the Supreme Court in 1967. This ruling, that it was okay for an interracial couple in Virginia to be married and live together in the state, effectively threw out all interracial marriage bans in all US states.

I write about this because it was much too recently that I learned about this history, and its subsequent chapters. And when I learned about it, it was a gut punch.

See, not to date myself, but my parents got married three years before the Loving decision came down from the Supreme Court. In other words, my white parents were able to marry at least three years before many many interracial couples legally had a right to be married in many states, especially those in the South.  

Even More Recent History: Continuing Resistance to Interracial Marriage

What’s worse, I was already out of undergrad by the time Alabama finally voted, with much too thin a majority, to be the last state to take the long-defunct interracial marriage law off their books, finally—in 2000.

And I was almost out of college in 1997 when a Gallup poll stated that 27% of Americans still thought there should be a law against interracial marriage.

The recency of this history probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, but it was. I’ll unwrap how that came to be, and how the people I grew up around, created and maintained distance from these ongoing issues in the remainder of this article.

My Standpoint in Learning about This History

So yes, learning about all of this, and the recency of it, was quite the gut punch for me as a white person. See, I’d grown up in the northern Midwest, largely either in states where such interracial marriage bans had never been passed or in states where they’d been taken off the books before 1887.

I had grown up reading books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Harriet Tubman. I was aware of racial injustice, but also had been subtly taught that the bulk of that was in the past.

I mean, not in South Africa, where Apartheid was finally rejected during my youth after hard-fought resistance. But we weren’t in South Africa—we were in the Midwest US (and, well, from my memory we had some visceral “white discomfort” fears about protest that even came out about the anti-Apartheid resistance).

The thing was I rarely met any Black people as a child. I’d been taught to be on the side of civil rights, but, as I discussed earlier, had also been trained not to speak up TOO much politically on behalf of Black people or anyone else, except for the “unborn.” (That was what those “bleeding heart liberals” had been trained to do, and I’d been subtly trained to view them with a side-eye, as I wrote about here.)  

Interracial Marriage and Political Disgusts about Suing the Government

Thinking about it now, I’m not too surprised I didn’t learn about the Loving decision earlier—after all, there was also a lot of talk among the people I grew up with about the evils of litigiousness.

It was one thing to praise the Christians that hid the Jews or those who participated in the Underground Railroad in the distant past, or even Nelson Mandela overseas in the present.

It was another to praise this recent couple for suing their way to the Supreme Court to earn rights for people to marry across racial lines without retribution.

Enumerating the Subtle Political Disgusts that Kept Us from Anti-Racist Work

In other words, my Northern Midwest White People (Theologically Moderate) Christian Nice background managed to distance itself from the responsibility to stand up in the present in regard to social justice issues through multiple means:

  1. Outsourcing the “evils of racism” to the Southern US
  2. Outsourcing both the “evils of racism” and the need to stand up against it to the past
  3. Feeling moral disgust against those who would raise ongoing issues in political protest, especially in the court system
  4. Outsourcing to other locations: On top of this, we in our churches DID see Black people in mission trips or service trips or mission presentations sometimes—but they were usually in other locations (either in the “inner city” or other states or other countries) and poor. (We talked about the poorness, but not really about redlining or systemic policies and history that created the poorness.)

Racism=”Not Our Sin”?

I see in retrospect these were a combination of ignorance and self-protection at the expense of Black Americans. It wasn’t so much that we were actively being racist. It was more that our moral and political disgusts wished us to feel “pure” of the sin of racism, and so we pushed it away, trying to make it someone else’s problem.

Unfortunately, these factors plus our elevation of the conflict style of avoidance (which I talked about last week), together with our embrace of single-issue voting on the subject of abortion, meant that we also were consciously pushing away any political policies that actively supported being anti-racist and supporting Black Americans in the ways most Black Americans were asking to be supported.

Unfortunately, in order to maintain our comfort as well as our abilities to manage issues that we saw as closer to home and closer to our “moral responsibilities,” we pushed away listening to these voices. And in the process we definitely managed to support and enable systemic racism.

The Shift from Subtle Enablement of Racism to Active Support of White Supremacy

These actions made it easier for us to cope with the burdens we already had, sure, but didn’t actually solve the shared systemic problem of ongoing racism in the US.

In fact, it made us a lot like the “white moderates” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote about in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” who were impeding his progress—I wrote about how his words inspired me to change here.

And I talked about how his words helped me to understand how some of my people have gone on to support an actively white supremacist current administration here.

A Final Charge

I hope this article has helped contribute at least some understanding of how my corner of Christian Nice white culture, in distancing itself from the ongoing problems of racism, including continuing unhealthy attitudes about interracial marriage, became a stumbling block to anti-racist efforts. I was a part of this for many years, having been socialized into these same patterns.

I was a part of this for many years, having been socialized into these same patterns. Now that I’ve become aware of them, I’m seeking to fight these patterns in myself and in the world where I find them. I hope you’ll do the same, regardless of where you are on your anti-racist journey. The fight is uncomfortable and difficult, but highly worthwhile to keep at it.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap wherever we find it, including inside ourselves, and work toward a better world for us all, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward diagnosing and speaking up against unhealthy rhetoric?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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When Christian Nice Gets Mean in Minimizing Racism https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/06/christian-nice-mean-minimizing-racism/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/06/06/christian-nice-mean-minimizing-racism/#comments Sat, 06 Jun 2020 23:01:48 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1066 All week I’ve been mulling over how to approach writing about the important matters of racism that are prevalent matters of discussion in this particular stage of the religio-political apocalypse. And then a friend sent me an unhealthy meme about racial injustice that one of their friends had posted, and I knew it was time to talk about how exactly Christian Nice, toxic positivity, and the enactment and enablement of racism intersect to suppress and admonish those who stand up...

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All week I’ve been mulling over how to approach writing about the important matters of racism that are prevalent matters of discussion in this particular stage of the religio-political apocalypse. And then a friend sent me an unhealthy meme about racial injustice that one of their friends had posted, and I knew it was time to talk about how exactly Christian Nice, toxic positivity, and the enactment and enablement of racism intersect to suppress and admonish those who stand up against injustice toward a healthier world for us all.

My Standpoint

As always, I’ll be approaching this topic from my standpoint as a communication scholar studying stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve previously written a whole series on the toxic sides of Christian nice starting here. I’ve previously discussed how it connects to racism here, here and here. I’ve discussed how it enables covert abuse and authoritarianism here.  

This article addresses how a specific meme highlights and extends our understanding of how Christian nice enables and in fact enacts racism via socialized gaslighting. (I talked about socialized gaslighting in connection with sexism here.)

Specifically, my goal in this article is to show why black people and their allies are likely to see the last line of the message claiming to have “nothing but love for all” as incongruous disconfirming communication that minimizes problems that cost black lives in order to preserve the meme author’s sense of righteousness (i.e., making it a racist statement). Because the argument abuses the language of spirituality, this meme also qualifies as spiritual abuse. This analysis is offered in hopes of helping people understand, avoid and speak up against these kinds of unhealthy rhetoric.

Goals and Disclaimers:

I don’t expect what I say here to be perfect, but it is grounded in what I know along those lines—most of which I have learned from others (that’s how expertise works!). As a white person, what I’m saying here is meant to continue the conversation about race at a time when the meme I’m discussing is seeking to tamp it down. I’m in no way expecting what I say here to be comprehensive. I AM hoping that you will stick with me through a difficult topic.

So let’s get into it.

The Text of the (Extremely Toxic) Meme

Here’s the text of the meme I received (I’ll unwrap the nature of the toxicity in the rest of the article):

“This is America….

“We have a virus…but 99% of those who contract it will survive.

“We have some racists…but 99.95% of the people you meet are color blind and don’t have a racial bone in their body.

“We have some bad cops…but 99.995% of the law enforcement personnel you encounter would risk their lives to save yours.

“If you choose to see evil, then evil is all you’ll see.

“As for me…I choose to see the good in people…my heart is full…

“I’ve got nothing but love for all of you….”

Unwrapping the “Christian Nice” Toxicity of this Statement

Okay, so to start, I’m not sure for sure whether the person who shared this would have identified as a Christian, but this meme fits really well with a lot of the dynamics I’d been raised with in Christian (White People) Nice.

To be fair, my people weren’t quite THIS toxically positive about the world (and currently are not either). And yet, this is only a more extreme version of what I’d been raised with.

Getting Into the Layers of Toxicity

So what do I see, as a scholar of rhetoric and stress, trauma, and conflict communication, when I look at this statement?

  1. The Glorification of Conflict Avoidance and Toxic Positivity as “Love”: I see, for one, a very specific view of love as conflict avoidance being presented as the only moral form of spirituality—at least insofar as this meme is concerned.

    How do I get there? These words: “If you choose to see evil, then evil is all you’ll see. As for me, I choose to see the good in people…my heart is full… I’ve got nothing but love for all of you…”

    In other words, the meme equates looking away from “evil” (which is incredibly vaguely defined) with the highest form of good—in the words of the meme, “love.” And, specifically, it also associates it specifically with being “color blind”—as though that were a good thing.

    Why is this literally unhealthy for people, as per communication studies concepts? Well, conflict studies tend to classify avoidance as a “lose-lose” form of conflict management when it comes to relationship building, and for good reason.

    That’s because if you stuff down problems, people tend to build up resentments that lead to an erosion of trust. As I’ve discussed before, this leads to a situation called “cordial hypocrisy,” in which trust is simulated but not real.

    Stress and trauma research shows us that stuffed down problems can work on our bodies just like gangrene, causing us and/or others ill-health. If “Love does no harm to its neighbor,” as the Bible tells us, those who follow the Bible or just don’t want to hurt people in general should beware of messages that tell us that avoidance of conflict is somehow the best thing.

    THIS is why toxic positivity is called toxic—because it leads to cordial hypocrisy, that leads to genuine harms, either for the person practicing it, for others, or for both. Assuming that the person that posted this was white, the harm is really likely more for others than for this person—but the person could still be harming themselves as well, if they know deep down that they are in conflict with their values in spouting such dreck.

    The problem with “colorblindness,” of course, is an extension of the same problems conflict avoidance in relationships on a systemic racism level. In short, colorblindness pretends there are no existing systemic inequities among those with different skin colors, and that those inequities don’t create pain and trauma for the disadvantaged people. Ignoring this problem is like leaving gangrene untreated.

    If you keep ignoring these things as a white person, it may possibly be a win for you—but is definitely a loss for African Americans and other black people. And it’s only a win for you if you don’t actually care about that. (Sarcasm alert: I’ll be honest—when I write that, I’m not exactly feeling the love in that description somehow.)
  2. Painting Confronting Injustice as a Devil Term: As I’ve discussed in previous articles, this glorification of avoidance as the greatest good equates those who point out and fight injustice as a devil term, or something to be fought at all costs.

    In an era where “crackdowns against racism protests” are frequent phrases in news articles, this kind of rhetoric both enables and enacts racism and authoritarianism. (I talked about the contours of this problem more here, here and here.)
  3. Sacrificing (Mostly Black) Humans at the Altar of Avoidance: Interestingly, this meme does not mount the prevalent “all lives matter” defense, which is particularly interesting considering the meme author claims to have “love” in their heart for all.

    On the contrary, this meme author, by reducing lives lost to statistics (and small statistics—never mind that they are largely wrong statistics), both minimizes the death and dysfunction caused to real humans and simultaneously presents them as a sort of necessary sacrifice, presumably in order for the person to maintain her illusion that he or she is somehow righteous and loving.   

    And by starting out by minimizing the numbers of those dying from COVID-19, particularly, black lives and pain are minimized. As this is a disease that has been affecting black Americans at a much higher rate than white Americans, this seemingly “unracial” opening statistic is anything but.

    And the fact that the statistics build to increasingly minimize the valid concerns black people have about racism and police brutality in this country ought to be concerning.

    Again, none of that unpacking makes me trust that the meme author genuinely has love in their heart for all, or even remotely grieves these deaths that are so glibly spoken of.
  4. The Idea that “Good People” Can’t Be Racist: The phrase “not a racial bone in their body” particularly stands out in this regard.

    The bone metaphor is particularly striking to me, because it equates “being a racist” with an identity marker that can’t be changed—a part of one’s body.

    If racism would have to be such a deep-seated thing that it would require major surgery in order to change it, then surely it is unkind (and, in fact, evil) to ask someone to change it, right?

    This meme, then, assumes that evil such as racism or injustice is rare, identity-based, and not a behavior that could be changed. It also assumes it is assigned to particular individuals rather than systems.

    The idea that someone could be both well-meaning and enable and enact racist behaviors and systems is really opposite of the idea here—which is strikingly similar to Hitler’s concept that particular bloodlines were “pure” whereas others were “impure.” (That’s right—this meme is coming awfully close to enacting Nazi ideology here. Great job, eh?)

    The problem, of course, is that even unhealthy ideologies can creep their way into our identities to the point where we can feel shame if we are confronted with the facts that we are unjust to others in how our words, attitudes, and behaviors stem from them.

    I talked about how I had so far internalized “family values” rhetoric that I felt shame when I needed to get divorced here. That same kind of thing can happen with socialized racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all sorts of other toxic things we unconsciously internalize—things that hurt ourselves and others, but especially others.

    But unlike being born with a particularly dark skin, racist attitudes and behaviors are not something we are born with. They are not an inherent part of identity. Like my beliefs about divorce, they can be changed. It may feel painful to go through the process, but again, I was taught that the best kind of love involves not harming others—and that changed attitudes and behavior was something we were called to do when we sought to communicate love to others (most in the Judeo-Christian traditions call that repentance).  
  5. The Assumption that Good Police Officers’ Intentions Mean They Won’t Do Bad Things: That whole line about how police officers would lay down their lives for you evokes this idea for me. The implication there is that people who would risk their lives to save yours, and that those same people surely wouldn’t hurt others under any circumstance.

    The thing with this is that there’s a whole famous series of psychology experiments that were done after WWII and the Holocaust to try and understand why and how the Holocaust happened. They found that people will do all sorts of nasty things when put into positions of power, or when they are asked to do unethical things to hurt others, or to follow the crowd. You can look them up if you like—but the point is that prison guards down to police officers down to ordinary people have been universally shown to do terrible things really really easily.

    In other words, people can easily fall into behaviors that are highly unethical, including those we would societally consider evil. While some people are extreme narcissists who don’t feel bad when they hurt others to help themselves, ordinary people can also be easily prone to these things, especially when socialized into cultures that unhealthily encourage attitudes that people—and especially some groups of people more than others—need to be punished.

    It’s clear that whether or not police officers individually are “good people,” they are vulnerable to hurting people. The same is true with those who perceive themselves as “not having a racial bone in their body.”

Just Scratching the Surface of the Unhealthy Rhetoric Here

I could go on and on—there’s a ton that could be unpacked here. The point, though, is that this meme, in its hyperbole, exposes the unhealthy ways that toxic positivity and Christian nice, in glorifying the minimization of real problems, may both enable and enact racist behaviors.

After all, if you’re a white person telling black people that what we’re seeing regarding police misconduct is largely impossible because you as a white person believe it to be impossible, then that’s not just unloving but racist.

How the Meme Goes Against Jesus’ Message

Furthermore, from the perspective of one who was raised with Jesus’ parables about how it was worth spending time to find a single lost sheep or coin or whatever, these arguments about how the majority of things are “just fine” so we should act as though there are no problems simply isn’t theologically consistent with the message of Jesus.

Bad Logic + Bad Ethics=Not Actually Loving

The whole meme is just terrible logic, and terrible ethics in addition to putting forth false statistics. In short, the message here is not remotely one that communicates love. It communicates what I’ve said before we communication scholars call incongruous disconfirming communication to those who were born with dark-toned skin and those who stick up for them. (In other words, communication that says one thing but undermines that message at the same time.)

This Meme Actively Causes Harm

By taking the side of toxic positivity and minimizing the concerns of those who are pointing at existing real problems, this kind of rhetoric causes great harm. I hope this article has given you the tools to understand and work against such rhetoric when confronted with it, whether out there in the world or within yourselves.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap, including racism wherever we find it, toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward diagnosing and speaking up against unhealthy rhetoric?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

The post When Christian Nice Gets Mean in Minimizing Racism appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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Church Buildings as “Essential” and COVID-19: A Rhetorical Analysis https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/23/church-as-essential-covid-19-rhetorical-analysis/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/23/church-as-essential-covid-19-rhetorical-analysis/#comments Sat, 23 May 2020 23:43:28 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1062 Yesterday the current head of the executive branch of the US government made an announcement advocating for the immediate reopening of churches and other houses of worship as “essential” as quickly as this weekend. That announcement understandably set off a firestorm in the spiritually-focused groups I’m a part of. In this blog post, as a result, I will be looking at the concept of “houses of worship as essential” and the rhetoric around it. In doing so, I will also...

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Yesterday the current head of the executive branch of the US government made an announcement advocating for the immediate reopening of churches and other houses of worship as “essential” as quickly as this weekend. That announcement understandably set off a firestorm in the spiritually-focused groups I’m a part of. In this blog post, as a result, I will be looking at the concept of “houses of worship as essential” and the rhetoric around it. In doing so, I will also be continuing several other threads from other blog series in this space, especially the series on “god terms” and “devil terms” that starts here and the political disgusts series that starts here.

In the process I will especially be focusing on how the announcement’s framing is designed to divisively appeal to a Christian base that’s conservative both theologically and politically, sets up false dichotomies around these Christians being unjustly treated during this time, and seeks to erase wide swaths of spiritual work that have been creatively working to love neighbors from a distance during the closures both in and out of religious organizations.

NOTE: This is a long article—thanks for hanging in there with me through the analysis toward the final pointers to help us all keep working toward the common good.

Some Churchy Background

So I’m going to dive into a rhetorical analysis of this church reopening as “essential” thing using what I know as a communication scholar as a lens.

But first, just as a reminder, I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a moderate Protestant denomination in the Midwest US. This denomination was just on the Evangelical side of the conservative/progressive divide that cuts through so much these days, including religion and spirituality. (And as I’ve discussed before, I’ve seen people from my denomination fall on both sides of that religio-political divide since 2016, which has been a great sorrow to me.)

I went to church twice every Sunday. We naturally did all the churchy things when they met on other days as well. We lived in a house next to the church most of the time. I went to Sunday school, and Christian school. I considered the church library an extension of my own.

In short, when I was a kid, if there had been a “stay at home” order because of a pandemic, I would have struggled to understand why the church building wouldn’t be a permissible part of that order. The church was home to me in a very real way.

This is important context going into my analysis: I completely get it when people say that they feel deeply connected to church buildings and their reopening.

“The Church Is the People”

Here’s the irony of that upbringing: Many many times I heard it preached and affirmed from the pulpit in those physical churches that the church was NOT about a building.

I even had a little rhyme with accompanying hand movements I was taught to say. Ironically, I would often play with it when I was bored in church services: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is the people!”

And we were sooooo often physically present in church buildings when we heard these messages.

“Do Not Give Up Meeting Together”

We also invoked a single verse out of context (ignoring the fact that church buildings did not yet exist when it was originally written) for how much we met in those buildings and elsewhere.

I’ve lost track of how many times “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV) was intoned, especially in support of someone physically attending worship.

Sure, we got that there were “shut-ins,” that the pastor physically visited. But, you know, those people were medically ill, so they had a “good excuse.”  

Churches as “God Terms”

In other words, despite our seemingly reasonable exceptions for medical reasons not to attend church, houses of worship themselves (and even more, gathering together in large groups to worship!) sort of seeped their way into our bones. It’s only natural that we started to see our presence there as something that was part of our identities, and even something that made us more righteous than others. Something to be defended at all costs, even—which in rhetoric, if you’ll remember from previous articles starting here, you should know we call a “god term.”  

Ironic, seeing as how we were using our church meetings to steep ourselves in all sorts of biblical stories about how the “People of the Book” had survived the destruction of their houses of worship. How God told David that God having a house was less important than other things.

And how Jesus told everyone not to be so public in their prayer and instead go into their closets to pray to God. (As I’ve said before, these traditions are rich in cognitive dissonance alongside nuanced ways of dealing with it.)

Enter “Churches as Essential”

Fast forward to 2020. There’s a pandemic on, and everyone’s been asked to stay home (more or less) for about 2-2.5 months in the US. People have been asked to step away from many activities, including gathering in churches in large groups, for what boil down to medical reasons.

In short, all of us have become what my church would have called “shut-ins” because so much of the viral spread happens asymptomatically. The thing is that people are getting itchy to get back to “normalcy.” I mean, surely those who are young and healthy shouldn’t have to act like shut-ins when they’re not really sick, right?  

The problem, of course, is that the medical threat isn’t gone. The curve of the pandemic spread has not been flattened, but things are starting to reopen anyway.

Churches as “Essential”? The Announcement

So this is the situation into which the current head of the US administration makes this past Friday afternoon’s firestorm announcement. Here are some sentences from it to be found in many news pieces: “Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential…In America, we need more prayer not less.”

This is not the first time the current head of the administration has made a contentious announcement about opening churches, but it is the strongest to date: that they should be open immediately, for Memorial Day weekend.

The arguments I’ve seen swirling around from my peops arguing for the conservative point of view are right there embedded in his announcement. Let me explain.

A Matter of Injustice?

As I dig into the guts of this announcement, let’s be clear: This rhetoric only plays well with an audience that thinks the existing order of things is slighting religious organizations.

In this view, if women’s clinics that perform a wide variety of women’s health services that happen to include abortions are allowed to have their buildings remain open, and liquor stores, then it is “unfair” that churches are being asked to avoid large gatherings.

As a reminder, any reference to abortion, in most conservative Christian worldviews, automatically puts us into “devil term” category here—that is, things that conservative viewpoints will interpret as things associated with death, to be fought at all costs.

Same with liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries, the latter of which have not specifically been mentioned here but are being circulated in the religiously and politically conservative crowds as organizations that have been “unfairly” allowed to remain “essential” over and above religious houses of worship.

In invoking this rhetoric and specifically these comparisons, the current head of the administration seeks to shift the playing field from seeing the virus and its attendant loss of life as the biggest threat, and enters into another realm entirely: this question of defending houses of worship as essential to the health and wellbeing of Americans over and against these seemingly immoral organizations.

Houses of Worship Vs. Abortion Clinics: A Cage Match?

Of course, the head of the administration, in invoking these particular threats, reveals that he doesn’t really care at all about progressive religious leaders’ points of view—because only particularly conservative religious leaders would see abortion clinics or liquor stores as “threats” to be fought, much less take the bait to thinking they would be such important threats that services ought to open up immediately.

Interestingly, as I’ve discussed before, abortion is not a topic directly raised in the Bible, and Jesus turned water into wine, sooooo….he doesn’t seem to be against alcohol. As I stated above, the Bible is as much against houses of worship as for them, and Jesus himself was for praying alone in one’s room.

So Let’s Be Clear:

This cage fight the current head of the administration is setting up is not about getting his conservative Christian followers to defend the biblically grounded parts of Christianity.

This is one way we can tell he’s setting up “churches as essential” as a “god term”—his call to defend church reopening is not actually grounded in biblical analysis about gathering together being good, much less taking care of the poor and the “least of these.”

On the contrary, it’s being grounded in opposition to things that conservatives find morally disgusting apart from clear theological principles: abortions and liquor. As we’ll see, the example of abortions is particularly rhetorically loaded.

“Baby Killers” Vs. Deaths in Adults?

Here’s the thing: if you see your church as a source of all righteousness and others outside its walls, especially progressives, as the source of all evil (I talked about how I absorbed the mild version of this kind of belief here), then you’re bound to be feeling ungrounded if you yourself find yourself attending church meetings only over Zoom.

That cognitive dissonance is bound to eat away at you.

Furthermore, if you are trained to conflate everything women’s health clinics do with death, and your church as associated with God and life, then surely you’re bound to feel pretty depressed and simultaneously envious if laws pop up because of this pesky virus thing that seems to favor those enacting death while you are kept away from your source of life.

Moving the Goalposts Away from the Epidemiological Truth

The problem with this framing is that it is flat out dangerous because it moves us away from the realities of the situation. As this article states, religious services, especially ones involving singing and/or communion, are really risky to spread the virus—as high as eating out in a restaurant, which in some traditions is a practice that traditionally follows worship services.

Picking up alcohol from a liquor store is not a practice with a high viral load. And while women’s health appointments contain a threat of viral load, women’s health clinics perform many services that save lives and prevent all kinds of disease. These are the epidemiological arguments for these things being open while church buildings are kept largely closed to large meetings.

Religious Services as a Source of Health?

The most interesting argument I’ve seen for why religious services should be legally allowed to open from this population is that going to church is a source of mental and physical health.

This, of course, is true for some people who find the church life-giving for them. It is the opposite of the truth for those who have experienced spiritual abuse and trauma.

And of course this is the point at which the conservative debater would demur. “Well, we’re not saying we’re the only solution. Just that we too are an essential component of mental and physical health for a lot of people.”

Attacking the Messengers for the Nature of the Virus

As I’ve already pointed out, this argument is one that tries to set aside epidemiological realities for questions of fairness in ways that actually could spread the virus significantly, hurting lots of people.

The biggest problem with the current head of the administration’s framing of this issue is that it attacks the people creating policies and scapegoats them for making decisions that are actually constraints brought on by the nature of the virus and how it spreads rather than questions of morality or the lack thereof.

Empathizing with the Desire to Gather and Sing in Groups

None of this is to say that I don’t empathize with the valid needs those who wish to gather for church services are experiencing. I just don’t think those who are used to gathering for worship services are the only ones missing these things, and I believe we need to grieve those things out rather than putting them on others.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the hardest parts of this pandemic is that not only our systems, but also our own neurobiology often leads us to help the virus spread. We desire in-person connection. We dislike being cooped up. It’s natural to feel attacked when we’re told that our particular coping mechanisms—many of which really ARE healthy in normal times—aren’t wise right now.

From a perspective of stress and trauma research, singing together as one often does in houses of worship does indeed have a mental health benefit for many, absolutely. And many outside of churches as well as within them are grieving how difficult collective singing is right now.

Same goes for gathering in large groups for any number of reasons. As many have noted, meeting together in large groups for rituals of grief and rejoicing are things that bring a huge mental health benefit, absolutely. Many are mourning the present constraints around these things.

Diminishing the Work of Spirituality Outside of Houses of Worship

From my perspective, this is what’s really insulting about the call to reopen church services immediately: by conflating prayer and spirituality with large meetings in church buildings, it seeks to diminish all the spiritual work that’s been continuing outside of physical houses of worship, both during the closures and before that.

In other words, equating houses of worship reopening to reopening the institution of religion assumes that shutting them down has actually shut down spirituality and the work of caring and concern that goes along with it.

And THAT is the most tone-deaf part of this framing of the question. See, the truth is that that little rhyme I was taught as a child is correct, and not just for Christian contexts. People—whether in or outside of religion—who connect and take care of each other and the greater good haven’t gone away just because houses of worship aren’t holding big services.

Not Just Those in Formal Religions, Either

One thing my deconversion from “family values” rhetoric (I wrote about this here) has taught me is that people who I had been taught were less “righteous” than those of us in the church are part of that picture, and are not less important than those in the church.

In fact, I now believe that anyone anywhere who is seeking to love their neighbor is “doing church,” whether they would frame it that way or not. (I can see how that view would be seen as a threat by conservative Christians seeking to defend the idea that their way of serving others is the only life-giving approach.)

But Nope, Works of Spirituality and Mercy Haven’t Stopped Because the Buildings Are Shuttered

But yeah, this has been going on within formal religion as well. Many people and teachers have been struggling to overcome their own and others’ learning curves regarding technology to do what they can to heroically adapt to the virus’ constraints by working from home as well as possible.

This, despite often overwhelming challenges that working from home has represented, not because of stay at home orders, but because of the actual viral threat.

And both clergy and laypeople have been continuing to be and do “church things” from home in much the same way. Because of this, suggesting that church buildings must reopen in order to encourage the practices of prayer (implying that only opening the church buildings would make that possible) is the most tone-deaf and insulting part of the announcement.

And in much the same way that many are rightfully wavering on whether to hold in-person classes in schools and universities in the near future, many many reasonable clergy and laypeople are suggesting it would be unethical and unwise to open church buildings for standard large meetings anytime soon.

Let’s Focus on Ethics, Not Pure Legality

In fact, as we professors are doing for our work in continuing to teach the best we can under the virus’s constraints, and ethical businesses continuing to adapt as best they can to the best practices laid out for us by the epidemiologists, even during reopening, I would argue that ethical clergy and laypeople are continuing to work the best they can within the constraints they are given.

This is happening not just for reasons of legality, as I’ve seen among my more conservative peops, or even to keep themselves from getting the virus, but to care for the least of these by seeking to lessen the viral spread as best as they can.

(And indeed, if conservative Christianity wants to argue that abortion clinics and liquor stores are “getting a leg up on them” in offering solutions to people, ought not they be better off working to winsomely do the same rather than trying to bully experts and political leaders into letting them have their way to prematurely reopen their doors?)

#AssertiveSpirituality Doesn’t Give In to False Dichotomies

This, I would argue, is the true work of #AssertiveSpirituality in light of the ongoing pandemic situation: Continuing to work to decrease deaths from the virus as well as we can at the same time that we work to try to advocate for and work for a healthier world for us all in a lot of ways.

What Does This Look Like?

The shape of that will look different for different populations in different locations, but ought overall to try to decrease exposures to the riskiest situations regarding viral spread as much as possible except with really good reasons. I see this process taking the viral threat seriously and seeking creative ways to continue working toward a better world while taking care of ourselves and each other as much as possible.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s refuse to give in to unhealthy “god-term”/”devil term” framings that draw us into fighting and defending the wrong things rather than fighting for the common good and the best for all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward diagnosing and speaking up against unhealthy rhetoric?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates. This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Understanding the Rhetoric of COVID Conspiracy Theories—and How to Respond Healthily https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/09/responding-covid-conspiracy-theory-rhetoric/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/09/responding-covid-conspiracy-theory-rhetoric/#comments Sat, 09 May 2020 23:09:03 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1057 I was going to write about something else this week. I had a great thing all cued up. But then my personal FB newsfeed blew up with my Facebook friends dealing with people, most of whom identify as some form of more conservative brand of Christian, hawking conspiracy theories. Most of the rhetoric surrounded this “Plandemic” video, which has since been removed from both YouTube and Facebook because of its misinformation. Once this gained critical mass, I know I needed...

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I was going to write about something else this week. I had a great thing all cued up. But then my personal FB newsfeed blew up with my Facebook friends dealing with people, most of whom identify as some form of more conservative brand of Christian, hawking conspiracy theories. Most of the rhetoric surrounded this “Plandemic” video, which has since been removed from both YouTube and Facebook because of its misinformation. Once this gained critical mass, I know I needed to unwrap COVID conspiracy theory rhetoric and its complicated reception in today’s blog post. (So that’s what I’m doing.)

A Few Disclaimers Before I Start

As I’ve explained before, I am not THAT kind of doctor. I’m also not here to respond directly here to the claims in the YouTube video (you can find excellent responses along those lines in lots of places). Nor am I trying to judge or shame those who have shared the link to this misinformation. We’ve all been there where we’ve shared links to things we’ve later found out was false. It’s easy to do. But how we respond when someone helps us get more context and understanding–well, that’s a totally different thing.

One other quick note that I’m not trying to duplicate the fine work Christianity Today did this week (I posted that over on the Assertive Spirituality FB page this week) in drawing attention to the way that gullibility is not a Christian virtue. I’m also not trying to analyze this from a Christian theological perspective—this article does a great job comparing conspiracy rhetoric to Gnosticism, which orthodox Christianity has long considered to be a heresy.

Also, this stuff gets a little complicated, so thanks for hanging in there with me on the length. The detail is important!

Why I’m Writing and Such

Anyway, let’s get into it. What I AM trying to do is to help you to understand a little bit about the history and nature of conspiracy rhetoric and how it happens that people, many of which are kind and generous in nature, may end up buying into unfounded conspiracy rhetoric, and to offer some tips to help you respond.

My Background and Credentials and Such

I am doing this as someone with a PhD in Communication who studies and teaches about stress, trauma, and conflict communication and was fortunate to take a grad course in the rhetoric of conspiracy during my PhD.

I’m also doing this as someone who grew up as a pastor’s kid in a moderate denomination and understands from the inside out how this kind of stuff works.

Why I Too Was Uncomfortable When Learning about Conspiracy Rhetoric

To be honest, when I took that course in the rhetoric of conspiracy, I was deeply uncomfortable with the fact that at least one of the articles we read dealt with Christians participating in anti-science conspiracy theories. Between that and seeing how conspiracy rhetoric has been rightfully identified as a factor in both the Reformation and in the American Revolution, it was a rather uncomfortable semester for me.

Because, let’s face it, it’s not comfortable seeing how “our people” have long, even in legitimate movements that have a lot of good in them, have often also gone off the deep end.

It’s wayyyy more comfortable to distance ourselves from those coping mechanisms both we and our ancestors share that we deem irrational.

The Rhetoric of Conspiracy and Moral/Political Disgusts

The thing is that that very impulse we all share—the desire to morally and physically distance ourselves from those things we have moral and political disgusts for—is what drives people to accept and participate in conspiracy rhetoric. I have previously discussed the neurobiology of moral and political disgusts in a long series starting here.

The thing is that it’s very easy, as I’ve also discussed before, to put “us,” whoever “us” is, in the “moral” category, and “those other folks” in the “immoral” category for whatever reason. Unfortunately, unscrupulous leaders know this, and often use the extreme language of “god terms” and “devil terms” (which I’ve also written a series on, beginning here) to get us to applaud some people who are “on our side” and to form moral disgusts about other people who are “on the other side.”

Moderate Evangelical-Centrism and Moral Disgusts

As I’ve said before, growing up in a moderate denomination that highly valued education and full engagement with the world, I’ve seen this impulse from an intriguing (if also disturbing) vantage point. (I’ve talked about this and how it connects to what I call “white Evangelical-centrism here.)

On one hand, I’ve seen my peops engaging in moral disgusts to separate ourselves from being associated with televangelists and other fundamentalist Christians we found extreme, including those who saw engagement with science and expertise as threats.

On the other hand, my denomination highly valued Christian education over “secular education”—and however thoughtful I can see us being about it, at base I can see now that at base this impulse wasn’t only about rational thoughtfulness but also at least partly about moral disgusts and a desire to associate mostly with “our own kind.”

How “Bubble Thinking” Left Us Vulnerable

To be fair, there were some really good things about our own kind and some unhealthy things outside our “bubble.” But that impulse wasn’t really fully “pure” or “rational” either.

I can see now that at root, what I’ve talked about earlier is true—we were possibly just as morally disgusted by the “liberal elites” as we were by the more fundamentalist Christians.

And looking at it now, it makes sense that because of that, in the current climate, some of the people I know, even seeming “moderates” who are quite well educated, would be falling prey to conspiracy rhetoric about COVID as well as other unhealthy tendencies spurred on by the current political climate.

What Unhealthy Conspiracy Theories Thrive On

After all, unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric thrives in conditions in which people see at least some forms of expertise as “other” and morally disgusting.

It also thrives in situations where people feel a lot of shame about experts knowing more than they do. (And since most people, including those with advanced degrees have often felt “put down” by others in academia, most people are vulnerable to this kind of feeling “less than” shame.)

And last but not least, conspiracy rhetoric thrives in conditions in which people feel a lot of uncertainty about what’s ahead. As I’ve discussed before, with a lot of stress in this global crisis, people are looking for stable leaders who know a lot—and let’s face it, the scientific process moves slow, and no one has all the answers here. This is a great article that gets into this.

Unwrapping the Marks of Conspiracy Rhetoric

I don’t want to make this too long (thanks for hanging in there!), but here’s what conspiracy rhetoric usually does: it tells a story that sounds like secret knowledge, that seems plausible, and that often appeals to people with suspicions of uncertainty and of at least some of those in charge.

And let’s be clear: sometimes there are provable conspiracies. People sometimes work together in nefarious and corrupt ways to try to exploit and take advantage of people. (For instance, paid trolls in other countries actually have been trying to influence political systems in the last few years. This is a provable type of conspiracy—entire troll farms have been caught at this.)

Discerning Between Detecting Real Conspiracies and Unhealthy Conspiracy Theory

The difference between actual conspiracies and so much of the time-worn conspiracy theory rhetoric, though, is that actual conspiracies can, with time and effort and luck, be factually proven.

Defining First-Order Realities and Second-Order Realities

In the study of perceptions, we talk about the difference between first-order realities (i.e., observable facts or data) and second-order realities (i.e., interpretations of that data).

The Difference Between Detection and Unhealthy Conspiracy Theories

Actual conspiracies can be proven through first-order realities to create logical second-order realities, whereas unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric, if you confront it with first-order realities that would ordinarily mess with its interpretations, will tell you that those things are lies and further evidence that their second-order realities are the “actual truth.”

See, here’s the thing: detection of actual conspiracies tends to consider the source and definitely identifies things as lies as needed, but works hard not to disconfirm first-order realities, whatever their source.

Unheathy conspiracy theory rhetoric, on the other hand, will tell you that first-order realities are to be dismissed if the source is seen to be suspicious, whereas all second order realities from people “on their side” need to be accepted, regardless of what the first-order realities may be.

The Difference Is in the Open-Mindedness to New Evidence

Note the difference here: Healthy conspiracy detection often comes in with suspicion and often takes a side, and sometimes dismisses information if it comes from untrustworthy sources, but also tries to keep an open enough mind to be willing to change their mind if the evidence warrants it.

Unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric exploits pre-existing fears, prejudices, coping mechanisms, and us vs. them logic to make people feel better about themselves and their group at the expense of another group, regardless of whether that other group is actually a problem.

Unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric pretends to care about justice and truth, but actually prefers certainty and feeling potentially superior about knowing to justice and truth.

The Connection Between Unhealthy Conspiracy Theories and Authoritarianism/Covert Abuse

Because of this, unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric is very close to the logic of authoritarianism and of covert abuse—I wrote about how Christians and Christian nice have been enabling these things here.

It’s also really closely related to fascistic rhetoric, for good reason—these folks often abuse conspiracy rhetoric and sow misinformation to discredit potential opponents to their second-reality views in order to gain and maintain power at the expense of others (standard targets are often “the media” who fact-check their sources and educators/experts, if that rings a bell–I talked about this more here).

COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Are Hurting People

And let’s be absolutely clear: Specifically in the case of this COVID-19 public health emergency, this conspiracy theory misinformation is damaging real people. Conmen and hucksters and other unreliable people purporting to be “real experts” trying to raise their profiles on YouTube are putting out false information. And that’s hurting people.

Who These Conspiracy Theories Are Hurting

In the time of COVID-19, misinformation, including conspiracy theory rhetoric that demonizes even the valid parts of the scientific and medical models, is causing further stress to the actual doctors on the front lines, as this article relates. The same article talks about how it’s causing more deaths to those who believe the conspiracy rhetoric as well.

In this case, if those who believe the conspiracy rhetoric fail to take good precautions, it also puts other vulnerable populations also at risk and increases deaths in non-conspiracy-believing parts of the population.

Not Saying the Medical Model or Science Is Perfect

Now, let’s be clear here: I don’t think the medical model or the scientific method, is perfect, nor do I think its practitioners are perfect. They are deeply human. That’s really the whole point of science—and if you hang out with scientists, especially the kind that don’t have arrogant temperaments, you would see a kind of deep humility in them.

Being in academia I get to see both types—and particularly as someone who studies trauma, which science has started to realize undermines a lot of previous dichotomies between fields, I really get to see both the advantages and the disadvantages of our current scientifically-based systems.

Science and the medical model are not perfect in part because we’re still deeply vulnerable as a society to that which we don’t fully know or understand.

It’s a New Virus, So Of Course No One Will Know Everything

And because this virus is new, even though a bunch of smart people are working on it, there’s going to be a lot of shifts in what we know, and that’s going to feel unstable to a lot of us.

 It’s also, to make it really safe, going to be a long process, most likely, and impatient people, especially those feeling dependent on things “getting back to normal” quickly, are more vulnerable to conspiracy rhetoric that claims to understand and to be able to control that uncertainty.

No Shortcuts to Knowledge, Sadly

All of this is deeply uncomfortable to deal with, and unfortunately, there are no easy shortcuts to figuring out this virus.

Standing Up Against This Stuff Helps Public Health

Here’s what I know to be true in all of this: Having unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric out there unchallenged literally hurts people. I am incredibly thankful that at least some social media sites have responded relatively quickly to remove at least some of it from their sites.

And I am incredibly thankful for those of my friends who have been working to challenge it when they see it. (And completely understand those who have had to conserve their energies by blocking and unfriending people.)

Some Tips on Speaking Up Against Conspiracy Rhetoric Effectively

If you are among those who have the energy to keep speaking up, please do! Here’s a few short tips on how to confront the rhetoric most effectively:

  1. Validate the fears and uncertainty that lie behind the embrace of unhealthy conspiracy theories (without agreeing with the unhealthy conclusions).
  2. Acknowledge that the medical model and scientific methods aren’t fully perfect (while standing firm on what they do right).
  3. AND, and this is possibly the most important, draw attention to the harm this kind of rhetoric does and the further stress and deaths it causes. Rehumanize yourself and others. In the context of this, talk about your own concerns for the lives of those in vulnerable populations and on the front lines, and also for the speaker’s health.

Why Do We Need to Stand Up When We Can

Here’s why we need to keep working against unhealthy conspiracy rhetoric as we’re able to, when we have the energy: the person who posts these things is unlikely to agree with you. They may not like you much for speaking up.

BUT someone else in the audience may be secretly on the fence about the question and CAN be persuaded.

AND it’s possible that your opposition may be what’s needed to get the person to take down the harmful information.

Either or both of these things are wins in the fight for the common good and public health. (Which doesn’t mean that if you’re engaged in other things, or burned out, you have to keep going without rest. Take the rest as you need to! Just come back when you can! It’s a relay marathon!)

One Final Disclaimer

Note that none of this means you have to fully embrace everything that public health experts are telling you—it just means that we should all be balancing trust in expertise with healthy detection around first- and second-order realities. And let’s be honest—there are times when the information is so quickly changing, diffuse, and dense that it’s going to be hard for ALL of us to keep up.

It’s not a perfect situation, friends. Many parts of it suck. But I know this much is true: unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric hurts people.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against unhealthy conspiracy theory rhetoric and other unhealthy crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward diagnosing and speaking up against unhealthy rhetoric?

Boy, do we have got a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for you (it actually helps you with conflict both online and off). To get it, sign up for our email newsletter (either in the top bar or by checking the appropriate box when commenting on this article). Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the guide in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around for our weekly email updates.

This summer we’re hoping to offer more online courses and other support resources for those advocating for the common good, and if you stay subscribed, you’ll be the first to know about these types of things when they pop up.

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Striving for Healthy Dissent (in Today’s Progressive Politics) https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/02/toward-healthy-dissent-progressive-politics/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/05/02/toward-healthy-dissent-progressive-politics/#comments Sat, 02 May 2020 22:16:02 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1053 Hello friends! Lately I’ve been thinking about—and encountering—a lot of both healthy dissent and also the unhealthy varieties, especially when it comes to the 2020 election among my left-leaning and progressive friends. So today I want to unwrap some of those facets of the differences between healthy and unhealthy dissent, and encourage us all to diagnose the difference in ourselves and others so we can achieve our shared goals without too much unhealthy detraction. And let’s be honest: this is...

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Hello friends! Lately I’ve been thinking about—and encountering—a lot of both healthy dissent and also the unhealthy varieties, especially when it comes to the 2020 election among my left-leaning and progressive friends. So today I want to unwrap some of those facets of the differences between healthy and unhealthy dissent, and encourage us all to diagnose the difference in ourselves and others so we can achieve our shared goals without too much unhealthy detraction.

And let’s be honest: this is going to require some of us who are engaged in strong stress and burnout stages to occasionally step back from the dialogue and effort if we find ourselves unable to contribute in a facilitative, constructive way toward making something new.

Some Background to This Whole Healthy Dissent Question in the 2020 Election

I wrote about this a bit before—about the grief that came for many progressive voters with losing some of the more progressive candidates off the current Democratic ticket.

This decision led to a situation in which many people had strong differing preferences for candidates in the same party.

Fear and Concern on, Well, All Sides

In such circumstances you get a situation with a LOT of fear for all of the people in the anti-current administration camp: (1) fear from those who strongly support Biden that everyone who disagrees with him will “poison the well” and refuse to vote for him, and/or encourage others to do the same; and (2) fear from those who supported the more progressive candidates that Biden and the DNC won’t listen to their concerns and take their needs seriously going forward.

Agreeing with What We Can

Here’s the thing: both of these sides have valid points, and both could and ought to join together in thoughtful dialogue about how to work together in a loose coalition without unduly tripping one another up or expecting us all to agree.

Not Surprised to See Unhealthy Dissent Popping Up

But just now, in the midst of the stress and trauma of a global pandemic? I’m grieved, but not surprised, that I’m seeing a lot of unhealthy dissent instead. Stay tuned, and I’ll unwrap a particular incident and tell you a bit of how I try to diagnose the difference and how I decide who to ask to step down and take a break from the dialogue in a given situation.

And after all, the stakes really ARE high for this election, and every little action and bit of rhetoric can help or hurt in helping us reach our goals. With such a strong threat from current heads of the opposition party, we don’t all need to think the same right now, but we DO need to work fast to manage our emotions to work toward a loose coalition in healthy ways.

An Online Incident that Led Me to Address This Topic

So here’s the inciting incident: Last week on my personal Facebook feed, two “web friends” I know and follow, but don’t know each other (I talk with both through messaging) got into a wrangle. These are both people I respect and like, even while there are points on which I disagree with from both of them (as is the case with many people!).

I knew both are on the same side in terms of fearing the reelection of the current administration.

I also knew they were both planning to vote the same way because of that fear.

The Roots of the Conflict

And YET there was quite the hubbub between them—because they had widely differing views on the subject.

Here’s what happened: One was in the Biden camp, and the other was planning to vote Biden but reluctantly. The first person didn’t know or ask about the latter point, though, and was assuming the latter person was digging their heels in.

<Enter Disclaimer Here>

(Note: I’ve also seen this go the other way, when the person distrusting Biden was totally burnt out and the person supporting Biden was the one voicing thoughtful dissent. I don’t see this happening in supporters of the current administration in healthy ways—so as you know if you’ve been following me for awhile, I’ve been strongly against the “bothsidesism” fallacy as used in the fascistic rhetoric coming from the current administration, but within current factions on the left, it’s happening that there really are people engaging in healthy disagreement, and unhealthily burned out people lashing out, on “both sides”—and it takes a deep breath and some careful diagnosis to see the difference.)

Back to the Story

Anyway, back to the incident. In this case, it was clear that the person supporting Biden was showing burnout in that situation. This was clear because they didn’t take the time to notice that the other person was expressing concerns without imposing them on others.

(If you want to know more about how to diagnose these things, I get into this topic more in the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” that comes with a subscription to our online newsletter—I’ll give instructions on how to do that at the end of this article.)

Again, the fact that this particular Biden supporter, in this particular moment in time, was jumping immediately to “unite with us or else” actually was harmful rhetoric in that particular situation. That person was so concerned with the urgency of the outcome that they were trying to coerce agreement in unhealthy ways.

How I Chose to React When I Felt I’d Diagnosed the Issue

I could see this, so I invited them to step away and cool down and come back later while reinforcing the validity of the other person’s thoughtful dissent and drawing attention to their credibility as being on the same side ultimately.

So, yeah, once it wasn’t going to be productive and it was clear, at least from my viewpoint as one who knew both people and study this stuff, who was making more assumptions, I asked the person who was challenged more in the moment to step away momentarily.

Because, again, I know both parties well enough, I knew enough to know neither of them was a troll, and that helped with the situation quite a bit. As I discuss in the “Guide to Online Trolls,” I would have dealt with it differently if that was different.

What You Can Do

Surely you’ve seen this happen at some point if you’re active on social media at all and engaged in trying to be assertive about religio-political topics these days. Maybe you’ve even be one of these parties.

The more we can emphasize the common ground we have without invalidating each other’s concerns, and step back to calm down when we’re not in a healthy place to hear one another’s valid points, the easier it will be to form healthily loose coalitions toward the common good to take care of the vulnerable.

An Important Note

I’ve found myself engaged with this same argument from the other side as well—drawing attention to the need to channel healthy dissent where possible and not just rant concerns about Biden as an expression of burnout.

Recognizing How I’ve Grown as “Mediator” of Such Disputes

When the initial incident happened last week, there was an interesting sense of déjà vu for me, because I suddenly felt like I was back in the friend group I was in when I was twelve, trying to mediate among those in my friend group who were upset at one another.

Here’s the difference in how I mediated situations back then and how I mediate them now, though:

Back in the day, my goal would have been (and was) to try to get each other to like one another again in order to suppress the conflict and make everyone pretend to like each other. Today, my goal is to promote a loose coalition that works toward shared goals without requiring flattening of differences.

We All Have a Lot of Stress in Common

What it comes down to is this: we’re all under a huge amount of stress, and that means we’re all perceiving an awful lot of threat right now, and many of our bodies and psyches are naturally reacting to that strongly with fight, flight, and freeze stress responses.

Much of that threat perception is valid. But that doesn’t mean all of our stress responses are healthy or helpful. Learning to channel our stress in healthy ways, and call each other to rest when we can’t, is what I see as the most productive thing we can do right now to all work together as well as possible.

Using the Revelations of This Time to Work Toward Better Systems

But if we don’t have time to pause and diagnose the threats we perceive, we’re in danger of creating negative self-fulfilling prophecies that keep us from making new possibilities in the midst of this time that’s revealing so many flaws in our current systems.

As a reminder, the Greek root of the word apocalypse means “to make clear.” And it is clear that there are many flaws in our current systems that have led to great problems.

Don’t Be Discouraged, Friends!

The danger is spending all our time telling ourselves and others that the flaws in our systems can’t be fixed because they are so obvious. The danger is also insisting that if we don’t fix them perfectly in the first go that it’s not worth making the effort.

And the danger is assuming that we can’t find ways to work together cohesively without flattening differences on one hand or de-emphasizing what we have in common in ways that hurt reaching the end goal on the other.

What Is Natural Can Be—But Is Not Always–Healthy

it’s natural to presume that we all need to think the same. It’s also natural to think we all have nothing in common, despite common goals.

It’s also natural, from the midst of the trauma we’re all going through, to go into freeze mode and presume nothing is ever going to get better.

The Healthy Response

But here’s the thing. It’s also natural and possible to use those stress energies our bodies are so efficiently producing for us right now to try to helpfully tend and befriend, however loosely, to fight toward our common goals.

And it’s also natural and possible to work toward resting from political discourses when we find ourselves unable to take part in that.

Let’s Keep Striving for the Common Good!

These are reasonable and achievable things that we can do to reach for the common good, friends! Let’s work toward diagnosing carefully who is and who isn’t at burnout stage, and ask them (including ourselves) to temporarily step back from the dialogue until they can rest more and rejoin us in constructive dialogue.

And let’s distinguish those folks who are burned out from from the true bullies (which is what the “Guide to Trolls”is designed to help you with—instructions in a bit if you want that resource!).

And let’s learn to see it as a helpful thing for us to reach toward healthy dissent in the process of all of this, while still emphasizing common goals.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality!  May we all continue to reach toward the common good as we’re able where we are with what we’ve got, and may we rest as needed to come back and help in the relay marathon. We can do this thing.

Finally! A(nother) Free Helpful Resource!

Here It Is! The instructions to get the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for free. Just sign up for the weekly email newsletter by entering your email address in the top bar of this page or by checking the box when you comment on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address you’ll get the link to the Guide in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around. If you do, you’ll get links to weekly blog posts first, as well as first notification of new online courses and other supportive resources I hope to make available as soon as this summer.

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COVID-19, Religious Organizations, and Spiritual Trauma: A Rhetorical Analysis https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/19/covid-religious-trauma/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/19/covid-religious-trauma/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2020 07:54:38 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1049 It happened so quickly, didn’t it? On March 1 in my first article about COVID-19 on this site, I was apologizing for calling the current pandemic “only a cold,” and recommending preparations. About that time I was also recommending that my university students absolutely not shake hands with each other when they did their in-class interviews. Since then, we in the US have all been metaphorically hit by a freight train—okay, a virus—forcing us to rethink how we do connection...

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It happened so quickly, didn’t it? On March 1 in my first article about COVID-19 on this site, I was apologizing for calling the current pandemic “only a cold,” and recommending preparations. About that time I was also recommending that my university students absolutely not shake hands with each other when they did their in-class interviews.

Since then, we in the US have all been metaphorically hit by a freight train—okay, a virus—forcing us to rethink how we do connection and caring. And seeing how some religious organizations have unfortunately treated the topic has reminded me of a major flaw in how religious organizations have too often addressed their audiences.

Let’s Get Down to It

Some people are rising to the occasion well, and some are not. This includes religious and spiritual organizations. Today’s article will unpack a bit of how those who aren’t adapting well are exposing their congregants to danger—and why, as I just said, there has long been a major flaw in how religious organizations have too often addressed their audiences.

As always, I’ll be unpacking this analysis from my lens as a pastor’s kid who got a doctorate in communication and studies, teaches, and writes about stress, trauma, and communication.

Okay, I Do Get It

Before I dive too far into the problem, I want to be honest and offer some empathy: I understand why those religious organizations who haven’t adapted haven’t adapted to both this COVID-19 thing and the pre-existing systemic problems it’s exposed.

This pandemic has been really whiplash-y and overwhelming for most of us, including those who already saw connection as a threat for valid reasons (I’ve previously talked about this here and here). While the social distancing protocols may have not changed some of these people’s lives all that much, the overall stress and strain on everything has really taken a toll on so many, up to and including fears of death for self and loved ones, fears of lost sustenance and lodgings, and so on. (I’ve talked about this before, and the ways it’s exposed the ways we are all an ecosystem.)

This is all to say that social distancing is by no means the only cause of stress in this pandemic.

The Heart of the Matter

But now that I’ve said that, though, let me dive into that particular part of the problem and how it’s exposing existing problems in the way too many religious organizations have been perceiving care and concern.

See, the desire to associate proximity and touch with care and concern is something that’s pretty normal to the stress response unless your body and brain have been taught that touch and proximity are unsafe.

The Pre-existing Condition COVID-19 Is Exposing

And let’s face it—too many religious and spiritual organizations have already had a hard time recognizing and offering care for those who find proximity unsafe.

That’s why they’ve needed calling out in movements like #churchtoo.

That’s also why religious and spiritual organizations have had a hard time caring for those who have been traumatized, especially spiritually traumatized, whether by abuse scandals or something else.

Religious Organizations Have Limits, Sure, But Also…

Naturally, spiritual and religious organizations have limits—having grown up as a pastor’s kid, I’m aware of that as much, if not more, than most other people. I get those constraints.

But too often, those in churches have used their constraints and “what we’ve always done” as reasons to only reach out to those who see connection in terms of proximity—and not those who find it a threat.

When Victims/Dissenters Are Seen as a Threat

Let’s face it: too often those in religious organizations have seen those who left after abuse as a threat.

And too often those in leadership in these organizations have too often protected those in charge at the expense of those who are hurting, scapegoating those who feel uncomfortable with worship services after things like abuse scandals.

Scapegoating the Leavers with Valid Reasons

Too often, rather than owning up and taking accountability for the problems, religious organizations have too often interpreted the leaving of often-hurting individuals as them being overly emotional or weak/broken. Many in these organizations have made them a source of gossip rather than showing them love and empathy.  

When Religious Organizations Aren’t Shame Resilient

In other words, these organizations and their leaders have too often seen those who have chosen to isolate themselves from them and their worship services as a source of shame (in other words, a sign that the organization must not be enough) and taken it out on the victims. They have, in fact, overly emphasized types of spirituality that involve collective activity

This is really too bad, as they could instead look to their own guilt (the mistakes they can, well, repent of and do better—thanks to Brene Brown for these definitions, as always!) and also realize that they’re not responsible to fully fix everything in this messed up world as well.

Sometimes It Takes a Global Crisis, It Seems…

Instead, though, it’s taken a global crisis in which we’ve been told to see interpersonal meetings as a threat for them to realize they need to shift their one-size-fits-all approaches.  

It is only under these circumstances that many of these organizations have finally adapted their approaches, to the point where those who have not are starting to stick out like gangrenous thumbs (and in some cases, are starting to die from the virus).

I mean, as I said in an earlier piece, while you can cause a lot of damage with unhealthy rhetoric around a virus, you can’t actually gaslight the virus itself. (Any more than you can undo the damage done by abuse and gaslighting of victims.)

Viruses Don’t Care about People’s Levels or Types of Spirituality

See, in a world where viruses aren’t trying to occupy human flesh (and don’t care whose flesh they hang out in), heady concepts about clustered community being the only or most holy thing don’t really cut it.

The Problem with the Unhealthy Logic

The truth is, the virus isn’t wandering around with some sort of magical “spirituality detector,” turning back if people just really care about one another, or just “love God enough.”

As opposed to, of course, those people in ICE detention facilities?

Or low-income neighborhoods with mostly black and brown people in them?

Or concentrations of nuns (https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2020/03/nearly-60-nuns-test-positive-for-covid-19-at-two-convents-outside-rome/)?( Oh, wait…maybe, if that’s the case, maybe than it really isn’t about spirituality who gets the virus?!?)

Looking to Jesus’ Point Back in the Day

Maybe the virus does not discriminate between those who have faith and those who do not. Maybe, as Jesus said so long ago when he healed someone, it’s not a marker of either goodness or evil if someone gets sick.

And maybe it’s not a marker of goodness or evil if you stay well.

Maybe This Point Extends Out to the Spiritually Traumatized Too

And maybe—just maybe—it’s not a marker of those people’s goodness or evil if people have been socially distancing themselves from religious organizations because of trauma, either now or long before this.

Maybe it’s just a sign that the organizations, members, and leaders of these organizations who make distinctions among righteousness or a lack thereof based only or mostly on who’s gathered in the building are causing damage by those assumptions.

And maybe those inside such organizations who refuse to listen to the feedback of those on the outside are missing out on majorly helpful information that could help them.

A Call to Assertive Speaking Out (Of Course!)

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for those who see unhealthy patterns such as these to speak up assertively about these types of issues, as well as they can.

And maybe—just maybe—it’s time when at least some who have blocked their ears against such messages (likely the healthier ones) may have ears open to listen to these sorts of messages.

May those who have ears, let them hear.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

More Supportive Resources

Looking to speak up and need some help dealing with the conflict that results? We have a free resource for you—the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” To get it, sign up for the email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when commenting on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address in the resulting email, the link to the Guide will be sent in the final welcome email and will help with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

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Assertively Countering #COVID19’s Abusive Effects https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/05/countering-covid19-pandemic-abuse/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/05/countering-covid19-pandemic-abuse/#respond Sun, 05 Apr 2020 08:12:45 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1044 As I’ve gone through the last few weeks, it’s been extremely obvious that the responses to this COVID-19 pandemic that are NOT denialist have fallen roughly along two different tracks, one of which is profoundly more disturbing than the other: (1) this is life, people die, and the economy and/or profits are more important than that; and (2) this is life, let’s band together, and there’s a lot to grieve here, so let’s make space to do that. In this...

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As I’ve gone through the last few weeks, it’s been extremely obvious that the responses to this COVID-19 pandemic that are NOT denialist have fallen roughly along two different tracks, one of which is profoundly more disturbing than the other: (1) this is life, people die, and the economy and/or profits are more important than that; and (2) this is life, let’s band together, and there’s a lot to grieve here, so let’s make space to do that. In this article, I talk about how both the pandemic and its enablers in the first category I listed are being abusive of the vulnerable and those in the second category.

DISCLAIMER

This analysis will naturally oversimplify to prove a point, and I’m okay with that for the time being.

The Pandemic and Abuse

Defining Abuse and Trauma

So let’s start by acknowledging that this pandemic is deeply traumatic for people, and acknowledge a risk group that hasn’t really been talked about in the medical information: people who are being abused or have been in the past, including the new huge group of those experiencing the pandemic as itself abusive in addition to some of the rhetoric and policies and theologies amplifying the abuse.

The truth is that this pandemic fits all the criteria for BOTH abuse and trauma I lay out in my classes, so let’s start with that. Abuse, in many cases, at least, is when you both expect perfection of someone (or control over something impossible to achieve) and at the same time except them not to be able to reach that standard reasonably. In other words, abuse is expecting what a person can’t reasonably provide and requiring that of them.

Trauma is simply this—a large amount of stress, either at one time or all at once, that your body finds overwhelming.

Vulnerability to This New Threat

In short, this kind of global threat has all the hallmarks of both abuse and trauma.

As I’ve discussed before, because the global threat is sooo big and an effective response demands so much collective action from us, we’re all feeling very vulnerable to it right now.

The Pandemic Beyond Vulnerability

It goes beyond that, though—we’re not only vulnerable in the face of a naturally-occurring threat—we are vulnerable in the face of an extremely unstable threat that causes a situation in which there are absolutely no perfect options.

Exponentially Abusive

And the threat seems to be changing as it develops and travels. And of course, just to be mean, it pushes into and magnifies previously existing threats, such as health and safety and financial security insecurities.

So even when we just look at the pandemic itself, and the way good information on it is still in flux, many may experience that as abuse. But on top of that, many previously at-risk populations may be experiencing it as exponentially abusive.

Because yes, abuse does all of that as well. And that can easily both trigger preexisting and currently continuing traumas from other sources with similar characteristics coming from abuse and other traumatic situations that the body often processes as abusive, such as financial insecurity.

Some Examples of Abuse Amplification

So when prominent leaders of countries such as the USA consistently offer different prescriptions for the pandemic than their own medical experts, that just makes everything worse and adds to the abuse.

Similarly, when religious organizations continue to promote unhealthy theologies surrounding embracing suffering, or fail to adapt to recommend love through appropriate social distancing, that too amplifies the abusive effects.

And when the heads of organizations fail to offer grace and employment and sick leave and ability to socially distance and #flattenthecurve through protections wherever reasonable, that too amplifies the abusive effects.

Last but not least, when unstable AND abusive household members get confined with others, that amplifies the effects of the pandemic’s abusive aspects.

Pandemic as Abuser and Amplifier of Abuse

And so this pandemic does at least things: (1) it shares the characteristics of abuse; (2) it digs into preexisting conditions people’s bodies have or are experiencing as abusive; (3) its traumatic effects are amplified and extended by unhealthy human responses, especially in leadership.

How a Sour Communication Climate Can Be Made Worse by These Abusers and Abuses

This means that in the same way that leadership of a nation or business has a strong effect on a communication climate, as I’ve discussed before, the pandemic has created an atmosphere that existing unstable people that are abusive (which is by no means all unstable people) have been replicating and extending its effects into their own spheres of influence.

And of course all of this is made exponentially worse for those living in those overlapping spheres that contain the pandemic, the pandemic’s enablers, and those unstable abusive folks, especially leaders, who the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders make it hard to escape.

Hard to Get Out

Even when it is possible to escape these unhealthy abusive individuals (or groups), their unhealthy rhetoric and policies have strong ripple effects on those in their spheres of influence.

And all of that has further traumatizing effects.

Depressing? Yes. But Let’s Move Toward Hope While Grieving the Suckiness

So I guess I just threw down some sunshine on that, didn’t I? Let me bring us out into a healthier place, then, by bringing us back to population #2 at the very beginning of this article.

The truth is that some governmental leaders and business owners down to those who consider themselves heads of household are exponentially replicating the effects of the pandemic by mirroring and extending its characteristics.

And that sucks rocks, not to put too fine a point on it.

Looking for and Being the Helpers

BUT there are also the helpers. And in this situation we all have chances to do what we can to work against the abuse of the pandemic and the other abusers that are heightening and extending its negative effects.

Holy Week Reminders for Christians

And today, as we head into what many Christians celebrate as Holy Week or Passion Week, it’s really helpful to remember that the glorifications of suffering that too often accompany that celebration are unhelpful and often make those in abusive situations suffer unnecessarily.

Also, those who convince wives in abusive situations that divorce is not an option, for instance, and stigmatizing it while holding up Jesus on the cross as an example to be followed without a good abuse-aware theology, many churches too often become as abusive as a pandemic, while also mirroring the effects of the current pandemic.

We Can Do This Thing, Friends!

In a pandemic where we know that many are in family situations that are literally unhealthy, may those of us in the tend and befriend group reach out to those we know are in situations we realize could be amplifying the effects of the pandemic.

Tangible Support When and How We Can

We can offer social support, and we should also offer tangible support as well wherever we can. We should be advocating for and working toward better leaders when we are able. We should be advocating for and working toward better meeting of needs for the financially insecure.

And we should be doing what we can to advocate for and work toward better situations for domestic violence and other abusive situations in different households—situations that are not for the good of the people in those households or for the common good, but actively extending the abusive effects of the pandemic.

Let’s All Step Up As We’re Able

Those of us in that second group I mentioned up top—the tend and befriend group—have SO MUCH OPPORTUNITY to be emergent leaders in this situation. We can stay sane by looking for the helpers, but also by being the helpers as we’re able in all of the categories I just mentioned and more.

The more the bullies and the abusers are allowed to have the loudest voices, and the rhetoric and policies and theologies that exponentially mirror and extend the effects of the pandemic to the nth degree are allowed to have the most prominent voices, the worse the effects will be.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! May we all have the energy to do our best in whatever way we are suited to make the most positive impact, friends! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against those who are trying to tell us the pandemic’s abuse, and those who mirror it, are the “reasonable” ones—that those things are inevitable.

They are not inevitable. We may not be able to fully predict or control where things can go, but we CAN continue to do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap and keep moving toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing!

One final note about how to relieve our own and others’ experiences of trauma just now: have some self-compassion, friends, even as we strive not to take out our griefs and frustrations on the wrong audiences. Especially for those who have abuse backgrounds, it doesn’t help you break free to replicate and amplify the voice more than usual in your own head. We can’t always fully control that, but we can do our best, which is all we can do. And seek social support and (ideally telehealth) therapy as needed.  

More Resources!

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Managing Our Anxieties of Influence in an Age of #COVID19 https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/22/managing-our-anxieties-of-influence-covid19/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/22/managing-our-anxieties-of-influence-covid19/#respond Sun, 22 Mar 2020 07:12:11 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1039 This article is about my observations of the anxieties about being able to influence such a huge problem as a global pandemic like #COVID19. You know, that really overwhelming thing that the majority of reasonable people are looking to the best experts to help with right now, and following their advice. Which is why you’re super-anxious about your 79-year-old great aunt who thinks just running to Target for a few things rather than getting delivery is still a very normal...

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This article is about my observations of the anxieties about being able to influence such a huge problem as a global pandemic like #COVID19. You know, that really overwhelming thing that the majority of reasonable people are looking to the best experts to help with right now, and following their advice. Which is why you’re super-anxious about your 79-year-old great aunt who thinks just running to Target for a few things rather than getting delivery is still a very normal and obvious thing to do. As I go through I’ll be incorporating some practical action items to help manage our own stress, both by channeling our stress into helping to make things better (including by persuading and educating the influenceable as much as possible!) and by reducing our stress enough to keep our immunities strong going forward.

Since it’s what I study and teach, this blog post will obviously be written from a stress, trauma, and conflict communication perspective, and especially on ways we can take care of our mental and physical health while helping the situation as much as we can. I previously wrote about healthy responses to the current global pandemic here and here.

NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS:

I have a couple of degrees in English before I got my PhD in Communication. But this article has nothing to do with literary theorist Harold Bloom’s theories about the anxieties of authors about influence.

Instead, this is about all of our anxieties about feeling the need to fix everything in the world regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic and our anxieties about whether others will do their parts.

Major Fears about Social Loafing

In the scholarship of group communication, we call those people who don’t do their part in a task-oriented group social loafers. In short, those of us who are paying attention and taking this seriously and have people in vulnerable groups at stake are terrified millions of people will leave us in the lurch. This is some high-key and well-founded fear of social loafing, friends.

Because all of this is a huge set of stressors, for good valid reasons. We’ll get into how that works and how best you can harness and work through that stress energy your body is both helpfully and unhelpfully producing to help you rise to the occasion.

Over a Week into My Isolation—and Much of the US Is Settling into the Same

But before I get too deep, let’s do a bit of a state of the situation. Since I previously wrote about #COVID19 here and here, things have progressed into a full-blown crisis both in the US and around the world. Now that my university where I teach has shifted to online classes for the semester with an extended two-week spring break first, I’ve been practicing extreme social distancing for over a week now, as have so many reasonable and empathetic folks in this country who are able.

Global Pandemic as a Major Threat

So here’s the thing: this global pandemic is presenting a threat. A genuine threat. We’re 10 days into the WHO having declared this a pandemic, and doctors from inside the United States are reporting the intensity and shocking nature of this disease and our lack of preparedness for it.

Those of us who are spending a lot of time staying informed as well as possible are terrified and doing our best to follow protocols and shelter in place as much as humanly possible. The threat is causing our bodies to give out stress reactions that offer us energy to do so.

Fears of Denialism and Poor Education/Slow Shifts in Habits

But of course the problem is that in order to fight thing thing, we really need EVERYONE on board. And we have both bungling and denialist and waffling leaders (I talked about the evil of this before!) as well as others we know who just aren’t adjusting fast enough or recognizing the seriousness of the situation.

The Anxieties of Influence

This leads to what I’m calling the anxieties of influence in this situation for those of us who recognize the intensity of the threat and are listening to the expert opinions that make it clear our leaders have been bungling the situation in ways that put millions of people at risk, including and especially our healthcare workers who are working to save us.

The Different Stress Responses and #COVID-19

See, our stress energy, for many of us, makes us want to fight the problem and/or to enact flight from the problem. It also makes some of us want to freeze from overwhelm, and to tend and befriend. And there are good and bad versions of all of those things, as adapted to the current situation.

As we consider this problem, it’s important to note that the stress energy our bodies are all producing in spades is both completely normal and not itself actually the problem.  

Stress energy, after all, is designed to help us rise to the occasion. But sometimes it gets channeled in ways that are debilitative to ourselves and others.

Channeling Our Moral Disgusts Rightly as They Arise

It’s important to note that, as we construct our moral disgusts (I talked about this previously in a series starting here) in this situation, that people who are just exhibiting stress responses that are unhelpful, but are ultimately open to following recommended procedures, aren’t the primary problem.

Nor are the people who have survival needs and are taking carefully calculated and well-strategized risks.

Nor are the people who need occasional breaks, and are doing so in a way that hurts as few people as possible by following protocols as carefully as possible.

People with Debilitative Channeling of Their Stress Responses are a Problem

The primary problems are those who are willfully refusing to listen and are actually endangering lives in the process. Often they are either shutting down the idea that #COVID19 could be a threat, or channeling the stress to run away from the perception that this disease could have major effects—which is a natural stress response, but an intensely counterproductive one that in this case especially could hurt both those people and others.

And THIS is the huge frustration—because we can’t healthily control others. And others are often working against the common good. And they could genuinely be hurting people, all because of debilitative stress responses and other forms of denial.

Let’s Talk about Hugging (I Miss It Soooo Much—and I’m NOT a Hugger!)

To make it worse, our own natural stress responses that would be healthy in the short term, or in other situations, are often working in ways that are in danger of sabotaging us.

Take hugging, for instance. If you’re isolated with someone and already all up in the same space, there’s no reason not to hug that person. And hugs and cuddles between people whose bodies find each other safe can improve the immune system in a lot of ways, and thus help keep us sane and protect us from danger.

But for those who are living alone? Our tend and befriend instincts are telling many of us that we need this thing, and yet are simultaneously processing the danger of people standing too close to one another.

A Need to Grieve—and Let Each Other Grieve

This kind of conflicting message is the kind of thing that we need to stop and let ourselves grieve over, friends—at least those of us in isolation. We need that grief to work through for us to keep going with less trauma out of the situation, which is likely to give many people around the world trauma from the stress of it over and beyond the immediate effects from this particular disease.

In addition to grieving, another problem I referenced above is that our own and others are often doing unproductive things with our stress energies.

How to Channel Our Stress Responses into Making Things Better

Here are some ideas and tips about how to helpfully channel and manage our stress responses toward helpful and productive solutions to various pieces of the puzzle and encourage others to do the same. If you need Assertive Spirituality tips for any of the following, especially the ones about channeling our stress energies into persuading the persuadable, please do sign up for our email newsletter to get the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Trolls”—I’ll be providing instructions about how to get that at the end of this blog post.

Anyway, these are helpful ways to keep channeling our stress responses into what we CAN DO while understanding that none of us can do this all, and certainly not all at once, however much we would like to:

  1. Educate Yourself and Willing-to-Listen Denialists and Keep a Steady Flow of Info to Those Who Need Up to Date Info to Stay Put. It is hard to listen to the news these days, and it can be overwhelming, as I’ll discuss in the next section, but for those who are willing and able to keep up the dissemination of real information and fight the spread of unhealthy info, let’s keep it up, please. Remember that experts are still learning and the situation is still evolving, so don’t expect them to have single truths that will be true for all time.
    (And those with high anxiety, remember we all have the ability to turn away from news feeds or practice other calming techniques for a time, as described below, as needed! Please do rather than stopping your friends from keeping up and helping others with the info!)
  2. Keep Calling Your Governmental Representatives to Keep Them Accountable for Healthier Forms of Response. Those of us who are able NEED to keep this activity up as much as humanly possible. While we’re at it, keep working to sort through and emphasize common good things reaching toward our elections of healthier leaders for us. Hold our candidates accountable as well.
  3. Find Ways to Support Health Care Workers and Other Essential Workers and Their Families. Do you know a doctor? Text them to see if they have enough food. You can also, in a WWI/WWII-like “home front” effort, sew masks for healthcare workers right now. There are lots of other ideas out there too, but the most important thing is to STAY HOME. This has been medical workers’ biggest requests. (Also that we keep contacting our governmental representatives to ask for more supplies and tests—see #2 above!)
  4. Work to Persuade People, as Well as You’re Able, Toward Healthier Forms of Action. Look for evidence, emphasize the wins for everyone, and make sure you understand their point of view as you seek to persuade them toward better action, and grieve the ways mutually beneficial action may not be possible. Because you can’t healthily persuade everyone. (Remember it’s okay to set boundaries with people if they’re causing you undue stress.)
  5. Look Around/Ask Around Where in Your Community You Can Meet Needs. Do this in a socially distanced way, of course, as much as possible. But there are things everyone can do. And remember both humor and entertainment are helpful in these times—not for everyone or in the same proportions, but they do help a lot of people. Especially check in with people who own small businesses who must do in-person business and their employees as well as vulnerable populations (and, as you’re able, advocate for them!)
  6. Get Creative about Ways to Solve Your Problems in Ways that Meet the Common Good. I talked about this more last week. Deal with your shame spirals and help others take care of theirs. Remember that we don’t live in a zero-sum world entirely, and frame things for yourself in ways that are helpful.

Why We Need to Also Make Ourselves Slow Down at Times to Help the Situation Best

Another problem is that stress energy is designed best to help us face shorter term threats. In cases like this where the threat is long and sustained, if we don’t channel and/or lower our stress occasionally it’s going to be literally making us sick through the course of the emergency. In short, our ongoing stress energies, no matter how well channeled they may be, need to have the excess stress drained off occasionally.

This is crucial so we can keep our immune systems up for the good of ourselves and others, since lowered immunity is NOT what we need right now, any more than we need a bunch of exhausted and fraying people getting on each other’s nerves in homes.

Some Tips for Calming Our Stress Responses a Bit

So here are just a few suggestions to calm our bodies’ nervous systems:

  1. Get out and walk and/or hike if it is available in your area. Even for those that are used to a lot of time at home, the benefits of outdoors time go up when you can’t have other non-essential outdoor activities. Just try to keep your distance from other people and don’t touch things with your hands while you’re out there if you can help it (no playground equipment!). But yes, cardio is key to get out both the fight and flight responses, and the Japanese recommend “forest bathing” as a prescription to lower stress for a reason. I’ve talked to friends about doing hikes together but with 6-10 feet between us as well.
  2. Have socially distanced communication with others. Do more phone calls and video chats these days. Text friends while watching the same thing from a distance. But remember that seeing people in person isn’t itself a problem either. I had a great convo on opposite ends of my porch with a friend earlier this week, and saw a great story of a guy who sat outside his dad’s assisted living picture window daily and talked to him on the phone. We just need creative ways to be together, and that will help us to get better at overcoming the hug impulse when it’s wise. It’s important to find healthy ways of working out that tend and befriend stress response—healthy social support has been shown to repair the damage that debilitative stress can do to our bodies.
  3. Moderate Your Intake of News/Social Media When You Need To. When doing this, please keep in mind that you yourself have agency over this, but that it’s less than helpful to try to control others working out their stress responses in helpful ways. For instance, if you yourself feel the urgency enough and your anxiety is overwhelming you, feel free to make a list of helpful media resources, but don’t ask friends that are working to inform denialists and support those who are seeking to persuade denialists or find it comforting to be up on the facts not to do those things.
  4. Mindfulness apps and meditations and free online yoga practices. I personally use Sanvello, for a small fee per month, and Stop Breathe and Think as mindfulness apps, and Yoga with Adriene free videos on YouTube for at-home yoga practices (she has one for most topics, including for those who are sick, PTSD, and gut health. Very useful!).
  5. Your Own: and Remember Not All the Same Practices Will Work for Everyone, and That’s Okay. Use your agency to negotiate with others if your practices or theirs are causing conflict, and let them influence you as much as is reasonable, and expect that of them, but don’t try to control one another to need all the same ways to either channel or reduce stress.

Caveats and Such

There are many more things I haven’t been able to include here. Know that there are lots of places to work through this situation in helpful ways. As much as we can work together to recognize each other’s stress responses and working to help ourselves and others out as collaboratively as possible, it will help in the long run.

Finding Meaning to Our Actions Decreases Stress Too!

Be well and as safe as possible, friends! And know that however small your part may seem, it is valuable. It’s hard to see staying home and maintaining your mental and physical health as a heroic act, or sewing a few masks, but it’s exactly what doctors and other experts are asking we do for good reason. So the more we can both channel our stress and reduce it, and grieve out this situation as each of us is able, the better off we all are.

How All of This Can Work Together for the Common Good

After all, while one wise post I just saw today was pointing out the impact of (1) the loss of life and health from the disease itself and (2) the economic apocalypse, we also need to be working hard to avoid a huge wave of physical and mental illness and trauma from this pandemic.

The quick changes in lifestyle that are required themselves may have a devastating impact for too many. Applying the types of things I just mentioned will help lessen THAT impact while helping out with the other two apocalypse-sized problems as much as possible. And that is likely to include fighting our own inner battles and finding our own and others’ wellness to be a bigger concern than simply the lack of transmission of germs.

A Reminder: Stress Responses Themselves Are There to Help Us—They’re Just Not Perfect at It

Finally, remember, the stress responses themselves are not the problem. If possible, don’t stop others from coping mechanisms! Do, however, push back assertively at denialists and those who are practicing unhealthy responses of various types. And if you don’t have the energy, at least socially distance yourself from them.

Just remember those around you aren’t the enemy, and that we often, honestly, DO have more than we need in lots of situations, but our neurobiologies are often trained by a culture of wealth to think that things like toilet paper are a matter of survival. They really aren’t. If you need backups because you’re out, there are lots of online sources to look into that…

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap, toward a healthier world for us all, while moderating and channeling our own stress responses as well as possible. We can do this thing.

More Resources, as Promised

Need help speaking up assertively and dealing as well as possible with the conflict that inevitably tends to result? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter—either in the top bar of this page or by checking the appropriate box when you comment on this blog post. After you confirm your email, we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. It will help you with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any point, but I hope you’ll stick around.  

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Doing Our Best to Maintain Our Pandemic Care Ecosystem https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/15/love-self-others-covid19-pandemic-care/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/15/love-self-others-covid19-pandemic-care/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2020 07:34:22 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1033 Well, what I feared when I was researching the piece I wrote here two weeks ago on responding healthily to the coronavirus has happened. It’s here. And not just one death, as it was then. More. We still don’t know even close to the scope of how many cases there are in the US, because of the lack of testing. But things—major things—have been closing. It’s exhaustingly stressful and overwhelming for many of us—those who are taking it seriously and...

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Well, what I feared when I was researching the piece I wrote here two weeks ago on responding healthily to the coronavirus has happened. It’s here. And not just one death, as it was then. More. We still don’t know even close to the scope of how many cases there are in the US, because of the lack of testing. But things—major things—have been closing. It’s exhaustingly stressful and overwhelming for many of us—those who are taking it seriously and trying to convince those who aren’t serious enough yet that their denial is going to kill people. This week’s article is addressing this current situation by reminding us of the complexity and fragility of our pandemic care ecosystem, and how each of us needs to do what we can to affirm the dignity of all as much as possible (but not fix everything on our own).

I’ll also of course dive–in this long and messy piece to fit a long and messy time (thanks for your patience! you’re all in isolation and have time to read it, right?!?!?! ;))–how unhealthy strains of zero-sum thinking can seep into theologies (and also live in other ways of looking at the world) in ways that seep into our bones and make us feel so unworthy that they actually threaten to derail us from helping others.

Falling Over Doesn’t Make Us More Worthy

Because here’s the thing: NO ONE is served if those of us who are in the know are dropping like flies from exhaustion, or from the extra physical stress that makes everything worse when you think something you’ve done makes you somehow unworthy of connection to other human beings.

And yet there are no perfect solutions in this messy situation either, and we aren’t well served by pretending there are. In the remainder of this admittedly long article, I’m going to dive into why all of this is important as well as at least one or two factors why it’s so hard to keep ourselves and others on track in the midst of this mess.

Putting On Our Own Oxygen Masks as an Act of Self-Care that CAN Help Others

But yes, it comes down to this: Some of us need to put on our own oxygen masks by getting rid of our own shame spirals so that it can be collaborative and not zero-sum, and that we need to remind each other of that. And some of us will need others to be healthy enough to remind us. And we’ll all need each other in these ways at various points along this journey.

True Confessions about My Former Judgyness

Speaking of oxygen masks, do you want to know what’s sad-funny? My whole life until recently, every time I heard a flight attendant say that at the beginning of a flight, I was internally judgy about it.

I was sooooo uncomfortable with the inner conflict I’d internalized because of the unhealthy parts of theology I’d been taught as a child that I projected unworthiness outward onto this very sensible advice they give at the beginning of all flights.

I Was Judgy about Monks Too!

I had learned this lesson so well that later when a monk suggested this might be a practical spiritual suggestion for loving each other well—that we each take care of ourselves for each other rather than looking to others to do it—I projected that outward as really weird fringe advice as well.

But Now I Know Better, and Am Trying to Do Better, as Maya Angelou Sort of Said

But life is often about movement and growth, and I get it now. I mean, I have my moments still, of course, because this zero-sum thinking becomes pretty deeply sunk into my wounds at times.

But on the whole, I get that in some situations and for some people at some times, we do need to take care of ourselves, and that we need to do so in order to be able to keep help others out. And that sometimes they would also need to take care of themselves to help me.

And that it’s not about not putting the oxygen mask on, at all—whether it’s us or someone else that does it—but whether we’re all in this together and wishing as many people can be granted dignity in this world as is remotely possible.

The Hard Part for Tenderhearted Perfectionists

And yet none of that will be able to wholly fix everything, or keep the mess from being messy—and its not supposed to be our job to fix everything, ever, especially individually.

“Spoiler alert”

It’s just our job to do the best we can, where we are, with what we’ve got. As T.S. Eliot wrote in the midst of WWII, in a similar state of mess in the world in many ways: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” (That’s in his poem Four Quartets.)

So yes, this is the point: This pandemic thing is a huge f*ckingly horrible challenge that’s constantly evolving. No one can fully control it or know everything about it or prevent it by themselves, but trusting the best practices the epidemiologists have laid out for us is a big start.

And the suckiest part is this—people are going to die. People already have. And people have gotten deeply hurt. We need to grieve that, and all the difficulties that come up along the way, as we need to.

We Can’t ALWAYS Be Grieving, Though—We Each Have Other Work to Do Too!

But we also need to realize that lots of other helpers—all of us, really—are needed to work to put on our own and each other’s oxygen masks to help along the way of reducing the negative impact on our whole society—in fact, our whole world.

(For those who are fans of Jesus, he was, after all, all about offering healing to people at every turn!!!)

To many of us here in the US, we’re an incredibly uncomfortable people with interdependence and instability, so a lot of this is going to take a lot of grieving out our feels and working through shame spirals in order to put on and keep on our oxygen masks and keep the oxygen literally flowing to as many of those who need it as possible.

It’s incredibly ironic, and oddly fitting, in light of this that what we’re depending on is each individual’s willingness to isolate themselves from other humans out of love (but only physically, and for a time).

Thinking Only a Few Are Worthy Is the Problem

Other than those who are obviously and malevolently making it all worse for those populations they think ought not live anyway (and I’m glad I’m not in charge of knowing what happens to them, frankly), the rest of us are for sure no less worthy of care and concern by self or others than the rest of us.

And the biggest danger in this situation that I see beyond the virus itself is thinking in those terms.

In short, it’s complicated. But I know in the midst of the complexity that this much is true: we need not to give into the desire to assume that some lives ought to matter more in this pandemic than others. Or that some of our actions or resources or skills make us more worthy of life than death.

When Worthiness Becomes Wrapped Up with Beliefs about Survival

The problem is that we too often get stuck in this idea of worthiness, and I can already see these fractures in my own anxieties this past week as well as those of others. But the thing is we’re all in it together. And the more we see the world as a necessarily zero-sum place in which one person ALWAYS wins at the expense of others, or one person ALWAYS has to lose so that others can win, the more that stops us from seeing how our actions to help ourselves help us keep helping others.

It’s important—ALMOST as important as IMMEDIATE SOCIAL DISTANCING THIS WEEK (for more on that, read this post all the way through)—that we remind ourselves of this principle.

A Weirdly Darwinian Strain of Theology

Especially, as I’ll explain in a bit, those of us who have been socialized into the unhealthy cultural belief and theology that it’s always and forever and wholly selfish to take care of our needs—that we ALWAYS need to go last.

This kind of view oddly can be just as reinforcing of this zero-sum view of things as philosophies that aggressive views that project negatively on other people. It’s just that in this case, the negative projection is directed inward. It’s a view that hurts us rather than others—and if all humans ought be considered worthy (and as I said, I believe they should be, at least in theory, because I’m not perfect 😉 ), neither is great for us OR others.

An Example of How This Internalized Shame Hurts Us and Others

Case in point: Earlier this week, I completely flipped out—not, as one might expect, because I didn’t have resources to take on this pandemic. On the contrary, I flipped out because I DID. Because I thought ahead enough, and bothered to put on my oxygen mask first, I thought surely that choice was somehow hurting everyone else?

Looking back at it, I can see now that it was an irrational reaction—and even at that time I knew I was really anxious and my brain wasn’t dealing well with things. In turn, that internalized shame reaction was what was really keeping me from being there for others at that moment, rather than that I was prepared for the pandemic.

This Is SOOOOO Important

But our neurobiologies sometimes get really confused, for good reason, about what will and will not actually help us and others survive with dignity in a given situation. In this case, the toxic parts that had seeped into my childhood theology had weirdly derailed my neurobiology from knowing what was good for both me and others.

In short, it had convinced me that I ought to feel bad about having an oxygen mask even when there wasn’t necessarily a shortage at that time.

The Toxic Parts of a Complex Theology That Ultimately Harmed Me

In this case, I had grown up with a relatively healthy idea of worthiness in some ways—after all, our theology was all about figuring out that none of us was more righteous than others. AND YET there was always this incredibly zero-sum training at the same time, that all of us also had to be equally unworthy in many ways, and that you were the worst of the unworthy people if you cared for yourself, somehow.

Which was incredibly in conflict, and rightfully so, with this teaching that God and others were supposed to love us and find us incredibly worthy because we were made in God’s image.

(After all, isn’t the message of the Cross that shows up in substitutionary atonement the idea that we’re all offered oxygen masks and are loved enough that we should accept them?)

Such a Mixed Bag—But Parts Hurt Me and Others as a Result

So yeah, it feels like we were on the WAY to healthy ways of looking at the world, but this insidious zero-sum side of things had sunk deep down inside of me to the extent where, in this crisis, I was actually interpreting my following directions from experts in the subject of the crisis as actually immoral things to do.

And—to make it worse, that old “all of us are unworthy deep down” part had encouraged me to internalize the idea that I myself was unworthy of taking steps that were, after all, recommended to me because they were the best practices for the common good: my good as well as those of others.

Not MORE Worthy or Moral Either

Which didn’t mean that my having listened to these best practices sooner, or having the education to seek them out and sort through all the confusing information, etc. etc. etc. made me somehow more moral or worthy of survival either. (My childhood theology seems to have followed “best practices for humanity” on that, and I’m thankful for THAT training.)

But Can Help Others!

What it did mean, on the contrary, that my being ahead of the curve was bound to be able to offer others who weren’t there yet a (virtual now, because of social distancing) hand up.

The Problem With Zero-Sum Views

As I emerged from this shame spiral I’d sunk in, I started to see that my shame had trapped me in seeing the world not as a collaborative ecosystem, but ALWAYS AND ONLY as a zero-sum place where if one person wins another person ALWAYS loses, always and forever and, importantly ONLY. And that somehow this win and loss is ALWAYS tied to whether someone ought to be able to survive or not. And that in turn was connected to this idea of goodness and purity and righteousness.

Which, again, was the exact opposite of what my childhood theology was SUPPOSED to have taught me. But as I’ve said, there were contradictory, and it turns out, incredibly toxic, elements that made their way into my bones anyway.

Back to This Week’s Shame Spiral

So yes, because of all this inner conflict in the theology I was raised with, my body and brain were experiencing an incredible amount of anxiety and stress which was wholly unnecessary and hurtful to me this week. And that sucks.

What I’m thankful for is that I’ve been learning the tools to get through this sort of thing, and I’ve learned that using them is something that helps me put on my oxygen mask so I can help others put on theirs.

It’s Complicated, This Ecosystem

I also know that sometimes it’s true that I’ll need someone to take care of me for them as well as me, and I’ll need to take care of someone else for me. And that all of this makes an incredibly beautiful and complicated ecosystem.

And Flawed/Wounded/Diseased—We Need to Keep Working Toward Healing Our Systems

And yeah, as I pointed out, some patterns will show themselves to be universally hurtful, and some people will be unnecessarily and hurtfully exploitive and cruel or just dumb, and we need to draw attention to that and try to change those things, absolutely. And listen to the people who know best in a given situation what is needed (and know those people can’t control everything either!).

Way Beyond Zero-Sum

But this is the thing: life is wayyyy more complicated than the fact that if I lose, someone else automatically wins, always and forever.

And I thank God for that, with all my heart. Because can you imagine, if in order to help others, we ALWAYS had to sacrifice our own needs? That we could never find ways for all people to have their needs met as much as possible, and networks to support that as well as we were able?

The Lie of the Win-Lose Dichotomy

Oh, wait, though, that’s what the toxic parts of the systems we grew up in have unhelpfully ingrained into our bones so much that our stress responses believe it at times like these.

BUT—and this is almost as important for us to all understand as the idea that social distancing is important right now—IT’S NOT TRUE, that zero-sum lie. It is sometimes—with some situations, and with some things—but not all of the time, and not even when it comes to resources nearly as we think it does.

Bonus???: Zero-sum Views Are Often the Root of Other Unhealthy Views Too

I had been close to believing, without realizing it, the same kind of logic that convinces us that if we let dark-skinned immigrants come into our countries there will somehow be fewer jobs for all of us.

That may seem to those of us who are progressive as though it’s a very different situation than whether there’s enough soup mix and masks to go around. But the truth is, only some of even this extreme very stark situation IS really straightforwardly zero-sum.

The Easily Distinguished Win-Lose Parts!

Yes, if the government and people in power don’t offer the assistance needed to help people through these times, more people will die. THAT is zero-sum. That is stark. If the oligarchy wins the battle for greed, a lot more people die—and often those who society already sees to be the “least of these” (you know, those who Jesus told us to see God in in Matthew 25).

That fact—that people in power are killing lots of people if they don’t do the right thing—is definitively as true as the fact that the kid who bought up 17,000 bottles of Purell to try to make a fortune out of them is descriptively an exploitive asshat who needs to reconsider his life choices.

The Rest of the Situation Is Much Messier

But the rest of us, those who aren’t just purely trying to save ourselves from having to face the problem head on, but are stocking up out of the deep desire to protect both ourselves and our health workers and the most vulnerable among us from the worst effects of what this epidemic could be? That group of us who are trying to help ourselves, and keep ourselves from collapsing into endless anxiety so we can keep working for the common good?

Well, no. In those cases, that’s not a cut-and-dried zero-sum situation at all. In fact, that’s a situation that’s HIGHLY mutually beneficial.

The Unhealthy Zero-Sum Parts Are Making Things Worse

I know this, too—the partisan divide isn’t the only thing causing people to be in denial right now about the need to socially distance. It’s a big contributing factor, sure, but not the only one.

But it is a big factor in people not knowing the urgency of what’s going on. See, the avalanche of fascistic rhetoric lately has made the news feel unsafe to many on both sides of the aisle. It’s natural that people would take breaks from that kind of ongoing negativity in order to stay sane and continue to be able to pour out to their families and in their work.

Be Patient with Those Who Just Don’t Know or Understand—Including Ourselves

For those, let’s be patient about explaining to them what’s going on even while explaining the urgency of it all. And let’s recognize they might need a minute or two to grasp the enormity of it all and catch up.

Let’s also realize that none of us, however prepared we’ve been, has been doing this perfectly or are currently doing this perfectly or are going to be doing this perfectly. Those of us who caught on earlier aren’t necessarily either more or less “righteous” than those who are just catching up, and that’s important to recognize.

Because if we start to see stocks of cold medicine or toilet paper—or even a self-righteous abdication of those things—as some sort of sign of righteousness, well, that’s simply not true. If that’s the case, that meme joking about washing our hands like Pilate would be much more disturbing than it is.

Some Things ARE Clear—But Most Are Not

That dude with the Purell? Those people in huge places of power pushing hard against paid sick leave for people? Sure, these are terrible, exploitive, evil actions.

But in the part of the ordinary population where we’re BOTH trying to get by ourselves AND trying to help others? Let’s not beat ourselves or each other up about it too much, shall we?

We’re Going to Need Each Other in the Mess

After all, we’re going to need each other.

Those of us who have been too busy helping others to take care of themselves may well find more supplies in the store in a day or two.

But they also may need stuff—carefully soaped up or Lysoled and dropped off outside their houses—from those of us who have enough for now.

 And those who are in areas where people don’t have enough money to stock up that much are going to need those who are delivery drivers to take extra good care of themselves for them. And they will also need those of us who DID purchase enough not to be overtaxing those delivery drivers and putting them, us, and others at risk by doing so.

We Need to Listen to the Situation—and We Won’t All Get the Same Answer

It’s an ecosystem, friends. And it’s a messy situation. Many are ignoring the social distancing protocols in dangerous ways, and they need those of us who recognize the danger to gently and urgently educate them as fast as we can.

But the world, and those in need, also need us to stop occasionally and take care of ourselves. Because we do no one else good if we keel over and allow our systems to run down so when we somehow hit a stray germ we’re more likely to become really sick.

THAT—that’s what all these social distancing protocols are trying to avoid.

Let’s Not Equate Illness with Immorality, Please????

And yet—AND THIS IS IMPORTANT TOO—if we do catch the virus and it gets bad, we all must remember there’s no shame in that either. This thing is going to hit a large chunk of us, the experts believe—and I believe them—EVEN WITH social distancing.

If we fall prey to the idea that those who stay well are somehow more virtuous or worthy than those who are not, we fall prey once again to this fatalistic, frankly Nazistic idea that this virus is good, that it will “thin the herd of the weak links.”

It’s important to remember right now that it’s this kind of zero-sum purity thinking that we’re meant to fight. Because this thinking is flat out wrong, and my weird assumption that I wasn’t worthy of survival because I had stuff put me in danger of being enough out of commission to let this lie continue to hold sway in more places when I could be working to stop it.

Let’s Stop Blaming the “Least of These” for Their Complexly Caused Problems

In reality, the large bulk of those who survive this pandemic will not somehow deserve it and the large bulk of those who die will not.

And maybe in many cases, all of that will be combined with some unwise decisions people made.

The deaths will result from complex forces of nature combined with some really evil choices made by those in positions of power recently combined with the way our society was unprepared because of a series of unhealthy patterns in our society, yes, absolutely.

But it’s really, really complex beyond that to see where the blame lies in these deaths BECAUSE of the same thing that has caused this pandemic to move so fast: our complex global ecosystem.

Isolation Is Right for the Moment for as Many as Possible—But Not Always and Forever!

And while we can pick apart for days the unhealthy aspects of our systems of globalism, there’s no inherent purity in us isolating ourselves from the world, or in our houses, even in times of pandemic. We do it because it’s been proven to be our best shot at preventing more deaths than is necessary, NOT because it’s inherently the righteous thing to do.

Let’s remember that, and remind ourselves of that, please?

PLEASE, ONCE AGAIN, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, SOCIALLY DISTANCE yourself as much as is humanly possible right now, for the greater good.

Just Remember Those Who Genuinely Can’t Aren’t Immoral—And We Need to Help Them

But remember, there will always be those who genuinely can’t isolate in a pure way for really good reasons. And that’s often because they’re serving us.

Escaping Toward Collaborative Frameworks

We do need to remind ourselves and each other to work toward the common good, sure. But let’s remember not to put our worthiness at stake as we do so, please? It just doesn’t help anyone.

Yes, by all means we need to point out the toxic crap and call out the primary perpetrators and enablers and the ways individual actions make things worse, where that’s clear.

But as we do, let’s work to remind each other we are all worthy of oxygen masks, please, friends. It will help us all to survive as well as possible.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the unhealthiest of the responses going around these days, to gently persuade those we can, to take care of ourselves the best we can, and to grieve the things we can’t change. We can do this thing.

More Resources!

Looking to try to understand the stress basis underneath all of this and how to most helpfully and assertively intervene toward the common good in these times? Our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” will help you with this! To get it, sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by clicking the box when you comment on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the link to the Guide to Trolls in the final welcome email. We hope you’ll stick around (and what else healthily burns off more stress while in quarantine than fighting for the common good online with a bunch of other likeminded folks), but you can unsubscribe at any time.

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The World’s Looking for a Stable Emergent Leader: No Pressure, Democrats! (A Rhetorical Analysis) https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/08/stable-emergent-leader-no-pressure-democrats/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/08/stable-emergent-leader-no-pressure-democrats/#respond Sun, 08 Mar 2020 08:41:33 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1029 A day or two ago, a sympathetic yet anxious friend from overseas asked me to explain the dynamics around why the fallout from Super Tuesday was coming down the way it was. Between that and others’ interpretations of the race and my own analysis, I’ve come up with a fairly unified theory, based in my study and teaching of stress, trauma, and conflict communication, as to what’s going on. This present blog post will unwrap a few of the dimensions...

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A day or two ago, a sympathetic yet anxious friend from overseas asked me to explain the dynamics around why the fallout from Super Tuesday was coming down the way it was. Between that and others’ interpretations of the race and my own analysis, I’ve come up with a fairly unified theory, based in my study and teaching of stress, trauma, and conflict communication, as to what’s going on. This present blog post will unwrap a few of the dimensions I see based in those studies as combined with the studies of leadership to talk about the 2020 Democratic Primary as a search for stable emergent leaders.

In short, it boils down to how everyone’s diverse experiences of stress, or felt threat, and what kind of leadership would make them feel more stable. In my view, the present divisions in the US generally and also in the Democratic Primary are best explained by these things. And if you hang in with me, I’ll explain how we can all work together as emergent leaders to both restore the stability of the current system where it’s healthy and tear down the unhealthy parts toward a healthier world for us all.

Disclaimers and Such

Let me explain. No wait, we have no time. Let me sum up. (Sorry—couldn’t resist a Princess Bride reference there. But it felt apt—I’m sort of late in writing this and while it did end up being the shortest summary I had time to write, it’s also a bit lengthy. Please hang in there for the end—it gets all encouraging and sh*t after sitting with and hopefully casting new light on the current situation with the election.)

Looking at the 2020 Election in Light of Leadership Terms

So here’s the long and short of what often happens when we feel individually or collectively that we are not enough and not worthy (in other words, when we feel shame): we hand off responsibility to others, especially to perceived leaders.

And when we have designated leaders—that is, leaders in official elected or named positions—that we deem unstable or unhealthy, we tend to take away the legitimate (earned) power we give them.

Looking for a Savior?

And in those situations we look for other emergent leaders to arise—leaders without designated positions—at least not as yet—but which their followers may see as better, more stable choices in a wide variety of ways.

This is what elections are all about. Emergent leaders seeking to gain enough legitimate power to win a designated leadership position.

The danger, of course, is expecting that person will contain all the stability inside of themselves. (Which is when we need to rise up again as emergent leaders whether we prefer to or not. It’s tiring, but as I’ll explain, really important!)

But We Have a System that Expects Collective Power, Ironically

As I’ve discussed before, in the US, the system is set up with checks and balances because of the Founders’ fears of power consolidated too much around a single individual.

This system sets up formally, in a series of designated roles, what modern leadership theory calls distributed leadership, which means that every person is perceived to enact leadership when they do their part.  

In the US, this distribution of leadership includes every citizen’s right to protest, free speech, etc. and to vote for new leaders, as well as a split between various levels of leadership (city, state, and federal governments) as well as different branches of government.

Shared Leadership and Democracy

This system provides periodic possibilities for people to remove any leaders that are perceived to be unstable from office and to put new ones into place.

When We All Feel Unsafe for Different Reasons, We Want Different Emergent Leaders

The problem, of course, is that there are naturally a wide range of different types of people in this country, and especially right now, there’s a wide range of opinions—and, importantly, underlying those opinions are visceral stress responses to felt threat—about what is safe and unsafe to have in an emergent leader.

Speaking of Unhealthy Consolidation of Power—Let’s Talk about “Strong Men” Figures

And now the primary designated leader is seen as (with much evidence backing that view up) to be a corrupt unstable leader, or the ironically termed “strong man.” In a representative democracy, a strong man leader with such power is the most feared outcome, as I’ve discussed in different terms in a previous article.

However much the message from the current administration comes out trying to project the blame anyone else for the instability, the current occupant of the Oval Office is the source. It’s intensely ironic, considering this fact, that he was hired by the party that claims to be the ones that will provide the most stability to the nation.

But then again, that’s what “strong men” leaders do—create crises and then shift the blame to others and look like they’re swooping in to save the day, when behind the scenes they’re still fanning the flames.

Not an Easy Situation to Deal With, for ANY Emergent Leader

In such a situation it’s really natural for everyone who is opposing such an unhealthy leader, who is seeking to and has already consolidated a lot of the power that is supposed to be distributed to those who are supposed to be able to disagree with him, to feel that they and any individual leader they are putting up against that person is unlikely to be enough on their own to defeat that person.

Let’s Not Accept the Strong Man’s Fallacious Logic

That is to say that it’s easy to get caught up in the poor logic—which is being communicated outward from the current administration—that because the power has been consolidated, that the current unhealthy power is not vulnerable to be disbanded with something better to be put in its place.

Ironically, some of that could and should involve putting us back to where we have been—in that it will help us move back to the founders’ vision for power that is decentralized and a little messy.

If We Accept the Strong Man’s Logic, We’ll Think Only the Presidential Election Matters

But the president is not supposed to be a king, and those other parts of the system are still ways to undermine the consolidation of power.

We will need to focus on the presidency, of course. But also the Senate, for instance, has a bunch of vulnerable seats coming up, and those of us who have trouble supporting the two current candidates can focus some attention there and more locally now so we can keep doing what we can while we process our feels and get our feet under us.

And There Are Valid Feels to Stop and Process

There are rightful fears that those who put their faith in the perceived legitimate power of those candidates who dropped out this week may feel unheard by either the candidates or their followers.

Take Warren supporters who are progressive women, for instance. After this week, those who have experienced any sort of sexual assault or harassment by toxic masculinity would feel rightfully alienated and concerned that two older white and white-passing men are on the ticket.

And those who felt stability in Warren and her very reasonable plans as a “middle way” between Biden and Sanders to potentially unite the factions, will be feeling concern that two people who represent such different forms of stability are on the ticket.

Supporters of Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete may be feeling similar things in different ways.

Because these candidates have dropped out, these supporters are likely feeling grief and instability of trust in the other possibilities.

And if we stop and process them as we’re able, the thing is that our whole team will ultimately be more stable. Let’s make room for that, eh?

It Was Always a Mix of Stabilities and Instabilities

Everyone who had hopes in their candidate likely saw other candidates as at least somewhat stable and unstable for different reasons. Furthermore, many Democrats liked some things about multiple candidates, and yet really didn’t like others very much.

The Case for Biden as More Stable

Reflecting on this Twitter thread a friend shared about why black female author Lisa Sharon Harper saw a lot of matriarchal black women voted for the more seemingly establishment candidate, Joe Biden, explains one side of the equation. Many people, in times of trauma, are okay with going to the person who represents the Obama presidency to them. They flee to what is comfortable and feels stable in tumultuous times.

Because they are voting this way, and perceiving stability in this way, and/or thinking that the bulk of the country will feel the same way, this group sees Biden to be the most electable.

The Case for Sanders as More Stable

The problem, though, is that many others on the more progressive side see exactly the opposite. Those who support Sanders famously often are so staunch behind their support of him that they fear any other candidate, and claim to be ready to not vote at all if their candidate doesn’t get the designated power of the candidacy.

To these people, they find a candidate who is seen to fit in with the establishment as exactly the least safe thing for them. In other words, they see an establishment candidate as a threat, which is why they are claiming to run away from voting for them (that’s a stress response—flight).

The Fears about Sanders Supporters

In other words, many Sanders supporters feel loyalty to Sanders precisely because of the thing others find unstable—his populism and hopes of rebuilding the system. They feel so unstable about the existing system, and not just in its current form with the current administration but with its overall issues—that they feel a sort of moral disgust about voting for Biden. (I’ve talked about moral disgusts in a series starting here.)

The Truth: We Need Both Things

In reality, whoever’s the candidate, we need both things to happen. We need to go back and preserve the checks and balances of our current system from the time of the founders—keeping the good ideas for decentralized power—and we need to burn to the ground the parts of the Founders’ intent that has kept us from truly giving all citizens a role and a voice and a proper hearing in the process from the founding on.

So yeah, we need to both conserve and tear down our representative democracy. (Sigh—full disclosure—that’s why I was and am a Warren fan—I do think we need her kind of mixed and very thoughtful approach!)

But First Things First, and the Importance of Broadening Our Focus

Here’s the thing: any presidential candidate that wins the nomination on the blue side (or would have won!) will be less of a power consolidator than the current administration. That’s an important point that I hope whoever is the candidate will emphasize, because it’s actually a selling point.

Because here’s the thing: when the current administration is trying to keep power consolidated, individual nominations for positions far below that of president matter really strongly too. The candidate—whoever they are—will hopefully be willing to not only collect people from “their side” of the party to support down ticket, but anyone who has more legitimate power than those who are currently enabling the current consolidation of power.

And I very much hope that those who are supporting specific candidates will recognize the importance of helping support such down ticket races and snap out of any tendencies they may have to bow out of the political process entirely.

Fighting Back by Showing and Creating Cracks in the Consolidation of Power

This is the reality: This system isn’t designed to have one person who takes on the burden of perfectly leading the country for everyone. We honestly don’t need that, especially not right now.

That means that whoever is ends up being or would have been the Democratic nominee, they will need our support and disagreement and that of other emergent leaders like the other candidates.

All We Need Is a Strong/Loose Coalition

What we do need is a coalition of people working together to support the emergent leadership of those they do deem more ethical and stable than those currently in power.

And we need that same coalition to be willing to hold those who are nominated, as well as those currently in power, accountable for ethics and what’s right.

We need to work together to rebuild trust in the good parts of the system, and we need to tear down the parts that aren’t meeting the common good.

The Stability of the System IS Still There, at Least in Part

As I’ve said before, we really need to work to take advantage of the systems we were given. We need to look to the helpers who are still standing up, and we need to continue to be those people as we’re able.

Let’s Keep Fighting the Existing Instability Too

I know this much is true: the current situation is unstable in threatening ways. I also know that however tempting it is to rely on a single leader, or even a single leader with their followers, to get us to victory in everything all at once, that’s actually not the healthiest mindset for us to have.

Working Together Toward Another Blue Wave

What we really need is to repeat what we did in the 2018 midterms. We need to do what I’m always urging us to do—do what we can where we are with what we’ve got.

We need, honestly, to recognize that none of us alone, including whoever the Democratic presidential candidate is, will be able to be fully stable on their own.

All Those Ethical Folks in Government and Working in the Fight Will Need Us

They will need us working to elect others who can help them.

They will need us and those people reminding them how to meet the needs of more than their immediate constituencies.

And they will need us and others to keep working to make the world a better place.

Let’s face it: for those of us that are exhausted from the current instability, that’s an unpleasant thought.

We Need Others in This Joint Effort

And for those who need time to grieve candidates who dropped out that felt safer for us, we need those who feel safer to take the baton for a little while until we’re able to get ourselves together and adjust to the situation.

Even when we get back in the race, we’re all going to need some time to stop from time to time, and we’re all going to need each other’s support, to be each other’s stability while we get our feet back under us.

It’s Going to Keep Being a Relay Marathon

This isn’t, after all, a sprint, as I’ve said for a long time. It’s a relay marathon.

And however annoying it is, it’s going to continue to be. No one person is going to step in to run the whole marathon for us (and lord knows, if they did, some of us would rightfully mistrust that!). We’re going to keep needing each other, and needing to be there for each other and the world as we’re able.

And you know what? That both sucks and is okay and even good. Because the time we put in as emergent leaders will ultimately bear fruit, hopefully now and for us, but also for the common good. And the time we put in now will bear fruit for now, but also for future generations.

But What If…?

And if for some terrible reason our worst fears come true, it will still have been good and right for us to take up that baton and do our part. It would have been important for us to have tried to be emergent leaders.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! I know it’s hard, but let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. We need to not just look for but to be the emergent leaders. We can do this thing.

Resources to Support You on Your Journey

Want to speak up and do your part and need help dealing with the conflict that results? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter—either in the top bar or by commenting on this article and checking the box. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, we’ll send you the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. It will help you understand and adjust to conflict both online and off. Staying subscribed to the email both keeps you informed of new blog posts and also notifications of new resources that are planned to pop up down the road. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.  

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Responding Healthily to the Rhetoric of Denial and Fear: Coronavirus https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/01/healthy-responses-coronavirus-rhetoric/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/03/01/healthy-responses-coronavirus-rhetoric/#respond Sun, 01 Mar 2020 07:09:57 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1024 I’ve seen great pieces in recent days with titles like “you can’t gaslight a virus.” Sadly, you can muddy the rhetorical waters around it big time though–and that can enable its spread. And we’ve been seeing a lot of that from multiple sources, including the US government. A lot of times the rhetoric ends up ramping up the fear in response to the uncertainty of such an event. This blog post looks at the ways all of this happens and...

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I’ve seen great pieces in recent days with titles like “you can’t gaslight a virus.” Sadly, you can muddy the rhetorical waters around it big time though–and that can enable its spread. And we’ve been seeing a lot of that from multiple sources, including the US government. A lot of times the rhetoric ends up ramping up the fear in response to the uncertainty of such an event. This blog post looks at the ways all of this happens and some quick and dirty communication concepts that are helpful for sorting through the rhetorical muck and being thoughtful, appropriately cautious, but not unduly fearful in response to the Coronavirus.

Disclaimer Before Starting: As you should know if you’ve been following this project, I’m not THAT kind of doctor, and to be honest, I’ve been sorting through so many different articles about this topic that I haven’t linked them all here. I link to some expert sources from health experts in the following, but while my area of research is health-adjacent, I mostly study the impact of stress and trauma on conflict communication. My work supplements and builds on health expertise, though, and I DO have a PhD in Communication, which helps me see the intersections between health and rhetoric and conflict.

Starting with Confessions, As I Was Taught to in Church

So I’m going to start by admitting that right here that a couple of weeks back on the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page, I minimized the Coronavirus by calling it “basically a glorified cold.”

I’m now deeply sorry about that.

My response at that time minimized the threat, and preemptively invalidated many valid fears people have about this disease that’s now been shown to be spreading more quickly than was expected. It especially minimized things for people with immunocompromised people in their families.

I deeply apologize for that. Your worries have good basis. Even with a low-percent death rate, many older and immunocompromised people are likely to die from this disease, and I ought not have minimized that.

This disease affects lives. Real lives. As various articles by experts have said, even if this is a mild to moderate pandemic, it may affect many lives. A healthy proactive response on both an individual and a systemic level could head off a lot of that.

My Response Was a Natural One.

I take accountability for the potential impact of my previous statement, absolutely.

That said, my response was a technique many of us use when things are distant, when we fear them—and a technique I’m seeing a lot of in the rhetoric around this disease.

It’s an attempt to manage something that may overwhelm us by flight, or running from a perceived threat. In this case, running from perceiving the impact something might have.

Natural, But Not Always Toward the Common Good

The problem, of course, is that the outcome of this kind of stress response can both hurt us and others, if it gaslights us or others to the realities of the situation—especially the genuinely threatening parts that health experts have good information for us about how to carefully and thoughtfully respond to to avoid risking more lives than necessary.

This post from the Smithsonion blog from health experts (recommended to me by a hospice nurse friend) is a great balanced, not overly anxious response to the threat, telling us—on an individual level—to prepare but not go overboard: washing hands, preparing to stay in our houses for a couple of weeks as needed, etc.

Meanwhile, it is entirely legitimate that we also take action and voice concerns about the lack of appropriate systemic preparedness due to poor functioning and misappropriation of funds driven by the current West Wing and enabled by the Senate.

The Kind of Active Response that Is Unhealthy

What my comment was responding to, however, is also a valid concern around Coronavirus. That is to say that those who are actively concerned about the virus are often taking it out on Asians, including Asian Americans who have never been near the virus.

In short, that is also a valid concern, and whatever fears you may have, those actions are NOT OKAY. If we’re talking likelihoods, it’s just as likely–possibly more likely–that the wealthy white businessman who lives on your block recently traveled to Asian areas with the coronavirus than the Asian Americans down the street who may have never been to Asia.

Don’t be a racist about the Coronavirus, and please speak up against it when you see such things! As I discussed previously, immigrants who look different are already being characterized as filled with disease these days, and the fear around Coronavirus is only making that worse for many. Don’t enable that toxic crap.

Denial Is Worse When Driven by People in Power

So yeah, ending that caveat, it’s important to note that if my individual denial may have had ramifications two weeks ago—probably, objectively, they caused much less then than they would have had now that the disease has moved into the US and has caused its first death here.

And as I’ve said, I apologize for my words, cast off quickly in the commentary of a single meme as they were.

But those ramifications pale in comparison to the words and systemic effects of the people now in charge of the government who are now responding to the situation–people who are not acting as neutral actors just trying to survive, but as voices of powerful systems they have been systematically and corruptly tearing down toward their own ends and those of their cronies.

When Devil Terms are Mixed with Denial, It’s a Powerful Brew

Indeed, the fact that the West Wing is trying to muzzle its experts while proclaiming that Coronavirus itself is a hoax is a form of extreme gaslighting of expertise that totally plays into the demonization of expertise (and its association with being out of touch and liberal, etc. etc. etc.) I’ve talked about these kinds of demonization here before.

As opposed to recognizing the problem and dealing with it, the current administration, which as I’ve said has underfunded the country’s pandemic response team and failed to hire many positions that would normally be ramped up to respond to a threat like this, is actually trying to get its own experts to stop from speaking out about the reality of the virus.

They are so busy trying to fight a shadow enemy and shift blame off themselves that they are actively harming many lives.

This is a problem on top of the existing problem with major ramifications.

You Can’t Gaslight a Virus—But You CAN Enable Its Spread

So here’s the thing. You might not be able to actually gaslight a virus (in other words, convince it that it doesn’t exist or that it won’t have an impact). But by failing to respond well to its spread, by underfunding government entities, muzzling experts, and calling it a hoax, thus convincing humans who listen not to take reasonable precautions, those in charge, whose voices have the most authority and rhetorical power, can enable its transmission.  

And THAT is the kind of rhetoric that negatively affects lives—especially vulnerable lives—in major, major ways. That’s not at all cool.

We Must Speak Up Against This Toxic Crap

Supporting those who act this way is about to cause major damage to our most vulnerable populations in this country. And that’s really not okay.

I don’t know about you, but I’m working to repent of my former callousness by speaking up against this administration’s unreasonable actions. (I mean, that’s not a new thing, but this is a new example of why that’s so vitally important to public health–literally.)

And the thing is, I don’t have to pick and choose–I can BOTH speak up against the administration and remind us that we ought keep calm and avoid racism during this time. Both things can be important at once, and both parts of an evidence-based, multi-faceted message.

I will be voting for the person with the better actions and policies and rhetoric leading to the common good, sure. That’s really important. But in the meantime as well as in the future, I will also continue to do what I can to speak out and advocate for the common good in the meantime, and seek to call our governmental representatives to account.

The Factors in My Individual Response

On the individual level, as I’ve mentioned before, I have dealt with trauma in the past. That means my previous impulse toward denial regarding this threat had a neurobiological basis: my brain was trying to protect me from further anxiety and stress around this problem, and denial was the mechanism for that.

(Which doesn’t mean that I needed to communicate that outward toward others.)

My Own Version of the Serenity Prayer from a Stress Research Perspective 🙂

That doesn’t mean I have to use the stress energy for that purpose, though. Rather than giving in to the numbing, I plan to do my version of the famous Serenity prayer, based in stress and trauma research: I plan to work to grieve the parts of this situation I can’t affect, to channel the stress energy into changing the parts I can, and to keep calm and burn off the remaining stress energy through modes such as exercise as much as is reasonable.

These strategies are likely to help me feel calm and as healthy as possible while optimizing my positive impact and effectiveness, both on my own life and on others. And by reducing my own stress, they will also reduce the likelihood that I will be one of the immunocompromised group.

I recommend you do the same. And check in on your friends with anxiety disorders, if you can, as well as older folks and the immunosuppressed. Their stress may be higher right now, and that’s not great for the immune system. Recommend these techniques to them as well.

What I Can Do to Make Things Better

By saying I’m planning to do what I can, I’m not planning to go into unhealthy survivalist mode, mind you, or count my chickens before it reaches my area. But I will listen to the experts about the reasonable preparations I should be making myself as well.  

Here’s that one more thing, though: I teach at a university, and that means I have a flexible schedule.

It’s not ideal if I get sick for a week or two, mind you, but I COULD adapt and teach my classes through online discussions if I needed to. I could self-quarantine and such. (I could also run this project from home—I do anyway!)

Advocating for Politicians with Better Labor Policies

A lot of people have jobs and lives that make that kind of thing exceedingly difficult for them. The kinds of labor policies in this country are likely to risk the spread of the virus.

See, many people will have to show up to work no matter what. And many don’t have the money to stock up on goods for two weeks in advance, either, because of how poorly they are paid.

And that’s a common good sort of problem as well. Something also to take firmly in mind when you’re voting in this coming election.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to overcome both denial and over-anxiety, and to keep doing what we can to speak up against the rhetorics and policies that promote these things and create further reason for fear. Let’s keep working for a literally healthier world for us all. Let’s do this thing.

And—friends?—please wash your hands. Thoroughly and longer than you usually do. (And maybe lay in some hand cream for the inevitable chapping, eh? We can do this thing.

Some Resources To Help You with Speaking Up

And please spread the reasonable word about how to respond to this epidemic, please? If you’re looking for memes to share online, we’ve scheduled some of those on the Assertive Spirituality Facebook page just for you on this topic this week.

And if you’re looking to speak up and need help dealing with the conflict that results, make sure to sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the top bar or by commenting on this article. If you do so, we’ll send you the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for free once you’ve confirmed your email address. It will help you deal with conflict both online and off when addressing issues. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

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When Demonization Is Elevated and a Woman Tears It Up: The Religio-Political Rhetoric of the SOTU https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/02/09/religio-political-rhetoric-sotu-demonization/ https://assertivespirituality.com/2020/02/09/religio-political-rhetoric-sotu-demonization/#comments Sun, 09 Feb 2020 06:30:00 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1019 It was hard to choose what to write about this week. Since this project focuses on the contexts around the religio-political landscape and I’ve been talking about god terms (things we see as “all good” and defend at all costs) and devil terms (things we see as “all bad” and fight at all costs, I ultimately zeroed in on two highly symbolic gestures at the State of the Union. That’s right, we’ll be talking about and contrasting Rush Limbaugh (whose...

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It was hard to choose what to write about this week. Since this project focuses on the contexts around the religio-political landscape and I’ve been talking about god terms (things we see as “all good” and defend at all costs) and devil terms (things we see as “all bad” and fight at all costs, I ultimately zeroed in on two highly symbolic gestures at the State of the Union. That’s right, we’ll be talking about and contrasting Rush Limbaugh (whose entire career has involved demonization of the marginalized and their allies) being given the medal of honor with Nancy Pelosi tearing up her copy of the State of the Union speech in protest of the gaslighting represented in the evening.

Disclaimers and TL;dr (Too Long; Didn’t Read) for the Impatient

For those of you who are looking for encouragement, hang in there—we’ll get there, I promise. This is a longish article—thanks for reading all the way through.

For those of you that can’t hang in there, here’s a TL;dr: Rush Limbaugh, who was given the medal of honor at the State of the Union, is absolutely no John the Baptist, even though giving him the medal treated him that way. If anything, he’s an anti-John the Baptist. Nancy Pelosi may not be one either, but her willingness to fight against poison like Rush’s was powerfully shown in her post-speech gesture of tearing up her copy of the speech. Those of us who are fighting against poison should take courage from this brave and important gesture and continue to do what we can.

So Yeah, I Have Actually Listened to Rush Limbaugh (Albeit Against My Will)

Let me start with some historical context about my experience with Rush Limbaugh. The peer that drove me to high school my first two years gave me no choice about what we would listen to on the car radio. This meant much too often that we were listening to Rush Limbaugh for at least 20 minutes one way.

I considered myself much more politically conservative back then than I am now, and even then I considered forcing me to listen to Rush Limbaugh spew his bile a form of abuse.

Rush Limbaugh as the Original Demonizer of the Political Left

I’ve talked about this before a bit, but Limbaugh was the original demonizer of our age, especially of those on the left. The reasonable people in my moderate church circles thought he was terribly rude, but others—mostly the bullies—excused him by saying he was just engaging in “political theater.”

Whatever the reasoning, those who listened to him—as I was forced to, day in and day out—got to hear Democrats regularly literally demonized. That is to say he literally called them “Demoncrats.” Feminists—you know, women seeking equality—were of course seen as “Feminazis” (har har). The man had absolutely no subtlety.

He was sexist and racist and xenophobic and all the other -ists you can think of. It was all dismissed by calling him a “conservative shock jock.” And of course lots of listeners said these things “were jokes.” (Sound familiar?)

Note: I recently looked him up, wondering whether he was one of those people who played an act on the radio but were really great philanthropists. Nope. No genuine virtue that I can see anywhere in his history—and even if there was, I can’t imagine he would be able to overcome his poisonous radio legacy by giving away his money. As I’ve said before, when we treat people poorly it can literally make them sick. Rush Limbaugh’s words have always been far beyond “just words.”

The Effects of Limbaugh’s Rhetoric in My Life

As someone who’d been raised to see putting others down as unethical, even at the time, I was repulsed by having to listen to him. It didn’t help that the peer who was driving me regularly told me things I said were the stupidest thing they had ever heard whenever I opened my mouth. (Clearly the message was filtering through in some way.)

However gut-punching and sickening I found it all, the poison filtered through to me, too, to be honest. Despite the fact that the common wisdom in my family was to vote for “whoever had the best policies on each level,” by the time I was of voting age I was pretty sure that to vote for Democrats was a pretty evil choice.

Rush Limbaugh + the Religious Right = Not a Great Combo

To be fair, I don’t think ALL of this was Rush Limbaugh—youth conventions and Christian pop culture had, in more subtle ways, convinced me that the questions of legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage were much more important to vote on than questions of racism, poverty, etc., Matthew 25 and all those verses in the Bible about taking care of the poor and fighting against oppression and marginalization be damned. (And in many ways, the ways these seemingly “righteous” messages aligned with Rush’s made them more insidious!)

In fact, Rush’s extreme positions combined with the Religious Right’s Culture Wars convinced me that I was being reasonable—some may even say righteous—by voting for Republicans while disclaiming Limbaugh’s horrible pronouncements.

The Heirs of This Combo

As I think I’ve explained before, this is the same position I see many Trump-defenders in my home community maintaining today.

And none of that would be possible without Rush’s presence on the extremes, belting out his black bile.

Taking Stock of My Previous Cognitive Dissonance

I can see now how much cognitive dissonance I was holding back when I held similar views.

See, I hated Rush, even back then. I knew his pronouncements were evil and wrong. I actually processed them, and the pronouncements that accompanied them about my intelligence, as abuse.

I Too Was Infected with the Poison of Fear

And yet, and yet—his rhetoric had STILL infected me with fear of the Other. It would be years and years before I would stop fearing feminism and all of the other targets and start to finally see how the Bible actually called me to detach myself from the Religious Right’s narrow window on “righteousness” that aligned itself, disturbingly enough, with Rush Limbaugh’s poison.

See, Rush engaged in fascistic rhetoric. And fascistic rhetoric is EXCELLENT at othering those who are seen to be enemies, and turning those who are seen to be different into enemies if they weren’t already.

Rush Limbaugh as a Forerunner of the Current Rhetoric and Policies on the Right

I can see now how our current times, and their divisions on the religio-political landscape, were seeded back then, decades ago. After all, back then, the rhetoric about the Clintons was already beginning. Rush was seeding the ground for all of those “but Hillary” defenses that are still clogging up discussions of the 2020 elections STILL, somehow, 30 years later.

No wonder the current occupant of the Oval Office gave him a medal. He wouldn’t have won his office—or maintained it—without that 81% of white Evangelicals voting bloc that was raised up through and alongside Rush’s poison.

Not Really John the Baptist at All, Though

It’s only natural he would give the man who acted as a sort of topsy-turvy poisonous John the Baptist one of the highest honors in the land—for creating hate, especially against the “least of these” and their allies.

And boy, how that ought to rub against the John the Baptist narrative for those who know it—after all, John the Baptist’s rhetoric actually got him killed, as did Jesus’s, by speaking truth to power. Definitely not elevated by the powers-that-be for bringing in fear and hatred of the marginalized and their allies.

The Mystery of the Religious Right Claiming the Moral High Ground

As I’ve said before, what is surprising to those who have been tracking white Evangelical religio-political rhetoric then and now is the shift from claiming to be the Moral Majority to trying to maintain some sort of moral high ground while cheering on folks like Rush Limbaugh at the same time.

The truth is that Rush’s rhetoric again laid the groundwork for this, as did the “Moral Majority” themselves through their espousal of the “Culture Wars.” After all, what they did was eventually fuse righteousness—and “god terms” to be defended at all costs, with a particular political side.

And they didn’t do this based on carefully comparing biblical analysis and a broad sweep of theology and carefully applying it to specific political positions, mind you, as I gradually realized the “other side” was doing. They did it by applying their own forms of fascistic rhetoric, which has led up to leaders of the Religious Right adopting Limbaugh’s devil terms, saying that progressives and liberals are the scariest, most demonic people and that righteousness are only found if you vote on their side.

A side that has taken up with–and extended–Rush Limbaugh’s style of fascistic rhetoric as though it were the gospel.

The Subtle Othering of the Religio-Political “Moderates”

As I’ve said before, my people from my moderate denomination still separate themselves from this rhetoric as idolatrous, but at least some of the members have their own form of white Evangelical-centrism, fearing “those liberal Christians” along with political liberals alike. If you step over the line toward the progressive side for either reason, there is a feeling that you’ve betrayed something, even if you do so by following what you see as biblical values.

And through carefully framed propaganda in the name of “fair and balanced” “entertainment news,” we get to the point where people from my upbringing remain profoundly silent about Rush Limbaugh being given the Medal of Honor also previously given to actually moral folks protesting injustice (rather than causing it). You know, like Rosa Parks.

Mourning the Silence—and Slamming—of My Friends

At the same time at least some of these peops were LOUDLY saying that a woman wearing white ripping up a speech filled with white nationalistic rhetoric decried by Amnesty International was “the most childish thing of the night.”

All of this is strong evidence that these folks have let their moral centers be shifted by the rhetoric of Rush and his supporters. I’m so incredibly sad about that—and really angry about it at the same time. Because these people are swallowing poison, and I wish they hadn’t chosen to. I wish they would spit out the bile in a safe way and regain their senses.

How I Mourn the “Moderates” Taking the Side of Limbaugh Against the “Demoncrats”

See, between Rush Limbaugh’s legacy and white Evangelical-centrism, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, wearing the right of “those Feminazi suffragettes,” could never be seen as on the side of what is right and good.

No, she is a Democrat—and that means she must, from this viewpoint, be a horrible human being to be fought at all costs. From this perspective, dismissing her action as “childish” is actually being kind, you see.

The “reasonable ones” will still distance themselves from the extreme rhetoric, mind you, as I did in my young adulthood—they will acknowledge that her actions weren’t actually illegal. And yet—and yet—she is clearly not to be taken seriously.

Mourning—and Then Letting Their Reactions Go, Knowing They Aren’t the Audience

The thing is, honestly? I don’t believe that their interpretation needs to bully me from seeing her actions very differently. Because her actions were not for these “reasonable moderates” who have been drawn into being deeply right-wing by this point.

On the contrary, these right-wing folks weren’t the audience for Pelosi’s action at all.

The Ripping of the Speech Was For Those of Us on the Other Side of the Line

No, they were for those of us who have long been disgusted by this unholy union of Religious with Right. For those who had wandered away from that increasingly fascistic, cultish, tribalistic, white supremacist, nationalistic use of rhetoric and policies, only to discover that the liberals were shockingly not all about “killing babies.”

That powerful action—the action of ripping up her copy of the speech—was already put in a gif alongside the image of Captain von Trapp tearing up the Nazi flag by the next morning for a reason.

True Respect and Tearing It Up

See, as I’ve mentioned before, true respect isn’t just about one person kowtowing to another person’s view of what “respect” ought to be. True respect is about a negotiation of meanings.

Bullies and tyrants in power have long used words like “respect” to get people to accommodate to what they want. They have used them to diminish others on “the other side” while excusing their own. They aren’t about listening or collaboration–they are only about winning and the other side losing. (Sigh.)

(Speaking of excusing their own, did you know that the current occupant of the Oval Office has been actually tearing up legal documents in illegal ways? It’s well documented.)

Mislabeling the Action as “Aggressive”

Bullies and tyrants often use words like “aggression” rather than assertiveness when they see measured non-verbal protests like Nancy Pelosi’s. Any objective view would see that she wasn’t being either “childish” or “aggressive,” but assertively speaking truth to power.

See, as I’ve discussed before, assertiveness shifts proportionally to the emergency level of a situation. If we were living in ordinary times, it might seem extremely inappropriately aggressive for someone to fling another over their shoulder and carry them out of a building (and indeed, that could be a really aggressive act!). But if that building were on fire, and the person carrying the person was genuinely saving the other from danger, then it becomes an assertive act.

The Power of the Act in Context

In the context of the fact that she knew her act was legal (while the current head of the administration HAD been doing the same thing illegally), in the context of the fact that the speech was a dangerously propagandistic pack of lies, in the context of knowing the impeachment acquittal was coming the next day, Nancy Pelosi’s measured act of tearing up the speech while wearing suffragette white was a powerful one.

Encouragement for Us to Be Encouraged in the Midst of Our Fears

Her act was encouragement for those of us who have been depressed by seeing Rush’s divisive, fear-based rhetoric elevated in that way. By having seen the farce that was made of the impeachment. For those of us who had studied fascistic rhetoric and feared for good reason that attempts at retribution and further grasps at power would be taken.

We needed to see that action. We needed to remember that despite our fears, despite the elevation of Limbaugh, despite the propaganda that’s had such a strong effect, the power has not been wholly consolidated yet.

May We Not Forget the Agency We Still Have

Because here’s the thing. The current administration’s poison-based rhetoric does not hold all of Congress in thrall quite yet. The administration does not control all states’ rights. The administration does not control what happens in all local municipalities.

Nancy Pelosi’s gesture was, without a word, a strongly important reminder of all of that. It was a call to others to continue to assertively use our Constitutional rights to assertively protest the attempts to consolidate power under the name of “reasonable partisanship.”

Speaking Truth to Propaganda and Authoritarian Tendencies

I don’t think it’s going too far to say it was, in many senses, a defense of the Constitution, of the right to protest, and of the founders’ intent for decentralized representative democracy over and against the kind of tyrannical rule they were emerging from.

Because let’s face it, an administration who is elevating a man like Rush Limbaugh the Demonizer, and trying to cast him as an angel, is not on the side of what is right and good (since such people require there to be sides in the first place!). However much they try to maintain the fiction of it, this is not some normal “middle-of-the-road” administration whose rhetoric occasionally lops over the boundary.

Fighting the Gaslighting That Seeks to Poison Our Realities

This is an administration who is actively fighting against the common good and poisoning the well by associating the common good with the most devil term version of the word socialism. This is an administration that is brazenly corrupt and uses fear as a tactic to get people to kowtow.

This is an administration whose head has acknowledged that he’s never once tried to repent to God for anything (so much for John the Baptist’s biblical cry to leaders to repent, eh?).

Conservative or not, I knew in high school that Rush Limbaugh was the exact opposite of John the Baptist in all real ways. For God’s sake, even C. S. Lewis’s imaginary devil Screwtape would have decried his tactics as too overtly demonic. The current administration and its enablers have been calling that poison heavenly ambrosia.

And that is simply wrong. Nancy Pelosi’s action reminded me that many others are also aware and willing to take genuine John-the-Baptist-like action calling out those who would try to convince me Rush Limbaugh’s poison should be glorified in any way.

Some Biblical Words I’m Finally Understanding in This Religio-Political Apocalypse

Let me just end with some strongly assertive words from the Bible my peops raised me to take very seriously.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NIV)

Note: I’m not saying Nancy Pelosi and her peops are perfect or need to be defended at all costs. I don’t buy into that logic. What I’m saying is that having emerged from the Religious Right milieu, I can see how that group has been drawn into worshiping a golden calf, and it makes me profoundly sad. I honor those who, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did in the book of Daniel, choose not to bow down to the immoral use of power.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to keep our heads about us and honor those who are genuinely doing what they can to let their words and actions both speak for truth and justice in these poisonous upside-down times. May we have the strength and ability to be inspired by their actions to continue doing the same. We can do this thing.

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