Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 12 Jan 2020 03:45:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.5 http://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 How to Push Back Against Demonization and Warmongering http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/11/push-back-against-demonization-warmongering/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/11/push-back-against-demonization-warmongering/#comments Sun, 12 Jan 2020 03:44:58 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1004 As I pointed out last week, 2020’s been really religio-politically intense so far. What with war being threatened between the US and Iran and Australia burning, it feels like the world is bating its breath to see what’s going to happen. Meanwhile, rhetoric from the current US administration is turning real humans into seeming cartoons, continuing to demonize and dehumanize the Other—especially the progressive/liberal other and the Middle Eastern other (not to mention other brown-skinned immigrant others). It’s important to...

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As I pointed out last week, 2020’s been really religio-politically intense so far. What with war being threatened between the US and Iran and Australia burning, it feels like the world is bating its breath to see what’s going to happen. Meanwhile, rhetoric from the current US administration is turning real humans into seeming cartoons, continuing to demonize and dehumanize the Other—especially the progressive/liberal other and the Middle Eastern other (not to mention other brown-skinned immigrant others). It’s important to remember that demonization someone is pretty much always dehumanizing someone (though it’s entirely possible to recognize that someone can do horrible things and recognize their humanity, demonization is different).

The point of demonization and warmongering, sadly enough, is to incite the kind of moral disgust that will continue to incite and excuse literal and symbolic violence and continue to distract from and dismiss valid concern about and investigation of this administration’s corruption. This article unwraps some of that demonizing/dehumanizing rhetoric and talks about how we who are on the side of humanization and evidence may work toward holding the line against the ongoing onslaught of demonization and warmongering.

Starting with Honesty

So I’m going to start here by being honest. We’re all tired these days. Even if we came into the new year with excellent assertiveness resolutions, as I discussed last week, this problem we’re facing these days has been going on for 3 years in its current form, and has been going on for some populations in different forms for centuries.

Tip One: Learning What We Can

Demonization and dehumanization of those who are different is a really old thing.  So yes, the first tip in fighting back against demonization and warmongering is to study some of the history and rhetoric of how this has worked in the past.

Of course, you’ll always get people who defensively try to argue that everything’s completely different in this situation, but it is very important to see how it works all the same. Because, honestly, it’s all pretty consistent, even with differences across situations.

There are a lot of great books out there, but there’s a lot of fascistic rhetoric going on right now, so I’m going to recommend the book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley.

I’ve also written a lot here, building on work from other scholars, about how people have recently hijacked particularly extreme “god terms” (things to be defended at all costs) and “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs) work toward demonization of others, including the religious and political left. I talked about this here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.

Tip Two: Keeping as Level a Head as Possible

This rhetoric, of course, is designed to provoke us. It’s also designed to demonize any assertive protest we might naturally and rightfully raise in response.

Under such conditions, I don’t believe “keeping a level head” means not getting angry. Of course this crap makes us angry, and for good reason.

On the contrary, “keeping a level head” involves making sure that anger is “empathetic anger” (I talked about this here) and that you’re channeling it in ways that work to fix problems rather than create more, if at all possible.

And seeking support from others as checks and balances and social support as needed to make sure you’re acting as well as possible. (And, as I discussed last week, checking yourself for “emotional fallacies.”)

Tip Three: Re-Humanizing and Correcting the Record Wherever Possible

Sharing stories and pictures and statistics and sharing the hurt we feel when we’ve been demonized are all really powerful things, and it’s important that we keep going, even if we feel like we’re only “preaching to the choir” or continuing to receive stiff opposition.  

I know, I know, it’s exhausting to keep correcting all the facts and offering healthier, more human narratives and facts and showing the hurt to combat the demonization.

That’s why we’re in a relay marathon—so we can trade off and take time off to heal as needed.

Even if we’re “only” preaching to the choir, that’s important for morale! We need to encourage and remind each other that counternarratives exist and can be more powerful than the unjust lies. It’s important to keep going.

An Example: Responding to Unhealthy Narratives Dehumanizing Iranians

Recently, when the current head of the US administration tweeted that it was important to strike cultural sites in Iran, the facts about how that act is considered a war crime needed to be shared in return.

The fact that the Pentagon responded with horror at that suggestion also mattered.

Nuanced takes on the situation were key as well.

And—perhaps as powerful or more powerful—pictures of the beauties of cultural sites in Iran, and the beauties of Iran’s people, are crucial to be shared.

And stories of those being unjustly held at the US border were key and those who have faced islamophobia because of foreign wars in the Middle East. Etc. etc. etc.

And don’t forget to share stories of those trying to make things better!

Tip Four: Keeping the Impact in Perspective

It’s important to remember that while you may gradually persuade people with good hearts to snap out of it, you won’t persuade everyone.

THIS IS CRUCIAL: You don’t have to persuade everyone. You really don’t. It’s important to speak up anyway as you’re able, though!

Here’s the thing: Many hard-core folks have already been persuaded to ignore our evidence-based and humanizing responses by the current propaganda.

But it’s not our job to fully persuade people—it’s our jobs to hold the line and make sure the bullies don’t have the loudest voices. It’s our job to make sure the bullies are not unopposed, and to work toward persuading anyone in the audience who might be on the fence and persuadable.

It’s our job, most importantly, to make sure the light of humanization and fact-based narrative is kept alive.

Tip Five: Keeping Ourselves from Getting Numb or Being Persuaded

Here’s the win-win of this endeavor: the goal of this kind of onslaught of propaganda is to make us feel numb, to stop responding. To assume we can’t make a difference. And ultimately to join the other side in dehumanizing and demonizing others if possible.

But by taking time to seek out and speak up in favor of facts and humanity, we will not only keep the light shining for others to see, but we will continue to persuade ourselves that what we’re doing matters. We will keep ourselves from getting numb and starting to believe what they want us to.

This is soooo important, friends!

Bonus Point: Pushing Back Is Literally Healthy for Us and Others

Here’s the thing: the kind of rhetorics and policies that are out there these days are horrible for all of us, and a lot of people are literally being hurt by them. The great thing is that stress and trauma research (specifically the hurricane study) shows us that those who do what they can in the face of overwhelming events are literally healthier down the road.

So doing what we can helps us as well as those who are encouraged and healed by seeing our efforts.

A Final Charge

Keep on keeping on, friends! Rest, but don’t quit. We need you to keep pushing back against this unhealthy rhetoric and the policies that go with them. Keep sharing the facts and stories and emotions and humanity of it all, including with our government representatives.

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.

Looking for More Resources for Speaking Up and Dealing with Conflict?

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter to receive our FREE “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” To do so, sign up in the top bar of this site or check the signup box when leaving a comment on this article, then check your inbox to confirm your address. You’ll get the link to the guide in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around. We’re hoping to offer more resources, including online classes, sometime this year, and signing up will get you all the updates along with notifications of our weekly blog posts.

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Avoiding Emotional Fallacies in Resolutions: Toward a(nother) Year of Assertiveness http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/03/avoiding-emotional-fallacies-resolutions/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/03/avoiding-emotional-fallacies-resolutions/#comments Sat, 04 Jan 2020 01:58:15 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=999 I don’t know about you, but I had been flagging a bit in my resolve in the end of the last year. It’s hard work, this relay marathon of speaking up and working against the toxic crap (and there’s soooo much of it!). It’s easy to be weary going forward. In this week’s post, I’ll discuss many of the emotional fallacies that often prevent us from forming and keeping resolutions toward acting toward the common good–as well as their antidotes....

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I don’t know about you, but I had been flagging a bit in my resolve in the end of the last year. It’s hard work, this relay marathon of speaking up and working against the toxic crap (and there’s soooo much of it!). It’s easy to be weary going forward. In this week’s post, I’ll discuss many of the emotional fallacies that often prevent us from forming and keeping resolutions toward acting toward the common good–as well as their antidotes. Hopefully this info will help all of us keep resolving to do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all.  

Taking Stock of Causes for Grief and Potential Action

So yes, a new year and decade started this week. Arbitrary, yes, but nonetheless a great time to take stock of our lives.

I don’t know about you, but it feels like the world has been going on in this religio-political apocalypse for a long time, and while looking for and trying to be the helper has helped, it still feels like there’s a seemingly impossible number of catastrophes and religio-political responsibilities to attend to all at once.

Just a Small List of Things to Be Assertive About

If you’re me, that includes:

  • The possibility of a distraction war starting with Iraq (deep sigh–I’ve been concerned about something like this for 3 years)
  • Australia tragically burning (a HUGE canary in the coal mine for climate change, which we wrote about here, here and here)
  • Anti-semitic attacks in New York and across the globe (illustrating an unhealthy nationalism I wrote about here)
  • Family separation and other human rights violations (I’ve spoken about this here, here, here, and here)
  • GOP senators trying to overturn Roe v. Wade (despite STRONG evidence, as I’ve discussed here, that making abortion illegal is the worst solution to reducing abortions)
  • Continued demonization of “the left” and ongoing bothsidesism that keeps people we used to respect from hearing and acting on truth (I talked about this here, here, here, here, here, and here)
  • Ongoing racism (which I discussed here and here)
  • Ongoing domestic violence and abuse and sexism problems, including #metoo and #churchtoo problems (which I talked about here, here,, here, and here)
  • Unhealthy patterns of “Nice” that keep people from assertively standing up against power (which I talked about here, here, here, here, and here, among other places)
  • Unhealthy forms of purity culture, ethnocentrism, etc. that cause so much damage and enable so much of the above (I talked about the dark side of “family values” rhetoric here, and white Evangelical-centrism here)
  • Increasingly extreme rhetoric coming from some extremist white Evangelicals in response to the Christianity Today impeachment editorial (I talked about the context for the editorial here)
  • The 2020 US election and impeachment processes
  • So much more I can’t even think of right now because there’s so much going on

None of this is okay or ought to be normalized, and it can feel rightfully overwhelming. That overwhelm can lead to literal lack of health for so many—both individually and through the ways we may freeze up, which may stop us from staving off the worst of these things.

It’s very important in such times that we pay close attention to how to process all of this and make our resolutions strategically. Strategic resolutions will help both our health and those of others and the world. In the process of drafting them, it’s especially important to avoid what I’m going to be calling emotional fallacies.

Emotional Fallacies When It Comes to Resolutions (and, You Know, Action in General)

There are several traps when it comes to resolutions, and they’re all rooted in the natural stress responses that are designed to help us respond to felt threat about rising to the occasion (I talk about our stress responses more and how they feed into conflict and debate situations in the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls”—I’ll give instructions on how to get that for free at the end of this article).

These resolution traps, or emotional fallacies, are all discussed in one of the textbooks I teach out of in my university communication classes—Adler, Rosenfeld, and Proctor’s 13th edition of Interplay. Because the authors and I are all communication scholars (and communication includes the study of logic and rhetoric), Adler et al. borrow them from the psychology discipline but call them emotional fallacies.

I find three of these emotional fallacies particularly pertinent to resolution time as well as any time I’m trying to figure out what I can do where I am with what I’ve got to the best effect:

  1. The fallacy of perfection
  2. The fallacy of helplessness
  3. The fallacy of catastrophic expectations

I’ll define these in a minute, but I want to note first that all of us tend toward one or the other of these naturally, but we also often have complicated blends of these depending on our particular upbringings and experiences, etc.

When people make fun of resolutions, in my experience they’re usually applying the fallacy of catastrophic expectations because they assume the fallacy of perfection will lead to the fallacy of helplessness. This means they are often pre-emptively applying the fallacy of helplessness.

I won’t go too deeply in depth into these fallacies here, but I will define them briefly.

If you’re interested and want more info, please sign up for my email newsletter—I’m working toward offering more resources and courses/workshops this year—that’s one of my project-related resolutions—and those on my email list will get prompt notification of when new opportunities pop up. Newsletter subscribers also get a free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls,” which helps with dealing with conflict that results from speaking up both online and off.

So, Some Definitions and Quick and Dirty Antidotes to these Emotional Fallacies

First, The Fallacy of Perfection

Definition: The fallacy of perfection assumes that we have to get everything perfect, and do everything, in order to get anything done at all. Abusive messaging and policies often presume this is the case. Application of both god terms and devil terms often presume this is the case.

Examples: We try to tackle everything from the whole list of issues above, and get down on ourselves for our natural human limitations (which we all have). (NOTE: This isn’t meant to excuse avoidable issues like abuse, oppression, etc.)

Consequences: A lot of unhealthy shame and trauma stems from the idea that we can’t live up to this. Also, burnout when we get tired of trying to reach for it.

Related Stress Response: Fight. This fallacy is a dysfunctional version of the perfectly good fight response to felt threat that is meant to protect us from danger.

Antidote: Strive for excellence for your efforts, not perfection, and expect the same of those around you. Be careful when you choose to insist on being right. And remember that all striving requires self-care, including reasonable rest, as part of the gig. Just remember to rest, don’t quit, as Banksy says.  Also remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own—join with others to toward greater efforts than you could do on your own.

Second, The Fallacy of Helplessness

Definition: The fallacy of helplessness assumes that because we can’t do everything, that we can’t and shouldn’t do anything. Abusive messaging usually combines this assumption with the fallacy of perfection, and this is where shame comes from—the assumption that because you’re expected to do everything, and will never be able to do that, that you’re always and automatically not enough.

Example: We don’t even try to make resolutions or goals because we assume they won’t work out anyway.

Consequences: We don’t hold ourselves to any kind of standards, definitely don’t try new things, and create unhealthy self-fulfilling prophecies—we assume things aren’t possible so we don’t even try.

Related Stress Response: Flight and/or Freeze. This fallacy is a dysfunctional version of these healthy responses that can protect us from danger.

Antidote: Remind yourself that even small steps are worthwhile, look for and remember the positive consequences of your efforts, and ask people in close relationship to you to encourage you as well and hold you accountable to keep going.

Last But Not Least, the Fallacy of Catastrophic Expectations

Definition: The fallacy of catastrophic expectations is closely aligned with both of the above, but is a bit different—this is the assumption that everything will work out poorly no matter what we do. Remember that Worst Case Scenario handbook that was so big a few years back? This is assuming everything will end up like that all the time, except without the planning to respond if those things happen, because we assume there’s no point.

Consequences: We don’t even try, and often we drag others down with us when we predict dire consequences no matter what we do. Or, if combined with the fallacy of perfection, we go wild trying to fix EVERYTHING assuming that we and only we can avert the crisis (this is how type A people tend to respond to these things).

Related Stress Response: Flight and/or Freeze. This response is a dysfunctional response to these things that often accompanies overwhelm and burnout/trauma. A variant is when things have gone poorly in the past and so we assume that things will automatically go poorly in the future. The shame-based version of this is called foreboding joy by Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly.   

Antidote: Remind yourself that things can go well, and work to strategize ways to make things go as well as possible with your resolutions to make the world a better place. Also recognize that we all make mistakes and things may go poorly as well, but every individual’s efforts matter in making things go better than catastrophe.

IMPORTANT!: Don’t accept the lie that things will automatically go poorly—we can’t fix everything, but we can do what we can do, and collectively, if we work together and strategize and encourage one another, we can ultimately do a lot!

A Resolution-Building Charge

So, friends, get on those reasonable resolutions to assertively seek to make the world a better place, today, this week, this month, this year, this decade and always! Let’s knock down these emotional fallacies in ourselves and call them out in others toward a healthier world for us all.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s remember that while we can’t fix everything, our efforts toward making the world a better place CAN make a difference to avert the worst, and that we don’t have to be perfect to strive toward excellence. We can do this thing.

Looking for More Resources Toward Your Assertiveness Goals?

As I said, my Assertive Spirituality-related goals for this year are to move in the direction of offering more resources for those of you seeking to speak up. This will likely involve a Patreon platform offering bonus content and possibly closed support and/or training communities in exchange for your financial support of the project (if you don’t know Patreon, think how PBS offers things in exchange for sponsorship). Hopefully I will soon be able to offer some online courses related to assertiveness and relationships/speaking up as well. I’ll get them up as soon as I reasonably can, with as much as I can offer.

If you would like to stay apprised of these developments, as well as receive our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls,” please sign up for our weekly email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when you comment on this blog post. You’ll also get weekly emails with notifications of our new blog posts and other project updates.

Finally, make sure to like and share and such from our AS Facebook page–we send out multiple-daily encouragements on there to keep up the good fight and consider new viewpoints.

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Feeling (Slightly Less) Betrayed by White Evangelicals: The Christianity Today Editorial http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/21/religious-rhetoric-white-evangelicals-ct-editorial/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/21/religious-rhetoric-white-evangelicals-ct-editorial/#comments Sun, 22 Dec 2019 05:01:24 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=992 This week I’m going back to pick up the story of how Election 2016 in the US left me feeling betrayed by my white Evangelical folks (the previous parts of this series can be found here and here). This week I’m going to talk about how I saw religious rhetoric shift as a result of the religio-political apocalypse before I explain how this week’s events, especially Thursday’s bombshell Christianity Today post-impeachment-hearings editorial calling for the removal of the current head...

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This week I’m going back to pick up the story of how Election 2016 in the US left me feeling betrayed by my white Evangelical folks (the previous parts of this series can be found here and here). This week I’m going to talk about how I saw religious rhetoric shift as a result of the religio-political apocalypse before I explain how this week’s events, especially Thursday’s bombshell Christianity Today post-impeachment-hearings editorial calling for the removal of the current head of the US administration, have left me feeling slightly less betrayed by my white Evangelical folks. I’ll wrap up by explaining why I think the editorial matters even if it does not convince the bulk of Evangelicals.

Oops, I’d Been Gaslighting Parts of the Bible

But let’s start with some honesty: before this religio-political era, there were lots of passages of the Bible I just dismissed, or at best held in tension, because I didn’t understand them to fit my view of reality.

One may say, in the terms I was discussing in last week’s article, that I was very close to gaslighting these parts of the Bible—assuming that because they didn’t fit in to my Christian Nice view of faith, that they didn’t have much to say to me or the way I ought to see the world.

NOTE: As Pete and Jared over at The Bible for Normal People regularly state, we all do this to the Bible in some ways–as they note, it’s just that some of us are more honest about this than others. (And if you’re looking for more wisdom on biblical interpretation, please note that I’m a com scholar not a Bible prof. They’re great on that though.)

The parts of the Bible I was trying to ignore, it is important to note, were often the ones that contradicted my socialized understanding of conflict management (and that is my wheelhouse, so I’ll talk about that).

Was Speaking Truth to Religio-Political Power Spiritual Enough?

The passages that disturbed me the most were ones that seemed, well, pretty confrontational and judgmental. Things like Jesus woeing hypocritical religious leaders. Like the the Old Testament prophets speaking truth to corrupt power. 

Other passages that disturbed me were ones in which Jesus was telling his disciples to beware of false prophets—you know, those kinds of people that call evil good and good evil.

As a Reminder, the Word Apocalypse Means “To Make Clear”

I was already moving in this direction a few years pre-election, but it wasn’t until this past election, which left me feeling betrayed by White Evangelicals, that I suddenly started to understand these kinds of passages in context—and really started to see them fit like puzzle pieces with all the other passages in the Bible about taking care of the “least of these” and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

And the election certainly made things clear.

It suddenly seemed to me as though many of the people I’d grown up among, people I’d worked closely with, were calling evil good and good evil.

And they were using all of those passages about “grace” and “mercy” and “forgiveness” to do the work of keeping oppressors and abusers in power at the expense of the abused and marginalized and oppressed.

Becoming “That Progressive Professor”

As someone who had come into this era having studied the rhetoric of conspiracy and other related subjects, and who had spent my life in church contexts at the cusp of the Evangelical/Mainline divide, I could see a lot of what was going on, and I knew my expertise clearly would lump me in with those “suspicious progressive folks” (as though having a PhD didn’t already class me as “one of those liberal egghead elites” anyway).

I felt the need to start this project to help others understand what was going on, and to help get resources to those who wanted to speak up.  

Becoming a Bit of a Black Sheep

When I did, much of my moderate acquaintanceship suddenly became a minefield—it became difficult to know who was safe to talk religio-political matters around. (And when you grow up as a pastor’s kid, and then become a professor who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication, these things ARE assumed to be the prime topic of conversation, so that made things particularly difficult.)

I know some of my peops grieved about that. I did too. But I could feel the undercurrent of their partisan fear of the morals I grew up with when exemplified by someone “on the other side.”

 Developing my Assertive Spirituality

But I felt that after a decade in the classroom helping students develop their assertive voices that it was high time my own assertive voice emerge. I could no longer stay silent when people were calling evil good and good evil. I don’t claim in any way to be close to Jesus, but I stopped gaslighting those passages. I started to assertively enact them as well as I was able.

I was careful not to be aggressive, but assertiveness often feels aggressive to those who are not used to it.

Interestingly, people from “the other side” who came to the site tried to use the same passages, but with completely opposite intent. I was trying to hold fast to what I knew to be true, to be a counter-voice in the desert, while they were trying to protect their views of morality those who had taught them were shifting to.

The Shift in Conservative Usage of Scripture

See, the “other side’s” usage of Scripture was changing too.

Suddenly they, too, shifted their understandings and usages of Scripture, but I noticed a huge difference in how they used it and I used it. My version was about speaking truth to power and sticking up for the little guy—theirs was about building walls and following those in power. Sometimes they tried to say they were still sticking up for the little guy—but usually they were referring to the leader of the free world, so I wasn’t really buying that, somehow.

Of course, as I’ve said above, the Bible is a complex book that contains multitudes of perspectives and themes, so we all gaslight various passages from time to time. But the change in White Evangelicals’ usage of Scripture in the last 3 years is strikingly disturbing.

As I’ve described before, White Evangelicals had eloped with unhealthy nationalism, and their use of the Scripture was shifting along with that change.

The “Moral Majority” Were Becoming Relativists

What was most puzzling was that those who 20 years before had spoken out against immorality in the Presidency, who even called themselves the “Moral Majority,” were now calling those of us pointing out immorality in the Presidency “false prophets of Satan.”

In my moderate folks, I started to see strange contradictions in how they spoke about religion and politics—strange attempts to maintain the moral high ground while defending a party that was increasingly corrupt by seeing the other side as worse.

Sometimes major theme shifts occurred that were both similar to and different from the usage of my youth.

Case in point: That which had been condemned in the Clintons was dismissed in the current First Family. All of a sudden words like “forgiveness” and “grace” and “mercy” were used in place of words like “evil.” These shifts are one reason I’ve been writing articles on topics like the abuse of calls for forgiveness this past year.

Three Years of Disturbing Stress

Some people spoke up against this twisting of Scripture—I was not alone. But it was rare to hear those high up in power positions within the White Evangelical power structures speaking up on behalf of “traditional morality” in the White House.

I honestly didn’t know if this was ever going to change. Granted, a few strong white Evangelical voices were starting to speak out, such as Beth Moore, but these were individual authors. Most of the big loudest voices in the white Evangelical world were strongly toeing the Republican party line, even as strong evidence was coming out against the current head of the administration.  

A Voice of Reason—Finally!—in White Evangelical-Land

Just Thursday the complicit silence was broken. Billy Graham’s magazine, Christianity Today, released a strong editorial calling out at least some of the immorality of this presidency—pointing out that the emperor was wearing no clothes. That the facts of the impeachment hearings showed that he was clearly immoral and should be removed from office, whether through impeachment or at the voting booth.

It implored Evangelicals to consider carefully their allegiances, to bow to the “author of the Ten Commandments,” to reconsider voting for the current occupant of the oval office.  

This statement had so much response that the CT site went down for awhile.

And yesterday morning, the current head of the US administration lashed out at CT in response, calling them a “far-right progressive magazine” (my progressive Christian self laughed out loud at that—they are far from progressive, are CT).

It Won’t Change Everyone’s Minds—But It’s Still Important

I, along with the editor who wrote the editorial, suspect many Evangelicals will keep their votes and opinions unchanged. Then again, I think it was super important that it was put out anyway.

Here’s why.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think we speak up to change the minds of the entrenched. I believe the point of speaking up is, first, to create a counter-voice, to show that not everyone thinks the same. (The current head of the administration’s reactive response already shows there is a strong rhetorical effect of dissent.)

That said, I DO think that CT’s voice has a chance to persuade those who consider themselves moderate but have fallen into listening to right-wing rhetoric. One of the prime principles of persuasion to those who are used to listening to particular authorities is that you need the voices of authorities they may trust to persuade them. Hearing this kind of conclusion from a magazine as seemingly moderate as CT could actually sway these kinds of perspectives to look more carefully at the evidence and more perspectives.

Next, the point is to persuade those who have remained silent but can still speak up, to follow suit and join the chorus of the counter-voice. I have friends who have already since the editorial seen people in ministry who had remained silent out of fear being more comfortable speaking out on this issue. That’s super encouraging.

And finally, last but not least, we speak up to provide morale to those who are working hard to remind us all of what the realities are. (If you haven’t yet guessed, this is the group I gladly join this week in cheering on the CT editorial.)

Why I’m Glad They Spoke Up

I don’t agree with everything Christianity Today wrote in that editorial, and like others I wish they hadn’t waited as long as they did to say what they did. But I’m very glad they said it, and that they waited no longer to do so.

I know they put themselves at risk for this. I don’t believe this means that they will suddenly “become progressive” and “join our team” (whatever “our team” might be). Even as the editorial itself said, they mostly see the magazine’s purpose as “keeping above the political fray,” even after this, and I’m not sure that’s optional these days.

But I know their voice is powerful, and I’m incredibly thankful they used their platform for this.

Feeling (Slightly Less) Betrayed by White Evangelicals

Here’s the long and short of it: Tonight I will fall asleep, because of this editorial, feeling a tiny bit less betrayed by white Evangelicals. I hope, and trust, that the editorial’s truth-speaking portions will have done good work in all of the areas I outlined above–and that all of those areas will have good ripples into other areas.

And from the “other side” of the Evangelical/Mainline-Progressive divide within Christianity, I salute the editors for releasing this editorial. I honor their #AssertiveSpirituality, as I have honored the #AssertiveSpirituality of so many other helpful truth tellers of the last few years.

I strongly encourage and hope that this will have a strong influence—I know this gesture has already given me at least a bit more hope that more will speak up to encourage white Evangelicals to their previous standards of morality and justice.

A Final Charge

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

More Resources!

Looking to speak up and need resources to help you deal with the conflict that usually results? Our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” is here to help you out. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this blog post and checking the box to sign up. Once you’ve confirmed your email address the “Guide to Trolls” will be sent you in the final welcome email. It will help you deal with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

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#BelieveWomen, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Roots of (Deeply Socialized) Gaslighting http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/14/believewomen-handmaidstale-socialized-gaslighting/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/14/believewomen-handmaidstale-socialized-gaslighting/#respond Sun, 15 Dec 2019 05:42:39 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=987 As I write this, it is Advent. During this time, many Christians ponder the controversial #BelieveWomen story in which Mary told Joseph she was pregnant through surprising means—and he almost divorced her because of it, until he heard from an angel that her tale was true. It’s maybe not surprising that he didn’t believe her—after all, I know A LOT of people who still bristle at the idea that she was impregnated by God. Reflecting on this story (especially at...

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As I write this, it is Advent. During this time, many Christians ponder the controversial #BelieveWomen story in which Mary told Joseph she was pregnant through surprising means—and he almost divorced her because of it, until he heard from an angel that her tale was true. It’s maybe not surprising that he didn’t believe her—after all, I know A LOT of people who still bristle at the idea that she was impregnated by God.

Reflecting on this story (especially at a time when a lot of people are putting down another teenager, Greta Thunberg, rather than believe what she has to say about climate change, even while Ohio Politicians are putting forth entirely unfeasible bills about reimplanting ectopic pregnancies) spurred on a lot of thoughts in me about whether or not we #BelieveWomen, and what’s going on rhetorically when we dismiss what women say, even when it’s more clearly evidence-based than Mary’s story.

In other words, this week I’m looking at how easy it is for many of us to be socialized into the practice of gaslighting large groups of people–women among them–simply because they are seen to be part of an outgroup. I will also look at how we unhealthily rationalize these behaviors by framing them as somehow logical and rational behaviors.

NOTE: Because, like all systemic behaviors, patriarchy is reinforced by women as well, many women also see women as an outgroup. Those who are fighting these systemic patterns often cut across the gender spectrum, as do those who reinforce it. But that doesn’t mean that women authored patriarchy or are primarily to blame for it, as I’ll discuss a bit toward the end of the article.

Defining Gaslighting

Gaslighting, if you don’t know, is the practice of trying to get someone to disbelieve in evidence-based views, often messing with a person’s sense of reality. While the original definitions often require intent, in reality, it’s hard to prove whether someone is doing this intentionally or not.

The type of gaslighting I’m talking about today I would class as a deeply socialized form of gaslighting—one that was taught to me so well that I ultimately needed a jolt to see it was unhealthy. I do think much gaslighting is intentional, but not all of it is—at least not in the same way.

I’m hoping today’s analysis will show how these unhealthy systems can worm their way into even what we think of as logical, critical-thinking-based literary assessments–and how in turn those unhealthy patterns can lead to the relative disenfranchisement of large groups of the population.

What Birthed This Article

I’ve been thinking about all of this lately because I just finished listening to the audiobook of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale, and that act had me thinking back to my original reception of The Handmaid’s Tale about fifteen years ago.

Working through all of that has helped me understand the insidiously subtle forms of toxic patriarchy we all get socialized into and must convince ourselves to work against. This article’s all about unwrapping how those communication dynamics work.

In a time of Advent and dystopian religio-political apocalypse, it seemed fitting to dive into this subject this week.

My History with Dystopia and A Handmaid’s Tale

I don’t know if I mentioned here before specifically, but I came into this religio-political apocalypse having taken a graduate course in dystopian speculative fiction. During that semester we read all manner of fiction whose goal was to provide dire prophetic warnings about the future in hopes of inspiring people to stave off the worst.

One book we did not read during that semester, but I had read previously, was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

My Initial (Visceral) Assessment of the Book

In short, the first time I read it, I thought it was…okay. But a little, well, unrealistic.

See, I found it interesting, and parts of it felt “true to life” to me, but a lot of it I dismissed. I realize now that was because I found it too extreme, too “unlikely.” 

The Injustice of This Assessment

I would have been appalled to find out that Margaret Atwood had incorporated nothing in the book that hadn’t already been done to women in some part of the contemporary world—that while it made potential sense to disagree with the particular form of the dystopian world, that all of the elements were already present in our current world.

Despite my excellent education and wide reading (encouraged by my moderate parents!), I doubt that I would have believed it, honestly. That means I participated through this assessment, however unwittingly, in the practice of gaslighting women.

Defending America as a God Term/Halo Effect Combo

And let’s be honest, part of the issue was the idea that “surely it couldn’t happen here in the US.” (Ah, America as god term with a halo effect—to be seen as holy and defended against critique at all costs. That’s a very unhealthy attitude so many of us Americans have internalized in ways we don’t realize.)

That’s part of what was going on with me. But there was more to it than that.

Ah, Patriarchy Meets My Perceptions of “Moderate” Educated Religion

I realize now that much of it came down to this: because I had come to believe so wholeheartedly in how different our view of religion was from other people’s more “extreme” forms of religion, because of how much I’d been taught to believe that our form was pretty much wholly rational, I couldn’t really suspend my disbelief enough to enter into this intensely, abusively misogynistic dystopian world and find it realistic.

This is ironic, because I realize now that I had internalized a subtle form of that same misogyny, and that was at least part of what encouraged me to dismiss the valid fears behind Atwood’s kind of misogynistic dystopian vision.

The Place of “White-Evangelical-Centrism” in This Gaslighting

The Handmaid’s Tale was, after all, written by a woman. And “one of those progressive ones.” (I’ve talked about the subtle forms of “white Evangelical-centrism” here.)

Unconsciously, at the time I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, because I knew it was focused on “women’s issues” and by “one of those progressive women,” my brain still interpreted the story as clearly being driven by fear and anger.

While I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I can see now how I those things encouraged me to tone-police and thereby gaslight its evidence-based vision, to avoid listening to the validity behind its concerns.

Defining Tone-Policing

Tone-policing, if you’ll remember, is a particular defensive excuse to avoid listening to a person’s views because they don’t present in a listener’s approved emotional style. I talked about how swear-policing is often used to tone-police, especially in the “Christian Nice” community, here and here.

Emotions, Tone-Policing, and (Dis-)Believing Women

As I’ve described several times before (see, for example, here and here), I’d been taught that anger was always bad, and the only place to bring it was to God.

Kicking up a fuss, speaking truth to power—there were places for that, but honestly only once you’d removed the seeming emotion from these things, washed and purified them clean of those dangerous “negative” emotions. And—let’s be honest—“prophets” speaking truth to power, or preaching, were only supposed to be men.

My Socialized Views of Women and Moral Disgusts

Or so I’d thought. (My denomination was struggling with the question of whether women should be allowed to preach during much of my childhood—and have only realized recently how much this topic deeply affected my moral disgusts toward women having assertive voices generally. In fact, this has been one of the most difficult articles for me to write, to date, because of how deeply I internalized these power structures on a visceral level.)  

Yup, Definitely Patriarchy! And Moral Disgusts of Women as “Emotional”

So, well, I realize now that I’d internalized the idea, even in our “moderate” space, that only men could be trusted to do this properly. Women, after all, were somehow inherently emotional, and anger was especially to be distrusted from them.

If a message was in any way “tainted by anger,” and especially carried by a woman, and a progressive woman from Canada, no less, well, that was highly suspicious to me. Surely, it seemed to follow, it couldn’t be believed.

Not Just the Community I Grew Up In

I don’t really put this on the community I grow up in, by the way—much of this type of attitude is pervasive throughout Western culture and in other areas embedded in patriarchy.

But Yes, a Very Particular Form of Defending Patriarchy Where I Grew Up

But yes, our community’s particular combo platter of White-Evangelical-centrism, fear of perceived extremes and patriarchal underpinnings led us to embracing a particular form of subtle tone-policing and gaslighting of women’s voices as a group. And because we were “moderate,” this was insidiously classed as a belief that was seen to be somehow rational and reasonable when it was far from either.  

Of course, at the time, I wasn’t fully conscious of the nuances of this process of rejection that was going on in me. At the time, I as a discerning reader blamed the lack of artistry in the book, the lack of nuance, and especially the lack of narrative believability.

The Toxic Sides of “Christian Moderate Nice”

I realize now that all of this was part of my upbringing into a world of “Christian Nice”—and not just Christian Nice, but “Christian moderate Nice.”

I can see now that I and my people had worked hard to try to achieve a sort of purification by remaining in the middle. To see ourselves—and to get others to see us—as “the rational ones.” Maintaining that position required us to distance ourselves from what we saw as emotionally driven decisions from the flanks.

And yet, as I’ve described before, our distancing of ourselves from seemingly negative emotions had encouraged us to distance ourselves from some hard truths—one of which was that our rhetoric of “Nice” was still operating on an insidiously misogynistic basis.

Insidious Forms of Toxic Patriarchy

I realize now that the logic I’d just described—the logic by which I’d rejected the valid concerns of The Handmaid’s Tale—were part of that insidious participation in unhealthy forms of patriarchy. In fact, it was baked into our views of conflict—views that we justified using our interpretations of the Bible.

Certainly, we didn’t overtly hurt anyone. (Or so we told ourselves.) But our false equivalencies—our assumptions that we “weren’t as bad” as those cult leaders and televangelists—led us to be quite defensive against valid, evidence-based critiques from “those progressive folks” we should have taken more seriously.

The Need to Repent/Be Influenced

Using the language of Christianity, I would argue today that we—that I—needed to repent of these views. To repent in the ways in which we were diminishing women created in the image of God by dismissing their real concerns.

No Need to Be Overly Influenced!

This doesn’t of course mean that I needed to fully agree with all critiques in order to be “progressively pure of all fundamentalism”—that itself would be a form of fundamentalism.

It also doesn’t mean I needed to submit myself to abuse from anyone.

Not at All a Rational or Just Response

But it does mean that I was being unjust in failing to #BelieveWomen simply because they were women. However I was justifying it, it was definitely not a rational, just, evidence-based response—one that was “waiting for more evidence to prove the point.” It was a deeply visceral—I would even say deeply defensive—one.

Defending Patriarchy Over and Above Truth and Justice

See, I realize now I was prioritizing protecting myself–and, more importantly, my people’s–patriarchal form of thinking from critique as more important than recognizing the truth in the critique.

In short, I initially rejected the valid concerns represented in The Handmaid’s Tale because I too had been socialized into a subtle variant of the same system it critiqued—patriarchy.

Took Me a Jolt to See the Depth of Socialization

And, to be honest, if it weren’t for events in my life combined with the events of the ongoing religio-political apocalypse, including the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, I’m not sure whether I would have come to see how messed up these views I held were.

Indeed, I’m sure I still hold many parts of these views—I’m working on that. I’m a work in progress, and I will continue to combat these views inside myself as well as others.

Justly Assigning Both Hurt and Blame

But in the meantime, I know this much is true: The real villains in this story aren’t the progressives critiquing patriarchy and voicing concerns about it. The problem is toxic masculinity and the ways it hurts a wide variety of populations. And of course we all reinforce that system, and all need to address even the insidious forms such as those I just suggested.

But these days, let’s be honest: Both sides are not the same. Conservative folks are flying the patriarchy flag MUCH more strongly than progressives, who are at the least not regularly mocking those who are trying to fight it.

And I know while we are all hurt by this unhealthy system we’re a part of, that hurt lands much more on women and minorities and those who defend them than it does on the “good silent people” working harder to seem righteous than to speak up on behalf of those being hurt by this unhealthy system.

Acknowledging the Complicity in Silence and Calling Us to Assertiveness

I have been one of those “good silent people” in the past, and I’m calling to my people–and, in fact, all people–now to rise up with me into assertively defending those who are marginalized and abused by the current rhetoric and policies.

More Resources for Understanding the Stress Impulses Behind Conflict—and Speaking Up

Looking for more resources to help you identify and deal with visceral stress responses in yourself and others, especially in conflict situations? Our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” is perfect for you, as it helps you understand and deal with the stress responses behind all kinds of conflict situations. To get it, sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar or by checking the box when commenting on this blog post, and confirm your email address. It will be sent to you in the final welcome email.

And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page—this week’s memes will focus largely on the theme of #BelieveWomen in honor of this post. Pass them on!

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 systemic patterns that abuse, marginalize, and oppress large groups of people. We can do this thing.

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Climate Change Rhetoric, Hope, and the “Brainwashing of Children” http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/01/climate-change-rhetoric-hope-brainwashing/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/12/01/climate-change-rhetoric-hope-brainwashing/#comments Sun, 01 Dec 2019 08:15:54 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=981 So a few weeks ago, when I posted the article about Greta Thunberg and the complexities of (self-)censorship, we got a whole bunch of trolls popping in on that article when I advertised it on Facebook. The next week I published a response from an AS follower to some of those trolls’ views. This week I’m finally getting around to analyzing some of the troll rhetoric myself. In this blog post I’ll look at the ways in which the themes...

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So a few weeks ago, when I posted the article about Greta Thunberg and the complexities of (self-)censorship, we got a whole bunch of trolls popping in on that article when I advertised it on Facebook. The next week I published a response from an AS follower to some of those trolls’ views. This week I’m finally getting around to analyzing some of the troll rhetoric myself. In this blog post I’ll look at the ways in which the themes of young people being “brainwashed Hitler Youth” conveniently plays into unhealthy rhetoric that climate change naysayers unfortunately fall for and perpetuate. I’ll dive into the rhetoric of the theological views as well as the scientific ones. And as always, I’ll encourage you to keep speaking up on behalf of healthy views.

Why I’m Publishing This Now

I know not all readers will practice the Christian liturgical season of Advent, but I particularly wanted to publish this analysis just now because this will come out on the first Sunday of this season. The traditional theme of the first Sunday of this season is about hope, and promise, in the midst of dire times.

To me, Greta Thunberg’s climate movement—and so much of the other grassroots civic engagement I see emerging these days toward looking out for the common good—is such a sign of hope for me. As I described in an earlier piece, both as a Christian and a scholar of stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I believe Greta Thunberg’s success at speaking truth to power shows that one person can make a difference and that negative self-fulfilling prophecies and self-censorship can get in the way of better things happening.

Signs of Hope

Indeed, the reading from Isaiah (2:1-5) that many churches will read from today is about swords being beat into ploughshares, and spears into sickles—in other words, about cultivating and promoting growth and healthy outcomes from the planet as opposed to creating tools for war. Which is exactly what the climate change awareness movement is asking for.  

As someone raised in the Christian faith and with these rich Scriptures, I find it’s so weird—and, frankly, hypocritical—that so many of the Christians I know are joining in with the cynical rhetoric saying young people who are trying to follow such similar aims are automatically being “brainwashed.” As I’ve described before, I actually find that to be antithetical to the spirit of the Christian understanding of these holidays that are about finding hope through new voices coming from young people.

Grieving and Fighting Unhealthy Rhetoric

And yet the season of Advent is as much about exploring and mourning—and, indeed, countering—the unpleasant side of the “not yet” as well as making room for hope and promise of better things. And so that’s my goal in the remainder of this post.

So Let’s Talk About This “Brainwashing by ‘Liberal Educators’” Thing

One of the interesting threads that kept popping up among the trolls was the idea that Greta Thunberg was being “brainwashed” by a propagandistic system of “liberal educators.”

It didn’t just stop there, though. These trolls were explicitly suggesting Greta Thunberg was part of a Hitler Youth-type system. As I’ve discussed before, Nazism is a real thing—and a highly unhealthy thing in its natural form. It’s also something that’s easily used to demonize groups that have diametrically opposed views to those of fascistic Nazism.

To cut to the chase, that whole demonization of groups with diametrically opposed views to those of fascistic Nazism thing is just completely the case here.

Undermining the Scientific Experts

See, to believe that “liberal educators are brainwashing Greta Thunberg, just like the Hitler youth” involves saying that peer-reviewed consensus after rigorous checks and balances among academics and researchers is automatically some sort of evil authoritarian conspiracy with dire outcomes.

And that simply doesn’t play for a lot of reasons. Let me briefly list a very few:

  1. Nazism was a totalitarian dictatorship with no room for dissent. Anyone who’s ever been to an academic event of any kind knows that academics, including scientists, dissent from one another left and right. Any agreement that’s reached only comes through a lot of testing and disagreement first.
  2. Nazism’s philosophy ended up committing genocide. Climate change activism based on scientific consensus is designed to save lives threatened by climate change. Profits of big businesses may be threatened, but no actual lives are at stake.

Science and Carefully-Reached Consensus

So yes, with these differences laid out, it should be clear that the scientific program behind climate change consensus or near-consensus is actually really democratic in many ways, in that it makes space for dissenting opinions.

The problem of course for many climate change denialists is that the people coming to consensus on the matter aren’t asking everyone’s opinions on the matter. But that doesn’t mean that the consensus is not hard-fought or valid. It is certainly not at all the same thing as unreasonable tyranny passed down from some sort of totalitarian regime.

In fact, the fact that these scientists keep speaking up even though their reports keep getting squashed by powerful corporations and governments is a good sign that these scientists are not themselves totalitarians. Which is an excellent sign that the comparison between climate science and Nazi Germany is incredibly inaccurate.

Climate Activism—Shockingly Not Genocidal

By the same token, there is no threat to life from climate activism based on this science. In fact, lives are being taken by the current state of things.

Cynical Theological Perspectives?

One of the most disturbing lines of specifically theological reasoning that I’ve seen among climate change denialists is that these lives are being taken as part of “God’s will,” which means to try to make things better involves going against God. As may be guessed from in the statements I made about Advent above, it should be clear I see this line of reasoning as a sort of cynicism and burnout disguised as piety.

The Theologies of Care for People and for the Earth

I know that before on this blog I’ve called out some of the issues in some of the people I was raised among in a moderate denomination, but here I stand completely with the denomination I was raised in. That denomination has a crisis response branch that tries, not shockingly, to save lives and provide relief in the midst of hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and tsunamis. It also has a statement strongly affirming care for the world and careful stewardship of its resources.

These are parts of my denomination from my youth that align thoroughly with many many mainstream theological views within Christianity, and they are carefully based in interpretations of the Bible. The denomination actually doesn’t see these as in conflict with the views of science.

Greta Thunberg as Championing Hope

Through the lens of the theology of my youth, Greta Thunberg is fighting on the side of hope, of love, and of promise. She is calling out powerful oppressive leaders who are hurting people and refusing to accept interpretations that class their actions with those of God’s.

In fact, she is asking them to stand to account for loving their neighbors as themselves. In short, she acts as an assertively prophetic voice offering hope in bleak times when many have little hope.

Definitely Not a Tool of Totalitarians

Whether or not we approach the topic of climate change and related activism through any Christian lens, may we all see that Greta Thunberg is incredibly far from being a tool of totalitarians that are trying to hurt people.

Those who are saying she is a tool of totalitarians, on the other hand…they maybe ought to carefully analyze their own group for signs of fascistic rhetoric.

A Call to Join Her in Speaking Up

This much is clear: with the voices of so many bullies spreading such unhealthy rhetoric, more voices are needed to ensure the bullies don’t have the loudest voices.

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

Need More Resources to Deal with Conflict?

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Surviving the Holidays in this Religio-Political Landscape http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/23/surviving-holidays-politics-and-holidays/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/23/surviving-holidays-politics-and-holidays/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2019 05:59:56 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=978 So…yeah. Here in the US, we’re heading into the holiday season just now in the middle of another fraught election season. That means the words “politics and holidays” are floating around in many anxiety dreams for those dealing with questions of how to deal with the major political divides in the context of holiday gatherings. Well, if this is you or if you know someone with this dilemma, here’s the article for you. The Options for Handling Gatherings with Religio-Political...

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So…yeah. Here in the US, we’re heading into the holiday season just now in the middle of another fraught election season. That means the words “politics and holidays” are floating around in many anxiety dreams for those dealing with questions of how to deal with the major political divides in the context of holiday gatherings. Well, if this is you or if you know someone with this dilemma, here’s the article for you.

The Options for Handling Gatherings with Religio-Political Stress

Some will decide to stay away (last year I made a guide for “counting the cost” that’s helpful with making such decisions). Others will set up rules to not talk about politics. Others will dive into it full force.

I’m just going to say that as someone who studies and teaches about stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I affirm all of these choices—different people will need different solutions.

The following guide will give some pointers for each of these groups. (Also note that I previously discussed the rhetoric of “Reason for the Season” and “War on Christmas” rhetoric, if you’re dreading that coming up this season!)

If you stay away:

  1. Remember: It’s not you that’s the problem, it’s the stress. And if it will add greatly to your and/or others’ stress to go to these gatherings, staying away’s a good choice.
  2. Take care of yourself.
  3. Do what you can do in other areas to work against the toxic crap and toward a healthier world for us all.
  4. Keep doing what you can do where you are with what you’ve got.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up over the decision to stay away more than is needed (which is none—grieve over the need, sure, and make the decision carefully, but self-compassion is key).
  6. Again, take care of yourselfand, as much as you can, others. But remember you don’t have to care for everyone or convince the unconvinceable.  We’re all tired, and can only do so much.

If you go to the gatherings but with “no politics” boundaries:

  1. Remember: Everyone is stressed about this stuff these days. If you know the personalities and there are bullies likely to be at the party and you think you and others can handle them, this may be a good choice.
  2. Once again, take care of yourself. Get some extra sleep, if you can, to approach the gatherings with the best possible energy.
  3. Do what you can do in other areas—make sure to speak up about politics leading up to the parties so you can hold your peace there.
  4. Set those boundaries: Make sure it’s clear before the gathering with key people that there will be no political discussion allowed.
  5. Bring a likeminded guest if possible—or coordinate with others of like mind who will be at the gathering—to strategize about how to handle emergent situations, including if people go outside of the boundaries.
  6. Hold people to the boundaries you set ahead of time. If someone goes outside of them, stick to pre-determined strategies and backup plans.
  7. Go in having read the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” (It helps with offline conflict and advocacy as well. Instructions at the end of this article as to how to get it.)

If you go to the gatherings ready to jump into religio-political matters:

  1.  Remember: Everyone’s stressed these days, including you. Try to go in with that awareness and common ground, and with the goal to decrease stress for people in and out of the room, especially to help people hurt by bullying, abuse, marginalization, and oppression.
  2. Definitely get lots of sleep. You’ll need your rest going into this if you know things are going to pop up.
  3. Still do what you can in other areas before and after the gatherings, but maybe conserve some major energy for dealing with people at holiday gatherings, especially if you know there are bullies.
  4. Even more than in the “no politics” situation, use the buddy system. Bring and/or coordinate with likeminded individuals how to support each other during inevitable conversations that may arise.
  5. Go in having read and prepared to implement our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” for sure (as I’ve said, it helps with offline conflict as well).
  6. Be prepared to explain what you believe and why. Draw attention to the effects of policies on actual people as well as the impact of rudeness by those you’re discussing with on you and/or others. Remember it will decrease stress for everyone if you assertively hold people accountable for their behavior in a fiercely kind way.

I’m sure there are other scenarios I haven’t thought through, and there’s no way that’s a comprehensive list, but what do you expect of a free blog post, anyway? 😉

More Resources

Okay, so if you’d noticed above, I strongly recommend that in at least two of the above three scenarios, I recommended you read our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls.” To get it, either put your email address in the top bar of this page and hit submit or check the box when commenting on this page. Once you confirm your email address, we’ll send the link to the guide in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

A Final Charge

No matter what you decide for dealing with religio-political matters at your holiday gatherings, go team #AssertiveSpirituality!

Remember that any or all of these choices can be the best choice for you given the situation and what you can reasonably be expected to handle. As always, do as much as you can, where you are, with what you’ve got, to speak up against the toxic crap and work toward a healthier world for us all. That may happen at holiday gatherings or in other spheres.

Either way, do what you can and not what you can’t do. We can do this relay marathon together!

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Why None of Us Can Be “Perfectly Woke” or Safe http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/09/none-of-us-perfectly-woke-call-out-culture/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/09/none-of-us-perfectly-woke-call-out-culture/#comments Sun, 10 Nov 2019 03:30:03 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=968 Well, friends, we’re here. Friday was the 3rd anniversary of the 2016 election. And everywhere I look I see the signs that we’re all pretty tired. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, one of the phenomena that pops up when we’re all as exhausted as we are (for good reason) is the “eating one’s own” phenomenon, especially within what’s often referred to as “call out culture.” Often this phenomena comes out in expectations of perfection that each...

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Well, friends, we’re here. Friday was the 3rd anniversary of the 2016 election. And everywhere I look I see the signs that we’re all pretty tired. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, one of the phenomena that pops up when we’re all as exhausted as we are (for good reason) is the “eating one’s own” phenomenon, especially within what’s often referred to as “call out culture.” Often this phenomena comes out in expectations of perfection that each of us should automatically already know everything we need to treat one another perfectly. In this article I’m going to talk about why and how that works and how the nature of communication means we’re never going to be able to make hard and fast one-size-fits-all rules that mean we’ll ever get it perfectly right.

TL;dr

That said, as you’ll see in the rest of this article, I don’t think “call out culture” is itself the problem–certainly not our desires to work toward better systems through pointing out toxic crap in the current ones. I do think we need more nuanced approaches within that approach, though. Thanks for hanging in there as I explain why and how in this longish analysis.

As part of this more nuanced approach, I think we should offer grace to people who haven’t previously shown themselves to be outright trolls as much as we can. (More about that detection process in our free “Guide to Online Trolls”—I’ll give instructions on how to get that toward the end of this blog post.)

How This Much Stress Affects Us in Progressive Spaces

Okay, so let’s start with what happens when we’re overwhelmed and tired in progressive spaces. (I talked earlier about why we’re so tired here and here.)

I’ll offer an example a follower at AS shared with me and graciously allowed me to share with you.

No Shame in This Example

I offer this example knowing that such dramas are playing out everywhere, and therefore I see no shame in this individual example, but an illustration of our very human desire to avoid hurting people—and the way we can end up hurting people anyway in the process.

What Happened

This follower saw someone post a link with a resource from a site with a name like Cripple.com (I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the exact name).

And in response, without actually clicking through to find that the site was created by a paraplegic wishing to reclaim the term, a lot of lovely, well-intentioned audience members jumped on critiquing the person sharing the URL.

Why This Stuff Happens

It’s all very well to shake our heads once we know the outcome. But this kind of thing is soooo easy for all of us to do.

When we’re tired and overwhelmed, it gets harder and harder to do our detective work, our due diligence. Our brains become programmed to see things more negatively.

In that state, we begin to see danger around every corner—often it is real, but sometimes it isn’t. And that little bit of extra effort it takes to distinguish between the two feels like unachievable to us.

Enter Shame and Scarcity

At this point we realize our judgment isn’t perfect, so we tend to go into scarcity mode.

We start to feel like we’re not-enough. It goes beyond feeling like we’ve done something that can be fixed into fearing we are inherently flawed. We fear disconnection. In the wise Brene Brown’s words in her book Daring Greatly, we go into shame spirals.

Perfectionism as a Sign of Shame

As Brown points out, perfectionism is often a sign of shame (as she defines it in her book Daring Greatly, that means a feeling that we’re unworthy of love and connection—which means we fear disconnection).

That’s because, when we feel not-enough, it’s easy—if unhealthy—to default to thinking we need to be, and control, everything. And that leads to perfectionism—and then feeling shame if we don’t hit our overly high standards.

Expecting Ourselves to Act Like Machines—and Worse

It’s sort of weird, when you think about it: That the response to being at our most human and interdependent moments is too often, at least in individualist cultures, to expect ourselves to act like perfect machines that don’t even ever need care or maintenance.

I wonder sometimes if this was the way it always was, or if it’s gotten worse since the computing age and the Industrial Revolution. I suspect some combination of the two is the case.

Combo Platters of Perfectionism (Fight) and Shut Down (Flight/Freeze) Stress Responses

So anyway, yes, when we’re tired some of us tend to shut down, while others get perfectionistic. Often, as in the above example it’s a weird combo platter—as when we shut down from doing that extra bit of due diligence but instead use our stress energy to pile on the person posting the link, however counterproductive that may be.

When those who tend toward perfectionism discover they can’t reach that goal, sometimes it’s easiest to project that fear of scarcity outward rather than to deal with it themselves.

This can show up in attitudes that expect others to be perfect as well, on one hand. And from the people that shut down, it often means that they interpret reasonable requests to do better as perfectionism, even if it’s not like that.

The Roots of Conflict Among Friends and Allies

Obviously, this mix can create some conflicts such as the one I outlined above.

In progressive spaces, this too often comes with application of otherwise good, helpful terms and concepts—such as impact being greater than intent—being misapplied. And sometimes it involves them being applied well with others perceiving them as weapons.

The Problems with Fighting Systemic Issues

To complicate things further, since we’re often trying to work with systemic issues that show up individually but for whom no individual is fully responsible, progressive spaces often are working in these grey areas regarding attribution of blame.

This gets complicated, because one major sign of shame spirals is misattribution of blame.

(This is probably one of the biggest things conservatives get caught up in shame spirals about regarding progressive ideology as well.)

When Impact Is Greater Than Intent—Which Makes Blame a Grey Area

See, I totally find it makes sense that to correct the imbalance of power we need to say things like “impact is greater than your intent.” The nature of trauma makes that true A LOT.

See, our bodies can process anything as trauma, and trauma can come from either one big event or a series of tiny acts as much as it can from a single large event—this is why the focus on “microaggressions.”

The Pain of a Thousand Paper Cuts Is Real—But Hard to Fix

If several million people are all taught to look down on people in a particular group and do so once each, that can create quite the collective hurt.

It’s also a super slippery problem to try to fix. Because, in reality, that requires several million people to get educated as to how their actions hurt those individuals in another group.

Shame, Exhaustion, and Attempts at Systemic Change

The very thought of it is exhausting, is it not? It’s soooo easy to slip into shame spirals about this very thought of influencing that many people to change their own seemingly small actions.

And yeah, because we’re all socialized into these actions, and the one individual action doesn’t seem that bad, it’s hard to get people to see how their one seemingly small action would make a difference.

And hard to get people you’re trying to influence not to snap into their own shame spirals rather than seeing it as a correctable behavior.

So yeah, it’s not easy.

Many of Us Are Traumatized, but in Differing Ways

To make it even more complex, marginalized groups tend to be diverse and filled with people who all have a mix of specific traumas out of these systemic phenomena.

Frustratingly, systems affect individuals differently.

And the systems and people acting defensively is constantly shifting, which changes the terrain in the midst of us seeking to make progress toward these slippery if worthwhile goals.

We Shouldn’t Give Up

None of this means we should allow ourselves to get cynical and presume the effort is pointless.

It’s not.

But we should give ourselves and others a bit of grace where we can for trying in a tricky, uncertain space, working with shifting expectations, traumatized populations, and language that is ambiguous and uncertain.

This doesn’t mean we should let ourselves off the hook for trying to do better, mind you. But we need to remove this expectation of perfection.

We Need to Strive for Excellence Rather than Perfection

In other words, we’re all trying to educate everyone on how to communicate perfectly when there is no way to do that perfectly.

And when we’re working with systemic and socialized expectations, and conservatives turning our terms into devil terms around every corner…it gets just that much more complicated to avoid getting cynical, burnt out, and unduly upset with each other.

But the truth is that there’s no way to get it perfectly right, to be “perfectly woke.”

No Silver Bullets in Communication

As I tell my university students regularly in my classes, there are no silver bullets in communication.

Which doesn’t mean there aren’t communication tools and skills and new things worth learning.

It just means you need to take that extra step to realize that no one tool, no one concept, fits all situations.

We Can’t Fix Everything—But We Can Do Our Best

None of the words, none of the ideologies, none of our actions are ever going to be perfectly fix all situations.

To prevent harm.

Especially when we’re working to fix systems. And the thing is, that’s both super annoying and also important for all of us to accept and remind one another of.

Because we can’t fix everything. None of us can, especially individually. That’s why when we feel not enough we need to stop taking that so personally where we can.

Why Shame Resilience Is Key

See, if we all individually practice our shame resilience, and learn to support one another well, we’ll all be able to much more easily see the truth—that we’re not designed to be enough on our own.

Shame as a Sign We Need to Work Collaboratively

And we’re certainly not designed to read minds or to have all the answers on our own.

See, we all need each other’s efforts, words, support and advice to figure big things out. We need to collaborate to make big changes.

And that’s good and right. There are lots of pitfalls in that, so it’s natural that we—especially in individualist societies—freak out about those.

But things genuinely can work well when we all listen to one another, take those extra moments to do our due detective diligence, and work to offer as much grace to one another as we can.

More Resources and A Final Call

Need more resources about detecting the true trolls vs. those just having a bad day or a bad apocalypse? As I said above, our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” can be one of those resources that can help you deal with conflict both online and off, whether in or out of progressive spaces. To get it, sign up for our weekly email newsletter either in the top bar of this site or through commenting on this article and checking the box to receive the newsletter when you do. You’ll need to confirm your email address in an email we’ll send you, and then we’ll send you the link in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

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

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When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Holidays (The Roots of War on Christmas Rhetoric) http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/03/christian-nice-mean-holidays-war-on-christmas/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/03/christian-nice-mean-holidays-war-on-christmas/#comments Sun, 03 Nov 2019 06:43:26 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=965 Well, Halloween is over and gone. And I don’t know about you, but winter moved into my area last week with a dump of to-me-unwelcome snow. So ‘tis the season for Christmas-celebrants to argue about whether it’s too early to set up the tree and/or pull out the Christmas music. And to act put upon about saying “Happy Holidays.” That’s right, friends, Halloween is over. And that means the War on Christmas season may have unfortunately already begun without our...

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Well, Halloween is over and gone. And I don’t know about you, but winter moved into my area last week with a dump of to-me-unwelcome snow. So ‘tis the season for Christmas-celebrants to argue about whether it’s too early to set up the tree and/or pull out the Christmas music. And to act put upon about saying “Happy Holidays.” That’s right, friends, Halloween is over. And that means the War on Christmas season may have unfortunately already begun without our notice.

In this blog post I plan to analyze the unhealthy aspects of “War on Christmas” rhetoric and its more insidious if milder cousin “Reason for the Season” rhetoric, especially the zero-sum view of the world it promotes and the way it promotes us/them Viking/victim thinking that has laid the groundwork for acceptance of other unhealthy messages by unscrupulous religio-political leaders.

Disclaimer: I’ll be doing this analysis as someone who grew up with the milder forms and can now see their insidiousness and how they’ve laid the groundwork for complicity in hurting others in ways that betray the message of the Christmas story. Not doing this as someone seeking to shame the white Evangelical/moderate church peops I grew up with, but trying to call us to better enactments of the Christmas message. (We’ll get to that, I promise. Hang in there for this longish analysis.)

Why War on Christmas Rhetoric Matters

By framing a space that ought to be built for inclusion and collaboration—the holiday season is, after all, purportedly about peace and joy and love—as a defensive battleground, this rhetoric reinforces and extends the unhealthy white-Evangelical-centrism I’ve already talked about in a previous week.

Worse, as we’ll get to, unscrupulous leaders have exploited both subtle and extreme forms of this rhetoric to get White Evangelicals to buy into and ignore some horrific policies, up to and including human rights abuses. I’ll get more deeply into that toward the end of this article, so stay tuned.

Why the Seemingly Milder “Reason for the Season” Rhetoric Is a Problem

But before I dive too deeply into the analysis and the fascistic angle, let me first tell you a bit more about the “Reason for the Season” rhetoric I grew up with and how I only gradually started to realize how unhealthy some of it was. As I’ve explained before, I grew up as a pastor’s kid in Midwest Christian white-people Nice in a moderate church on the Evangelical side of the Evangelical/Mainline conservative/progressive Christian church divide.

What I have not talked about was how Christmas was framed in the communities I grew up in. This is key, as I remember that long before there was a prominent rhetoric about the War on Christmas, the groundwork was laid in the rhetoric about “the Santa religion” as an opponent to “the true meaning of Christmas.”

Santa vs. Jesus: The Cage Match

Interestingly–considering what many believe to be St. Nicholas’ Christian origins–Santa was seen by many influential voices in my community of upbringing not to be a representative of love and care and concern, but as an emblem of consumerism and greed. Specifically, Santa was framed as an idol in competition with attention that was to be put on the true “reason for the season,” Jesus.

We Still Separated Ourselves from “Those Overly Literal” Christians, Mind You

Now, mind you, we weren’t one of those extremely literal-minded denominations that tried to do the mental gymnastics it took to presume that Jesus was actually born on December 25—we knew that was an arbitrary date set for the celebration. We also knew that date had likely been originally set for a pagan holiday, and depending on who you talked to, there was wry head-shaking or suppressed triumph at that.

No, we weren’t like those other Christians, the ones that saw no nuance. Right? (Sigh—we still had a dualistic cage match going on—we just framed it in prettier ways.)

What Got Silenced by the Framing of the “Debate”

Overall, what fascinates me in retrospect was what wasn’t mentioned in any of our rhetoric and concern over protecting our holiday from “contamination”—specifically, all of the other religious holidays and seasons that overlapped with Christmas.

Our community was only really fighting for competition, you see, with other people who were celebrating the same holiday in different ways. It wasn’t a question of other religious holidays getting airtime at all—the competition for attention was ONLY about how Christmas itself was celebrated.

Projecting Our Anxieties About Whether We Were Holy Enough Outward

And Lord knows, we were already defensive enough about that. Because everyone in my community “knew” that the most important holiday of the year (we didn’t know Eastern Orthodox people, so we had no idea that the tradition of the Eastern Christian church was that Easter, or Pascha, was the most important holiday of the church year) was being diluted.

People—many of whom didn’t even go to church! Or at least not regularly enough!—were celebrating this holiday without attending to what we saw as the most important and meaningful/sacred aspects of the holiday.

There was much head shaking over this. And wayyy too little introspection about how much our complaints about others betrayed our own lack of attention to our own holiday.

In short, in complaining about others’ lack of focus on this season, we Christians became like people with ADD complaining that others aren’t paying enough attention to the stuff we were saying we all needed to be focusing on.

Looking back, I can very much see how not a great look that was for us.

In Which We Fail to Incarnate the Spirit of Christmas and Such

At any rate, with even this quiet “Christian Nice” rhetoric about Christmas, we got pretty snarky about Christmas. In fact, we got pretty paradoxically competitive about claiming attention for a holiday that was supposed to be about humble incarnation.

Sure, we said we just wanted everyone to “share in the good news,” but we never really explained to ourselves why it was important that Christmas carols be more important than other holiday songs piped through malls, much less why only Christmas of any type be the only focus of all holiday displays.

“Reason for the Season,” the “War on Christmas,” and Zero-Sum Thinking

As you can see, this situation was fallow land for the “War on Christmas” rhetoric to take hold. That is to say that we already had a bit of a zero-sum view of the holiday season.

If you haven’t heard that term in awhile, zero-sum views of the world see the world like pieces of pie—the narrative goes that if you lose out on getting a piece, you have a situation of scarcity. In other words, one person wins—is the Viking—and another person loses. That person often is framed as the victim.

Why Zero-Sum Thinking Rarely Tells the Whole Truth, So Help Us God

The truth, of course, is that not everything is pie, including holidays. Conflict management doesn’t always have clear-cut winners or losers, and genuine win-win, or nuanced some win, some loss, solutions are usually possible in the real world.

In fact, there are sum situations where one part of life IS pie–and in those circumstances, cool, we should ask for those without pie to get some pie, if there’s a need for sustenance there.

In some ways, the situation regarding my childhood views on Christmas work within the pie metaphor. The problem was we already had our slice of pie, and were trying to stop others from having other slices of the pie we thought they didn’t deserve.

But in reality, the question of whether we should say “Happy Holidays” isn’t really pie. But let me explain, in case you never looked at it quite this way, how it looks from within this perspective.

The Zero-Sum Take on “Happy Holidays”

One would think, from an outside perspective, that the Happy Holidays language would be a win-win solution for this group. After all, the root of the word “holiday” is “holy day,” which actually focuses on the sacred aspects that those in my childhood communities were so concerned to protect.

The protectionist instinct I’ve already outlined should help you understand why this wouldn’t be taken at face value, however. The concern, of course, is about the purity of the original meaning of the word diluting into a more general meaning of the term, especially paired with the word “happy,” which was often seen to be less meaningful than the more “holy” words for the season like “joy.”

The War on Christmas and the Anxiety of Influence

So yeah, I can totally see how the “War on Christmas” thing got its footing in the “reason for the season” rhetoric of my youth. See, implicitly there from the beginning in the latter phrase is the idea that you’re only celebrating one holiday that should claim the entire attention not just for one group who wants to pay attention to it, but for everyone.

And while I totally think that attempts to persuade and influence others toward one’s view aren’t inherently a problem, it’s pretty easy to see, if for example you are a staunchly ensconced in a different religious perspective or tradition that has legitimate holidays during the same time period, where this attitude would come off as tone-deaf at best and intensely rude at worst.

A Call to Transform the Focus of “Reason for the Season” Rhetoric

Honestly, if any of us Christians have a problem with the words “Happy Holidays” to the extent that we feel the need to worry about losing their meaning, then perhaps we need to check ourselves about whether we’re really celebrating a holiday which is about celebrating humility, peace and joy.

See, if we have that much desire to impose our understanding of what “the season” is and what that should mean, are we really showing the world humility?  

And if we have that much anxiety and defensiveness about letting other people have their own beliefs that don’t intrude on ours, are we really extending peace on earth to all?

And if we are more concerned about splicing whether the word happy is as good as the word joy for others, how likely are we to actually be practicing and incarnating joy for others?

The Underlying Hostility of the Initial Focus That Made Way for Fascist Manipulation

Interestingly for having grown up in “Christian Nice,” I actually find this particular attitude an incredibly hostile one toward others who are different. If we’re to talk about the characters it’s like in the Christmas story, it’s honestly more like the innkeeper or even Herod than it is like any of the more “faithful” characters in the narrative.

Sigh. No wonder manipulative leaders have used this initial grounds of fear of others to argue that suspicious brown children at the US borders are intruders rather than those who should be welcomed.

A Call to Old-Fashioned Repentance (I Guess)

My dear Christian friends, I ask you, what side of the Christmas story do you want to be on? This is a serious question. Those of you who are fighting the “War on Christmas” have a valid point, after all—words do matter, and they have consequences. I just have a different take on how that goes down on this particular issue than you do.

When you hear the words “Happy Holidays,” you cringe because others may not be appropriately honoring the holiday in the way you wish.

But when I hear “War on Christmas” rhetoric these days—and I say this in love, as someone with a firm grounding  in the “Reason for the Season” tradition, who has heard the Christmas story a million times and all the sermons on every aspect of it—I worry that you are projecting your worries about holiness outward rather than paying enough attention to the holiness of your holidays yourself.

The Tie Between The War on Christmas and Human Rights Violations

See, those unscrupulous leaders championing this War on Christmas nonsense are literally using it to be Herod toward brown-skinned children. And I’m looking to all of us trained up in this tradition to take that lesson of the Christmas story about being hospitable to young children very very seriously.

Prophetic Voices from Outside the Fold Are Not Trying to Attack Christians

Christian friends who feel attacked by “Happy Holidays” and calls to stand up against human rights violations alike, please hear this if you can:

Those who are drawing attention to the correspondences these days, whether from inside or outside your fold, are not seeking to say you are not enough.

And they’re not trying to take away your observance of the holidays.

Indeed, they are seeking to ask you to pay better attention to your own holiday.

What “Your Enemies” Want from You Is Better Focus on the “True Reason for the Season”

They’re asking you to enact humility by leaving room and voice for others to celebrate their own holidays that take place around Christmas without you being rude about it.

They’re looking to you to seek true peace and justice by standing up against the incredibly Herodian and innkeeper-like policies that are literally hurting brown children and others alike at our southern border.

And they’re looking to encourage you to spread joy by actually taking the trouble to communicate that you are as concerned for the welfare of others as you are about protecting your own holiday.

And not just in the way your brand of Christianity perceives the welfare of others, but in actually humbly and peacefully and joyfully incorporating and working with their ideas of what they may need, and prioritizing those perceptions over and above your own.

What about the Bible Gave You the Impression This Stuff Would Be Easy?

These are not easy disciplines, friends. Sometimes the perceptions of scarcity, of loss, are accurate. Sometimes they do come with losses. Losses of pride. Losses of security. Losses of control.

That’s hard to handle, those things. The loss of them is worth grieving.

But I know this to be true: this loss is worth grieving; not worth pushing on to others. Others who want equality, who want to enact their own forms of joy and peace and humility this holiday season, are not threatening your safety, not really—any more than the brown children at the border are threats to you, or Jesus was to Herod.

And even if you were to lose ground through this exercise, is not the message of the Christmas story that humble beginnings are enough?

A Final Charge

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to work against unhealthy rhetoric and narratives wherever we find them, especially when they get connected to policies that hurt the vulnerable, marginalized and oppressed. Let’s continue to speak up against this stuff, whether we find it in others or in ourselves, toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

More Resources to Help You Out!!!

Looking for more resources to help you speak up against the toxic crap and deal with the conflict that often results? We’ve got a guide for that. Sign up, either in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this blog post and checking the box, for our weekly email newsletter. Once you’ve checked your email and confirmed your subscription we’ll send you the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. Despite the name, it will help you deal with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

The post When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Holidays (The Roots of War on Christmas Rhetoric) appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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When Good People Get Tired: Persistence in Speaking Up http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/10/19/when-good-people-get-tired-persistence/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/10/19/when-good-people-get-tired-persistence/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2019 23:56:54 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=958 Listen, all of us in the US have been going through a religio-political apocalypse for the last few years—it’s been almost three years for many of us white people in the US (muuuuch longer for POC and other people in marginalized communities). In this article, I’m going to talk (as someone who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication) about why it’s so reasonable that we’re so tired, explain some communicative signs and dangers that can occur when we’re all tired,...

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Listen, all of us in the US have been going through a religio-political apocalypse for the last few years—it’s been almost three years for many of us white people in the US (muuuuch longer for POC and other people in marginalized communities). In this article, I’m going to talk (as someone who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication) about why it’s so reasonable that we’re so tired, explain some communicative signs and dangers that can occur when we’re all tired, and provide some tips toward persistence.

None of This Is Easy

I don’t know about you, but I came into this particular period with eyes wide open because of my expertise and also coming out of my own personal apocalypse, so I was already very “woke” but also tired coming into this period.

Still, even when you’re fully aware of what’s going on and have resources for coping, dealing with this sh*t is NOT EASY. It is exhausting. And even more so for those who have learning curves in coping with it all and learning the skills to fight our visceral impulses toward unhealthy Nice.

Many of us (me too) came into this religio-political period already traumatized for a wide range of reasons, and have valid fears for ourselves and others in the midst of all the crazy sh*t that goes down.

It’s Hard Not to Pull Away

I’ll confess that I’ve been keeping up with it all less well lately. I had already moved from TV and NPR news to digital formats since that creepy performance at the 2nd presidential debate.

But lately? I’ve still been sharing a lot of news on my personal FB feed, but I’ll confess I haven’t been reading as much of it.

As a result, I’m out of a few of the in-jokes as well as the latest news-reported apocalypses. I have noticed some signs of hope–as I’ll explain, I never stop looking for those–but frankly, without the context of reading quite enough news, I’m feeling a little numb about the hope too.

Hard to Stay in the Race

This is not surprising. As my students are learning, interdisciplinary stress studies show us that a lot of stress can easily lead to outrage fatigue, compassion fatigue, burnout, etc. Burnout particularly can be seen and felt in exhaustion, not doing quite as good a job as before, and depersonalizing others, among other signs.

As we get overwhelmed, it’s hard not to pull away a bit.

It’s just hard to keep up the stamina for this relay marathon we’re in sometimes. And even more so for those of us who came into this period with existing trauma we’re trying to recover from while in the midst of ongoing triggers lurking everywhere in the news cycles.

Those Spouting Fascistic Rhetoric Want You Tired

I hate to tell you this, but having studied the rhetoric of conspiracy and fascistic rhetoric (and if you want a good general audience primer on fascistic rhetoric, I suggest reading the book How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley)—exhaustion of the good people is a good part of the goal of those in charge right now.

It’s important to remember that those who enact fascistic rhetoric use techniques that are very similar to narcissistic abusers–just on a bigger scale and in more specificity–so reading up on those would help you grasp it all too.

But yes, fascistic rhetoric specifically keeps so many things going on, so many blatant untruths and horrific things that are said, etc. etc. etc. that it becomes like a waterfall coming at us day in and day out. The hope is that we’ll all be silenced from dissent, either by being cowed and/or rabid supporters of the current leader or by sheer exhaustion from too much going on.

The Danger of “Eating Our Own”

I’ve also seen the other dark side of the exhaustion of those dissenting from the current administration, which I’ve talked about before—some call this the “eating your own” phenomenon.

In other words, those who are on the same side, exhausted from everything that’s going on, start to pick smaller battles with those who are closer rather than offering social support and task support and encouragement to each other.

I hate to tell you this, but that’s another projected goal of those who perpetrate fascistic rhetoric—they’d rather have us fighting each other or comatose with exhaustion than fighting the actual toxic crap that’s still pouring over us in overwhelming quantities.

Relay Marathons Are Not Easy

Sigh. None of this is easy. At this stage, it’s not easy even if you came into this period fully alert and energized, much less if you came in already recovering from other things.

And “our side”—those who are looking out for the common good—is filled, I hate to tell you, with people who are already ready to be triggered at a moment’s notice. (Which can help us work through our traumas, but is also really inconvenient!)

Sadly, There Are No One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

To make it more complex, we all have different traumas, so there’s no nice one-size-fits-all solution so that no one will be hurt by anything we say.

And the more messy things get, the more exhausted we get, the easier it is for some of us to look for others who will handle things for us, one-size-fits-all solutions for us, strong leaders who will step in and take over the burden for us.

The Danger of Removing Ourselves and Others from Social Support

We start—understandably—to check in less on the supportive groups like AS that feel like they demand things of us. We avoid places where we are likely to get drawn into fights of all kinds, even if the results would be likely to benefit the common good.  

In short, some of us, when we get tired, we get tempted to quit. (NOTE: This is sooo me.)

The Danger of Getting into Fights with Good People Who Are Coping Differently

The messier things get, others of us get our fight modes on—if not to actually fight with others on our side, sometimes we try to take over tasks and get hella frustrated when others who are having the opposite reaction aren’t jumping in to keep helping in solving these huge problems we’re dealing with.

(NOTE: This is soo me as well—after all, I’m reliant on others wanting to stay involved in doing what they can to keep this project active and moving onward and upward.)

Both Things Can Be True at Once

So yes, now that I’ve thrown down some sunshine on all of this, 😉 often many of us are both things at once. We want so much to live by our values, to be engaged, to speak up against the toxic crap and make space for a healthier world down the road. But it’s so hard to keep strength for this relay marathon we’re on, isn’t it?

Gathering Inner Strength and Good Advice for the Journey

Here’s the thing: neither fighting people on our side nor dropping out entirely are great options.

Rest, Don’t Quit

Here’s an alternative—stop, rest, and ask for help and encouragement and motivation from others as needed.

We need to take a nap and then fire one another up to take the baton and get back on the road for this marathon we’re in.

We may not be that very fit Kenyan dude who just finished a marathon in under 2 hours, but we can push ourselves to do what we can toward helping ourselves and others at least finish the race.

People of Color and Other Marginalized Communities Have Good Wisdom on Joy in the Tough Times

Speaking of that record that was just broken, people of color and other minority populations have been playing the resilience game for much, much longer than many of us, and we would do well to sit at their feet and ask for advice in help in continuing the fight for social justice.

The wise Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes just gave this wise advice at a session on “Justice, Deconstruction, and Soul Care” at the Evolving Faith conference I was glad to attend a couple of weekends ago. “Privilege robs you,” she said according to my notes, “from the day to day experience of living with joy in the midst of pain…which isn’t to romanticize that.”

Dr. Walker-Barnes went on to say that it’s important for white folks “to be pastored by [marginalized communities] as to how to find joy in pain.”

Looking for Expert Knowledge of All Types to Cope with Hard Times

It makes sense—after all, marginalized communities have much too much long experience of dealing with these relay marathons.

I’m not quite ready to learn how to run a real physical marathon, but I was very glad to hear these words about running a social justice marathon from a wise woman of color. I do want to point out that pastoring ought to include consent, as many of these communities are tired of pastoring to white people for good reason.

Overall, I will take this advice, which boils down to the advice I’ve given before: look for the helpers. Look for those with experience. Acknowledge their expertise in these matters. Listen to their stories.

I’ll add that it’s good to look to those who study stress and trauma and how to cope with that. Because I can assure you those people are listening to those who are coping and looking to how it’s working best.

The Hurricane Study and Doing What We Can

Speaking of trauma experts, I think I’ve referenced it before, but one of my favorite stress and trauma studies is the hurricane study. In looking at people living through crises like hurricanes, those who were allowed to help had fewer illnesses down the road than those who weren’t.

It’s worthwhile to remember that yes, we need to rest. But the stress of this era is giving us energy to rise to the occasion and do what we can do. It will help both us and others if we both focus on others doing what they can do, encourage one another, and join together to continue to do what we can.

We Can Do This Thing!

Overall, when we need to, take that nap, then get up off of that mat, friends. Rest, don’t quit.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. When we don’t, the world is a worse place. We can do this thing.

More Resources!

Need some advice about the stressful task of dealing with conflict online or off? Sign up for our email newsletter either in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when you comment on this or any other blog post on this site. Once you’ve done so, confirm your email address through the email you’ll receive, and then you’ll receive a link to the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email.

You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around and stay in this relay marathon. We are coming up with plans to provide more resources and encouragement for the journey in the coming year so we can all stay in the race.

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When Ordinary People Turn into Uncivil Bullies http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/10/13/when-ordinary-people-turn-bullies/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/10/13/when-ordinary-people-turn-bullies/#respond Sun, 13 Oct 2019 10:29:35 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=950 We’re all vulnerable to unhealthy stress responses. All of us. In this article I’m going to share an experience of seeing an unhealthy dynamic happen in an in-person discussion of public policy  in a class I was teaching, and what was needed to get things back on track. In the process I’ll describe how I knew things were really off track as well. In my small group communication and leadership class (which I’ve taught in several schools), I’ve sometimes taught...

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We’re all vulnerable to unhealthy stress responses. All of us. In this article I’m going to share an experience of seeing an unhealthy dynamic happen in an in-person discussion of public policy  in a class I was teaching, and what was needed to get things back on track. In the process I’ll describe how I knew things were really off track as well.

In my small group communication and leadership class (which I’ve taught in several schools), I’ve sometimes taught the final project as one in which the students led whole-class discussions on matters of public policies. This project went really well overall. But even so, there was once a moment when things went off the rails, and it was illuminating.

Setting the Stage

First, let me set the scene. This was a general education class filled largely, admittedly, with students who were uncomfortable with public speaking, so they ended up taking my small group communication class as an alternative. And yet they were about as prepared as they could be before leading these discussions.

I had warned them these conversations were unlikely to go perfectly–after all, we had a politically diverse group of students, and politics are always hard to discuss well.

We had studied stress, shame and shadow—all those ways we act viscerally in response to felt threat. We had studied how to detect and deal with these things whether they were inside us or in a group setting.

We had even practiced facilitating a discussion about other problems of public policy as a class before we got to the situation in question.

There Was Excellent Rapport

I should note that this particular situation actually happened in a class, if I remember correctly, where the students were pretty comfortable with one another. Friendships were forming in this class, and they were pretty comfortable voicing disagreements, and were working toward doing so in supportive, respectful ways.

And yet. And yet.

What Happened

So here’s what happened: The topic was prison overcrowding. The discussion overall had been focused really well on the questions surrounding marijuana offenses, since we’d determined from what evidence we were able to access in a limited time that that was the biggest contributor to prison overcrowding.

But things veered off track, and it happened quickly. Two normally very good-natured students in one corner zoomed off on this tangent presuming that one way to decrease prison populations was to institute and accelerate the death penalty, because from their perspective in that moment, everyone who had killed someone was extremely dangerous and needed to be removed from the system as soon as possible.

How I Knew Things Were Really Off Track: Devil Terms and Horns Effects

Obviously my ears perked up at the sound of a devil term usage paired with a horns effect. As I’ve been describing regularly on this blog, a devil term is defined as something that is seen as the most extreme version of something bad, something seen as needing to be fought at all costs. And the horns effect is presuming that if you know one thing bad about someone, that everything (or most things) about that person is bad.

My Diagnosis

The way these students were speaking was not normal—it was as though humans were the most extreme forms of evil to be fought at all costs. The way they were using these terms was unjust, and it wasn’t good for anyone, either inside or outside the room.

I’ve talked before about “True Civility.” One could say what was being displayed was “True Incivility.” No one’s needs were being met. In fact, these students were, albeit from a distance, bullying people who didn’t deserve it.

This was not good. It needed to be stopped.

We assign a conflict managing leader with a bell in these discussions, but they weren’t ringing it.

What I Did to Intervene

So I as the professor spoke up and asked for the bell to be rung, then spoke up with a firm voice.

“All those who kill are not heartless psychopaths,” I said. “That’s simply not true. There’s plenty of evidence.”

And—because we had studied all of this stuff, and because we had practiced with the bell, and because we had clear agreements in class about what to do if the bell was rung, and because the guys in the corner aren’t heartless psychopaths either, but just guys that got caught up in what we call a fantasy chain in the moment—everyone stopped. And took stock.

How Others Helped in the Moment

The bell and my comment (admittedly as given from me, in an authority position) released other students back into action (in the facilitation framework I teach, anyone is empowered to lead in these situations as needed).

Someone suggested this line of argument was a bit off topic from what we’d previously agreed were the solutions with the biggest impact to the problem in question. And we got back to order.

What This Moment Illustrated

It was an important moment, though, in that it illustrated a key point. A point that many psychological studies have shown. That sure, there are personality types that are prone to bullying and abuse and manipulation and oppression behaviors.

But there are also those ordinary people in the corner who can get swept up into these things.

If you don’t stop, and create an atmosphere where it’s expected that you’ll stop that train when it starts, they could get very easily carried away into such streams.

It’s Not Mean to Steer Conversations Back on the Rails

Despite what various versions of Nice (like the one I grew up in) will tell you, it’s not mean to ask people such obviously off-track behavior that goes against all reason and all evidence. It’s not rude. It’s not uncivil. It’s not disrespectful.

On the contrary, it’s a kindness. Not just to the others in the room, though it is that. Not just to those being treated unjustly outside the room by such statements, though it definitely is that. It is a kindness to those whose visceral impulses caught them up into a current of saying unjust things.

Admittedly Easier to Steer It Back in a Classroom Setting

Thankfully, in this case, the guys seemed happy to be called back away from their fantasy chain and back into evidence-based discussion.

Having set up rules ahead of time for the class made this easier to invoke, mind you. As did the fact that I was the instructor, and in a power position higher than those who were off the rails.

Even if they hadn’t been, though, it was key that the discussion be shifted.

People Caught Up in the Tide of Unhealthy Nationalisms

The same is true when ordinary conservative folks in this country, including white Evangelicals, are caught up into devil term usage and horns effects. I’ve talked before about how this has happened many times, including here, here, and here.

(And note–it’s key to use the articles in this blog’s devil terms series to diagnose who is and who isn’t truly demonizing others, because sometimes that isn’t the case!)

It’s Key to Stop Such Conversations Elsewhere Too

Let me say it again—when people are caught up into saying unjust and untrue things, it is kind to everyone affected to stop that train if you remotely have the power to stop that train.

It is in the best interests of everyone involved to do so.

Let those who have ears to hear let them hear.

The Challenges of Dealing with This “In the Wild”

If you are “in the wild,” it is often harder to do this. In my classroom, I knew these kids and knew their patterns of behavior throughout the semester. I trusted they really were ordinary guys caught up in a bad moment.

I also trusted they could be brought back into line fairly easily because of ALL the groundwork we had set, and everything we had discussed earlier in the class.

In the “wild,” especially when you don’t know people, it’s not always so easy to distinguish ordinary people caught up in a moment from trolls. It’s crucial, though, and I’ve written up a tool that can help you figure that out.

Resources for Dealing with This “In the Wild”

Want to be able to better deal with trollish statements coming from people on- or offline?

Sign up for our email newsletter 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 link to our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. It should help unwrap more of the research behind visceral responses and offer some options of how to respond in such situations. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

A Final Charge

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

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Open Letter to Climate Change Naysayers at Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/28/open-letter-climate-change-naysayers/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/28/open-letter-climate-change-naysayers/#comments Sat, 28 Sep 2019 22:40:04 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=945 Editor’s Note: This week’s blog post is a guest piece from someone who was following last week’s piece and had both experience and expertise in science and sustainable agriculture to respond to the climate change naysayers responding to the article, yet wished to remain anonymous. I offer it here in a very lightly edited version as an excellent example of #AssertiveSpirituality. Go team! May we all continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to...

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Editor’s Note: This week’s blog post is a guest piece from someone who was following last week’s piece and had both experience and expertise in science and sustainable agriculture to respond to the climate change naysayers responding to the article, yet wished to remain anonymous. I offer it here in a very lightly edited version as an excellent example of #AssertiveSpirituality. Go team! May we all continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to make the world a better place for us all by standing up against the toxic crap, wherever we find it. –D.S. Leiter, Founder, Assertive Spirituality

Dear Climate Change Naysayers responding to Assertive Spirituality’s last blog post:

Last week Assertive Spirituality shared a blog post about Greta, a young passionate girl who is trying to change the world for the better. The article was about speaking out and the ways that people silence others and then how people silence, or self-censor, themselves.

Despite the topic of the blog, many people came out to mock and argue that climate change is not real. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even bother to read the article, but were just reacting to the title.  I would like to address some of those commenters. 

Against the Demonization of Progressives

So my first point is this: writing something like “Bullsh*t” or “F*ck you, liberal communist demoncrats” is not doing anything to make the world better.

Just stop it.

The Need for Openness to Being Educated

Second, I found it fascinating that most people ardently arguing that there is no such thing as climate change or that science isn’t real, etc. seem to be, overwhelmingly, high school grads at most.  I forget, growing up as I did surrounded by parents and relatives with advanced degrees, that not everyone learned how to read science journals or interpret statistics or make informed observations based on reliable data.

Not everyone has had the privilege of learning from professors who have spent their lives studying their topic of interest. 

While I need to remember that, it would also be helpful if those of you who grew up without those benefits realized that your experience and education is limiting your ability to understand.  Just because something is beyond your comprehension doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The Heart of This Response: the Need to “Live Like the Amish” to Have Any Say about Climate Change

Next, to the brilliant argument put forth by more than one person, that unless we are “living like the Amish” or “completely off-grid” our concerns about the catastrophic environmental impact and global climate changes are invalid.

To that, I would like to say “bullsh*t.” 

But, since that isn’t actually making the world a better place, I’ll try to be more specific.

Growing Up with Educated Sustainable Farming

Because my father was a nuclear chemist, and because my parents were educated and ethical, they chose to live on a farm and grow all of their own food and try to live a zero waste lifestyle.

Because my father studied the effects of radiation during a time with multiple countries were setting off “test” nuclear bombs, my father learned to farm organically, using companion crops and helpful bugs long before that was popular.

He figured with all the environmental damage being done to our bodies, we could at least try to minimize the poison we ingested.  He also built a passive solar structure onto our old farmhouse to heat it in the winter, since we only had a woodstove for heat.

Continuing the Legacy

After years of being humanitarian workers abroad, my husband and I returned to the family farm to care for my father at the end of his life. 

Knowing Climate Change Is Real Through Sustainable Farming

Now we are continuing the legacy of sustainable farming. 

We dry our laundry on a clothesline and raise our own organic food and pastured meats. We dry herbs and produce for winter in our solar dehydrator. We purposefully choose to purchase things that don’t destroy our environment. 

We have a farm calendar, kept year by year that goes back into the middle of the last century.   We can actually watch the climate (not weather) changing by comparing things like first and last frost, rainfall, and other data.

The fact that we have access to electricity does not make our observations or our efforts less valid. That either/or thinking is destructive.

What the Trolls Got Completely Wrong

Thinking that one has to completely give up driving a car in order to be thoughtful and intentional about using fewer fossil fuels is wrongheaded.  Thinking that because a person has access to a computer, they don’t have any ability to consume fewer goods is wrongheaded.

Why I Am Thankful

I am thankful to have had the privilege of growing up with educated and thoughtful people surrounding me.

I am grateful for my time living in a remote third-world area where I learned how little people actually need to survive and also saw the devastating effects of poor choices made by governments and corporations. 

Every day I am grateful to have the opportunity to live this lifestyle where the rhythm of chores and planting and harvest time keep us closely tied to the most basic necessities. 

Why I Grieve

I am horrified and terrified of what the future holds as our country moves toward taking away regulations that kept our water and air clean. 

I am sickened by the blatant ignorance that shouts “there is no global climate change” as we see bigger and more harmful weather events happening every day around the globe.

I am heartbroken to see so many people completely unmoved by the harm their actions cause to the most poor and vulnerable people on our planet.

To Assertive Spirituality

Please, Assertive Spirituality, keep giving people tools they need to stand up and speak on behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed. 

To the Trolls

If you are one of the people who seem to delight in arguing or want to casually dismiss the concerns of millions of people, could you take a few minutes to at least open your mind to the idea that your reality, your limited understanding, might not be completely comprehensive? 

Here are a few websites that might help enlarge your thinking: 

https://menzelphoto.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/Material-World-A-Global-Family-Portrait-by-Country/C0000d0DI3dBy4mQ

https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/climate-change-affects-poverty

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2004/01/consumerism-earth-suffers/

https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/where-do-i-start-4-ways-you-can-make-difference-climate

http://theconversation.com/climate-change-yes-your-individual-action-does-make-a-difference-115169

https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/10305

https://skepticalscience.com/co2-limits-poor-poverty.htm

https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/impacts/hurricanes-and-climate-change.html

Sincerely,
A Concerned Farmer

More Help with Being Assertive

Looking to try out your own #AssertiveSpirituality and need some help dealing with the conflict that often results? Our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” was created with you in mind! To get it, sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by checking the box when you comment on this or any other article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address from the resulting email the link to the Guide will show up in your final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around to get weekly notifications of new blog posts and other project news.

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Greta Thunberg and the Problems with (Self-)Censorship http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/21/greta-thunberg-problems-self-censorship/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/21/greta-thunberg-problems-self-censorship/#comments Sun, 22 Sep 2019 04:32:20 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=937 This inspiring image is circulating of Greta Thunberg sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament a year ago with a sign. This is being circulated alongside yesterday’s climate rallies, where millions around the world, led by young people, led by Greta Thunberg, rallied for climate change in an effort to try to get change on one of the biggest problems our planet faces. We Can’t All Become Greta Thunberg—But We’ll Never Know If We Don’t Try Too often we internalize this...

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Greta Thunberg, aged 15, sits outside of Swedish Parliament in 2018 during the first solo school climate strike. A year later she's created a worldwide movement with millions.
Greta Thunberg sits outside Swedish Parliament, 2018, during her first solo climate strike. A year later, millions around the world are rallying with her.

This inspiring image is circulating of Greta Thunberg sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament a year ago with a sign. This is being circulated alongside yesterday’s climate rallies, where millions around the world, led by young people, led by Greta Thunberg, rallied for climate change in an effort to try to get change on one of the biggest problems our planet faces.

We Can’t All Become Greta Thunberg—But We’ll Never Know If We Don’t Try

Too often we internalize this idea that our voices don’t matter.

That they can’t have an effect if we do speak up.

Worrying Over Losing People Who Disagree

We stew over the idea that the response, if we do speak up about something that will challenge people, will be wholly negative.

We get concerned that our speaking up will displease our families and friends—those providing us with emotional support, etc.

Why We Worry Over Potentially Losing People

These are the times when our “tend and befriend” stress response—which is a natural part of our stress responses—and our internalized fears of opposition and of failure can get in the way of potentially great success. (You can learn more about the different stress responses and how they affect conflict in my free “Guide to Trolls”–look for instructions toward the end of this article!)

This idea—that we restrain ourselves from speaking up out of fear, and good things never quite happen from our failure to act—is a form of self-sabotage called the self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is not magic. It is a psychological phenomenon that states that if you presume things are going to go poorly—or well—you will act in ways that make things actually go as you think they will.

And so our self-censorship often leads to us not following our values about speaking up for the vulnerable and oppressed.

Why Self-Censorship Isn’t the Whole Story

It’s a little more complex than that, of course—often, our fears of opposition, at least when it comes to those we know well, are based in deeply visceral knowledge that has often been trained into us that significant people we know are unlikely to take things well.

Let me say that again: Often we “self-censor” because we are socialized, always by others, that it is going to negatively affect our relationships, and therefore put us at risk somehow, if we dissent.

Let’s Be Honest—Not Every Relationship Will Survive or Thrive

Often we don’t speak up because we know it will disrupt those relationships.

And don’t get me wrong—that sucks. Because here’s the thing—some of these fears are true. Not as many as you think, mind you, but some of them are true.

BUT here’s the truth: in those relationships, it’s not an accident that many of us self-censor. In some abusive situations or particularly totalitarian regimes or in other kinds of literally dangerous situations, self-censorship literally is the smartest thing to do.

But in Other Situations? The Best Response to Bullies Is to Speak Up

The issue is this, though: lesser bullies, and bullies and abusers and authoritarians who have not yet gained full control, also try to convince us that they have full control over us, and that’s often just not true. Things usually take awhile to get to that point, and in those scenarios, speaking up can help break through the spiral of silence to show many that the bullies’ voices aren’t the only ones.

Often those people have trained us to believe that our survival, and even our morality, depends on not disrupting those relationships. Christian Nice enables this kind of message, which as I explained a few weeks ago explains why it enables covert abuse and authoritarianism alike.

In the case of those exploiting the planet, this particular message—that voicing dissent is the thing that would actually lead to disaster—involves drinking some major rhetorical kool-aid in order to ignore the problems climate change is wreaking and the human changes that could prevent it. I talked more about how that kool-aid rhetoric gets sold here.

And yet Christian Nice in too many cases would sadly argue that dissent is the immoral thing in all these cases—which of course props up the case of the abusers and exploiters and authoritarians. “Don’t Rock the Boat!” is too often how this ethos translates.  

How the Messages of the Unhealthy Peops Leads to (Self-)Censorship

And yes, the message of both authoritarians and covert abusers alike–with participants in the Nice subculture too often joining in–is that voicing dissent will lead to disaster. Both authoritarians and cover abusers alike often do their level best to ensure they will contribute to those self-fulfilling prophecies of the negative type about speaking up.

So yes, in those situations, negative self-fulfilling prophecies aren’t just about you. They are about those people who are subtly or unsubtly threatening to make things go poorly for you. These people like to believe, and are trying to persuade you, that they have all the control. That they CAN have all the control.

That if you speak up your life will really fall apart. That your social support will fall apart. And that there will be no one there to catch you once that happens.

It’s Never Just Self-Censorship—These Folks Contribute, Including the Nice Ones

Those who oppress, and systems and policies and rhetoric that oppress, both actively and passively contribute to that belief by trying to add stigma, putting lots of people into positions of genuine scarcity in these areas.

And Nice, whether the Christian variety or other kinds, tends to contribute by telling people it’s wrong to rock the boat, to pick a side and strongly speak up. Worst case: they actually participate in trying to make nice with the oppressors and believe the demonization that occurs of the people in positions of scarcity and their allies.

The Valid Fears that Emerge from These Interactions

The result is that often those people who are in those positions of genuine scarcity—usually the poor and marginalized—and those who sympathize with their plight fear what those oppressors and abusers can do. And they have a strong incentive not to speak up.

Because they have too often and too thoroughly seen what can happen.

Why Trauma and Burnout Make (Self-)Censorship More Likely

The problem, of course, is that this becomes a looping cycle that seeks to create trauma and burnout, both of which bring on cynical, negative views that change for the better can’t happen. Over time, they often also affect people’s self-esteems, contributing to jaundiced views of the world that make it difficult to believe that good things can happen.

Why Speaking Up Is Important Anyway

Pardon my French, but f*ck that.

I’m sooo grateful that Greta Thunberg, and so many other cases, prove that these negative beliefs simply are not inevitable. No person, no system, is that powerful that speaking up and organizing in response may not have an impact for change.

My Experiences Defying External/Internalized Negative Beliefs with This Project

Just look at this site. I had been dreaming of creating a project that spoke into the problems surrounding how the Nice subculture holds us back from living by our beliefs for several years. I had worked my way through to a PhD in Communication. I had the credentials, I had the research saying that assertiveness is often about stubbornly refusing to giving in to the bullies.

I fully believed with my head, for years, that allowing others and even ourselves to bully us out of speaking up was not great morality.

But I had been so thoroughly trained up by Christian Nice that it was hard for me to believe, or to speak up out of my values, at the visceral level (those viscera can be sooo hard to manage!).

What It Took for Me to Start this Project

I am sad to report that even with all my expertise I had to limit contact with someone close to me in order to start this site. And as I’ve discussed before, my visceral Christian Nice instincts were correct that starting to speak up like this hasn’t had a fully positive impact on all of my relationships.

The Results Were MUCH Better than the Picture My Fear Painted

But here’s what I’ve learned in just under a year and a half of doing this—beyond those particular impacts, and having to deal with some rough spates of dealing with rafts of trolls during particularly controversial subjects, the positive results have FAR outweighed the risks in starting this project.

Yes, I’ve weakened or lost a few relationships. But I have gained my voice, started to live out my values properly, and thankfully a large group of people have gathered here (in less than a year and a half, it’s edging up closer than I would have thought to 10,000 on the Facebook page now!) who are interested in the cause I’m promoting here—the cause of speaking up against the toxic crap and working toward a healthier world.

That success is not something I take full credit for, by a long shot–I hate the toxic crap in the world that makes the message so valuable to people—but I’m incredibly grateful that what I say has helped in the way I can help.

The Work Was and Is Worth It

And I do know this—had I not done the hard emotional work of getting past my inner and external censors, it would have never happened.  

It’s been a struggle at times, this project—both externally and within. But it’s been sooo worth it. It’s funny considering what I study, but I never envisioned how much this project would generate it’s own sources of encouragement and support to help me through the negative parts of the responses. (That’s the ongoing damaging effects of the Christian Nice training–it’s a persistent thing, unfortunately!)

Living By Our Values Is Worthwhile

The truth is this: if we say vaguely we care about people who are being abused and oppressed, it causes us a tremendous amount of internal stress to live that out. I have been teaching students for years, and have found out myself that actually speaking up on behalf of my values has actually reduced my stress overall.

I know from the research and from experience both that being willing to speak up for what is right, on behalf of the abused and the oppressed, may make you some enemies, and cause some stress. But speaking up, especially when you have the conflict management tools to deal with the opposition the best you can, will also relieve it.

My goal with this project is to offer you as many of those research- and experience-based tools and resources as possible.

I know this: speaking up will lose you some relationships but gain you other healthier relationships. And

There Is Always Risk—But Good Things Can Happen as Well!

And who knows? It’s possible things won’t work out well—not everything does. But I know this—on this site, at least, many of the negative things I’ve feared have simply not happened to the extent that I feared. And we can see the same with Greta Thunberg.

Speaking Up Against Bullies Is a Healthy—and Spiritual—Thing to Do

What I know is this: it is outside my values system to let the bullies and abusers and authoritarians have the loudest voices. And it completely riles me when leaders in spiritual communities promoting love are complicit with them by convincing us that accommodation is the highest form of spirituality.

This is what drives me to speak up. I believe with all my heart that I am being steadfastly moral when I speak up against oppression and abuse and complicity with that, wherever I find it. I realize that it a complex proposition, and that it is also moral to use all the other conflict styles as well.

Join Us!

But I believe it is my job to speak up, and to help others have the resources to combat both the internal and external forces stopping them from living by their values. I hope you’ll join me in continuing to follow the lead of a young person, Greta Thunberg, and others she has inspired through her facing down the unhealthy systems—and be unafraid to speak up for the common good, if that is something in your ability right now.

(I hear someone once said that a little child would lead them!)

Looking for Resources?

Looking for more help speaking up and dealing with the conflict that will result? Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar or by commenting on this or any other article and confirm your email and we’ll send you a link to the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around for our weekly newsletters notifying you of new blog posts and other news about the project. I’m working on some plans for more resources in the future, so stay in touch, both there and over on our Facebook page!

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! None of this is a cake walk, but let’s keep doing what we can where we are with what we’ve got to make a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing!

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Unwrapping a Healthy Spirituality of Competition; Or, Why I’m Not Working to Persuade Conservatives http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/08/why-not-persuade-conservatives-these-days/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/09/08/why-not-persuade-conservatives-these-days/#comments Sun, 08 Sep 2019 06:22:32 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=930 I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, these cautions from the “reasonable people.” “Well, if you want the conservatives to actually hear you, you should tone down the language there.” “Well, that comparison doesn’t apply to ALL the conservatives. Shouldn’t you be more inclusive?” In this article, I plan to follow up on my previous article about “Jesus and the Limits of Listening” as well as other blog posts I’ll link throughout by discussing why I don’t think It’s always...

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I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, these cautions from the “reasonable people.” “Well, if you want the conservatives to actually hear you, you should tone down the language there.” “Well, that comparison doesn’t apply to ALL the conservatives. Shouldn’t you be more inclusive?” In this article, I plan to follow up on my previous article about “Jesus and the Limits of Listening” as well as other blog posts I’ll link throughout by discussing why I don’t think It’s always necessary to tone down our language in the interests of “reaching” conservatives in the current religio-political landscape in the US (or other groups—such as abusers). In short, my plan here is to lay out one reasoning for a healthy spirituality of competition that embraces and channels the kind of empathetic anger I discussed last week.

Notes before I dive in:

If you’ve been hanging around this site at all, you know I take inclusion seriously. I also basically teach a whole university course in how to set rapport with other people toward healthier relationships. My objection to these comments comes not from a lack of ability to do these techniques to build connection with others, but from a disagreement in principle and strategy as to when it’s valuable to use said techniques.

Because yeah, I grew up in Christian Nice. Even if I didn’t actually have a PhD and teach people how to create connections with other people (which I happen to!), that whole smoothing things over thing is totally what I was strongly socialized into. In fact, I was so well-trained in it that choosing something different, even under duress, is still, after all these years, often difficult and requires intentionality. You can be assured that if I’m choosing to do something different than be “nice,” I worked hard to get to this place and am thinking carefully about my choices.

In addition, as a communication scholar I know how crucial a situational approach to both connection-building and persuasion is, as well as to conflict management. I tend to be wary of one-size-fits-all approaches to anything, including and *especially* with loving our neighbors who are propping up unhealthy rhetoric and policies.

A Situational Approach to Assertiveness

I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s important enough to repeat: assertiveness looks different when you’re in a risk-free situation versus when the building is burning down. If you’re trying to get out of a burning building, it’s situationally appropriate to pick someone up and throw them over your shoulder in a way it would never be appropriate to do in a calmer situation (unless there were mutual consent ;)).

And so when it comes to speaking up about injustices and oppression or unhealthy rhetoric, I don’t think that a calm quiet tone and making sure I “make sure conservatives will be able to hear the critique well” is really the best way to go if we’re trying to rescue those at risk.

Not Ordinary Partisanship

See, as I’ve explained before, I don’t see these as ordinary partisan times here in the US. Not at all. As someone who’s studied the rhetoric of conspiracy and of authoritarianism and fascism, I see ALL of that rhetoric strongly at work in these times—coming from the folks in the White House as well as just about everywhere else on the right. I talked about how it’s filtered into the world of white Evangelicals here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Because of this situation, which I’ve explained before, those who still consider themselves on the conservative side of the fence have been conditioned to reject anything coming from anyone they see to be on the left. That unfortunately includes anyone who disagrees with right-wing talking points, no matter how reasonable or evidence-based their ideas are or how calmly they’re addressed.  

It’s All Quite Disturbing

Even as someone who knows how this stuff works with fascistic rhetoric, it’s really rather disturbing to see in seemingly everyday political conversations how uniform the rhetoric is, and how thoroughly people have bought into it.

It’s also quite disturbing how offended many conservative people get these days when you draw attention to the fact that what they’re saying isn’t a unique perspective, but a really standard argument.

Individuality as a “God Term” Playing into the Divisions

A big part of the problem, of course, is that for years and years conservative ideology has also been valorizing individuality to the point where anyone who discusses any form of systemic issues (outside of some sort of vague “they’re all corrupt”—or at least all those other than our guys are corrupt—idea) is automatically demonized as well.

As a result, drawing attention to the systemic groupthink aspects of the current situation on the right is something that automatically is seen to be suspect by most conservatives that I’ve run into.

They so want to believe in this idea that they are free individuals who think for themselves that trying to tell them in any way that they might be contributing to a whole raft of systemic problems by believing things they’re being told brings out all sorts of defensive reactions.

But that’s unfortunately the situation. And for many hard-core conservatives, this fight–in my view–is simply not winnable these days–at least not through persuasive means.

So Yes, I’m Not Trying to Persuade Conservatives These Days

It’s really impossible for me to persuade people who have been told that I am the enemy—that my expertise is “leftist” and to be fought at all costs, that the evidence of my eyes and ears as well as the sources I rely on.

I don’t even bother.

But That Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Speak Up—I Just Do It for Different Reasons

 So yes, I honestly am not interested in taking the time to persuade people who are committed to swallowing poison and spitting it back out at others to do something different.

I am, however, committed to speaking up loudly, especially when such conservatives are in the audience. I do so, as I described before, to break through the loudest voices and show those who MIGHT be persuaded that there are important counternarratives.

I do so to encourage those who may be feeling weary who are on the side of reason and compassion.

I do so to make sure that I don’t get changed myself. I do so to remind myself that the issues are important and people are getting hurt and it’s okay for me to rest but not to quit. I must still keep doing what I can.

But Since I’m Speaking Up for Different Reasons, I’m Using a Different Style

So this is the thing: I’m not speaking to persuade those who have already been inoculated against me—that means that even when I am speaking to conservatives, I am really speaking for the audience more than for them.

That means I speak differently. More strongly. When my purpose is to provide a counternarrative rather than to persuade, I’m not as concerned about building rapport. I’m just not.

It doesn’t mean that I use insults. But I also don’t avoid using words that have been demonized through the current unhealthy conservative groupthink process. Even when I’m talking to conservative friends, I’m not going to adapt in this way just to make them feel more comfortable, as though there’s some sort of bond between their position and mine.

Why I Am Less Worried about “Making Nice” than I Used to Be

Because honestly, the current version of conservative religio-political views are really unhealthy. And these views are hurting a lot of people. And all of that fills me with empathetic anger of the sort I discussed last week. And that empathetic anger directs me to try to fix the problems through speaking up for more reason.

But that doesn’t mean that the most reasonable approach is to try to make nice with authoritarian rhetoric and policies. It’s just not.

Feeling Okay with the Consequences

I know I may alienate conservatives I know through this approach I’m using at present. I honestly am less concerned with that than I used to be.

I trust that those conservative family and friends who want to maintain relationship with me will do that through negotiating boundaries on this stuff. They can do so by respecting my views and values and the ways they differ from theirs. I’ve done that with a few.

But yes, I’ve needed strong boundaries to stay sane through this era. I need strong boundaries to keep doing the important work. And to me, when it comes to dealing with those who are hewing to the current conservative party line, especially in a way that demonizes progressives and/or marginalized peoples, that means not softening my views to try to make the unpersuadable hear me.

Standing Firm

It means speaking up firmly and honestly about what is and is not okay. It means setting boundaries around what ought to be okay and not around human rights violations. It means, yes, inviting people to join the rest of us in speaking up about such things. But doing so in a way that recognizes that compromise and accommodation alike—giving up some of my principles—is simply not a healthy option in this situation.

The Benefits of Standing Firm

The more I practice this philosophy, the more I speak up without insults, but with less goal to try to reach *everyone,* the healthier I feel, honestly. The more I feel I’m living according to my values.  

This, by the way, is why I believe Jesus always said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”

So may those who have ears to hear, let them hear. And if that’s not everyone, I shall grieve that outcome, but that’s how it goes sometimes. Sigh. Doing what we can means giving up the false beliefs that we can “reach” everyone, however much I hate that.

It means we can reach some, of course. And so those who choose different strategies are okay by me.

I just know *I* am consciously choosing the more vocal, outspoken path these days due to what I know about fascistic rhetoric and the rhetoric of conspiracy. And I’m glad a lot of you are joining me. I hope more will continue to do so.

Some Further Resources

Looking to be more assertive in speaking up against the toxic crap and dealing with the conflict that results? Well, our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” is designed to help with just that. To get it, sign up for the email newsletter, either in the top bar of the site or through commenting on this post. Once you confirm your email address we’ll send you the link through the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around both here through the email newsletter and at our Facebook page. I’ve been creating some exciting plans to support you more!

A Final Word

So, to sum up: the current form of conservatism has, as I’ve discussed, taken on an unholy alliance with unhealthy nationalisms and authoritarianism. I really don’t think that’s a position that ought to be compromised with. In fact, I think it’s definitely worth competing with. To do that, I think we need to learn to be okay with a spirituality of competition that embraces empathetic anger in order to combat the kind of unhealthy rhetoric and policies that hurt people. I don’t think there’s any other healthy way to solve the problems we’re facing.

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

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In Praise of Empathetic Anger; Or, Toward Healthy Anger Understandings http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/31/in-praise-empathetic-anger-enacting-healthy-anger/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/31/in-praise-empathetic-anger-enacting-healthy-anger/#comments Sun, 01 Sep 2019 04:09:21 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=920 Like many of you, I was raised to be terrified of conflict and the anger that came with it. As I’ve described before, I was taught the devil term to-be-fought-at-all-costs definition of anger, one that lumped the emotion in with the most extreme forms of those emotions and also with the negative outcomes of people acting out on their anger in what I’ve been previously calling a horns effect. In the present article, I plan to praise a very different...

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Like many of you, I was raised to be terrified of conflict and the anger that came with it. As I’ve described before, I was taught the devil term to-be-fought-at-all-costs definition of anger, one that lumped the emotion in with the most extreme forms of those emotions and also with the negative outcomes of people acting out on their anger in what I’ve been previously calling a horns effect. In the present article, I plan to praise a very different kind of anger that doesn’t fit in at all with this unhealthy formula—a profoundly warranted and healthy anger I’m calling empathetic anger.

A Little Background

As I’ve described before, the toxic forms of “Christian nice” often tell people to suppress their “negative emotions” by promoting a form of “toxic positivity.” The same forms of Christian Nice often end up unwittingly supporting oppressors and abusers at the expense of victims by too-quickly calling for the kind of “cheap forgiveness” from abuse survivors and oppressed peoples.

As I discussed last time, it’s really common for those socialized into Christian Nice to actually see assertively speaking truth to power as a faintly immoral practice that itself needs to be seemingly repented of. Those who have been following along should know by now that I’m highly disturbed about this practice, both from my vantage point as someone who studies this conflict stuff and as a pastor’s kid who identifies as a progressive Christian.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

So yes, it’s high time that we stop buying these unhealthy conflations between anger and immorality. Especially for those that claim Scriptures that are filled with prophets and messiahs and apostles alike speaking truth to power and getting all sorts of crap thrown at them for this, and fiery Psalms expressing every emotion under the sun as part of the song book (because music is like that), I’ve come to find such emotion- and conflict-suppressing views frankly wrong and unhealthy and heretical.

These conflations are also incredibly inconsistent with stress and conflict research and best practices associated with that. (And let’s be clear–these issues aren’t just in the Christian world–our whole society tends to conflate anger with aggression and vindictiveness, etc.–especially when it’s the less-powerful people who have grounds for their anger.)

It’s Not that I Don’t Understand Christian Nice (Which, Incidentally, Is the Point of Empathetic Anger)

None of this is to say that I don’t understand where the fear of anger comes from. As I’ve discussed before, anger is not only an emotion, but one that’s aligned with the fight stress response, which is a very visceral way for our bodies to respond to felt threat. It’s only natural that those who are sensitized to danger would come to fear the fight response and the potential aggression that emerges from it.

Why Anger and Fight Responses Aren’t Necessarily Dangerous

And yet, the fight response itself is not on its own automatically a danger. It’s a charge of reactive energy, sure, that gets someone to respond to a threat, but there are a thousand factors in whether that response is actually a danger to others or not.

I don’t have time to go over all of them in this article (check out our free Guide to Trolls for some more pointers for argumentation situations!—I’ll include instructions to get the guide in the end of the article), but my basic point here is that some anger is extremely reactive and ends up at these extremes, but much does not.  

Empathetic Anger Is NOT the Same as the Horns Effect View of Anger

And for the types that are not reactive, that are grounded in love and empathy and clearly grounded in clear evidence, that empathetic anger is the polar opposite of unhealthy aggression and needs to be treated very differently.

Some Biblical Examples of Empathetic Anger

Empathetic anger is the type I see Jesus practicing when he overturns the tables in the temple because the money-changing was exploiting the poor.

Empathetic anger is the type I see Jesus practicing when woeing the unjust religious leaders for unhealthy spiritualities that were causing injustice and spiritual trauma alike.

Empathetic anger is the type I see the prophets practicing when they call kings and judges alike to repent and start treating people better.

Defining Empathetic Anger

But we haven’t really defined this term fully yet, so let me quickly do so:

As I’m using the term, I think empathetic anger is a kind that considers the situation and the evidence carefully, albeit sometimes quickly, before taking action. Empathetic anger looks for ways in which needs are not being met by existing situations, and seeks to fix them. This type of fight response stops and considers why things are the way they are, and empathizes, but does not find that an excuse for poor accountability.

In short, empathetic anger seeks the good of all parties through seeking to make things right.

Empathetic Anger Afflicts the Comfortable and Comforts the Afflicted

That doesn’t mean that those who practice this seek the comfort of all involved, mind you. It’s often uncomfortable, the processes that are involved in imperfect and often-highly unpleasant situations. This assertiveness practice pulls no punches about those discomforts, and understands them, but refuses to accept them as excuses.

Empathetic Anger and True Civility

In fact, as I discussed back when I was talking about True Civility, empathetic anger recognizes that there are often needs to be prioritized in urgent situations and moderates its level of intensity depending on those factors. People who practice this are ideally self-aware and also have a good trustworthy support system to check in with about whether their practice is going over the line from assertiveness to aggression.

Why Empathetic Anger is Seen as a Threat by Christian Nice

But yeah, from the no-conflict-is-good-conflict vantage point of Christian Nice, the kind of urgency practiced by practitioners of this kind of healthy fight response may well look aggressive and over-the-top, in much the same way that someone who isn’t aware of a fire in a building may start to complain if they see someone scoop someone up and carry them to safety.

Context is everything, and from the viewpoint of Christian Nice, empathetic anger often gets confused with the devil term version.

Why People Try to Suppress Those Enacting Empathetic Anger

In short, too many carry a kind of prejudice against anger because they fear the challenges to the status quo that arise with those who are seeking to practice the kind of assertive empathetic anger that I am talking about here. Because empathetic anger often is the type that advocates for the needs of those who are being ignored, and that’s uncomfortable for many.

Let’s Not Let that Stop Us!

But I say, let’s bring on the empathetic anger, friends! The current religio-political landscape is burning, and it’s high time we stop spending so much time self-censoring and apologizing to the Christian Nice folk about raising our voices.

I’m giving it to you now: permission to be empathetically angry. Empathetic anger IS healthy anger, friends! I’m telling you that it is actually the most moral and biblical response to the garbage that’s now going on.

Be angry, friends—and use that healthy anger from stress energy for the good of all. Find your support system, and take your moments to check yourselves, sure. But don’t let anyone gaslight you into thinking there aren’t problems worthy of us raising our voices to address. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong to put that stress energy into trying to fix them. (And that means not putting yourself down in the process.)

Need More Resources Toward Speaking Truth to Power and Dealing with the Conflict?

If you need a little more help toward dealing with conflict online or off, sign up for our email newsletter—either in the top bar or by commenting on this article and checking the box. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, you’ll get the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. After that you’ll get weekly notices with news and updates on this Assertive Spirituality project. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you stick around. I’m always working toward helping equip you with the tools you need to be assertive in the face of some really difficult stuff.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s use those fight responses for the good of all. We can do this thing.  

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When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Forgiveness http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/11/christian-nice-mean-about-forgiveness/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/11/christian-nice-mean-about-forgiveness/#comments Sun, 11 Aug 2019 08:52:47 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=909 A couple of weeks ago I talked about how “Christian Nice” can get (unintentionally) mean about negative emotions. Last week I talked about “Nice” culture tends to enable covert abuse and authoritarian politics. This week I plan to continue those themes by talking about why the use of the word “forgiveness” within “Christian Nice” contexts can be potentially damaging when directed at those who are abused and/or oppressed. Some Important Definitions In doing so, I hope to continue our discussion...

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A couple of weeks ago I talked about how “Christian Nice” can get (unintentionally) mean about negative emotions. Last week I talked about “Nice” culture tends to enable covert abuse and authoritarian politics. This week I plan to continue those themes by talking about why the use of the word “forgiveness” within “Christian Nice” contexts can be potentially damaging when directed at those who are abused and/or oppressed.

Some Important Definitions

In doing so, I hope to continue our discussion of “god terms” (things to be defended at all costs) and “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs). I also plan to continue our discussion of halo effects and horns effects—the ideas that when you know one good thing or one bad thing about someone, you presume that a whole web of things about him are good or bad.

Sigh—People Exploit These Things

See, as we’ve discussed, abusers and authoritarian leaders alike often exploit god term/devil term and halo/horns effects to make themselves look good and their enemies and victims to look bad.

And because “Christian Nice” tends to see a (faux) peace as a god term to be defended against those devil-term folks who try to confront these types of manipulators, the gatekeepers of this culture often tend to associate victims and marginalized peoples and their allies as at least faintly immoral if they speak up against abuse and authoritarianism.

“Christian Nice” and Moral Disgust Toward Speaking Up

Let me say that again: the culture of “Nice” trains people to see victims and their allies as faintly immoral and distasteful when they speak truth to power about how they’ve been treated. And that often seeps, through a horns effect, to victims and their allies seeming faintly disgusting overall, whether or not they speak up.

The Call to (Quickly and Universally) Forgive

No wonder there’s often such a quick leap to ask victims and the oppressed to forgive their abusers and/or oppressors. Because the strong emphasis on defending “peace” keeps those with power and voice in their places, the next natural (if unhealthy) step is too often to stay silent—after all, it is, according to “Christian Nice,” the “moral” thing to do.

Other “Christian Nice” folk might even go so far as to “keep the peace”—i.e., defend those hurting and oppressing others. This may come in the form of ignoring the charges to avoid the situation. It may also take the form of bothsidesism, often combined with sin leveling, both of which are really connected and relevant terms related to calls for the oppressed to quickly move to “forgiveness” of abusers.

So let’s quickly define both.

Defining Bothsidesism

Bothsidesism has been coming up a lot in politics lately—it has to do with essentially removing the question of blame by saying that each of two parties or groups have both good and bad people (in seemingly equal proportions)—which usually goes to put more blame than is appropriate on one party and less than appropriate on the other.

The basic issue with bothsidesism, of course, is that power dynamics make it extremely unlikely in most situations that both sides are equally to blame. Bothsidesism specifically moves toward a rhetoric of equality rather than equity and justice.

Bothsidesism and “Reactive Abuse”

In situations of domestic abuse, experts point out that abusers often provoke their victims to the point where they will fight back from survival instinct—and then blame their victims. This happens as much in authoritarian politics as it does in domestic violence and other abuse situations.

Perhaps in light of these types of dynamics you can see why bothsidesism is an issue. (And since the dynamics of domestic abuse and authoritarian demagogues are so similar, this kind of thing applies in all sorts of situations!)

Bothsidesism, Cheap Grace, and Sin-Levelling

The culture of what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” fits in perfectly with this idea of bothsidesism–which feels like in these calls for forgiveness turns into an issue of “cheap forgiveness.”

We are all sinners, so this logic goes. The problem of course is that whether or not that basic statement is true, that doesn’t mean all situations involve equal weighting of blame, and that we should not carefully consider who is more to blame.

The result of this unhealthy logic is being called, in the emerging research surrounding spiritual abuse, the idea of sin-levelling. Sin-levelling is the idea that because we are all sinners, and all sin, that all sins are equally bad.

Yeah, So I Grew Up with This

I grew up with a LOT of applications of these ideas as applied to the religio-political landscape by the people around me. I had no idea they weren’t healthy. Even with all my communication training, it’s still taken me years to unwrap all of this. (Still working at it!)

Where the Problems Lie From Many Christian Perspectives

The problem, of course, within a Christian context, is that these ideas often contribute overly nicely to the culture of “Nice” I’ve just described, but only by ignoring major themes in the Bible about God always taking the side of the oppressed and looking out for the marginalized and vulnerable.

Let’s Talk about the Horns Effect and How It Affects All This

That said, I’d like to move specifically into the horns effect problem of calls for the abused and oppressed to quickly and universally forgive their abusers.

See, as I pointed out above, the collective devil term/horns effect conflations of very disparate concepts getting lumped together is what makes these statements such a problem, on top of the bothsidesism and sin-levelling issues.

Bothsidesism and sin-levelling are bad on their own. But when these things combine with the Christian Nice idea that confrontation=a devil term, it gets really complicated. In this paradigm, confrontation and anger are both evil and in it together, and also lumped in with aggression and hatred and vindictiveness and rage and all sorts of other unpleasantnesses.

The Effects of the Horns Effect: Victim as “Threat”

No wonder victims and the oppressed would automatically be called to “forgive” if they were seen to be carrying all that kind of threat. (After all, the fear goes, victims are ALWAYS in danger of shifting way beyond coming up on equality—the fear from those used to the status quo is that they will in turn oppress others.)

The tragedy, of course, is that often, if not actually usually, victims are just seeking a little equality and accountability.

Things do sometimes get overblown, and victims CAN sometimes become abusers.

Powerful Abusers Trying to Claim Victim

But as abuse counseling expert Lundy Bancroft has found in his work with abusers (see his book Why Does He Do That!), when someone who was traumatized abuses someone else, their abusiveness is usually a problem distinct from the trauma problem itself, and the trauma may at least partly explain, but certainly doesn’t excuse, the unhealthy behavior.

All that said, it’s important to note that powerful abusers often use–or even inflate, or manufacture–any trauma in their background to excuse their abusive behavior. This is part of a pattern by which those with power too often try to exploit empathy from others–often also called the unhealthy “Viking vs. Victim” phenomenon.

A Cluster of Potential Issues with Calls to “Cheap Forgiveness”

So there’s actually a whole cluster of problems with calls to forgiveness offered indiscriminately. Here are just a few of these issues:

  1. Because of bothsidesism and sin-levelling as well as the assumption that confrontation is a devil term, these calls too often impute too much “immorality” to victims while defending abusers/bullies/oppressors.
  2. Because of the “Nice” devil-term horns effect around confrontation/hatefulness/aggression/anger, too often the assumption is that all victims are not just hurt but vindictive and likely to be aggressive (which isn’t always true, by a long shot).
  3. Because of the power dynamics in bullying, abuse, and oppression, it is very often the fact that one party or group is working to provoke the other party or group—which means that any actual aggression/vindictiveness, etc. coming from the victim/oppressed side is likely to be reactive in nature rather than an ongoing pattern of some sort of ongoing problem or character flaw in the victim. Often this kind of issue shifts when the person is removed from their abuser, any systemic factors relieved (sigh! that one’s hard!) and especially is given trauma therapy to heal.
  4. Surface level views of forgiveness often partake in the “stuff it down” schools of emotion for devil term/horns effect “negative emotions,” which can further harm the victim. I talked about this more in-depth previously.  
  5. Considering that anger is one of the recognized stages of grief as well as a healthy emotion that can easily exist side by side with “god term” emotions like compassion and empathy, these god term/halo effect and devil term/horns effect conflations can be extremely harmful to allowing for the procedures that facilitate actual healing.

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I know that some victims find forgiveness an important part of their healing process, and I’m certainly not saying we don’t need it in the world for all sorts of ordinary situations, especially.

While this particular complex of issues happens in Christianity in this particular way, a lot of the components of it happen in all cultures of “Niceness” and “rationality.”

But yeah, for the type of victim/oppressed person who already feels too much empathy for their abuser, forgiveness may not be necessary for either their emotional or spiritual healing and well being. In psychology, healing procedures are often referred to as integration or, in grief studies, acceptance. These procedures don’t always have to include forgiveness in either the theological or the general sense.

And for a victim/survivor that’s never been allowed to feel anger for fear of that devil term/horns effect cluster? Well, they probably need to be allowed to access that anger of theirs in order to safely heal.

Moving Forward

Well, I could go on, but hopefully this has been a helpful unpacking of why we ought not be too-easily asking victims/survivors/those healing from abuse and oppression, up to and including the recent victims of mass shootings, to jump immediately to “forgiving” those who have hurt them.

Instead, I would argue, we need to work harder to break up these complex networks of unhealthy concepts before we do. And instead, break through the bonds of “Christian Nice” to speak up against the toxic crap.

Need more resources to do that?

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A Final Encouragement

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

The post When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Forgiveness appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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