Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 05 Apr 2020 08:39:01 +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 Assertively Countering #COVID19’s Abusive Effects http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/05/countering-covid19-pandemic-abuse/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/04/05/countering-covid19-pandemic-abuse/#respond Sun, 05 Apr 2020 08:12:45 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1044 As I’ve gone through the last few weeks, it’s been extremely obvious that the responses to this COVID-19 pandemic that are NOT denialist have fallen roughly along two different tracks, one of which is profoundly more disturbing than the other: (1) this is life, people die, and the economy and/or profits are more important than that; and (2) this is life, let’s band together, and there’s a lot to grieve here, so let’s make space to do that. In this...

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

DISCLAIMER

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

The Pandemic and Abuse

Defining Abuse and Trauma

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

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

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

Vulnerability to This New Threat

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

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

The Pandemic Beyond Vulnerability

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

Exponentially Abusive

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

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

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

Some Examples of Abuse Amplification

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

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

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

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

Pandemic as Abuser and Amplifier of Abuse

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

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

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

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

Hard to Get Out

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

And all of that has further traumatizing effects.

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

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

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

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

Looking for and Being the Helpers

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

Holy Week Reminders for Christians

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

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

We Can Do This Thing, Friends!

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

Tangible Support When and How We Can

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

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

Let’s All Step Up As We’re Able

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

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

A Final Charge

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

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

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

More Resources!

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

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

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

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

NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS:

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

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

Major Fears about Social Loafing

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

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

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

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

Global Pandemic as a Major Threat

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

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

Fears of Denialism and Poor Education/Slow Shifts in Habits

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

The Anxieties of Influence

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

The Different Stress Responses and #COVID-19

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

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

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

Channeling Our Moral Disgusts Rightly as They Arise

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

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

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

People with Debilitative Channeling of Their Stress Responses are a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Need to Grieve—and Let Each Other Grieve

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

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

How to Channel Our Stress Responses into Making Things Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Tips for Calming Our Stress Responses a Bit

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

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

Caveats and Such

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

Finding Meaning to Our Actions Decreases Stress Too!

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

How All of This Can Work Together for the Common Good

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Charge

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

More Resources, as Promised

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

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

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

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

Falling Over Doesn’t Make Us More Worthy

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

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

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

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

True Confessions about My Former Judgyness

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

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

I Was Judgy about Monks Too!

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard Part for Tenderhearted Perfectionists

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

“Spoiler alert”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Only a Few Are Worthy Is the Problem

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

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

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

When Worthiness Becomes Wrapped Up with Beliefs about Survival

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

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

A Weirdly Darwinian Strain of Theology

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

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

An Example of How This Internalized Shame Hurts Us and Others

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

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

This Is SOOOOO Important

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

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

The Toxic Parts of a Complex Theology That Ultimately Harmed Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not MORE Worthy or Moral Either

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

But Can Help Others!

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

The Problem With Zero-Sum Views

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

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

Back to This Week’s Shame Spiral

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

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

It’s Complicated, This Ecosystem

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

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

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

Way Beyond Zero-Sum

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

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

The Lie of the Win-Lose Dichotomy

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

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

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

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

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

The Easily Distinguished Win-Lose Parts!

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

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

The Rest of the Situation Is Much Messier

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

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

The Unhealthy Zero-Sum Parts Are Making Things Worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Things ARE Clear—But Most Are Not

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

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

We’re Going to Need Each Other in the Mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escaping Toward Collaborative Frameworks

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

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

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

A Final Charge

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

More Resources!

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

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

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

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

Disclaimers and Such

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

Looking at the 2020 Election in Light of Leadership Terms

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

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

Looking for a Savior?

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

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

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

But We Have a System that Expects Collective Power, Ironically

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

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

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

Shared Leadership and Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And There Are Valid Feels to Stop and Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was Always a Mix of Stabilities and Instabilities

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

The Case for Biden as More Stable

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

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

The Case for Sanders as More Stable

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

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

The Fears about Sanders Supporters

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

The Truth: We Need Both Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All We Need Is a Strong/Loose Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Keep Fighting the Existing Instability Too

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

Working Together Toward Another Blue Wave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need Others in This Joint Effort

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

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

It’s Going to Keep Being a Relay Marathon

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

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

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

But What If…?

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

A Final Charge

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

Resources to Support You on Your Journey

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

The post The World’s Looking for a Stable Emergent Leader: No Pressure, Democrats! (A Rhetorical Analysis) appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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

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

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

Starting with Confessions, As I Was Taught to in Church

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

I’m now deeply sorry about that.

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

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

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

My Response Was a Natural One.

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

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

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

Natural, But Not Always Toward the Common Good

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

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

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

The Kind of Active Response that Is Unhealthy

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

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

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

Denial Is Worse When Driven by People in Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Must Speak Up Against This Toxic Crap

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

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

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

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

The Factors in My Individual Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Can Do to Make Things Better

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

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

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

Advocating for Politicians with Better Labor Policies

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

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

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

A Final Charge

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

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

Some Resources To Help You with Speaking Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rush Limbaugh as the Original Demonizer of the Political Left

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

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

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

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

The Effects of Limbaugh’s Rhetoric in My Life

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

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

Rush Limbaugh + the Religious Right = Not a Great Combo

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

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

The Heirs of This Combo

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

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

Taking Stock of My Previous Cognitive Dissonance

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

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

I Too Was Infected with the Poison of Fear

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

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

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

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

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

Not Really John the Baptist at All, Though

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

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

The Mystery of the Religious Right Claiming the Moral High Ground

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

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

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

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

The Subtle Othering of the Religio-Political “Moderates”

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

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

Mourning the Silence—and Slamming—of My Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Respect and Tearing It Up

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

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

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

Mislabeling the Action as “Aggressive”

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

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

The Power of the Act in Context

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

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

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

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

May We Not Forget the Agency We Still Have

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

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

Speaking Truth to Propaganda and Authoritarian Tendencies

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

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

Fighting the Gaslighting That Seeks to Poison Our Realities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Charge

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

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Lessons from Watching Superhero Movies During the Impeachment http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/02/01/superhero-stories-positive-projection-inspiration-resistance/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/02/01/superhero-stories-positive-projection-inspiration-resistance/#respond Sun, 02 Feb 2020 05:50:08 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1012 This week, as the impeachment narratives continued to unfold, I was watching multiple Marvel movies on Disney+ during a free trial. (Note: The Protestant work ethic triggers in me wish me to tell you not to worry–I still got my work done this week. 😉 ) In this article I plan to talk about how watching these superhero movies both helped me cope with current events, and also inspired me toward further #AssertiveSpirituality action in pursuit of the common good....

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This week, as the impeachment narratives continued to unfold, I was watching multiple Marvel movies on Disney+ during a free trial. (Note: The Protestant work ethic triggers in me wish me to tell you not to worry–I still got my work done this week. 😉 ) In this article I plan to talk about how watching these superhero movies both helped me cope with current events, and also inspired me toward further #AssertiveSpirituality action in pursuit of the common good. In the process I plan to look at both the good and bad sides of the concept positive projection, in which we pass off responsibilities to others when we feel inadequate ourselves. I will talk about how doing so temporarily is truly necessary in this relay marathon we’re all on in trying to make the world a better place.

How Watching Marvel Movies Helped Me Cope This Week

So, first, the coping.

Let’s be honest: it feels good, when in the midst of big global challenges that feel overwhelming, to hand off the courage and leadership to trusted others, especially those fighting on the side of truth and justice like the Avengers.

That is to say that it is a natural human instinct to engage in positive projection. When we ourselves feel incomplete or conflicted or not enough, we tend to expect others to be good or even perfect on our behalf.

This is why, I’m convinced, it feels good to watch stories about superheroes, especially during this ongoing religio-political apocalypse.

Taking Time “Off” to Let Fictional People Handle Hard Things For Me

This week it was the impeachment hearings, but it’s happened at other times too, when I needed to take time off and watch or read or listen to stories in which others handled tough things, seemingly so that I didn’t have to.

It’s happened a lot during the last three years.

These times are stressful, and it’s easy in such times to fall into the fallacy of helplessness I talked about last month: assuming that we don’t have much to offer, and refusing, as a result, to offer it.

Both Coping AND a Practice Leading to #AssertiveSpirituality

The thing is, what I’ve realized is that when I feel overwhelmed, absorbing such stories isn’t just positive projection, and definitely is not entering into the fallacy of helplessness. When I need to absorb stories in which good wins in the end, it’s a practice that pulls me back into the practice of #AssertiveSpirituality.

In other words, taking “time out” to absorb certain types of stories is a both/and sort of thing. It’s both a coping skill, a positive projection during a necessary rest, AND it’s inspirational.

I’ll be honest: I had no idea that watching this sequence would actually be inspirational this week. But I’m glad I followed the stories to their not-so-inevitable conclusion in Avengers: Endgame, because they turned out to be exactly what I needed to see in this week’s religio-political bleak spot.

NOTE: Trying not to give away too many spoilers to the movie in what follows, but there are some mild ones for sure.

Feeling the Need for Some Positive Projection

And I’ll be honest, I definitely needed to hand off the leadership to superheroes this week.

At such times it’s natural to look for others to fight on our behalf. And it’s natural to watch stories showing others fighting huge intergalactic problems with superhuman powers and abilities and tools.

The nice thing about watching the Marvel series is that it explores the fallacies around this kind of positive projection onto superheroes even while it allows them to ultimately largely overcome the problems they face. I had no idea how much I needed to see these nuances this week. I’m thankful I did.

Remarkably Human Superheroes

The beauty of the saga is that the Avengers themselves have powers, but they also have flaws. People demonize them even when they’re trying to help.

And let’s face it, they do leave a lot of destruction in their wake, so the questions people have aren’t too surprising. And the superheroes themselves dissent from each other’s views in understandable ways.

Coming Together Despite—and Sometimes Because of—These Vulnerabilities

And yet, in the end, these heroes come together to work against huge problems the universe is facing.

And that—and the way they did it—has not only offered me coping mechanisms during these challenging apocalyptic times. It’s also offered inspiration.

Inspiration for the Current Religio-Political Apocalypse

Specifically, it’s offered me inspiration for the continuing assertive resistance of the toxic crap we find all around us in the world that’s genuinely threatening the common good.

I don’t want to offer too many spoilers for those who have not seen the saga, but by the time we get to Avengers: Endgame it turns out we need multiple heroes working together, and in fact questioning and pushing one another, to overcome big challenges.

Tensions about Aggressive Techniques

Do I have questions about the aggressive ways these superheroes went about solving the problems? Absolutely I have questions about that.

And the stories themselves show self-awareness of those tensions, thankfully.

The Importance of Diversity in Solving Huge Problems

What I loved in the resolution of this superhero saga was the way it made absolutely clear that no single superhero, or even superheroes of one race or gender or even species, could solve huge problems on their own.

Indeed, to conquer huge problems, a diverse range of people and creatures with a diverse array of skills and abilities and different kinds of knowledge needed to all work together in order to conquer those with really bad ideas that would traumatize huge numbers of people in the universe.

Truly a Relay Marathon

And throughout this saga, every single one of them were weak and wrong at times. Every one of them needed to grieve and lament losses they had faced. Every one of them needed to take time out to heal. They all needed to play their part—to do what they could where they were with what they had. But none of them were required to be, well, perfectly superhuman.

Even Superheroes Get Discouraged and Need Support

They were all offered support by others—both others with superpowers and other more ordinary beings.

And they were allowed to be discouraged. They were allowed to be vulnerable.

And yet they all came together in crucial moments to motivate one another. To support each other in pursuit of common goals. To collaborate. They kept the relay marathon going, and the spark of hope alive, even in the darkest times.

Why I Needed to See This So Badly Just Now

So yeah, this was a story I’m incredibly glad I watched this week, when things have been looking so bleak on the religio-political landscape in America.

Because yeah, like they did in many times during the Avengers saga, and in so many other stories and epics, including our own non-fictional history, things are looking bleak right now.

We’re tired. We have losses and major things to grieve. It’s easy to assume that none of us are enough right now. In fact, it’s easy to assume that even collectively, none of us are enough to stare down forces of oppression and injustice and gaslighting.

And the truth is that there are no guarantees that things will go well. There are no guarantees, even with all our efforts, super or not, that the best case scenario will heal everything. No matter how well things go, trauma is already happening and has already happened. And grieving is necessary.

The Avengers and Why We All Need Some Positive Projection at Times

And yet reflecting on the Avengers saga has helped me realize that positive projection itself isn’t bad.

After all, there will be times for all of us, no matter how super we are, when we need to pause and let someone else lead, either for us or alongside us.

There will be times for all of us in this relay marathon when we need to let others support us.

When We Need Encouragement and Motivation Instead or As Well

But there will also be lots of times when we may feel hopeless and still need to help each other get up off of that mat and get back out into our quest to make the world a better place. In fact, we’ll never manage that if as many people as possible don’t work together to do what they can to make things better. And we don’t have to be perfect to manage that feat.

A Final Charge

Indeed, go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Even when times look bleak, let us all persist at doing whatever 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 don’t have to be superheroes in order to do this thing.

More Resources for #AssertiveSpirituality Quests!!!

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MLK, “Nice,” the 81%, and the Silencing of Voices for Justice http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/18/mlk-nice-81percent-silencing-justice/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/01/18/mlk-nice-81percent-silencing-justice/#comments Sun, 19 Jan 2020 05:19:41 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1008 On this weekend when we are meant to celebrate the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is startlingly easy to domesticate him. To cover over the more radical points he made. In this article I will quote some excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” I’ve quoted before, but apply them a little differently. This time I will highlight how these words speak to the ways the rhetoric of the 81% of white Evangelicals that may or...

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On this weekend when we are meant to celebrate the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is startlingly easy to domesticate him. To cover over the more radical points he made. In this article I will quote some excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” I’ve quoted before, but apply them a little differently. This time I will highlight how these words speak to the ways the rhetoric of the 81% of white Evangelicals that may or may not still be seeking to “Make America Great Again” are still seeking to silence voices speaking up for justice.

In fact, as I will argue, no matter what they say, those who defend rhetoric or the policies that go along with this slogan are supporting the side that is most influenced by the ideology of white supremacy.

We Never Believed All Were Created Equal In This Country

To me, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds me that there is always risk in speaking up. That there are unhealthy aspects of our systems, since the beginning of this American nation that idealized making room for dissent, that have always brooked dissent on certain topics—especially race.

That’s the thing: there is no way, in terms of racial equality, to go back to some fabled time when America was great in terms of equality, much less equity. When important movies like Just Mercy still need to call us to reform our criminal justice system out of racial inequalities, there is no “great again” regarding America and race.

Rhetoric Matters!

It’s really, really important that in this election year, to “make America great again” means going back to a time when non-white people and non-men were oppressed. I can’t state how important this is. Wording of slogans matters!

White Americans have long found it more comfortable to reside in the fiction that that was so, but it has not been. Both things—that America has been founded in inequality and that the founding documents have claimed to strive for equality in at least some things—have been true at once.

Not the Only Voice–But Still Important to Re-read Him

This man has been far from the only prophetic voice to come along to tell us that it was so.

In these days when unhealthy white supremacy and nationalism are stifling dissent even more broadly than on the questions around racial equality, Dr. King’s words are more important than ever to reflect on once again.

So today, as I have in the past, I wish to pass the mic to excerpts from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that I have found formative in my theories about “Christian Nice” and how they have enabled covert abuse and authoritarianism as well as racial inequality.

Letter from Birmingham Jail (excerpts—emphasis added)

By Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 April 1963

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed. I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, “follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Letter From The Birmingham Jail”

April 16, 1963

***

Applying These Powerful Words in New Ways

I don’t know about you, but these words get more powerful–and take on new resonances–the deeper into the current religio-political apocalypse we get. In these days when even conservative-moderate magazines like Christianity Today coming out with moral stances get called “far-left” as a way to demonize them for speaking truth about morality to power, we need these words more than ever.

On the Side of Oppression

The truth is that Dr. King was always right (and didn’t need white people like me endorsing him for him to be right). He still is right today. I do see a different twist on this today, though—I see people who are silent in the face of injustice, sure.

But I also see a group of white conservatives, especially Evangelicals, like the ones I grew up with, who *claim to be moderate* but actively are supporting white supremacist rhetoric and policies  by defending the current Republican platform.

Let’s be honest–if you in any way vote for the slogan “Make America Great Again,” regardless of your reasons, you are voting on the side that has allowed white supremacist ideologies to infiltrate their slogans as well as their policies.

It’s simple: If you vote on the side of that slogan, you are on the only side with self-proclaimed Nazis and KKK members.

It’s not a good look on you, no matter how you justify it.

I see many people in this same group who are *still* claiming that they don’t like the current head of the administration but have so accepted the demonization of progressives (who actively support marginalized groups) and believe so many ungrounded conspiracy theories that they steadfastly claim that “Hillary would have been worse.”

I guess today, looking at this phenomenon, the part that strikes me most about this “Letter from Birmingham Jail” excerpt in light of all this is the last sentence: “So here we are…with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”

Still Grieving that 81%

THIS is what grieves me most, leaves me feeling most betrayed, by the 81% of white Evangelicals who voted for the current head of the administration. They voted for the status quo who are increasingly on the side of oppression, of silencing of dissent.

These 81% of white Evangelicals have abandoned the task of leading “men to higher levels of justice.”

I dearly love this new “Hymn for the 81%” (please take a couple of minutes to listen!) for this reason—it expresses well this desire for our modern version of King’s “white (claiming to be reasonable and) moderates” to abandon their “pious irrelevancies” that keep them from pursuing the “active presence of justice.”

And let’s face it, as I gestured at above, we need to face it that there’s a reason the 81% of white Evangelicals supporting “Make America Great Again” are white.

A Few Contemporary “Pious Irrelevancies” that Are Claimed as Sticking Points by This Group

Let’s face it—when every single study shows us that outlawing abortion and stigma surrounding abortion actually increases abortions, to support the current administration in the name of overturning Roe v. Wade is just such a pious irrelevancy.

And in the days when the causes of justice, equity, and the common good are branded as “evil socialism,” let’s face it, “saving the country from those evil progressive socialists” is more than a pious irrelevancy, but a defense of the oppressive status quo that actively sidelines the “active presence of justice.”

Praying Against All the Voices that Support Oppression

I’ll be honest—I pray that these voices of silencing of dissent will themselves be silenced. And that along with them all the false voices of modern-day “moderation,” of bothsidesism will be silenced as well–or, rather, awakened on the side of justice.

I also pray that all those who are supporting covert abuse and authoritarianism in whatever way will be awakened to assertively cry out against injustice.

May We All Speak Up on Behalf of a Better Way

I don’t claim to be like Dr. King. But I am steadfastly thankful his words have fired me up, and encouraged me once again, today to voice a dream I have–one I know that many today, and many throughout history, have shared.

I pray that many dissenters who are weary, who are bullied, who are shamed into silence will rise up once again in the cause of justice.

May it be so.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! May we all be inspired to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

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

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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.

The post #BelieveWomen, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Roots of (Deeply Socialized) Gaslighting appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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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?

Looking for resources to speak up and deal with the conflict that often comes with that? Sign up for our email newsletter—either in the top bar of this page or through checking the box to do so when commenting on this post—and once you’ve confirmed your email address you’ll receive a link to our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You’re welcome to unsubscribe at any time, but here’s

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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.

The post Why None of Us Can Be “Perfectly Woke” or Safe appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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