Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 11 Apr 2021 03:16:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7 http://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 How (and Why) to Support Assertive Voices when the Trolls Attack http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/04/10/support-assertive-voices-when-trolls-attack/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/04/10/support-assertive-voices-when-trolls-attack/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 03:05:11 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1213 As I’ve been discussing in recent pieces (see here and here), white conservative Christianity has been aggressively cultivating white (supremacist) male aggression as a god term in recent decades. Historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s important book Jesus and John Wayne provides a thorough, evidence-based assertively unflinching account of how this has happened, speaking truth to power. And so it should not be a surprise that her book has come under fire by high profile conservative Evangelical voices in recent weeks,...

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As I’ve been discussing in recent pieces (see here and here), white conservative Christianity has been aggressively cultivating white (supremacist) male aggression as a god term in recent decades. Historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s important book Jesus and John Wayne provides a thorough, evidence-based assertively unflinching account of how this has happened, speaking truth to power. And so it should not be a surprise that her book has come under fire by high profile conservative Evangelical voices in recent weeks, along with other assertive voices. In this article I’ll talk about why these kind of assertive voices need our support in the face of such attacks, and outline few ways those of us practicing Assertive Spirituality can offer appropriate support.

Some Quick Background

So to offer an overview of what’s happened recently, I recommend you check out Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s FB and Twitter profiles to get the scoop. In short, her book connecting all the dots has been persuasive with enough people, including inside the conservative Evangelical world, that it’s been getting demonized by the white Evangelical establishment in entirely predictable–yet harmful–ways.

Why This Response Isn’t Shocking

It ought be in no way shocking that this has happened—indeed, the book itself and my analyses of it predicted that such an event was bound to happen.

After all, it’s a system designed to promote aggressive status-defending white supremacist masculinity.

Only Space for Aggressiveness or Passivity, Nothing Else!

And its theology, as Jesus and John Wayne painstakingly outlines, aggressively stakes itself on there only being two options of conflict management—(1) “God-given aggressiveness,” as attached to (white) males and (2) “God-given passivity” attached to women and everyone else.

This is the very nature of a hierarchical, authoritarian system designed to keep white male conservative Evangelicals at the top of the heap.

Assertiveness Demonized

As I’ve discussed before here and here, and Du Mez also outlines in her book, the system is designed to both subtly and unsubtly attack and demonize those who break this expected mold, whether in or out this church—INCLUDING those who assertively speak truth to power.

To quote Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, as I’ve said before, this kind of view sees any form of assertive disagreement about this system as “right out.”

How Dare Assertiveness Present a Different Model!

And as a reminder, assertiveness breaks the hierarchical expectations by weirdly (insert eye roll emoji here) enacting behavior that breaks down false dichotomies and hierarchies alike, taking care of self and the other at the same time.

Anyway, as I’ve said, it’s totally predictable that the machine has already come out and tried to demonize this assertive assessment that draws attention to how incredibly diseased this system is.

In fact, in some ways the actions of this system to nastily and aggressively attack Du Mez’s work just reinforce the aptness and importance of her point.

Predictably Harmful???

And yet, it’s important not to get lulled by the predictability of it.

Here’s the problem: aggressive, devil-terming responses here are completely predictable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t potentially hurtful.

We’ve seen PLENTY of that over the past four years, haven’t we? Lots of predictable nastiness that nonetheless has caused great trauma to individuals and the nation.

We Must Remember the Humanity of Our Assertive Voices

And this is the reality of things: it is great when assertive voices rise up and speak truth to power. But we need to remember that the owners of these voices are human, and need our support when this happens.

After all, all sorts of aggressiveness can be expected when you speak up. But that doesn’t mean any normal human being, no matter how strong a voice, can or should be able to withstand attack unendingly.

What Authoritarian Systems Bank On for Success

That’s what authoritarian systems bank on, actually—that they can create and maintain a system containing enough “culture war” aggressiveness against critique that they have a relay marathon of aggressiveness to push back against any individuals or groups that may try to speak truth about their unhealthy system.

They bank on people being so scared of the aggressiveness on one hand, and dismissive of its impacts on the other, that they step back and stop speaking up. They also expect people to get so tired from the onslaught that they sit these things out and let the assertive voices of leaders be all vulnerable to their attacks out there on their own.

Tempting to Just Sit Back and Let Our Champions Gladiate On Our Behalf

I know, I know—we’ve been fighting hard for the last four years, and going through a global pandemic—a lot of us are tired right now, and super glad to see voices like Du Mez’s calling out the white Evangelical establishment on our behalf.

It’s sort of nice to take a backseat and let her take them on, is it not?

And she is a great strong voice—as are others who have taken on the same system. And the fact that she has a strong following is likely to be helping her to feel support in her endeavor.

Yettttttttt….We Still Need to Assertively Do Our Part As We’re Able

And yet…she (and others like her) need us there to provide more tangible and pinch hitting support, because yeah, this crap is hard to combat and needs an entire relay marathon of us out there.

And this toxic system will continue to have wayyyyy more power to harm both assertive voices and the vulnerable populations they are speaking on behalf of until we all rise up to do what we can to push back assertively with and alongside her.

How to Support Du Mez (and Others)

So these are some things we can do in these cases to support her voice:

  1. Buy her book and tell others to do the same. In the moment, here and now, Du Mez has asked that her followers specifically pre-order copies of the paperback edition so she has a chance at bestselling status, which helps an author out tremendously with cache on the publishing scene.
  2. Write thoughtful, nuanced reviews for the book at Amazon, Goodreads, Target, and other bookselling venues.
  3. While you’re there, mark the assertive and thoughtful reviews as helpful, and the demonizing ones as not helpful.
  4. Leave supportive and thoughtful, nuanced comments about the issues on social media, both hers and where others are discussing her work.
  5. Note that in leaving comments on social media, you don’t necessarily have to respond to trolling comments in order to leave alternative views out there, if you don’t have the energy for that–but more responses will help show that the trolls are not the only view.
  6. Last but not least, “like” or “love” assertive, thoughtful comments and show emoji/reaction disapproval of trolling ones when on social media. Every bit helps!

There’s more, but that should get you started. Just remember: just because someone is expecting aggressive trolls to attack their assertive work doesn’t mean they can’t be hurt by it. Kind comments are important to help keep them going in their important work of assertively speaking truth to power.

Not Just Du Mez that Needs Support

I’ve used the example of Du Mez here, but it’s important to note that conservative Evangelical trolls have also been attacking Dr. Chanequa Barnes and Sarah Bessey this week for their work of assertive spirituality as well (see Sarah Bessey’s statement about the situation here).

One note here: We don’t have to turn Du Mez and other voices of authorial assertiveness into seemingly perfect god terms to offer them our support. In fact, it’s super important that we don’t do that.

But we also need to know that supporting them doesn’t automatically do that. Nor does it turn us into “the same as our opponents.”

Not “The Same as Our Opponents”

Because, let’s be clear: Assertiveness is NOT aggression, and speaking truth descriptively to power need not be seen as an attack.

In fact, smart leaders and systems encourage people toward healthy dissent because they know that problems can’t be fixed if we don’t acknowledge them and seek to offer solutions.

However we continue to speak out assertively and support those who do so powerfully, it’s important for us to remind one another of those important frames.

Seeing Assertiveness as an Attack: A Symptom of Toxicity

If conservative Christian patriarchy sees assertiveness as an attack, that’s a sign of its own disease, and all the more reason we need to assertively work toward healthier assertively expressed types of spirituality. And rather than staying quiet, we need to keep speaking up against the toxic crap and on behalf of healthier systems.

I could go on, but frankly, speaking of voices of assertiveness not being perfect, I’m getting tired, so I’ll stop here and leave you with a final charge.

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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When White Male Aggression Becomes a God Term http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/03/20/when-white-male-aggression-becomes-a-god-term/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/03/20/when-white-male-aggression-becomes-a-god-term/#comments Sun, 21 Mar 2021 02:42:19 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1205 I had already noted a few weeks back, in my analysis of the excellent and important book Jesus and John Wayne, that I wanted to write an entire piece on white Evangelical rhetoric around “God-given testosterone” causing aggression and domination as natural side effects of “men being men.”  Well, after this week’s violent set of shootings at massage parlors in Georgia by an ardent white male member of a Southern Baptist church, I thought it was time to look more...

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I had already noted a few weeks back, in my analysis of the excellent and important book Jesus and John Wayne, that I wanted to write an entire piece on white Evangelical rhetoric around “God-given testosterone” causing aggression and domination as natural side effects of “men being men.”  Well, after this week’s violent set of shootings at massage parlors in Georgia by an ardent white male member of a Southern Baptist church, I thought it was time to look more closely at this toxic theology ironically based in faulty and outdated understandings of biology and evolutionary theory. By the end, it should be clear just how important it is that we (continue to) assertively stand up against the rotten fruit of these kinds of militantly masculine theologies.

Not That Kind of PhD, But Still Have a Contribution to the Dialogue

Let’s be clear: I’m not a biologist. I am, however, as you should know if you’ve been following me, a preacher’s kid and communication scholar who focuses on the links between stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

Especially since I’ve finished reading Jesus and John Wayne, but also increasingly before, I’ve been greatly disturbed by the way these “theologies of white male aggression” have been excusing white supremacy and violence, especially in conservative male churches, over recent decades. In fact, as January 6 and the racist and sexist massage parlor murders in Georgia this past week have shown, it fosters it. In the remainder of this article I’ll unwrap how that works.

In the process I’ll be building, as I did last time, on the important work historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez did in Jesus and John Wayne. I’ll also be looking at it based on some biological research about stress and testosterone and aggression along with, as usual, my own lens of communication and conflict studies.

I Know This Much Is True Biologically and Social Scientifically

And from that standpoint, and based in all the biological research I know about, I want to make this extremely clear: all humans and many animals have a “God-given” fight-or-flight (or freeze or tend and befriend) stress response, including people of all sex identities. All humans and many animals also have testosterone, and it varies more day to day and minute to minute among all populations.

So yeah, high testosterone isn’t necessary to have a fight response–and a fight response doesn’t have to come out as aggression–though it can for all people. It can also come out assertively for all people–as in choosing to turn our fight energies to fixing a problem in a way that helps everyone involved as much as possible without anyone necessarily dominating. (In fact, this approach is usually the most effective for problem-solving and decision-making.)

Also, scientific studies seem to show that the linkage between testosterone and aggression is there, but fairly weak relatively speaking. Hormones are complicated, and sex-based ones only go so far to determine behavior.

Not That Cut and Dried

On the other hand, there is interesting research that shows that a rise in testosterone tends to increase decisions that cause harm to people in moral decision-making situations.

Other fascinating research shows that testosterone is more strongly linked to behavior that tries to defend status, but not always aggressively—the form that behavior is likely to take can vary widely on the behavior expected in a particular culture or subculture, and needs not be aggressive at all. In fact, it can be altruistic.

Okay, so that should make it clear that the biology is way more complicated than this “God given testosterone” rhetoric makes it seem.

But Wait, If This Is an Innate Thing, Why the Anxiety about Nurturing It Up Right?

In fact, even based on a short Google search, it seems to be clear in recent scientific research that the link between testosterone and aggression is strongly affected by environmental characteristics, which is absolutely key to understand when we’re thinking about the toxicity in this kind of theology.

See, as Jesus and John Wayne reports, the anxiety around “God-given testosterone” comes in books and other media that focus on “making men more manly”—in short, focusing on nurturing men by giving them an environment that encourages this “God-given aggression.”

An Implicit Awareness of Gender Variation

In short, these arguments are ironically deeply based in an awareness that God does not only give men (or women) only testosterone (which in this theology means aggression)—and that, in fact, it needs to be nurtured if you want men to be aggressive.

In fact, I would argue that these arguments in books literally titled things like Bringing Up Boys (a book by James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame–goodness I’m not giving you a link–sheesh) are showing an extreme anxiety about the truth that testosterone does vary and is environmental, leaving men with an anxiety that there might be a way of raising boys to be “too feminine” (which in turn might be leaving them to feel “less masculine”).

A Theology of Making Men More Aggressive?

Let me say that again: these arguments about masculinity being inherently based on testosterone levels being a part of biological nature of all men are delivered in packages that tell you how to nurture yourself and other men to create more of that hormone and the aggression that these arguments somehow see as inherent to all men.

SUCH Gaslighting of Biological Facts

In other words, these arguments show their own flaws if you look at them for two seconds, honestly. (I’m not exaggerating much—all I needed to do to look up the biological research above was to run a couple of Google searches with basic search terms and glance through a few journalistic and scientific articles presenting the research on this stuff, just to make sure I had a fuller picture of things.)

Really About Keeping White Men as at the Top of the Chain

And, indeed, why should only high testosterone levels in men be seen as “God-given”? Why not low testosterone levels?

Might, just possibly, it connect to what I mentioned above about the biological finding being about men with higher testosterone being concerned about maintaining their status?

Might it be that white men who are anxious about their own masculinities, about not being aggressive enough, are ironically aggressively defending their own place of status at the top of the heap by putting down other humans that have different variations of testosterone in them, such as women and LGBTQ+ folx (not to mention anyone with darker skin tones)?

And might they be doing so in a way that is pretty utilitarian and immoral (definitely not “love your neighbor as yourself,” that!), but bathing it, just for an added layer of spiritual abuse, with presumed holiness? 

How Complementarian Theology Fits In

As Du Mez points out in Jesus and John Wayne, this claim of militant masculinity is the base root of the “traditional gender roles” theology put forth by conservative male groups of theologians such as the “Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”

That argument, and that of other complementarian theologies, argues for a status hierarchy among the genders, with men necessarily being the ones that “came first” and “were tempted into sin” by the woman.

How This Affects the Spirituality of Conflict Styles

I’m not a theologian, as I’ve said, but I am a scholar of stress and conflict, and what fascinates me about all of this (in a deeply disturbing way) is how this theology creates a toxic authoritarian culture around conflict styles.

This creates a theology in which (white) men are meant to only “dominate” in conflict and women and LGBTQ+ folks, and anyone else who dares present alternative perspectives, are only meant to “submit” or be ostracized. (And of course, because this theology comes neatly packaged in a wrapper of underlying racism and white supremacy with a side of culture wars, other races and anyone outside of the conservative Christian bubble are also seen as needing to submit—or else.)

Why Assertiveness Is a Threat to This System

In this white male conservative theology, the type of win-win solutions that surround the idea of assertiveness–and especially that stand up for a right to a voice for vulnerable groups to be seen as equals to white men–are seen to be a threat because they mess with the false sex-based dichotomies that these theologians are insisting are foundational to the way “God wants things to be inherently.”

Dependent on Gaslighting of All Sorts of Things

Indeed, it’s clear that people believing these arguments hinges on the practice of conservative authoritarianism within white Evangelical structures.

In short, this kind of theology isn’t “natural” to anyone or anything except for toxic masculinity and patriarchal systems. In fact, it relies on people ignoring a lot of reality—for example, the biological facts listed above. And historical contexts. And communication and conflict studies. And so on, and so on, and so on…

No wonder white Evangelical Christianity tends to frame science and “secular education” as so much of an enemy to be fought at all costs (in other words, what rhetorical scholars call a devil term—I have a series on that starting here).

White Men Aggressively Worried about Maintaining Their Status as God Term?

Yup, I agree with Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s conclusions wholeheartedly. The entire white Evangelical argument around testosterone being “natural to (white) man” and that as being “God-given” that she covers in Jesus and John Wayne boils down to seeing white male aggression and domination as the thing to be defended at all costs at the expense of others—in short, what rhetorical scholars call a “god term.”

No wonder purity culture essentially boils down to telling women that they are inherently less moral than men, and basically theologizes rape culture in assuming that women must submit to men.

In short, these militant masculinity-based theologies argue that men are inherently moral because they have a hormone that leads them to be aggressive and to dominate. They argue that that aggressiveness and will to dominate needs to be turned against any alternative viewpoints.

Extremely Rotten, Violent, Anti-Life Fruit

No f*cking wonder January 6 happened with white supremacists (mostly male and white) praying in the Senate chamber in the midst of the violence.

No f*cking wonder this series of murders of Asian women at massage parlors, perpetrated by an ardent Southern Baptist churchgoing white male, happened this past week.

Aggression Not a Bug But a Feature

One thing’s for sure—when white men start to spread this kind of aggression-glorifying rhetoric and tying it to morality, these kind of events are not a bug, but a feature of that kind of theology.

The white man who performed these murders wasn’t “having a bad day.” He was perfectly acting out the theology with which he was raised.  

What a Truckload of Toxicity

What a load of toxic sh*t this all is—so spiritually abusive, and so incredibly far from loving our neighbor as ourselves and WWJD. All I can say is that I’m thankful there are so many out there that can see how ridiculously rotten the fruit of this theology is (pro-life my ass).

I could go on, but I’m seriously sick to my stomach by how unhealthy all of this is, and how the type of “Christian nice” I grew up in taught me that confronting it in the public square was an unhealthy action.

Now That We Know Better, May We Do Better

I am thankful that my studies combined with the horrific events of the last few years and the work of other fabulous scholars have eventually gotten me and others to seeing this more clearly. May we stand up and demand better theologies, systems, and outcomes. (And if you’re not quite there yet on this, please do run out and read Jesus and John Wayne! Then come join us. Thanks!)

Time to Keep Speaking Up Assertively

I hope that all of us will continue to assertively rise up to require accountability and a huge shift away from these kind of unhealthy theologies AND the unhealthy actions in the world they enable, both in the extreme versions and in their soft insidious forms, including what I’ve discussed previously as toxic “Christian Nice” (look at more of my analysis of that bully-enabling phenomenon starting here). May we all continue to seek systemic change that holds aggressive anti-life white males accountable for their actions. And may we shift our theologies and spiritualities when they’re shown to bear such rotten fruit.  

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Working Together Toward COVID-19 Vaccination Goals http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/03/13/working-together-covid19-vaccination-goals/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/03/13/working-together-covid19-vaccination-goals/#respond Sun, 14 Mar 2021 03:40:59 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1200 I know we’ve been saying this for quite some time now, but this past week’s been quite the week. Thursday March 11 was the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a year later we’re in the throes of the both frustrating and optimistic process of COVID-19 vaccination. Others have written helpfully on many aspects of this situation; in this piece I hope to talk about how all the competing types of rhetoric at play, especially scarcity rhetoric, affects the human...

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I know we’ve been saying this for quite some time now, but this past week’s been quite the week. Thursday March 11 was the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a year later we’re in the throes of the both frustrating and optimistic process of COVID-19 vaccination. Others have written helpfully on many aspects of this situation; in this piece I hope to talk about how all the competing types of rhetoric at play, especially scarcity rhetoric, affects the human response, especially in the current US religio-political climate. In the process I hope to help us to understand and overcome some of our unnecessary mental blockages to help ourselves and others as we work together to reach toward getting as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19.

Coming on the heels of a global trauma in the shape of a pandemic, there’s a lot going on here to unwrap. I’ll do my best.

My Background and Focus Here

As a reminder, I’m coming into this as a pastor’s kid with a PhD in communication who researches and teaches about stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

Others, like this recent New Yorker piece, are fabulous at explaining why the supply chain for this vaccine is so complicated, which is currently what creates the scarcity in the first place.

(I say currently, because of course many other hindrances were going on up to a couple of months ago, when the previous presidential administration was not only without a pandemic plan, but was hindering their own staff trying to help. I wrote about this way back last March already, and it got worse before it finally got better on January 20, which was why I recently wrote a piece about grieving our losses from the past year and beyond.)

That New Yorker piece on supply chain issues is wonderfully done, and supplements what I’m trying to do here, which is to discuss how the competing rhetorical messages around scarcity are affecting views of morality and conflict in the current situation. If that sounds clear as mud, I’ll ask for your patience as I dive in.

A Quick Disclaimer

DISCLAIMER: I’m in the US, and as such, I’m addressing the complex problems here in this piece. Ultimately I think and hope we’ll be able to vaccinate as many people as possible around the world, and I understand how complex that broader question is, and don’t think we Americans are any better than any of the rest of the world. While my discussion is somewhat unique to the challenges faced in our country and the solutions people are reaching toward based on American constraints, I hope that those of you outside the US, or with spheres of influence that reach outside the US, will be able to transfer some of the advice toward advocating for greater COVID-19 vaccination wherever you are able to.

Our Complex Rhetorical Ecosystem around COVID-19 Vaccination

Okay, so as I see it, we have multiple things going on in the current rhetorical climate/complex ecosystem in the US around COVID-19 vaccination:

  1. Actual production, resource, and distribution gaps in creating and distributing an entirely new vaccine, some of which can be fixed and some of which can’t;
  2. An extremely localized response to deciding who is eligible when and who gets to be prioritized in various locations;
  3. An extremely arcane and complex system of COVID-19 vaccination signup in various locations;
  4. Federal rhetoric and measures blessedly designed to smooth some of the above things out through creating a national response, removing some of the scarcity (thank goodness everyone worked so hard for that fair election!);
  5. New CDC guidelines which both helpfully and not create new guidelines for fully vaccinated people (lots of feels to work through there, especially with people who haven’t been responsible the whole time);
  6. Many helpful local, state and grassroots efforts working to solve some of the above problems;
  7. And, last but definitely not least, harmful results from the previous unhealthy government and current unhealthy local governments that are making everything worse in some areas and with some people.

The Potential Moral Dilemmas Resulting from This Mess

The results of all these current factors boils down to at least the following sets of moral dilemmas:

  1. The moralities and best practices around who gets to go when in line and “who deserves a vaccine”
  2. The moralities and best practices around continuing—and shifting—pandemic precautions in and around and after COVID-19 vaccination
  3. The continuing moral problem of both “wait and see” folks and more ardent anti-vaxxers

Okay, So I Just Called These Moral Dilemmas—But Maybe We Shouldn’t Call Them All That?

As I dive more deeply into these questions, now’s the great time for a quick note (or, if you will, a reminder, seeing as how I wrote about this earlier in pandemic) that I think calling the first two things “moral dilemmas”—ESPECIALLY the first one—is a thing we should shy away from.

Why might that be so? Well, let’s be clear. We have a lot of data at this point about who the virus has been hitting hardest, and some things are clear about who that is—but the question of vaccine distribution is a super complicated one for good reason.

One reason that is the case that the virus has still been super unpredictable. The other is that group 3 listed above combines with people not following best practices in terms of the precautions–in other words, #2 above.

And let’s be clear: beyond those who are blatantly hurting others through their pandemic minimization/anti-masker tendencies, most of us are genuinely doing our best here, and all are dependent on enough people getting vaccinated AND being precautious enough going forward for things to truly improve enough.

What to Do About Denialists and Those Who Don’t Care

This has created a challenging situation in which some people want to get the vaccine when they are eligible but are worried about potentially taking it from some more vulnerable party. Often these are the same people that have been taking a ton of precautions for the last year.

In some locations, this has unhelpfully led to too many open appointments, while in others there are too many people looking for appointments, all thanks to complex distribution systems.

What this means is that in addition to trying to get rid of the virus, we also have the tensions and anxieties around social loafing—or the feeling that many people have not been doing their part thus far—involved in the best practices and perceived moralities around #1 on the moralities list I just made.

In short, you have people who are genuinely trying so hard to do the right thing that they’re scared to get the vaccine for themselves, and those are often the same people convincing themselves they don’t deserve the vaccine. This is, well, counterproductive if we all want to get to maximal COVID-19 vaccination as quickly as possible. Let me explain why.

The Various Ways to Slice the Pie

So yes, there’s a lot of ways to slice the who gets to go first pie.

I mean, on one hand there’s the desire to distribute the vaccine to the most vulnerable people—people who would be more likely to die from the disease. We have data that gestures at this, on one hand, but it’s mostly correlations, not causation. There are no guarantees. Healthy people without preexisting conditions have been dying too.  

There’s also a desire to distribute the vaccine first to the people who are likely to be exposed the most because of their jobs, etc. That seems important. But calculating out exact viral load likely is, well, inexact, and will always catch some populations with less intense situations than others, leading to jealousy, etc.

Then again, there’s also merit to distributing to those who are not currently exposed much, but are likely to help others in the previous two categories to get vaccinated, or to influence those in category 3 to get vaccinated, or to lighten the loads of those exhausted from bearing too much burden.

 Which leads to the approach just in general to get shots in arms so as to not waste doses and move toward immunity faster.

There are good arguments in all of these directions, and each locality and distribution site has a slightly different perspective on how they’re slicing the pie.

This week President Biden announced that he would like every location to make every adult eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by May 1. This seems to be moving us toward the “shots in arms” approach.

The Intersectionality and Instability of It All Can Be Super Triggering

I can see why President Biden is trying to shift us in this direction. After all, the above list means this is a highly intersectional issue that is impossible to get just right.  

As I discussed in the article around True Civility, there’s no way to perfectly get this right in a complex system. And I can guarantee you that no place is getting it perfectly right.

And so I’m incredibly glad that President Biden is moving us toward more of a shots in arms approach for COVID-19 vaccinations together with moves toward ramping up production and distribution. I don’t think it will fix everything, but having a helpful non-denialist leadership approach paired with instrumental support to make things genuinely go faster helps tremendously–especially to cut through the problem of judging who ought to be eligible.

Why We Need to Be Careful about Being Judgmental about Those Getting Vaccinated

Here’s the thing: as I’ve said, we have some data, but not all, to wholly predict who is more vulnerable. And if we believe that every life is truly sacred, we need to give ourselves space to grieve the scarcity, but it’s honestly not helpful for us to be jerks about who’s gotten the vaccine and who hasn’t.

And, especially as a lot of states are entering vaccination phases away from particular jobs and ages and more based on culturally-sensitive-to-discuss medical conditions, we need to take care that we don’t add to the stress and trauma of invisibly vulnerable populations through requiring them to generally discuss why they were able to be vaccinated. This article at Vice helps explain why.

This presidential direction toward flat-out shots in arms helps limit that kind of uncomfortable added stressor for many folks.

Overcoming a Zero-Sum View, Especially Internally

In general, if we want to pull ourselves out of the dangers of the Trauma Olympics (unintentionally shaming ourselves or other populations in the process) and trying to overly moralize who gets to have a shot, the best practices I would recommend are to refuse to see it as a zero-sum game.

As I’ve said many times before, looking at the world from a zero-sum view sees all conflicts as having discrete winners and discrete losers, as though the world were made up of only so many pieces of pie.

The truth of the COVID-19 crisis is that even in the midst of vaccine scarcity, there is no clear easy way to distinguish the perfectly greatest good. As with many other parts of this global mess, there are genuinely a lot of exhausting losses to be grieved in this part of the overall messy situation too.

Not Feeling Shame If You Get a Shot

And yet, there ARE many clear things we can do to help ourselves and others. One really crucial one is making sure we don’t have shame for thinking that if we win a vaccine slot when we’re eligible, that means that others automatically have to lose.

See, that simply does not have to be true. The truth is, that for every new shot in the arm of someone willing to get a shot, especially one who is willing to help others, we are closer to the final goal of decreasing possible deaths from the disease.

And the truth is that if you get vaccinated and are able to get to full efficacy, you not only most likely are helped yourself, but you also have greater flexibility to help others with that freedom.

The Freedom to Help Others as Well as Yourself

See, with all of this unhealthy rhetoric defending a particularly selfish view of “freedom” to not be vaccinated or wear a mask or socially distance, it’s easy to let it overly influence us into thinking that the opposite actions are also really selfish.

But the truth is that freedom can entail the freedom to do good for ourselves and others. Getting a vaccine does protect ourselves, but it also does protect others as well. It is too easy to get trapped into this view that it’s somehow shameful to get vaccinated because it helps ourselves, but the ecosystem of the world, especially not in mutually beneficial public health actions, is rarely that cut and dried.

It’s simply doesn’t have to be a simple win-loss scenario. It is often at least somewhat win-win, and many times very win-win—and that’s because it’s an effort where the more people get vaccinated, the closer we are to protecting our communities as well as others around us.

How We Can Help

In truth, just getting vaccinated helps build us toward that whole containing and wiping out the disease goal. But it doesn’t have to stop there—and if you are one of those who feel guilty about getting vaccinated, well, here are some ideas of other things we can be doing alongside getting vaccinated as we’re eligible:

  1. We can (and should) continue to take appropriate precautions, try to screen others for the same, and set boundaries about seeing others who aren’t following needed precautions;
  2. We can rest as we need to, look for the helpers to overcome our own pandemic fatigue, grieve what we need to, and give and receive social support so we can help each other move forward with whatever energy we might be able to find.
  3. We can get vaccinated as we become eligible and seek support where we need to in order to do the best we can to promote eligible people to get the shot. Various “vaccine hunter and angels” groups on FB have sprung up to help in this effort—accessing them, and helping others to as well, can be mutually beneficial.
  4. We can help other people navigate the arcane system to find and be transported to appointments, as it is safe for us to do so.
  5. We can educate ourselves about the complexities of the system, and advocate for healthier policies in places and with politicians and others who are being jerks about promoting vaccination efforts, including calling our local representatives and engaging in political actions.
  6. Last but not least, we can generally use our sphere of influence, whatever that may be, to promote vaccination as well as helping others to get vaccinated however we are able. That may include persuading “wait and see” populations around us. This article has some great advice about some techniques to persuade this blessedly shrinking population.

Focus on the Final Goal

Overall, let’s focus on the overall goal of shots in arms, friends, and recognize that we don’t have to be competing if we’re all working on a slightly different piece of the blocks to get there.

And let’s remember that getting a COVID-19 vaccination—if we are also trying to help others—does NOT have to mean that someone else loses. Getting a COVID-19 vaccination as you’re eligible, even if you’re too tired from pandemic fatigue to do anything else on the above list for the time being, is itself a great good. It helps you AND it helps others.

And when you’ve rested a bit, surely there’s SOMETHING else on the list—or something else you can think of—you can do to help others as well. In fact, if each of us translates our empathy for a particular part of the overall problem into as much action as we can, we’ll all reach our overall goal faster.

As usual, there’s more that I could say on this, but hopefully this is a start.   

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap in ourselves and others and keep working to build a literally healthier world for us all. Let’s fight back against scarcity mentalities to keep doing what we can to do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Grieving a Year of Pandemic Trauma and Golden Calves http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/02/27/grieving-year-pandemic-trauma-golden-calves/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/02/27/grieving-year-pandemic-trauma-golden-calves/#respond Sun, 28 Feb 2021 00:50:41 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1196 Y’all, two days from now it will have been a year since I first published my first blog post in this space about the rhetoric of coronavirus. And I HATE HATE HATE how right I was in that post. I hate how much literal damage and death and disability the rhetoric from the previous president and other leaders in his party filtering down into their followers has caused in the US in the past year. This week culminated the past...

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Y’all, two days from now it will have been a year since I first published my first blog post in this space about the rhetoric of coronavirus. And I HATE HATE HATE how right I was in that post. I hate how much literal damage and death and disability the rhetoric from the previous president and other leaders in his party filtering down into their followers has caused in the US in the past year. This week culminated the past year in which the CPAC convention literally wheeled in a golden statue of the previous president, which was incredibly resonant with that story of idolatry in Exodus (I mean, how obvious could you get?). In this week’s article, you’ll see me mourning the intersection of these two things as well as the more general, regrettably ongoing challenges of this cursed pandemic. At the end I hope to offer some suggestions for how we can move through our grief to keep working toward a better world going forward, toward some measure of healing from this pandemic trauma.  

My Standpoint

As I’ve discussed many times before, I’m coming at this material from the perspective of a pastor’s kid from a right-leaning moderate denomination who grew up to get a PhD in Communication and studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve seen people from my denomination split over politics over the last four years. My standpoint combined with what I study and teach has meant I’ve been smack in the middle of being to see the fault lines over how people dealt with this global pandemic thing were formed and continue to shift.

On Grief about These Challenging Times

All of its been pretty stunning, honestly, and even as someone who has all of the tools to understand it with my head, I’m still having trouble understanding it with my gut and my heart.

To put it in the terms of those messy ubiquitous stages of grief—you know, that nifty list of denial, anger, bargaining, and the rest of it—I guess I’d not even know where to put myself these days.

Doesn’t Make It Any Better to Have Seen It Coming

But I know that I grieve. And I don’t grieve it any less that I called it.

It doesn’t make it any better that I could tell from the beginning that our previous strongman president has been elevated as the kind of strongman demagogue golden calf gaslighter who thinks he must have absolute allegiance over all else.

I rejoice not at all that I called it. That I pulled out of my denial stage of grief before the WHO called it a pandemic, and that I was right in many ways about the coming damage.

In fact, I mourn. I mourn deeply.

Grieving the Idolatry and the Unnecessary Death and Disability

I mourn that so many people have caused so much damage in putting their faith in this conman—and continue to.

I mourn that more than 500,000 people have ended up dying—many completely unnecessarily—and so many others continue to struggle with as-yet-unknown disabilities from this disease.

Recognizing the Progress—and Yet…

Don’t get me wrong—I am extremely thankful that this man is no longer in charge.

I am thankful that his actions are being challenged in the courts.

I am grateful that President Biden is not setting himself up to be a godhead, perfect and to be defended at all costs. (Even while, as I will get to, I have a longing for someone to swoop in and make everything move more quickly and fix everything better.)

I feel intense relief that we finally have a pandemic task force that is coordinating things at the national level and working with the states to try to literally heal things.

And yet I mourn. Because there is so much damage and pandemic trauma to mourn.

Not in the Denial Stage, Though

The thing is that after a lifetime of living in toxic “Christian Nice,” I really can’t do the denial stage, however much I see the allure. The damage isn’t all in the past.

This week’s golden statue shows that. But it’s only one of many pieces of ongoing evidence.

Articles on social media timelines of people I previously respected blaming Democratic governors of having “spread COVID in nursing homes” are another sign. (I refuse to link to such conspiratorial disinformation. If you know people in this and need help sorting that through, I wrote a whole blog series on conspiracy rhetoric starting here.) But there are too many to count, really, sadly enough.

I Really WISH I Could Do the Denial Stage, Though

The truth is, I am soooo thankful that we have more reasonable leadership now. I have been seeing posts mourning that they can’t fix everything at once. Believe me, I feel you.

To be honest, I could go for a bit of a golden calf right now. Not the one at CPAC, of course—that man is repellent. But sometimes I really wish for a miracle-worker to come and zap our country whole again. I really wish I could ignore the pandemic trauma.

It would be soooo nice to have a break from the ongoing national and global trauma caused by this virus and its gaslighters. (And not just an escape, but real healing.)

Sigh—Not that Easy

But it’s not that easy. And we can’t just ignore past and continuing trauma. I study this stuff, so I know dissociation won’t ultimately heal everything.

The trauma anniversary of the pandemic is coming up—the WHO labeled COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. A LOT of us are going to be feeling that in our bodies.

A lot of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue. Hitting walls. I can see why a lot of us are freaking out a bit. Our bodies and brains are keeping the score of the anniversary, and they won’t let us stay in denial.

Acknowledging and Grieving the Pain, Loss, and Strain

Let’s be clear: it’s been difficult, this past year. Definitely traumatic. Most of us are not COVID long-haulers in the technical sense, but I know too many who are. There are too many who have died.

And the rest of us—especially those of us who have sought to be as precautious as possible toward the common good—there is strain showing. It’s not been easy. It’s been another kind of long haul, in a way. And that’s affected us too.

Relational Grief (Just Possibly in Anger Form)

It’s also affected our relationships, in many situations. Not only following the protocols in ways that have isolated us, but our relationships with those who have been blatantly gaslighting and flouting the protocols.

Those who themselves haven’t known those who have died or been long-haulers, or have but have been gaslighting the everliving f*ck out of the situation even with that, and have been doing what they want. Stretching the pandemic and its trauma out.

It’s All Felt Like Too Much

And let’s face it—we’ve all had too much asked of us in this situation, and I WISH I could bargain our way into a better situation. It’s been impossible because the virus is insidious. This pandemic has made it hard for all of us in different ways. It has been a huge long-haul no-win strain in so many ways.

I could list out all the populations and their different kinds of pain–all the facets of this pandemic trauma–but there’s way too many variants of pandemic-related strain than is possible to list. Way too many types of pandemic-related anxiety to list.

It Continues to Be Hard—And That’s Also Something to Grieve

And waiting for the vaccine, and for everyone to get a vaccine, is still hard. Feeling anxious about the many anti-vaxxers and how reliant we are on compliance is hard.

Sure, we have new leadership now (and huzzah, I say!) and he’s not a dictator, thank God. He’s not fighting scientific leadership on a regular basis. He is encouraging public health experts to lead us.

But it’s been a tough time. It continues to be. It’s hard to continue to need to be so cautious and so isolated from one another, to keep wearing masks, etc. etc. etc. It’s hard to know when exactly things will feel safe again. It’s hard to know when things will actually be safe again.

Making a Safe Space for Collective Grief

Let us mourn together friends. Let us care for ourselves and others by making space for our big feels about all of this.

About the death from the pandemic. About the continuing strain and pandemic trauma. The continuing uncertainty. About how much f*cking worse all the conservative Christians and other conservatives in a golden calf cult have made and are making the situation for all of us.

How much that latter factor has damaged our relationships and our world. How difficult a task it’s going to be to figure out how to deprogram those millions of people from a cult. How much work we still have to do in so many areas.

We Need to Mourn—and Get to Work as We’re Able

See, we have a new leader, but (thankfully and disappointingly), our new leader is not a god term. He can’t magically fix the world for us. That was always something we would all need to work on together.

That’s d*mned hard when we are feeling the pandemic trauma and strain. When this past year and four years has opened up sooooo many fault lines that were already there in our country. There’s just so d*mned much damage and trauma to fix. And so many of us are so tired right now after all our efforts to get here.

That’s a lot to mourn.

Always a Time for Safe Assertive Action, as Much as We’re Able

May we all call each other to bond over the challenges of this pandemic trauma, in as safe a way as possible. May we all continue to reach toward a healthier world for us all. May we all continue our assertive efforts to reach toward that world.

They are needed, friends. They are needed. May we rest and care for ourselves and our folks the best we can, and then may we look to the helpers to regain our inspiration to keep working toward the common good.

Moving Toward Hope, as We’re Able

There is much to mourn in the wake of so much pandemic trauma, and also much to do. No human can do this on their own. Even collectively, there’s no way to fix everything. I hate that. We’re allowed to mourn that. But if we all do what we can do, we can do a lot in this relay race.

I am tired, but I have deep down a hope. I know bringing that hope to fruition will require work. And I trust that there are enough of us to make a difference. If you’re having trouble finding that hope today, I’ve got your back for the time being. May we all have each other’s backs as we move forward.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let us continue to do what we can to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. May we all help each other collectively grieve and alleviate this ongoing pandemic trauma. We can do this thing.  

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Ashes to Ashes and Rush to Dust? http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/02/20/ashes-to-ashes-rush-limbaugh-to-dust/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/02/20/ashes-to-ashes-rush-limbaugh-to-dust/#respond Sun, 21 Feb 2021 04:14:55 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1190 As those of you who’ve been following this space for awhile may remember, I first wrote extensively about my experience with Rush Limbaugh here when he was disturbingly given the Medal of Honor at last year’s State of the Union. Ever since the death of this poisonous man on this past Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—I’ve been trying to figure out how to extend that discussion here. In this article, I plan to talk about some of the ways I’m mourning the continuing...

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As those of you who’ve been following this space for awhile may remember, I first wrote extensively about my experience with Rush Limbaugh here when he was disturbingly given the Medal of Honor at last year’s State of the Union. Ever since the death of this poisonous man on this past Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—I’ve been trying to figure out how to extend that discussion here. In this article, I plan to talk about some of the ways I’m mourning the continuing impacts of Rush Limbaugh’s toxic legacy and encourage us all to continue to work against it now that he’s gone.

Where I’m Coming From

So yeah, as I’ve written before, this topic is both personal and professional for me. As I wrote in the last post about Rush, I spent extensive time listening to this man’s horrible rhetoric in my high school years. Like so many others, I did not listen by choice, but because a peer who drove me to and from school insisted it be on the radio regardless of my protest against it.

Even back then, it felt abusive to make me listen, and possibly started to push me toward being more progressive, even while the listening slowed by progress in that direction by demonizing the “other side” for me.

So it’s personal for me, but it’s also professional. See, I think those experiences started me intuitively on the road to studying what I study now, as well as voting the way I vote. As a scholar of stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I now have scientific as well as social scientific backing to know how incredibly bad for so many people this kind of rhetoric is.

All of which is to say that hopefully y’all will understand that what I’m saying here about Rush Limbaugh in assessing his life and legacy after death comes from both of those kinds of sources.

The Main Event

So yes, if you somehow had not heard, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has died.

He died on Ash Wednesday—the day when liturgical Christians often hear the sobering phrase “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

A day when those who celebrate are reminded of their mortality.

There was certainly a dramatic irony about it, that Rush Limbaugh died on Ash Wednesday.

Ashes to ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But is he dust, really? Is he really gone?

After all, for many of us, Rush may be gone, but his negative legacy and its trauma lives on. In fact, in many ways, it feels like Rush’s life felt like a volcanic eruption, leaving it difficult for many of us to breathe.

How, then, should we respond? Give me a few minutes and I’ll offer some suggestions.

“Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead”?; or Do You Mean “Don’t Speak Truth to Power”?

With Rush’s death, the “don’t speak ill of the dead” crowd emerged, and I too felt that old “Christian Nice” tug inside me that somehow surely I should have to do something to tamp down the complicated set of emotions I felt.

It’s a deeply visceral thing, this programming we have to not speak ill of the dead.

It goes along in lockstep with this idea we have about not speaking ill of the powerful living—of not speaking truth about powerful exploiters and bullies.

“Don’t Speak Truth to Power” Is Too Often What They Mean

And, see, Rush fits those latter categories to a T, in death as in life. He was a powerful exploiter, who got rich off his radio show. And he was definitely a bully.

Because of that, I know, when I felt that visceral tug to not speak honestly about Rush’s awful legacy, I wasn’t feeling some sort of deeply Christian urge to “be loving to those who were fans of Rush.”

Nope, I was feeling a stress response known as the fawn stress response.

Defining the Fawn Response

So let’s talk about the fawn response. Briefly, there are multiple stress responses, responses that seek to help us survive when we sense danger—the fawn response means that you befriend the threat.

Let me say this again, in order to cope with danger, this kind of stress response tells you not to fight or run or curl up in a ball to play dead (for more of those stress responses, check out our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” by signing up for our newsletter—details at the end of this piece). It also doesn’t tell you to wisely band together with other trusted people to feel safer.

Nope, the fawn response tells you to befriend the threat.

The Fawn Response’s Purpose

Note: this doesn’t actually tell you the threat will go away, or become less dangerous. The idea is to try to make nice to them so that they won’t hurt you.

Now, I’m not saying the fawn response isn’t there for a reason. In fact, it can be moral in some situations. Resistance fighters in World War II, for instance, often feigned the fawn response while subversively working against the enemy for the greater good.

And those in domestic violence and other abuse situations are just trying to survive by “making nice.”

The problem, of course, is that abusers know about the fawn response. They use and abuse and exploit the f*ck out of the fawn response. They use it to gain and maintain power, by encouraging people not to call them on their toxic sh*t. And that process hurts a lot of people.

How “Christian Nice” Unhealthily Spiritualizes Fawning

See, though, the problem with “Christian Nice” is that it often takes this fawn response, which is natural but rarely healthy long term when bullies are in power, and baptizes it as the highest form of spirituality.

This is a problem, because there’s nothing particularly “Christian” about making nice with bullies. Sometimes we need to do it to survive, but it’s not something that’s all that great in the long term.

In fact, Jesus got killed because he spoke up assertively against bullies without mincing his language. When people were blind guides, he called them out. So did the prophets.

It’s spiritual abuse—calling good evil and evil good—to suggest that we need to fawn to Rush Limbaugh and his horrid bullying thought progeny, either in life or in death. It’s also a gaslighting of what science and social science shows us is healthy for people.

So Go Ahead, Speak Honestly about Rush’s Toxic Legacy

So let’s be clear: Rush may be ashes now, and heading toward dust, but it’s the sort of death that leaves the world soooo much worse than he found it. And it’s highly spiritual to say that.

it’s perfectly okay to feel angry about the damage Rush Limbaugh left in his wake as his legacy. In fact, if you feel angry about that, you’re following in Jesus’ steps. Jesus felt all the feels about injustice, and called people out if they practiced it.

Rush Limbaugh dehumanized and demonized vulnerable people and their allies. That’s the opposite side Jesus and the prophets were on.

Not “Just Political Theater”

As I said last time, Rush’s words were not “just rhetoric” or “political theater.” Rush demonized people using fascistic language. He wasn’t the first to do so by a long shot, but the removal of the Fairness Doctrine on the airwaves meant that what he said didn’t have to be accurate. And he wasn’t.

His words were horrible, and they had strong negative effects on the world. As I pointed out previously, conspiracy theorists that came before him, such as William Cooper, actually popularized words like sheeple, and thought Rush Limbaugh and his acolytes were much too mainstream for them.

But what Rush did—was allowed to do because of the removal of the Fairness Doctrine—was to have a hugely important influence on way more people, radicalizing entire swaths of the population, including my right-leaning “moderate folks.”

Laying the Groundwork for the Last Four Horrible Years

I can see why he was given the medal of honor by the most recent president. After all, without Rush Limbaugh’s rhetoric steadily laying the groundwork for fascistic rhetoric over recent decades, the last four years could never have happened.

Popularizing Alt-Right Dehumanizations

As I said a few weeks ago, a psychological study Brene Brown recently cited on her podcast showed that members of the alt-right genuinely saw a wide range of groups as significantly less than human.

Anyone who’s ever listened to Rush Limbaugh should recognize the categories of people deemed less than human: Muslims, feminists, Democrats/liberals, and so on.

These are not accidents. And it’s not just those who identify as the alt-right who have considered these groups “less than”—after all, as I’ve reported, thanks to listening to Rush, it took 15 years for me to rehumanize these groups enough to not class them with moral disgusts—and especially to actually vote for things that would help them.

And that was when I didn’t actually like Rush. Imagine the effects on those who actually thought he was funny and witty and clever for punching down at vulnerable populations and those who supported them.  

He was an icon, sure—an icon that perpetuated alt-right ideologies and mainstreamed them. In doing so, he was one of the big folks who laid the groundwork for the January 6 insurrection.

Evangelical Males’ Love Affairs with Rush

If you weren’t aware of Evangelicals’ embrace of militant masculinity I discussed in a recent post, one would think most Christians would find this man abhorrent. Many in my upbringing said they did. But, again, they didn’t call people out for listening to him. They practiced fawn, and saw themselves the more spiritual for it.

Indeed, as historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez excellently outlines in Jesus and John Wayne (I wrote an analysis of this book here), the Evangelical church flocked to Rush Limbaugh’s thoroughly secular gospel when it got popular—in fact, it may be said that in the early ‘90s, when their own militant masculine messaging had temporarily softened a bit, Rush became a secular prophet for them.

Ironic, isn’t it? That for all the white Evangelical fears of feeling “threatened by the culture,” many of them rushed out to idolize Rush Limbaugh in order to start the kind of hypermasculinist culture wars he endorsed and inspired. And others, the “Christian Nice” ones, well, those certainly weren’t going to call the militant masculinists on this behavior.

So Yes, It’s Very Okay to Be Angry and to Speak Out Against Fascistic Rhetoric

So yeah, there’s nothing inherently “spiritual” about fawning to people like Rush and his acolytes, whether they are living or dead. In fact, I find it spiritually abhorrent to do so if you’re in a situation where you remotely have a choice.

So even when my insides are twisting trying to get me to fawn, as they have been in the wake of Rush’s death, I now refuse to do so. I know that other responses are most often more ethical in the face of this level of bullying. That includes speaking up against toxic crap of the kind Rush Limbaugh made popular.

Overcoming Fawn to Make a Better World

And don’t let anyone tell you that if you feel angry about the damage Rush caused that you’re somehow being profane, or in danger of somehow eaten up by it. Don’t let anyone tell you that anger has to mean aggression toward either others or yourself. It doesn’t.

As I’ve said before, there is healthy anger, and there are plenty of productive things to do with anger: most helpfully, you can use it to call for justice and accountability for the kind of continuing bullying that Rush’s damaging rhetoric enabled and reinforced.

Let’s be angry, friends, and let’s channel as much of that anger as possible toward insisting on actually holding the bullies accountable in every way we can. And let’s channel our anger into insisting on a literally healthier, more equitable, less demonizing world for us all.

As part of those efforts, for the love of all that’s good and holy, let’s call for all of our leaders to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine for public airwaves. Look it up. It’s soooo important. Let’s do what we can to close down Rush’s legacy of public bullying, in all its forms.

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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Evangelicalism, Militant (White) Masculinity, and the “Threat” of Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/31/evangelicalism-militant-masculinity-threat-assertive-spirituality/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/31/evangelicalism-militant-masculinity-threat-assertive-spirituality/#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2021 06:36:08 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1184 I just finished reading the book Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez a couple of days ago, and I’ll be honest, it’s so impactful I’m going to be processing it for quite some time. In this article, I’ll talk about how this general audience history book makes the strongest case I’ve seen yet for the need for many people to embody the ideas behind this Assertive Spirituality project, in discussing the disturbing long-term impact of the ideas...

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I just finished reading the book Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez a couple of days ago, and I’ll be honest, it’s so impactful I’m going to be processing it for quite some time. In this article, I’ll talk about how this general audience history book makes the strongest case I’ve seen yet for the need for many people to embody the ideas behind this Assertive Spirituality project, in discussing the disturbing long-term impact of the ideas of militant masculinity as embedded in (white) Evangelicalism for decades.

So in this piece I’ll talk about this excellent book and how it helps us understand how the militant white supremacists we saw on January 6 storming the US Capitol with a flag and prayers was sadly not a surprise in light of this particular historian’s read of past decades of white Evangelical history in the US. I’ll also discuss how this important book published in the summer of 2020 (probably inadvertently) makes a strong case for why this Assertive Spirituality project is so important—and also is seen to be such a threat from the viewpoint of white Evangelicalism.

And yeah, by the end, hopefully all of you will run out and seriously buy this incredibly important and highly disturbing book. And also work to continue to assertively speak up against the real threat—which is represented by the extremely damaging kind of patriarchal white supremacist spirituality Du Mez outlines in her book and we saw culminated in the recent attack on the Capitol.

Disclosing a Bit More about My Church Background

Before we dive in, let me give you a quick backgrounder to where I’m coming from as I write this. Up to this point on this blog I haven’t specified which moderate denomination I grew up in, so here’s the awkward moment where I disclose that I grew up as a pastor’s kid in the same denomination as Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne.

As I’ve discussed before, that particular denomination was a mix of right-leaning and progressive trends, so in many ways the forms of aggressive masculinity Du Mez writes about were further sublimated there during my upbringing under a veneer of more passive “Christian nice”—right up until the 2016 election blew open all pretenses, leaving its congregations deeply divided politically. (I’ve written about the toxic sides of “Christian nice” extensively on this blog, in a series starting here, and have started to also call it “Christian bothesidesism” in more recent articles such as this one.)

A Guide from Someone With a Common Base But Historical Expertise–Very Useful!

In Jesus and John Wayne, then, it was really helpful for me to have someone from a complementary discipline but such a similar background help fill in a lot of historical details around my experiences in recent decades, up to and including the years where I myself started to migrate toward the more progressive side politically, as I dimly saw and felt the issues Du Mez outlines in her book and became deeply uncomfortable with them.  

So yeah, as I’ve said before (especially here, here, and here) this project is a deeply personal one for me—and reading this book was like reading my own history.  

Also, as a communication scholar who studies and teaches about stress, trauma and conflict communication, this book also helped contextualize this Assertive Spirituality project I started on this site (2.5 years ago now!). I’m about to unwrap at least the surface of what I’ve seen in the rest of this blog post. I’ll also unwrap a bit more of why we need to keep being assertive, even now that we’ve installed a few key healthier leaders in the US.

This might take a bit to unpack. Please hang with me as I do.

So…Yeah, Let’s Talk about Why Those Peops Storming the Capitol Weren’t a Puzzling Anomaly

Okay, so you just have to read the Jesus and John Wayne to get there (please do! It’s such an important book), but this excellently researched book of history traces the ebbs and flows of what Du Mez calls “militant masculinity” in (largely white) Evangelicalism over the past 50 years and before.

And let me tell you, by the time you get to the end, it’s really really hard to disagree with Du Mez’s historically-based assertion that white Evangelical support for the president who just left office definitely did not come out of left field.

In fact, her narrativization assertively connecting all the dots makes it clear that white Evangelical male leaders—mostly those who had not been to war themselves—have been peddling toxic zero-sum militant masculinity for decades and decades.

And while of course the book came out before the storming of the Capitol, it’s extremely clear after reading it exactly why those militant (mostly) males who stormed the Capitol saw no contradiction between carrying the cross and committing violent acts. As the book shows, their actions were thoroughly grounded in decades of gradually radicalizing Evangelical views of zero-sum aggressive masculinity.

An Aggressive Zero-Sum View of the World

To be clear, Du Mez doesn’t specifically use the term zero-sum, mind you—she mostly just uses the term militant masculinity. But what she’s describing in Evangelicalism’s peddling of militant masculinity over the last several decades is an incredibly aggressive zero-sum view of the world.

As a reminder, a zero-sum view of the world is one in which if one person wins, another person must lose. And while this is sometimes the way things go in the world, they often don’t have to.

In conflict studies, this view of conflict is often called the distributive approach to conflict.

But Wait, That’s Not the Only Approach!

But as all the conflict research shows, the distributive approach is not the only style. There’s also the integrative approach to conflicts, which is actually required for the most functional and effective groups.

In the integrative approach to conflicts, each party looks for as many ways solutions can benefit both parties as possible. And yeah, scholarship has shown that integrative approaches to conflict management, who try to meet as many needs as possible in any given situation, are more effective for groups.

In short, in the integrative approach, translated into the terms of spirituality, one could say that people seek to love both their neighbor and themselves, and especially to take care of vulnerable populations over and against those who think they have to exploit and hurt them. (Note that a lot of Christians read these as incredibly common themes in the Bible, and other religions and spiritualities often see these same concerns as deeply essential as well, especially the healthier forms of them that take these ideas as seriously as possible.)

Stress research underlines the fact that these aren’t just pie in the sky ideas: integrative approaches to the world, that take care of as many needs as possible, are also literally healthier for us than distributive approaches.

This same approach is inherent in the idea of assertiveness, which as I defined it back in an early post on this site seeks to tread the ground between aggressiveness and passivity by enacting “communication behavior that reflects respect for yourself as well as for other(s)” (Galanes & Adams, Effective Group Communication).

But Those Who Champion Zero-Sum Approaches Want You to Think It’s the Only Possibility

In contrast, the viewpoints that champion zero-sum or distributive approaches assume you have to choose aggressiveness and passivity, but can never solve problems integratively through assertive behavior.

In short, according to zero-sum views of spirituality such as that Du Mez outlines in her book, there’s really no way to love both your neighbor and yourself at the same time. Not really.

Nor is there, as we’ll see, a way within this militant masculine spiritual frame for men who are trained to see themselves as “natural aggressors” to “abase themselves” to do more than to pretend to love their neighbor, especially those who are different from themselves.

While the softer forms of patriarchy put forth from this frame of reference put forth the idea of “servant leadership” by men, Du Mez highlights the cognitive dissonance and desire to dominate shown even in these “softer” forms, and maps the ways in which more obviously militant forms of masculinity always came back to dominate the narrative.

No wonder this system sees assertiveness, especially from those who don’t fit the paradigm of “natural (white) male aggressiveness,” as a threat. After all, as we’ll discuss, it only sees aggressiveness and passivity as true possibilities.

To this view, assertiveness and integrative views are seen to be “unnatural” and even “Satanic”–conveniently to be fought at all costs. (Freaky, isn’t it? Talk about making what’s evil good and what’s good evil! Makes me shudder to think about it.)

The Embattled Aggression of White Evangelical Patriarchy

While, again, Du Mez doesn’t quite put it in the terms conflict scholars would, even a quick read-through of her book makes it extremely clear that white Evangelical patriarchy has been pushing a message of aggression and domination for white conservative males in recent decades.

Much has been said about the white Evangelical persecution complex in recent years, and the increasingly inflamed and embattled culture wars that have been fought by them politically using wedge issues like abortion and homosexuality to inflame the subject as well as to get people to vote for conservative candidates at the cost of all other concerns.

In Jesus and John Wayne, Du Mez shows persuasively how white male leaders who feared losing their influence used fear and aggression messaging, including a lot of zero-sum distributive messaging, created and inflamed these “culture wars” to translate the idea of nationalism inward to see fellow Americans as threats, especially those who wished to have equality with white males in the existing hierarchy.

It also shows how they used politics and mediated communication, including books, television and radio, to gain more power for their message in both overt and subtle forms. The evidence is all there in the book to show how deeply diseased, aggressive, and zero-sum this form of patriarchy has been in at least white Evangelicalism, and how far back its roots go.

Zero-sum Masculinity and Arguments about “God-given” Aggression

The book also shows how deeply this aggressive form of masculinity has relied on peddling a message of passive submission to women, minorities, and vulnerable populations, and has deeply attacked and abused these populations when within their ranks even while pretending to protect them.

The evidence in the book illustrates how this Evangelical view of militant masculinity has relied on the vision of “protecting women and children from harm” as its reasoning for its aggressiveness, as well as a striking line of rhetoric about how aggression is an inevitable, “God-given” side effect of the testosterone men “naturally” have.

This Idea Persists, Even in the “Softer” Evangelical Forms of Patriarchy

One fascinating and disturbing thread the book follows is the ways in which in the period of “softer patriarchy” in the early 1990s, Evangelical rhetoric shifted from war language to that of sports metaphors, only to ramp back up again after 9/11.

Du Mez points out that the idea of aggression being natural to males and passivity to females never goes away, however, and gets increasingly radicalized after that point.

(And of course that any aggressiveness from minority males as well as females or those who supported them was also seen to be unnatural and a threat to be fought at all costs.)

Commonalities Between Evangelical Beliefs about Masculinity and the Far-Right Patriot Movement

Oh Lord, as a communication scholar would I love to go off on a loooooong rant about this particular patriarchal belief about aggression and dominance being “natural” to (at least certain alpha) males, and any assertiveness or aggression in others to be seen as “unnatural,” but as an assertive person I will restrain myself (and maybe make that into another article later on). 🙂

Instead, for now I’m just going to point you back to my article about how conspiracy theorists and other far-right members of the Patriot Movement were claiming that certain aggressive male leaders who had “secret knowledge” were given the “divine right of citizens.”

Du Mez doesn’t look in depth at conspiracy rhetoric in the book, but having studied the rhetoric of conspiracy having read Jesus and John Wayne, I can see even more clearly why white male Evangelicals found common cause with these other violent far-right groups and work together to make this kind of fascistic rhetoric mainstream. After all, white Evangelical male authoritarian rhetoric had been paralleling those other groups’ paranoid styles for decades.

White Males: The Group Who Doesn’t Seem to Need to Repent and Atone

As Du Mez notes rather dryly in the book, there was particular hypocrisy in the way those male pastors who peddled the idea of original sin refused to properly challenge the idea that white male pastors could be sinful or corrupt in how they were using their power.

Indeed, Du Mez goes into some of the ways that forgiveness rhetoric was used to protect vicious men over and above people like women and children who experienced abuse. The material she outlines on that supplements and substantiates the article I wrote on that same subject here.

Doesn’t Even Protect Who They’re Claiming to Protect

The final chapter of the book on the many sexual abuse scandals recently uncovered in Evangelical churches makes it abundantly clear that women within the church are definitely not being actually protected by all the Evangelical masculine rhetoric of protection of women, especially when combined with previous chapters that build in material from purity culture guides and marriage manuals.

This is a powerful note to culminate the book on—how incredibly hollow that “protect our own vulnerable folks” rhetoric is, when you look at the facts.

But Yes, Let’s Talk about “the Enemy”

Du Mez doesn’t fully get into it in the book, but let’s talk about why this militant masculinity would “inherently” turn against all perceived passivity or vulnerability, even those it claims to protect.

In order to understand this better, I find it helpful to think back through the book’s contents to see who is seen as “the enemy” from this militantly masculine perspective, and then think through why that might be in light of the evidence in the book and elsewhere.

If you go through Jesus and John Wayne, you’ll see that the list disturbing boils down to anyone who doesn’t fall in line with the zero-sum vision for militant masculinity.

This loooong list of suspects includes—wait for it—Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers as a Threat? Talking about Shame

Scary, right? I mean, if you’re outside of the Evangelical subculture or have resilience to the messaging of patriarchy as a whole, it’s hard to see how Mr. Rogers would in any way seem like a threat.

In fact, though, he definitely was—and I would argue that Du Mez’s book combined with Brene Brown’s work shows why (and if you’ve seen any of the Mr. Rogers’ documentaries, they touch on this material as well, a bit).

But yeah, as Brene Brown reports in Daring Greatly, the male shame message relates to not allowing oneself to seem vulnerable—and it’s pretty clear from both Daring Greatly and Jesus and John Wayne that the “real man” message, both inside Evangelicalism and in secular versions, outsources vulnerability to the women and other “vulnerable populations” it claims to protect.

How Evangelicalism “Spiritualizes Up” Standard Toxic Masculinity

In short, militant masculinity in Evangelicalism “spiritualizes up” the ordinary damaging cultural idea that men are without vulnerability—which, as Brene Brown points out in her book, paradoxically leaves men more vulnerable.

As Du Mez’s account shows, this denial of vulnerability also is extremely dangerous, both to men and to others they see as a threat. It deeply deeply hurts many other populations as it seeks to attack those who do show vulnerability. (As I said toward the beginning of the article, this bears out what interdisciplinary stress research shows about zero-sum distributive approaches to conflict being literally unhealthy.)

This “real man” form of masculinity based in shame is extremely irrational as it targets anyone else who shows vulnerability or “femininity,” or who advocates for the worth and equality of the vulnerable in any way. It sees them as a threat.

Fred Rogers’ show really did deeply disrupt this messaging. He offered a conflicting model of masculinity, via a deeply popular show, that didn’t shame others—an assertive one claiming that everyone deserves to see themselves as having inherent worth and claiming dignity. It was an incredibly assertive message, delivered by a man who wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability. No wonder white Evangelicals saw it as a threat.

Bringing it Back Around to the Continuing Need for the Assertive Spirituality We’ve Been Championing Here

I could go on for a long time, but for now, I want to bring this back around to how clear reading Jesus and John Wayne made it clear to me that we desperately need to continue to strive for assertive responses to the current situation in light of this spirituality of militant masculinity that’s now come to the point where it’s attacked the Capitol.

See, it’s clear, in light of all the evidence, that the attack at the Capitol, and the attitudes that raised a cross there alongside a Trump flag were not an anomaly. Removing the man whose name was on the flag from office won’t be enough to return our country to sanity, not with so many radicalized people in our midst. And as long as these distributive views are allowed to be at all dominant, integrative attempts toward the common good and asserting the value of vulnerability and genuinely caring for vulnerable groups may once again get sidelined, to the detriment of all.

In the same way, while assertive use of the justice system and of deplatforming white supremacist messages of hate and hopefully a move toward impeachment are crucially assertive responses to the issue, putting the insurrectionists who raised the cross and prayed after smearing feces in the Capitol definitely won’t reverse the destructive work this broadly based form of poisonous white supremacist militant masculinist religion has done within the domain of spirituality.

Why Assertiveness Is a Threat to White Male Spiritual Control

The thing is, this very idea of militant masculinity is built on the idea that, as I pointed out early in this article, male aggressiveness must win and others must lose.

Being assertive over and against such distributed views of conflict is absolutely crucial—being passive or “Christian nice” to ignore the deeply damaging violations that have occurred and in many cases are still occurring is like trying to put a band-aid over gangrene. It doesn’t really fix the real problem.

And let me be clear—if we are to assertively champion integrative spiritualities that stand up against militant masculine ones, we in no way are “as bad as” those who champion militant masculinity.

To accept that idea is in fact to reinforce the idea that distributive approaches are the only way, or to suggest that the persecution narrative white Evangelicals and their allies secular white nationalists suggest is in any way accurate. (Spoiler: it is not accurate to suggest that equity is persecution.)

Jesus and John Wayne Shows Us the Work Continues to Need Many Hands

And yes, it is absolutely fabulous that President Biden and other integrative leaders are busy at work making things literally healthier for us all. I’m very thankful for that.

That makes the work of us citizens a tiny bit less pressured just now.

But what Jesus and John Wayne has shown me even more than I knew before, is how d*mned much work is left to be done in this area. So let’s rest up when we need to, sure (and take time to read the book if you need to grasp how high and deep the task is!). But we need to continue our relay marathon toward justice and as healed and whole a world as we can make it, friends!  

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap—including and especially all the varieties of this militant form of spirituality wherever we find it, and the passivity that supports it. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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What’s in a #BernieMeme? (And What Is Not) http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/23/whats-in-a-berniememe-what-is-not/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/23/whats-in-a-berniememe-what-is-not/#comments Sun, 24 Jan 2021 05:06:27 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1181 This, the 51st month of 2016, as one meme puts it, has been full of ALL THE FEELS for me and so many others in the US and around the world. I mean, let’s be clear: in the course of two weeks we progressed from armed insurrectionists white supremacists praying in the Capitol while causing violence and trauma to the blessedly peaceful inauguration day. It’s been A LOT to process. So it’s excellent that we’ve had memes of Bernie Sanders...

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This, the 51st month of 2016, as one meme puts it, has been full of ALL THE FEELS for me and so many others in the US and around the world. I mean, let’s be clear: in the course of two weeks we progressed from armed insurrectionists white supremacists praying in the Capitol while causing violence and trauma to the blessedly peaceful inauguration day. It’s been A LOT to process. So it’s excellent that we’ve had memes of Bernie Sanders sitting at the Biden/Harris Inauguration on a folding chair in his winter coat and mittens to help make social media safe for us again. In this analysis, I plan to talk about the very real benefits of this kind of serious play, and also its limits. Specifically, I want to point out that while these #BernieMemes have a powerful place to play in this new era, they are not a magic ticket to heal all religio-political wounds—and explain why.

This may be a longish one. Thanks for hanging in there with me—I think you’ll find it worth it.

My Background and Expertise and Interest

As a reminder, I am approaching this as a communication scholar who studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I also have PhD concentrations in media, narrative and society and rhetorical studies, so this kind of delightful thing is just up my alley. I also teach interpersonal communication on the university level from my current area of research, so I’m coming with that background too, as well as personal experience of deep conflicts with those across the religio-political divides.

I grew up, if you’ve been following my stuff, as a pastor’s kid in what I’ve started calling “Christian Bothsidesism”—in other words, in the belief that the extreme religio-political right and just the ordinary left were both really extreme and also “just as bad as each other.” I wrote about that here and here. And it really took the revelations of the last four years to really see how much my “moderate Christian nice” upbringing left room for support of fascistic authoritarianism and all sorts of other nastiness.

Anyway, with all this background in place, as someone who currently identifies as progressive and feels release from the collective abuse from the previous administration, I’m definitely feeling the Bernie mittens right now. They have brought me tremendous joy over the last few days. I’m definitely enjoying sitting with Bernie.

And yet I’m not investing #BernieMemes with some sort of magical power either—and I think it’s key we recognize their value, but also their limits, especially when it comes to reclaiming people who are still clinging to right-wing ideologies.

Can the #BernieMemes Bridge Our Religio-Political Divides?

So to dive in: However much I love the #BernieMemes — and again, don’t get me wrong, I lurve them — I also am cringing quite a bit as I’m seeing suggestions that Bernie memes might be the one and total thing that can bridge all of our religio-political differences.

This opinion piece by a comic over at CNN boils down to just that.

When I hear stuff like that, it makes me cringe hard.

Here’s Why I Cringe.

See, that kind of advice is the kind of advice offered in a lot of relational manuals that only work in mostly-functional relationships—you know, the kind where people make mistakes but everyone really means best, and forgiveness comes easily because there is a genuine basis for trust.

This is not healthy advice to give in dysfunctional situations where power dynamics are uneven and one person has suffered bullying, abuse, and/or trauma at the hands of another.

Even More True on the Systemic Level

That’s true on the interpersonal level, and it is also true on the systemic level, in which one group is insisting that another group is less human or ought be allowed less human rights than another. (After all, as we all know, while compromises are often necessary, human rights aren’t the same as pie, where if one person gets a piece it diminishes someone else.)

And let’s face it: for anyone who still doubted it, the events at the Capitol OUGHT to have been the proof that there is nothing functional about how the religio-political right has been acting toward the left. As I’ve mentioned several times before, they’re the only side with self-described Nazis. They’re also, despite bothsidesish projective rhetoric to the contrary, the only ones who have staged an attempted coup on the Capital building.

And their ideology and policies alike have been only about building and maintaining power at everyone else’s expense. I mean, the completely unnecessary body counts from the pandemic combined with the complete sabotaging of public health experts ought to have been plenty of evidence to show that.

There May Be a Few Relatively Reasonable People That Bernie’s Mittens May Move

For those that see this proof—whether before or now—sure, #BernieMemes may absolutely help to welcome those people over to reality. But for others, as I’ll discuss, this could be a landmine situation if you expect to win them over about genuine religio-political topics.

Low-Stakes Common Ground?

Let’s be clear, then. Yes, yes, yes—communication scholarship is clear that inoffensive things like #BernieMemes absolutely have the capability of providing a low-stakes form of common ground and things to laugh about together with people who we may have trouble crossing the divides with.

In some situations, this kind of thing may even help humanize the left for people who have been wrapped up in demonization of it. After all, there’s something beautiful about seeing this particular image of Bernie Sanders, dressed down and bundled up and assertively wearing recycled mittens amongst the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration.

And Yet, Let’s Be Clear Here—There’s Only So Far This Will Go

Because the people who are laughing about the meme don’t actually have to talk to Bernie, or listen to him, or take his ideas seriously—it’s a very low-stakes form of humanization we’re talking about here. I mean yes, the humanization is there. Because of the non-verbal humanity of Bernie’s full body presenting itself to the viewer, it’s hard to fully dismiss the reality and humanity of Bernie in these memes, even as he literally becomes objectified.

To some people, this kind of recycled image could be a starting point to help build a road back to reality for some people who have been caught up in the disinformation on the right. It could also be super helpful for those who agree in principle with the left but are still trying to bridge that socialized discomfort with actually overcoming socialized unjust moral disgusts for liberal people and policies of various sorts.

That’s no joke. And yet…there’s a huge barrier to be crossed here.

Why the Left Needs Humanization to the Right

And let’s be clear: there’s a huge need for the left to be humanized for the right now. There is clear evidence for that. Brene Brown, on a recent episode of her podcast Unlocking Us, recently cited a peer-reviewed psychological study that showed the damage of the demonization of the left of the last four years (and—let’s face it—what came before as well).

This study had members of the alt-right identify how human they thought various groups were, and the average for “Democrats” was 60.4%.  These same members of the alt-right scored “white people” at 91%.

That disjunction is fascinating if also disturbing, if only because it makes it clear: these alt-right folks don’t see Democrats as white, and that’s why they don’t see them as fully human.

Ding ding ding! There it is, right there: white supremacy.

(Of course, many Democrats ARE white, but then, the concept of “race-traitors” has been around as long as racism has been.)

Democrats as Three-Fifths Human?

Listen: this number—60.4% absolutely stunned me. And the reason it stunned me so much was this: 60% means that these members of the alt-right saw Democrats, when they thought of them as a group, as pretty much exactly three-fifths of a person.

If you’re thinking about that number and thinking back to the Constitution, three-fifths of a person is a hugely important number. That’s the number plantation owners were allowed to count their non-voting slaves in terms of the coming up with numbers for the electoral college.

It’s stunning—but not surprising to me—that this is the number that members of the alt-right came up with for Democrats. And in retrospect, my Christian “right-leaning moderate” background honestly carried many of the same prejudices.

How My Socialized Bothsidesism Led Me to Be Terrified of Democrats

After all, as I’ve pointed out before in this space, I was forced in high school to listen to the unhealthy rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh in the car. And even back then, when as a “moderate conservative” I recoiled from his language, I was still terrified of Democratic ideas and how they might lead me astray.  

I was so terrified of taking Democrats and their policies seriously—mostly because of their demonization as “baby killers,” to be honest—that it took me a decade and a half from that point to vote for my first Democrat. And it took me until very recently to see how bigoted those stances I was raised with truly were.

My Long-Assed Process of Rehumanizing the Democrats

I can promise you, it took WAY more than a Bernie meme to get there. Bernie memes might have been a good step in the journey, sure—but it took a LOT of experiences and relationships and willingness to keep my mouth shut and listen to get to the point where I genuinely appreciated the humanity of Democrats enough to take them seriously.

And that was then, long before any of the recently traumatizing sh*t went down. And—again—I would in no way have considered myself part of the “alt-right.” I would not have espoused their name-calling or violence. And yet I, too, took a long-assed time to see Democrats as fully human.

So yeah, Bernie memes are a gorgeous thing, but they aren’t going to do the work on their own, and definitely not for the hardened cases.

That Isn’t To Say We Don’t Need These Bernie Memes!

Before this previous administration, the American Psychological Association’s annual stress index never recorded fears for the future of the country as higher than financial or work concerns, and well over 60% of participants. This previous US administration has brought this country down a long, dark hole, and the rhetoric at the top was paired with policies that caused measurable damage to people’s lives.

This research, especially combined with what we’re learning about the Capitol attack, shows us in stark terms how VERY MUCH we needed this new administration in this country—and the more lighthearted and humanizing rhetoric that came with it.

What #BernieMemes Do Well

So yeah, this stress research shows us how very much we needed the laughter (plenty of evidence shows laughter decreases stress) of the #BernieMemes.

It also shows us how much we needed this displaced and manipulated image of Bernie to help us feel and express our other feels as well. After all, the non-verbal communication of this lovely man, sitting there in bundled up in the cold, expresses for us collectively, in the midst of the pomp and circumstance of this strange inauguration, how so many of us feel in this dark pandemic winter that was disrupted so recently with violence against those who supported a peaceful transition.

In some ways we are all Bernie, sitting through this season the best we can, using whatever resources we can to keep ourselves and others warm all masked up and distanced from others to try to keep others literally healthy. And looking a little miserable in the process.

These #BernieMemes show our humanity to others. And some may pull out of their fog of disinformation to register that.

And Yet Bernie’s Mittens Are Weirdly Not Silver Bullets of Reconciliation

But these #BernieMemes are not magic.

Not everyone will have the eyes to see.

And some of those who do will get super defensive of their own virtue, an exercise they’ve had plenty of modeling for over the last four years.

When Bernie’s Mittens Likely Won’t Do Much Good

As I said in my last post here, people I know from my “Christian moderate” past (as I might be doing now had I not shifted) will decry the views of the alt-right as much as the violence they perpetrated, while insisting that “everyone knows” that their primary leaders and their policies couldn’t possibly have played a part.

They will try to tell you that rhetoric doesn’t really matter, or that if it does, it’s only an extreme faction that has been mobilized—a faction they disclaim.

In these circumstances, I don’t think #BernieMemes will go very far. In these cases, I’m honestly not sure what will.

Why We Should Keep Going with the Memes Anyway

None of this should stop us from glorying in the beauty of the Bernie memes, and other delightfully humorous memes. Memes help start conversation, they help us cope, they can set rapport, they can help people who are openminded enough to make the gradual journey to be more and more open.

These are all excellent things. I am not among those who think memes aren’t valuable. They are extremely valuable. They are part of what we can do to move step by step for a healthier world for us all—and that’s not only the serious memes, either. #BernieMemes count too.

But Yeah, They Are Not Magic

But they are not any more of a silver bullet than anything else is in communication.

(I’m about to start a new semester on Zoom, so this is a thing that will get said many times in my classroom, as usual—there are no silver bullets in communication. To think we can fully control communication leads to trauma and abuse.)

Let’s Take a Second to Be Sad that Silver Bullets Don’t Exist

It would be easier in a lot of ways if there were, wouldn’t there? And it makes sense that we would want one: after all, the last four years, and longer for many vulnerable populations, have been traumatic ones for us.

And now, we are stepping into a new era—it would be nice to feel like everything would somehow just heal, and very quickly.

And yes, in a lot of ways the inauguration, and the #BernieMemes that came with them, are an instant shift for the better. That shift is profoundly welcomed by those of us that rightfully felt the extreme pain of the last few years.

Not Going to Get Us to Some Fabled “Unity”

But let’s be clear: this picture of Bernie is not—certainly not on its own—going to fix the problem of unity in this country.

It will help us all blow off some steam, and that is valuable work to help us all heal.

It will help humanize the left to at least an extent and with some audiences. And that is valuable work.

Advice for the Courageous Folks Who Do Try to Rebuild Relationships

But to those of you who think you might want to venture out to rebuild some relationships with stubbornly radicalized right-wing folks, #BernieMemes in hand, I say this, which is the same advice I give to those in my interpersonal class looking to approach people that have deeply hurt them: if you decide to go forth to try to build bridges, make a careful plan for how you may do this thing.

If you want to approach those you think you might have a shot of reclaiming, take care about the effort. Set yourself some careful parameters and boundaries around the effort. Set yourself up some social support. Enact self-care. Remember it’s okay to walk away, and work ahead of time to figure out when that line might be crossed for you.

Breaking Through Bothsidesism

In short, remember this: both sides are NOT the same here. The disinformation from white supremacy has been aggressively dehumanizing people on the left for decades (and even centuries!). And while the left isn’t immune to white supremacy, in the last few years the right’s been working aggressively and overtly to radicalize enough people that they perpetrated an attempted armed coup that brought the Confederate flag inside the Capitol building for the first time ever.

The left is responding, as did Bernie Sanders did, with creating memes and, in the case of Bernie Sanders, chuckling before creating merch that helps older people get fed. The new administration is hiring people who represent vulnerable populations, and working to turn back some of the worst damage as quickly as possible. And advocating, albeit imperfectly, for inclusive policies that take care of as many people as possible in these difficult times.

What Then Shall We Do?

In the end, let’s all have fun with the #BernieMemes. And if you strategically want to help try to reclaim people from the world of alternative realities, go for it—but do so carefully where you’re able. And remember that it’s simply not okay for anyone to continue to support the rhetoric or policies that have created so much pain and outright deaths for so many. It’s simply not okay.

And remember: our overall goal is to care for people’s needs the best we can, especially the most vulnerable. It would be great if the great political divide could be healed right away, especially where it impacts our interpersonal relationships, but I don’t see an easy path to that.

What there is an easier path to is advocating for accountability for those who created the divide, and working to help heal ourselves and other vulnerable populations that have suffered way too much over the last four years and beyond.

A Final Charge

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

P.S. I’d love to see your favorite #BernieMemes—please toss them in the comments! Thanks much!

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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“Not My Christianity”?: Moving Toward Healthier Responses to the Attempted Coup http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/09/not-my-christianity-attempted-coup-responses/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/09/not-my-christianity-attempted-coup-responses/#comments Sun, 10 Jan 2021 00:50:34 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1176 This week has felt like quite the, well, year in the US, hasn’t it? Specifically, the last few days. In this blog post, I plan to respond to one strain of responses to the seditious coup attempt that led to the first breaching of the US Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 since 1812: the “Not MY Christianity” rhetoric. See, I totally understand the impulse to fully disclaim the twisted toxic kind of spirituality on display during this insurrection....

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This week has felt like quite the, well, year in the US, hasn’t it? Specifically, the last few days. In this blog post, I plan to respond to one strain of responses to the seditious coup attempt that led to the first breaching of the US Capitol building on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 since 1812: the “Not MY Christianity” rhetoric. See, I totally understand the impulse to fully disclaim the twisted toxic kind of spirituality on display during this insurrection. But as you will see, while I think it’s important we fight back against this kind of unhealthy spirituality, I think it’s also important we inquire more deeply into its roots lest we miss out on many of the lessons this horrific set of events and its precursors have to offer us.  

After all, this attempted coup came wrapped in signs saying “Jesus saves” and the singing of “Amazing Grace” and under the auspices of a cross. News articles here and here talk more about the unhealthy ways Christian symbolism was used during Wednesday’s seditious storming of the Capitol.

My Early Socialization into Christian Bothsidesism

Here’s the thing: I totally recognize the impulse to disclaim these actions as “not having anything to do with Christianity”—associating them with not being REALLY Christian.

Believe me, I’ve been there. As I’ve stated many times before in this space, I’ve actually been socialized into a moderate right-leaning denomination that taught me to do just that—to disclaim all violent actions done by those who claimed to be Christians.

As though it was ever as easy as that.

Ironic that we also believed we could never be without sin. (Mine were a complex bunch.)

Our Theological Bothsidesism

Especially because, as I’ve stated before, my peops were just as, if not more, horrified by those who identified as Christians who were theologically and politically to our left.

See, we didn’t think either of those groups were REALLY Christian. I mean, maybe we’d see them in heaven—after all, that was up to God, after all—but we were deeply disturbed by the idea of that, too.

From our view, it was pretty clear that the blatantly aggressive Christians, those supporting the empire, wouldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven. (Well, to be clear, I don’t really know about that now, but I do really hope not.)

What We Were Blind To

But as I can see now, as a scholar of stress, trauma and conflict communication, we were completely blind to the ways our toxic Christian nice (which I’ve talked about many times, starting here) was enabling the bullies while doing an extreme injustice to the more progressive Christians, through participating in their demonization (I’ve talked, for instance, about socialism as a “devil term” to be fought at all costs here).

We were also completely blind to the ways our right-leaning political views went way beyond the rhetoric of “nice” to enable the bullies in our midst, and had concrete consequences that hurt people.

And we were completely blind to the ways our false equivalencies that were just as, if not more, concerned about left-wing and right-wing Christians were ripe to be exploited by fascists and authoritarians known for their whataboutisms and bothsidesist propaganda.

And I’ll be honest—as I’ve noted before, it took me decades to figure this stuff out myself—and the journey wasn’t easy to get there.

Those Who Did Not Have Ears to Hear—or Ability to Reflect

The thing is this—a lot of us as “moderate Christians” were so busy tut-tutting about “those other Christians” that we failed to be properly introspective about our own complicity in bigger systemic problems.

Many too many of us were so d*mned caught up in our own sense of moral rightness about not being like either camp, and in what I’m calling here the Doctrine of Non-Assertiveness, that we failed to see the dangerous ways that the rhetoric and policies of militant masculinity, of white supremacy, of toxic xenophobia, etc. had already taken hold in our consciousnesses.

Some of Us DID Become More Introspective and Aware

Of course, some of us did recognize—and the tools that ironically had crept in (partly through study of the Bible, but also from wise practices of listening carefully and openly as we were able to people of different traditions—helped us gradually realize the real state of things.

That Christianity as a whole was—and is—a gigantic dysfunctional family. That even those who decided to fully leave its ranks still came from this family. And if we are to break this family’s intensely strong patterns of intergenerational trauma, we really need to face the problems of this dysfunctional family—including the ways our own unhealthy tendencies are often rooted in where we came from—head on.

Analyzing the Whiplashy Gaslighters That Claim Not to Be Complicit While Supporting Most of the Rhetoric

The thing is, not everyone is so introspective. Others I know switched in a whiplashy dizzing pace from promoting alt-right propagandistic talking points one moment about the election being stolen—the very type of rhetoric that laid the groundwork for and egged on this attempted coup—to the next moment disclaiming the aggression.

These people don’t have to say that aggression on “both sides” would be wrong for me to know they would be quickly evoking these kinds of false equivalencies if I pushed them.

And that’s the problem with cordial hypocrisy—it can beget the appearance of reason and empathy when someone is actually supporting evil. And they will gaslight you if they need to to maintain the “moral high ground” for themselves.

Defending “the Moral High Ground” at Expense of Truth and Reality

Let me say this again—the type of “Christian nice” that supports the rhetoric and policies behind the attempted coup while disclaiming the violence of the attempt actually cares more about their own senses of morality at others’ expense, and at the expense of truth.

Because here’s the truth—the rhetoric and the policies and the violence are, and have been, a package deal with this occupant of the Oval Office. Experts—including me but definitely not only me by a long shot—have been telling anyone who listens that since at least 2015.

So for anyone to say that they disclaim the violence while propping up the rhetoric and policies—is either delusion or disingenuous, or both.

Why It’s So Tempting to Just Dismiss the Attempted Coup’s Abuse of Christian Symbols

Again, I get the impulse for those of us not doing this to dissociate from the far-right and those trying to pretend they haven’t been radicalized—to dismissively say the violence is not okay, or they’re “not real Christians,” and leave it at that.

That’s a natural trauma response, to distance ourselves from those things we find morally disgusting. And let’s be clear—this kind of fascism, both in rhetoric, policy, AND violence, is and ought to be deeply disgusting. It’s just that the subtle forms ought to be just as disgusting as the extreme ones.

Here’s the thing, though—none of us is immune from the dysfunctional patterns in this really disturbing family so many of us identify with.

I’m not saying we have to be the person who must have close relationships with those  the far-right unhealthily aggressive forms of Christianity at our peril.

Recognizing My “Good” White Family’s Complicity in Slavery

What I am saying is this, and let me continue to use family history as an important analogy here: Awhile back, thinking carefully about the stories I’d grown up with that taught me how incredibly evil slavery was, I dove into Ancestry.com to make sure my family didn’t own slaves. I was honestly relieved when it seemed that we didn’t.

Until this summer, when I was listening to a book on the history of cod (yes, the fish), of all things, only to find that that industry, which was rooted in one of the towns much of my family had lived in New England, was deeply complicit with the slave trade.

Hm…..it seems living in the North didn’t remove our family from the consequences of white supremacy and privilege. Now THAT was uncomfortable, but an important discomfort for me to sit with.

Soooo….Let’s Talk about WWII

When I realized that, and started reflecting on the last four years, I realize that something similar had happened with how my peops taught us to be on the “right side of history” regarding WWII and Hitler and the Holocaust.

See, as I’ve discussed here before, I was raised among a people who claimed deeply to hate Nazis. They told us stories about Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, etc., etc., etc. When I grew up I also learned about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Churches that resisted Hitler.

But at the same time, I was taught with shake of head and clucking of tongue that Europe had become “so post-Christian.”

Defending Our Virtue and That Of the “True Church” Erased Part of the Story

And here’s the thing: because we were so busy “right-siding” ourselves to the type of Christianity that had resisted Hitler while insisting that Europe, not the complicit church in Europe, were the reason people had left church in droves, we failed to realize the broader picture we needed to know to cut out the gangrene inside of ourselves and our broader community.

We were so busy looking down on Europe for being “post-Christian” that we failed to fully recognize the strengths they had in learning their own lessons better than we had.

We were so busy looking down on Europe for being “post-Christian” and congratulating ourselves for being better than that that we failed to recognize how much damage was caused by the church in that era.

Restoring the Whole View

Because plenty of churches went along with Nazism, kowtowed to it. Very few churches actually worked against the system by signing on to be part of the Confessing Church system, part of the resistance.

By saying the resistors were the only real Christians, we failed to see the whole picture. By doing that, we failed to see how exactly Europe become “post-Christian.”

Now, in light of the last four years in which f*scism has been steadily arising in the US out of disturbingly deep roots, I can see how it happened.

Why It Would Make Sense for America to “Become Post-Christian”

And if large swaths of America ends up “post-Christian,” let me be clear. It will do so at least in part as a way to try to heal themselves from this unhealthy dysfunctional family and some deep-rooted intergenerational trauma.

Trying to tell such people that “that’s not real Christianity” is, respectfully, both accurate and inaccurate. After all, let’s be clear: many healthier strands of spirituality DO exist in Christianity, as many dysfunctional families have safe, reasonable members.

But it also makes sense that those who have been deeply wounded by the bullies in Christianity would blame those who don’t stand up against its bullies. Who proclaim a doctrine of non-assertiveness.

We Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Keep Doing Our Best

This doesn’t, of course, mean that the healthy people and organizations who still identify as Christian ought to be perfect or anything—we all have our limits in what we can do to speak truth to power—but we can all do what we can do.

And we are rightfully blamed if we don’t do whatever we can do to make things safer and hold the bullies to account, especially when they come carrying a cross and draped in a flag.

What Can We Do?

So, then, what should those who have reasonable spiritualities, or just those who are reasonable, do after this earth-shaking yet predictable and traumatizing coup that carried with it such Christian elements?

Let us do the following:

  1. Keep Speaking Truth to Power! Assertively call out not just the violence but also the unhealthy theologies that made this possible, including the doctrine of nonassertiveness that comes with Christian nice. Disclaim this specific event, yes—but also call out the broader patterns that it’s tied to.
  2. Keep Pushing For Healthier Policies and Rhetoric! Keep pushing for and vote for policies and rhetoric alike that helps fix as many of the issues this incident and the last four years have brought into high relief as possible. That includes calling the perpetrators to be held truly accountable—all of them.
  3. Care for Ourselves and Others Through This Stressful Time. Recognize our own natural stress responses that come with this intergenerational trauma that comes with unhealthy Christianity that gets all wrapped up with toxic masculinity and white supremacy, etc., and work through our own stress cycles (and go to trauma therapy where we are able and have access) to deal with our own parts of the trauma.
  4. Be Reflexive About Bigger Patterns and Our Part in Them. Examine ourselves and our own traditions, whether we still consider ourselves part of them or not, for signs of unhealthy toxicity to be shifted to break the trauma cycles.
  5. Educate Yourself. That includes listening carefully to those who have been hurt by the bullies and the theological abuses in the church (BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+ folx, etc.) for help in diagnosing and healing these broader problems.
  6. Be a Witness to Fight Back Against Gaslighting. Write down these stories of what you’re learning about the toxic sides of things and how to heal them. Pass them on to others and to future generations. Keep the efforts going, friends!

There are more things, I’m sure. But this ought to give us something to be going on with, as the Brits say.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let us work to honestly and openly fight against the unhealthy intergenerational trauma patterns both in and outside of the Christian family, and may we keep working for a literally healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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When Christian Nice Demonizes Self Care http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/02/when-christian-nice-demonizes-self-care/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2021/01/02/when-christian-nice-demonizes-self-care/#respond Sun, 03 Jan 2021 05:26:52 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1170 So this past week I saw a post by a male Christian that suggested in the new year we “serve others rather than ourselves,” and I wanted to analyze today all the many problems with that much-too-prevalent statement today as a one-size-fits-all rule. And especially put it into the broader contexts of societal hierarchies that help demonize self care for many populations in unhealthy ways. In short, this blog post will unwrap how this kind of theological false dichotomy, when...

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So this past week I saw a post by a male Christian that suggested in the new year we “serve others rather than ourselves,” and I wanted to analyze today all the many problems with that much-too-prevalent statement today as a one-size-fits-all rule. And especially put it into the broader contexts of societal hierarchies that help demonize self care for many populations in unhealthy ways. In short, this blog post will unwrap how this kind of theological false dichotomy, when applied, can do great damage, and why we should work hard to get past it, both in the new year and always.

My Background and Context for This Discussion

Okay, so there are a lot of directions I could go with this analysis as a communication scholar who grew up as a pastor’s kid in a moderate denomination in the Midwest US. Let’s just say I’ve seen this kind of statement—that we should serve others, and not just serve others, but more than and rather than ourselves—A LOT.

When you grow up around something, it seems normal to you. When you grow up around a chronic issue you often don’t even realize it’s a problem—or at least could be a problem for a lot of audiences, in a lot of contexts.

Such is the case with statements like this. It took me until I was regularly studying and teaching about conflict styles to realize how incredibly unhealthy many spiritualities around service and self-care were.

Disclaimers Before We Go Further

Note: I’m speaking here ecumenically of Christian-informed spiritualities and theologies. I’ve seen a lot of this attitude in my moderate denominational upbringing, but I’ve seen it in other more progressive Christian contexts too, and in fact in other types of spiritualities as well, especially in my white middle class Midwestern upbringing.

I’m addressing Christian contexts here both because this is what I know best and also because Christianity is the religion with the loudest voices in the US context. And the unhealthy twisting of perfectly good ideas—like serving others—is causing a lot of damage when it creates shame and moral disgusts in vulnerable populations.

That damage is what I’m focusing on here. In doing so, I’m building on several past themes addressed in this blog, including the toxic side of Christian nice (I addressed this in a series starting here), questions around moral disgusts (I addressed this in a series starting here), and questions around god terms and devil terms (I addressed this in a series starting here).

Diving In: What Conflict Styles Have to Do with Self- and Other-Care

Here’s what I’ve realized: many swaths of the Christian church—especially those with strong “Christian Nice” components like the ones I grew up with—see the conflict style of accommodation to others as the highest form of spirituality.

Statements like the above are usually the ways these types of things are expressed.

The Theology Behind Accommodation as God-Term

The theological logic behind this false dichotomy often goes like this: Satan and Adam and Eve both put themselves first, and asked for things for themselves. By doing so, they were disobedient to God, and essentially became enemies of God. In this theological view, taking care of God and others is seen as a god term—something to be defended at all costs, while looking out for yourself is seen as a devil term (things to be fought at all costs).

The conclusion from this is drawn that when Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, he’s not really talking about loving yourself. The idea is that with our fallen natures, we already automatically do that. It’s part of our fallen nature, after all—something to be fought internally and externally.

I Don’t Think This Theology’s All Bad—It’s Just Partial in an Unhealthy Way

Let’s be clear: I don’t think this view is fully rotten through and through. I think it has valid points in parts. I mean, we all have times when we look out for ourselves at the expenses of others, and times when we should be serving others more than ourselves. But it’s just not nearly nuanced enough to fit reality well. And because of that, it has often been harmful, as I will explain.

So yes, that’s the much too limited deal—and a big part of the problem is that it doesn’t even take into account the nuance the Bible itself provides in key passages. Never mind that Jesus never really set up a hierarchy between loving God, others, and ourselves in that statement in the New Testament. Never mind that Jesus himself modeled time away for self-care. Never mind that Jesus and the prophets regularly spoke up against accommodating to the wrong types of people and unhealthy rhetoric and systems.

This Partial View of the World Is Disturbingly Zero-Sum

What this limited theology does in essence, unfortunately, is set up a zero-sum theology of the world in which those who follow it, especially those who are already vulnerable, are being hurt even more. Stick with me and I’ll explain how.

As a reminder, a zero-sum view of the world is one that sees the world as made up always and forever of winners and losers—and ONLY winners and losers. In other words, in this view of conflict, if one person wins, another person always loses.

So in other words, if you advocate for your needs at all, then God and others must be losing.

Breaking Down the Dichotomies

There are loads of problems to zero-sum views.

Sure, some things ARE zero-sum. Sometimes someone wins and another person loses.

But both stress research and conflict studies shows that the literally healthiest ways to go about things can involve a benefit to both parties.

In short, in the healthiest ways of thinking and being, it’s entirely possible to both love your neighbor AND yourself at the same time.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or thing.

Reaching Toward a Healthier Model of Mutuality

Let me say that again, for emphasis: in many cases, you can love yourself AND your neighbor at the same time. 

It doesn’t have to be serve others to your detriment—which is often what seeing accommodation as the healthiest form of spirituality leads many to. It can be take care of yourself so you can healthily take care of others, and seek help from others as you need it. And others can take care of themselves and also ask for help as they need it.

Each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and areas of expertise, and can help each other mutually with them.

It can be a beautiful thing.

Sometimes the Accommodation Message Is Apt

But here’s the thing: there ARE people who do need to hear the fact that we should love others more than ourselves. This is why this kind of statement is there in the Bible. For narcissistic personalities and others with a lot of privilege, this kind of statement is totally situationally on the mark.

But We Ought Not to Overaccommodate to the People Who Need the Message Most

And unfortunately, often those kinds of people who need the serve others message have been accommodated to too much, both in the church and out. This kind of one-size-fits-all accommodationist theology unfortunately, viscerally, because it sees accommodation and service to others as the highest good, much too often ends up serving these kinds of unhealthy and corrupt individuals.

And, let’s be clear—this is how fascistic authoritarianism, white supremacy, and other abusive systems ends up being served by this theology.

When Competition Is a Healthy Conflict Style

This is why, as liberation theology so rightly points out, there’s so much in the Bible about speaking truth to those who exploit others. See, the Bible doesn’t see accommodation as the highest form of spirituality in all situations. On the contrary, the Bible thinks it’s important to speak truth to power and corruption.

Healthy Self-Care as a Form of Resistance

And self-care, as I’ll explain, can be an important form of resistance within that framework.  

Let me explain.

Here’s the thing: it’s important to do what we can to take care of ourselves. And it’s important to do what we can to take care of others. It doesn’t always have to be zero-sum—often it can be collaborative, where we work to assertively take care of both our needs and those of others.

And yes, sometimes there are winners and losers, and that needs to be adjusted. Sometimes other unhealthy individuals make it zero-sum whether we like it or not.

When “Serve Others Not Yourself” Becomes Projected Shadow

Unfortunately often it’s the privileged and the narcissistic folks who are the ones who deliver this “serve others rather than yourself” message out to others.

This often turns out to be a form of projected shadow, which means that it seems to be something people aren’t dealing with themselves so they’re pushing it outward to ask others to take up their slack.

In short, those who share this message too often tell others to serve others because (1) they themselves wish to be served; (2) they themselves are not good at serving or humility and want others to do that for them. Other share this message unwittingly on the behalf of these individuals and groups. Ultimately all of these efforts enable those unhealthy people at the top of the heap to maintain power.

How “Serve Others” Theology Unhealthily Intersects with Human Giver Syndrome

This brings me to one of the many helpful concepts that Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski talk about in their book Burnout: their description of human giver syndrome and its negative health impacts on many. Drawing on feminist academics’ work, the Nagoski sisters helpfully talk about how some people in patriarchy and other unhealthy systems are allowed to be human beings, who have the option of either serving or being served while others are expected to be human givers only.

Women and minorities and poor people and other marginalized populations are often expected to be the givers in society. Too often these groups, who are often lower on the societal hierarchies, are unfortunately often scorned for having needs. Meanwhile, the human beings in society too often exploit their labor.

How Human Giver Syndrome Contributes to Ill Health for the Over-Givers

As the Nagoski sisters point out, this situation too often leads to genuine ill health for the human givers. It very frequently leads to burnout and trauma for the givers. And since burnout often has negative health consequences, this means that human giver syndrome literally hurts people.

So this false dichotomy theology I outlined above—the “serve others rather than yourself” theology—is really literally unhealthy when it gets internalized by these populations. It deepens this unhealthy situation. It literally hurts people, especially when paired with the message that it’s immoral or at least faintly disgusting to have to take care of ourselves.

And that last part–that can become an unfortunate side effect for both human givers and for human beings.

Why We Need to Push Back Against the False Dichotomies

THIS is why we need to push back against this kind of one-size-fits-all spirituality when it comes to giving.

See, these theologies of serving others above ourselves are often really needed by some people: those who are already allowed to be society’s human beings. It’s also helpful for those who are in healthy ecosystems of mutual self- and other-care. (And, in fact, all of us need the reminder occasionally that accommodation can be helpful at times.)

Unfortunately, though, it’s too often the human givers in society who hear them and internalize them most. And since society already tells these people that they aren’t really valuable human beings without giving to others, the extra dose of theology doubling down on that message is unhelpful, to say the least. Human givers often need to hear most that they are worthy of having their needs met, as a form of balance.

My Proposed Solution

My proposed solution to this dilemma? We should be speaking back assertively against unhealthy one-size-fits-all applications of this sort of statement. We ought to re-enable a way more mutual spiritual economy of giving and receiving that does not prop up unhealthy exploitation.

Sometimes we need to care for ourselves more, and sometimes other people more, and sometimes–many times–we can do both things at once. Recognizing that this is a natural tension that will need different answers in different relationships and situations is important.

 Advocating for the Human Givers’ Needs to Be Met

And we need to realize that for many people and in many situations, especially for those who are being societally pushed into the human giver role, “serve others rather than yourself” is a super toxic message that can be very harmful.

With and for those people, we need to break down unhealthy theological and spiritual dichotomies. We need to advocate for a spirituality of mutual self-care combined with helping one another. And we should work to push back against the behavior of the truly unhealthy human beings that really need the serve others rather than yourself message.

We also need to advocate for policies and practices that relieve the burden of human givers in helpful ways. Because human givers deserve external care as well as self-care.

Some Charges Going Forward

As we move into this new year and always, may we continue the good work of speaking truth to unhealthy blanket statements that can hurt people if used indiscriminately. May we remove the shame from healthy self-care that helps us help both ourselves and others. And may we continue to competitively stand against true selfish exploitation of others as well.

And, last but definitely not least, may we advocate for policies that provide more resources for the human givers in our society so they have the resources they need.

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Hoping for the Best: Reaching Toward Healthy Non-Toxic Positivity as We Move Forward http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/26/reaching-toward-healthy-non-toxic-positivity/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/26/reaching-toward-healthy-non-toxic-positivity/#comments Sat, 26 Dec 2020 23:14:17 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1166 Okay, so as I’m writing this, we’re all facing down the end of that strangest of years, 2020—and looking ahead into 2021. As we do so, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the topic of healthy non-toxic positivity in these sorts of dark times. This blog post will be about just that—looking at the distinction between toxic and non-toxic forms of positivity and why it’s important to keep hoping for and working toward a better world. A Reminder Of Where...

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Okay, so as I’m writing this, we’re all facing down the end of that strangest of years, 2020—and looking ahead into 2021. As we do so, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the topic of healthy non-toxic positivity in these sorts of dark times. This blog post will be about just that—looking at the distinction between toxic and non-toxic forms of positivity and why it’s important to keep hoping for and working toward a better world.

A Reminder Of Where I’m Starting From

So quickly, as I get started, I’ll be looking at this from the lens of a communication scholar who studies and teaches about the verbal and non-verbal signs of stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

I’ve also been through my own rough times before this year—and have been applying the stuff I’ve studied and taught about to my own life throughout this year as well as in recent years. It has helped me heal and be more resilient in the face of the challenges that have come.

When Freeze Modes Get Spiritualized in Unhealthy Ways

Part of my experience has involved unwrapping the often toxic positivity that rises up to be glorified as a defense mechanism in unhealthy spiritualities, including many branches of Christianity, without going to the other extremes of embracing the unnecessary glorifications of suffering or cynicism that often come with the same or other traditions.

As I discussed in last week’s article, these types of spiritualities often boil down to a kind of learned helplessness that get into our stress responses to make us think we must stay stuck in inaction, or freeze mode.

Why Toxic Positivity and Undue Embrace of Suffering Can Both Cause Trauma

Both toxic positivity, as represented by statements like “just give it to God,” and toxic embrace of suffering or other forms of spiritualized cynicism can represent what I was calling learned helplessness. If you’re looking for excellent reads on the negative effects of either of these extremes, I recommend reading the books Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies We’ve Loved by Kate Bowler and Pure by Linda Kay Klein.

In both extremes, spiritualization of the freeze stress responses can focus on our own inabilities in situations, which can be quite traumatic.

And let’s be clear—when these kinds of unhealthy kinds of coping mechanisms get baked into theologies and spiritual guidance, that trauma can come with an extra helping of spiritual trauma.

Why This Is a Problem

One of the challenges of these types of spiritualizations is that we can create neurobiological patterns I’ve been calling moral disgusts toward the healthiest forms of spiritual and physiological coping mechanisms. I believe that literally healthy spirituality is just that, and is not in conflict with scientific findings.

Framing Matters

In short, the way we talk about good and bad experiences in spiritual terms matters tremendously, and that’s the issue I think it’s important for us to discuss always, but especially now at the hinge of these two years, and also at the hinge between the last four years and a new administration.

Understanding Why It’s Hard to Hope for Better Things

So here’s the thing: our neurobiologies are designed to help us remember the bad stuff much better than the good stuff.

There’s good reason for that. After all, when something really bad happens to us, our warning systems that are our stress responses go on high alert to help us avoid that thing again.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, when our systems get overwhelmed with a lot of stress, one thing our bodies and brains do to cope is to make it harder to feel intense emotions. This can be helpful, as sometimes we can’t take more. But as Brené Brown points out in her excellent book Daring Greatly, our systems don’t selectively numb.

That means that when we’ve been through a lot of stress, like we all have been more or less recently, our systems are more primed to expect the bad than the good.

The Very Natural Problem of Foreboding Joy

Let me say that again: when we’ve been through a lot, it’s literally hard to see that good things are possible. When this happens, it is not a moral defect—it is how our systems are designed to protect us.

They do it well sometimes—and sometimes how they’re designed trips us up.

Brené Brown in Daring Greatly calls out a type of shame—which, again, she defines as a feeling of being unworthy of love and belonging—that’s associated with these types of neurobiological reactions. She calls it foreboding joy, which is basically defined as a feeling that good things surely can’t happen to us because we’re surely not worthy of them.

(If you grew up with doctrines of original sin, this might be feeling uncomfortably close to home right now.)

Foreboding Joy and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

This neurobiological response is a completely natural one, but interdisciplinary research has shown us that if we believe that good things can’t happen, then we often act in such as way as to create negative self-fulfilling prophecies—which is just a fancy way of saying that we trick ourselves into behaving in such as way that only brings us to self-sabotaging ourselves (which really is a form of learned helplessness in shifting our patterns to bring us to healthier things).

The Opposite Problem: Toxic Positivity

Some strands of spirituality recognizes that this impulse can be misguided at times, and so it tries to bring us to the opposite form of things, that also end up glorifying the freeze response: toxic positivity.

There are lots of forms of toxic positivity, but a lot of them boil down to ignoring all negative realities. This is the kind of spirituality I’ve long been talking about as “Christian Nice.”

Toxic Positivity and Dissociation

Essentially, what this form of spirituality does is spiritualize a trauma response known as dissociation. Dissociation is another extreme form of the types of numbing I discussed just above—what it does is to help us survive by ignoring that whatever traumatized us happened at all.

When Dissociation Unhelpfully Creates More Trauma

While dissociation is helpful to us in some circumstances and short-term to keep us from dealing with too many stresses at once, it’s not helpful long-term. And its application on a spiritual or a societal scale, especially by people in power or with privilege, can create a lot of trauma for people whose real traumas and problems are being ignored.

It can also, as I’ve discussed before, enable toxic systemic issues like toxic masculinity, white supremacy, xenophobia, etc. at the expense of the vulnerable. Or, you know, lead to things like prolonging the negative effects of pandemics by ignoring that they are a problem.

Reaching Toward Healthier Ground that Avoids the Harmful Extremes

How, then, can we avoid these extremes and move forward in a more ethical way of managing all the stress we’ve been dealing with this past year and before?

Well, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski lay out an excellent solution in their stress-research-based general audience book Burnout. The solution is called positive reappraisal, and it’s a really important reframe that allows us to walk a healthier middle ground.

In describing positive reappraisal, the authors are careful to point out that it’s very different from both toxic positivity and the types of rhetoric that just call us to stay in the freeze mode of suffering rather than reaching for hope of better things.  

Reaching Toward the Both/And Of Positive Reappraisal

Positive reappraisal is a both/and approach: it acknowledges both that bad things suck and that positive things and good opportunities for action can be found in the midst of them.

As we move from 2020 into 2021, and look ahead to a political shift in the US as well, may we all have the strength to avoid dissociating from or thinking we need to somehow be thankful for the continuing trials we have and will face, especially the unnecessary ones. And may we also have the strength to use healthy positive reappraisal to reach toward hope.

And as we move ahead, may our spiritualities reflect healthy coping mechanisms that help both ourselves and others, especially the vulnerable, by acknowledging negative feels and real problems, while also nudging us toward continuing to do what we can do toward a better world.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep speaking up against the toxic crap, inside ourselves and without, toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Advent, the Inauguration, and the False Doctrine of Learned Helplessness http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/19/advent-inauguration-false-doctrine-learned-helplessness/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/12/19/advent-inauguration-false-doctrine-learned-helplessness/#respond Sun, 20 Dec 2020 04:44:05 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1161 As I write this I am angry. For good reason. You see, it’s taken me several weeks to write this public post, and that’s because of the way I was raised with what I’m calling the false doctrine of learned helplessness. Stay tuned for what that means, and why I’m angry about it, and how I’m working to direct that anger into healthy channels. Specifically I’ll be talking about how much it’s bothered me to admit publicly that I’ve extended...

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As I write this I am angry. For good reason. You see, it’s taken me several weeks to write this public post, and that’s because of the way I was raised with what I’m calling the false doctrine of learned helplessness. Stay tuned for what that means, and why I’m angry about it, and how I’m working to direct that anger into healthy channels. Specifically I’ll be talking about how much it’s bothered me to admit publicly that I’ve extended my personal Advent season to January 20, 2021 (the US Presidential Inauguration) and the unhealthy forces that held me back from doing so until now—and why it’s important that I overcame them to emerge into the empathetic anger I’m currently feeling, and working to channel that anger in this public forum, hopefully to encourage you to speak up however you can as well.

This is a long one: Thanks for sticking with it to the end!

A Reminder of My Background

Just to remind you, I’ll be talking about this as a pastor’s kid raised in a conservative-leaning branch of a seemingly moderate church who went on to study and teach about stress, trauma, and conflict communication at a university level, using my PhD in Communication as my lens to do so.

This mix of experience and expertise has really given me a chance to diagnose when my own and others’ visceral responses aren’t matching what the evidence says are healthy responses. And I work to do what I can to overcome my unhealthy socializations as much as to point them out for others as well. But it’s hard work for all of us, because these toxic systems and beliefs are often insidious in how they cause damage.

The great thing, as I’ve said many times before, is that my standpoint growing up in a slightly right-leaning moderate church has allowed me to see some of the subtle insidious moral disgusts I was raised with have led to the extreme forms of right-wing gaslighting we’ve been seeing these days.

In this article I hope to show you how stubbornly persistent those types of socializations can be at speaking up toward a better world for us all, and how important it is to keep working to overcome them so we can keep on keeping on in this relay race, lest we bow to letting good be called evil and evil good.

My Personal Slushie Mode

So yeah, it was only yesterday or today that I realized my internalized socialized moral disgusts were what was keeping me in, well, not exactly full freeze mode, but slushie mode, away from speaking up assertively about a way I had adapted a spiritual practice to work toward a healthier world for us all. And that makes me angry, which is great, because the anger has helped to melt the icy bits, and as you’ll see, that’s helpful.

The Practice that Was Bothering Me to Talk about Publicly

In short, my internal censors were coming down on me hard for writing a blog piece about how instead of counting down to Christmas with my Advent calendar this year, I’m counting down to the US Presidential Inauguration instead.

And let’s be clear: from a rational, empathetic standpoint, using the Advent calendar this way makes total and complete sense. My friends have been passing around memes pointing out that you can count down to the inauguration using an Advent calendar starting the day after Christmas for good reason.

Why It Makes Sense to Count Down to the Inauguration

Here’s what this practice does for me, as I can well see from my understanding of the research: it reminds me that there is good reason to keep fighting for a healthier world for us all in which we fight policies and rhetoric that hurt people.

A Tiny Swath of the Huge Pile of Evidence for That: Stress Indicators

As research from the American Psychological Association has shown, the stress in this country has been off the charts in the last four years, and this year it’s the worst it’s been since they started measuring. Because of what I study, I know that literally is causing trauma and illness and pain for many people in addition to the mental health struggles outlined in that report.

And let me quick note that the level of stress regarding the future of this country outlined in that report isn’t only about the pandemic (though that is a big part of it)—as you’ll see if you look into the site linked above, valid concerns about the future of our nation have been markedly higher than other concerns in those APA reports ONLY since the 2016 election.

This evidence combined with other research from my communication field and research from other fields as well tells me that what is going on in the political realm is affecting many many lives deeply.

In short, I know with my head and also a good chunk of my heart that it’s not “just rhetoric” or “just policies” that we vote for. To me, when my unhealthy internal socializations aren’t subtly dragging me under, I’m very aware that hoping for better and healthier leaders is a deeply spiritual practice.

I Wasn’t ONLY Socialized into Unhealthy Beliefs

And after all, my socialization was by no means all bad, as cross-disciplinary research in the stress field and elsewhere shows. Verses like “Love does no harm to its neighbor” are deeply consistent with what stress and trauma research shows us about what healthy leadership and communication climates and policies that work as well as possible for people can literally do for the health and well being of a group of people.

And while it’s complex how stress responses work with unhealthy behaviors, it’s really clear based on stress and trauma research how arrogant, corrupt, and exploitive leadership do extreme damage to people’s health and well being.

Counting Down to the Inauguration

Based on the evidence of the APA stress report as well as many other indicators, then, the healthy socializations of my childhood together with my expertise have led me to extend my Advent season to count down toward the at least partial relief the new US administration will bring.

So yeah, from a rational and empathetic standpoint, celebrating a season of hope, of waiting for change, and counting down to THIS inauguration is a no-brainer, really. The voice of reason, from all of my expertise in trauma, knows to my core that the “loving my neighbor as myself” position means rooting hard for this inauguration to happen, and to happen as smoothly and reasonably as possible.

Yes, there will be a HARD slog from there, but isn’t that the point of Advent? After all, isn’t the traditional liturgical season of Epiphany about the start of what is hoped for, which at least in part is tangible relief beginnings of healing, of relief from unnecessary pain and trauma?

Sigh—If Only It Were That Simple

But wait…says the voice in my head, the voice of my right-leaning religious socialization. If you’re counting down to the inauguration with an Advent calendar, doesn’t that mean you’re making Joe Biden into a Messiah of sorts? SURELY IT DOES! HOW DARE YOU????

It is this—this voice—that’s been keeping me in freeze for a few weeks. (Well, that and the grading and other feels that have attended this crazy pandemic online university teaching semester, but those other things are slightly beside the point.)

And that voice is what’s making the rest of me very angry now that I’ve pulled out of freeze.

See, I’ve talked about this voice and its unhealthy moral disgusts before. I’ve talked about this voice and its gaslighting tendencies before. And I’ve talked about this voice and its unhealthily competitive attitude between itself and other holidays, rituals, and enactments before (here).

The Toxic Side of Christian “Nice” Rears Its Ugly Head

This voice is uber unhealthy, in a frustratingly subtle way. It’s insidious, is what it is.

THIS is the voice of the toxic side of Christian nice I’ve talked about in a series starting here. It’s the voice of the “white moderate” the Rev. Dr. King talked about, as I’ve discussed here and here.

Nice’s Disdain for Politics

It’s the voice that tells me that surely it’s not okay for me to use the liturgical calendar to celebrate the type of pain relief, the type of relative return to sanity, that comes with politics.

(Please read the word—politics—with a heavy tone of moral disgust, of disdain, if you really want to read that in the way the voice in my head says it. Thanks much!)

After all, so says the voice in my head, Jesus said specifically that the kingdom of heaven was DIFFERENT from the systems of this world. So therefore, the argument goes, Jesus’ coming must have nothing to do with politics.

(Tell that to the mothers of the babies Herod killed because he saw the baby Jesus as a political threat.)

Nice’s Persuasive Ability to Stop Me From Speaking Out Against Corruption

 And therefore, Christians also must not confuse politics with Christian concepts, the argument continues. In fact, it is WRONG to participate in politics beyond the very basics.

(Tell that to the women who Jesus lifted up from the margins. Tell that to the religious and political leaders Jesus regularly confronted for their injustice. Tell that to Barabbas, the insurrectionist against the Roman government in whose place Jesus literally chose to die.)

Unless, of course, the socialized voice in my head says, you’re trying to keep the country from being too political about the wrong things, or the wrong solutions. THEN, of course, it’s okay to be political. But taking the Advent calendar and waiting for the election of anyone, but especially a Democrat? (Clucks tongue and shakes head. The horrors!)

How This Socialization Keeps Us in Freeze

Practically speaking, this voice and the moral disgusts that come with it, exploit people’s natural stress responses to create a freeze response, keeping them from action in the public realm on behalf of the vulnerable. In short, it creates a kind of learned helplessness when it comes to speaking up against corrupt and exploitative voices.

But What IS Freeze Mode and How Does It Affect Us?

Just to make it clear, the freeze response is a reasonable physiological response to a neurobiological overload of the system. It makes sense that our bodies and brains would try to keep us alive by telling us the best thing we can do is play dead in the face of predators.

Here’s the problem: Sometimes our bodies are misguided about which stress response is actually the best choice for ourselves and others. And the unfortunate thing is that “Christian Nice” tries to keep us in freeze when bullies actually need to be resisted.

Spiritualized Learned Helplessness

Often the political inaction line of thinking ends up to be a spiritualized form of learned helplessness—which ultimately says that because we can’t help everyone, or because the church isn’t meant to help people through certain means, that we might as well stay stuck in our freeze mode.

The tricky part is that people don’t look like they’re in freeze mode. Indeed, these people are standing up and walking around—in fact, privately they may be shaking their heads about how awful it is what this administration is doing—but if people aren’t publicly speaking up through their spheres of influence as much as they can against this kind of thing, the bullies gain a little extra platform. And that extra platform can lead to more harm, unfortunately. 

In short, bullies gain when they convince people that there’s no point—or, in fact, that it’s immoral to speak up publicly against them.

Waking Up from Slushie Mode

So yes, let’s be clear—since I’ve been fighting against my socialized freeze mode for a long time, and especially in this project, I haven’t been in full freeze lately by any means. The work of AS has continued, and I’ve been doing what I can in my classroom, and in my private spheres as well.

Let’s say I’ve been in more of a slushie mode, as it were.

But it’s been awhile since I had the emotional energy to write a new blog post in this space, and I wanted to let all of you know that one of the reasons why was because I was fighting this kind of voice in my head.

I am stronger against such voices than I used to be, but I am not immune to them. I don’t think any of us are, no matter how progressively we were raised. And it’s important to keep fighting them. And it’s really important to know that waking out of these kinds of freeze and slushie mode into empathetic anger is no bad thing. It gives us the energy we need to healthily resist the bullies on behalf of the vulnerable.

Recovering My Freshly Assertive Voice in This Space

So I’m standing here today to say that voice of “Christian Nice” is flat-out wrong. It is harmful.

In the face of corrupt government that is damaging soooo many people, I am here to say it is flat-out unethical and wrong not to hope for the healthy change this inauguration will bring, at least in some measure. And it is important for ALL of us to do whatever we can to make sure that kind of hope is embodied as well as possible.

My Declaration

I’m declaring here that I’ve extended my personal Advent practice to January 20, 2021, and I refuse to feel shame or guilt about about that, because it doesn’t mean I’m treating the new president and his appointees as the f*cking Messiah, as the unhealthy voices from my past would suggest.

In fact, because I know this administration alone can’t save us from the unhealthy actions the millions of radicalized Republicans are likely to cause, I plan to keep speaking up and working against the continuing bullies, now and in the future.  

It means I’m looking for a lessening of unhealthy corruption and government and unhealthy complicit leaders of the same f*cking sort that Jesus and the prophets railed against.

Staring Down the Toxic Practices Associated with Nice

And, last but not least, it means I’m working to wake myself and others from such unhealthy freeze responses that tell us that action on behalf of the least of these is somehow wrong. Those voices that seek to gaslight us into thinking that evil is somehow good and good evil. And tell us that there’s no point in standing up against those who are corrupt.

Refusing to Stay in Freeze Beyond What Is Healthy

I refuse to stay in this spiritualized condition of learned public helplessness with which I was raised.

Of course I can’t do everything—the world IS overwhelming right now, and my sphere of influence only stretches so far.

What I Can Do—What We All Can Do

But it’s there, and I can channel my empathetic anger into helping in the ways that I can help.

It’s a lie of the voice in my head that if I can’t do everything, I must do nothing.

That’s an unhealthy spiritualization of the voice of shame, of fear of vulnerably courageous actions. That is not the spirit of Love. Giving into that voice—the voice of shame—keeps me out of the arena for a time. And while of course that’s going to happen occasionally because I’m human, it’s important for me and all of us to keep fighting those voices of shame because giving into them hurts ourselves and others.

So What Does All of This Mean?

In short, I’m planning to do what I always call all of us to do: do what I can, where I am, with what I’ve got to speak up against the toxic crap toward a healthier world for us all. Today, these last couple of weeks, that’s involved identifying and speaking up against these socialized spiritualizations of unhealthy stress responses inside myself as well as externally, once again.

Now that that’s done, my voice is cleared so I can continue to work more externally to speak up.

Why Private Spiritual Practice Like My Inauguration Advent Countdown Matter

And you know what?

Continuing to count down privately with my Advent calendar toward the inauguration helped spur me toward breaking out of my semi-freeze mode, and this blog post is part of the outcome of that work.

I am thankful for that. And I’m thankful for this public space to keep myself accountable for speaking the truth as well. Thanks to you who have read this far for being my witnesses to this. I hope all of you have similar ways and witnesses to keep you on track as well, as far as your individual spheres of influence extend.

I encourage you to do whatever work you need to do, inside and out, to keep doing what you can to speak up against the toxic crap, friends. If you need a rest, rest, don’t quit. It’s a relay marathon, and I trust we can all keep on this path if we keep working at it.

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Reaching Toward Pandemically Precautious Healthy Holidays http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/21/reaching-toward-a-pandemically-precautious-holiday-season/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/21/reaching-toward-a-pandemically-precautious-holiday-season/#comments Sun, 22 Nov 2020 01:23:17 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1157 Okay, so as I described in this space back in the era I now call Early Pandemic, all of us who are seeking to be as pandemically responsible as possible are back to high alert (some of us never really came back down from it), trying to keep ourselves and others alive and reach toward healthy holidays in these challenging times. Despite the best efforts of those of us who continue to be as pandemically precautious as possible in the...

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Okay, so as I described in this space back in the era I now call Early Pandemic, all of us who are seeking to be as pandemically responsible as possible are back to high alert (some of us never really came back down from it), trying to keep ourselves and others alive and reach toward healthy holidays in these challenging times. Despite the best efforts of those of us who continue to be as pandemically precautious as possible in the US, though, we’re in the middle of the worst wave of infections yet, in large part because of unhealthy leadership encouraging COVID denial and minimization at the expense of public health. The CDC is strongly discouraging travel over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, and I suspect the same is around the corner for Christmas.

The “Too Long, Didn’t Read” Answer (But Keep Reading!)

So how do we cope with this challenge?  Well, those who follow closely should know my TL;dr answer: we do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep working toward a better world for us all. The challenge is to translate that to reaching toward healthy holidays in 2020.

Translating the AS Charge to Pandemic Holidays 2020

But what does that look like in today’s pandemic holiday circumstances? That’s what this article is all about. Specifically, it talks about ideas for how we can continue to connect with loved ones without gathering with them in person, especially not inside.

Side Note: Don’t Forget to Keep Speaking Up Against the Toxic Crap!

An important side note: You should absolutely also keep speaking up against the toxic crap that’s out there as you enact or adapt whatever works for you from the below list. As last week’s expert guest blogger Lee McEntyre reminded us, there is good reason to keep speaking up against misinformation and disinformation just now. Go read that post if you need an incisive analysis and encouragement in that direction.

Focusing on How We Can Connect

But today, we’ll be talking about how to offer connection to loved ones and others who are lonely at these times while assertively saying no to in-person gatherings as much as is feasible, especially indoor ones. The goal? To reach toward literally healthy holidays as well as we can.

Collaboration Is Part of the Gig

Quick disclaimer: Some of the ideas here are contributed by other friends and AS followers or are ones that have come across my social media feeds. They have either been passing on ideas, often from indeterminate sources, or asked not to have attributions assigned. I love this. We do best when we work together toward a healthier and more connected world for us all!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Some *Can’t* Responsibly Distance

Okay, so before I dive into this list, let’s be clear: not everyone is ethically able to stay fully socially distanced during these holidays, and it’s important to recognize that it is for their sake that those of us who can must keep doing what we can.

This list includes essential workers, especially healthcare workers. It also includes people with coparenting agreements that are being court-ordered to comply with holiday kid transfers.

If you are one of these people or someone in a similar category I may not have mentioned, may you stay as safe as possible while you undertake your difficult responsibilities. May the rest of us support you, but in a socially distanced manner.  

And may the rest of us stay as distanced as is feasible. A healthy holidays to us all, as much as is possible. May all of us reach toward that goal the best we can.

A Reminder Why Distanced Holidaying Is So Hard: Our Wiring

It’s hard, though. And for good reason. As I remind my interpersonal communication students regularly, we are wired for close relationships, and we use the word “close” as a metaphor for intimacy for good reason. As Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski remind us in their excellent book Burnout, a 20 second hug is one of the things that can take us through a lot of stress processing. (Man, do I miss regular hugs—and I’m not even a hugger!)

So yeah, it’s not just a cultural thing, but a hard-wired thing that we want to be in person with people. And yet…when we can, it’s more loving right now to socially distance, as our health care system is in its worst crisis yet.

It’s Also REALLY Cultural

It’s not all wiring, though, this desire to get together in person this time of year—it’s also incredibly cultural. And these particular holidays and their timing and expected formats are especially cultural.

In the US, we gather together in honor of Thanksgiving because certain people thought a certain version of history was important to commemorate and for many employers to give many people the day off to celebrate (one that is pretty d*mned colonialist, let’s be honest—and ended up being about spreading disease, ironically).

Christmas, too, is really incredibly cultural about how it is observed and celebrated (and has been politicized in a very unhealthy zero-sum way, as I described in a previous piece).

Remembering “Those Other” Holidays

But these aren’t the only holidays that are being celebrated at this time—there are many religious and other holidays clustering at the end of the year.

People Are Often Being Stubborn in Unwise Ways

And let’s face it, the drive to have so much in person gathering right now is deeply partisan in many circles, driven by those who simply don’t believe this virus is a big deal.

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not an all or nothing proposition. It’s not a question of “holidays under fire because Democrats hate them and want to control us.”  Nope. Just nope.

No, it’s a question of “how can we best connect with each other during these holidays in the midst of the constraints placed upon us by this virus and the need to keep ourselves and others safe in the face of it”?

In short, it’s how we can do our best to love others and reach toward literally healthy holidays in light of external constraints.

It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game

The truth is, we can absolutely connect across the distance, especially now, when technology allows for that so relatively easily. It’s not the same, no, but the suggestions I’m offering below can help to bridge a lot of the difference for those willing to make the effort.

May We Remember Those Who Are Usually Left Out

One of the most interesting/disturbing things to me is that those making these unwise arguments about why we must get together in person are some who are the least inclusive people. They don’t seem to care about the people who are usually left out, those who Jesus said should be gathered in for the feast from the highways and byways.

But we can be concerned about gathering these people in as well as possible, while ALSO doing it in a pandemically precautious way.

May this pandemic holiday season remind those who regularly receive the privilege of having time off remember those who don’t, now and every year.

And may those who are used to celebrating with family remember those who don’t have that privilege, now and every year, including those who are separated from family through trauma responses, other disabilities, deaths, and other reasons.

May we all remember to reach out to all kinds of marginalized and vulnerable populations, both in COVID era and beyond.

How to Reach Out: The Nitty Gritty

So it’s time to get down to it. Let’s say you desire to stay connected to friends or family this 2020 holiday season, but are able to avoid holiday travel and gatherings with those outside your home or isolation pod/quaranteam. How do you reach out and connect across the distance?

Here are a few rough ideas (remember you can adapt these to whatever holiday or non-holiday practices you may wish to—I’m creating this list to be adapted as needed, and am offering it in very little particular order):

  1. Use Zoom and Other Video Chat Platforms. To start with, Zoom is globally removing the 40 minute cap at least in the 24 hours around US Thanksgiving, so that’s a great time to connect with others in a more unlimited way on a platform nearly everyone now knows, at least a bit.
  2. Eat (or drink) and/or cook together from a distance via video chat such as Zoom. Whether you coordinate food or each order or cook it together, eat together (but distanced) at the same time.

    How might this work? One pandemically responsible restaurant in a town I know is offering curbside on US Thanksgiving with individually packaged local Thanksgiving feasts ready to be dropped off at different houses so you can all eat together via Zoom, etc. If you have people in different locations, find out what’s going on in each town regarding curbside and delivery for local restaurants. If you have people in need or sick, send or drop off ready made food or send them money via venmo or PayPal!
  3. Like to play cards or games together? There are online platforms for that. One I just heard about is Trickster Cards—there’s an app for that, and it doesn’t require a login to play multiple popular card games. I haven’t played it myself, but I know others who have. I do know it makes space for people “watching” the game, too. If you miss the getting together option, a lot of these can be combined with the phone or videochat platforms like Zoom to offer more space for “feeling together.”
  4. Watching shows or movies together from a distance. Streaming services have made it difficult to watch things together on places like Zoom if you don’t have the same services, but if you have access to the same media, you can watch together from a distance and call or message/text snarky comments back and forth during the show or movie. (I’ve been doing this with distanced friends during the pandemic—it’s not the same as being in the same living room, but it works.)
  5. Virtually attend worship services together for those who may wish to (try not to be snarky with those who don’t!).
  6. Send thoughtful gifts. If possible, try to support local businesses while you do. Optionally, have package-opening gatherings on Zoom. For instance, early in pandemic a friend who was dealing with a pandemic pregnancy was experiencing a lot of anxiety, so I found a local bookstore in her community that took orders over the phone and dropped the books on her doorstep for free. If you don’t have much money, mail, a phone or Zoom call, or even just staying in touch via messages can help offer a personal touch to help someone feel less lonely.
  7. Miss singing or musical instruments together? Have a phone or Zoom singalong!
  8. Online Dance party! Do a dance party on Zoom, where one person provides the music via phone or video chat and everyone dances to it.
  9. Exercise Together: Have someone screenshare an online exercise program on Zoom (such as yoga) and do it together.
  10. Have everyone do facials or pedicures together from their own homes.
  11. Have everyone paint something together on Zoom while sipping on their own choice of beverage and snacks. (Or, you know, just have a happy hour.)
  12. Miss traveling? Take each other on glamorous tours of each other’s living spaces, or create a venue, whether on social media or elsewhere, to post or collect pics past or present of outdoor activities you might have been able to safely do.
  13. Mourning a death or had to have a smaller wedding or other celebration/ritual than usual? Schedule a Zoom time or times when everyone can share stories or commemorate the occasion from their own living spaces in a safe and distanced way. Record it if you can!

Obviously, these, too, are all culturally defined suggestions. I hope they inspire you to adapt them as needed.

Whatever you choose, if you try to collect multiple people together, keep the following in mind toward inclusion:

  1. Ask about people’s abilities and needs and adapt to that where you can.
  2. Keep it all mostly digital if everyone has access and abilities to get there. If you have multiple people gathered together because you live together, etc. and are trying to fold in distanced family members, sound can be a challenge if there are a bunch of people running around. (This is an insight from being an educator this fall–I’m sooooo glad I was teaching all on Zoom, having heard horror stories of those who were trying to mix and match some participating online and some in person.)
  3. If you have people across time zones, try to pick a time when most people can be involved.
  4. Help those who need help with technology. Try to offer assistance for those who might not know the technology. Also consider  
  5. Offer a space for negative emotions and sadness as well as the experience of joy when possible. This article explains why. It’s been a rough year for almost everyone–let’s offer space for everyone to work through their stress by feeling the feels.
  6. Think ahead and try to plan a space for in-person meeting when things really do get better.

Well, this could go on for awhile, but I’ll stop here. I hope this list, imperfect as it may be, could help inspire you toward ideas for safely celebrating with others from a distance.

Whatever you end up doing, friends, I hope you continue toward literally assertively standing up for a healthier world for us all.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s figure out ways to stand up for a more healthily connected world across the distances required for public health. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Persisting Against Disinformation in the Post-Election Era http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/14/persisting-disinformation-post-election-era/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/11/14/persisting-disinformation-post-election-era/#comments Sun, 15 Nov 2020 01:09:16 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1151 EDITOR’S NOTE: I am thankful to have met this week’s guest blogger, Lee McIntyre, at a conference a few years back. Considering he’s way too modest in his author’s bio at the end of this guest post—he’s literally written the book on Post-Truth, and has spoken to the United Nations on the subject—I was thrilled that he agreed to offer us some post-election advice on how and why it’s important to keep speaking up against disinformation, and how to distinguish...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I am thankful to have met this week’s guest blogger, Lee McIntyre, at a conference a few years back. Considering he’s way too modest in his author’s bio at the end of this guest post—he’s literally written the book on Post-Truth, and has spoken to the United Nations on the subject—I was thrilled that he agreed to offer us some post-election advice on how and why it’s important to keep speaking up against disinformation, and how to distinguish that from run of the mill lying. If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that his piece follows nicely on other things I’ve been discussing here, especially my piece on public gaslighting from a few weeks back. Enjoy! Cheers, DS Leiter, Founder, Assertive Spirituality

by Lee McIntyre, Guest Blogger

Throughout the Trump presidency we’ve seen a shocking amount of misinformation and disinformation, on topics ranging from the mundane (“there were more people at my inauguration than at Obama’s”) to the world-shattering (“Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.”). In my 2018 book POST-TRUTH, I discuss the dangers of this kind of “political subordination of reality.” Post-truth goes beyond mere lying, spin, or partisanship, and is instead a tactic drawn from the authoritarian toolbox, meant to assert control over the narrative of truth and reality, in anticipation of an assertion of power over the population.

The Goal of Post-Truth

It is important to remember that even though lying is an important tactic used by many politicians, with post-truth the goal is not merely to convince someone that a falsehood is true, but to so “dominate their reality” that they begin to question whether it’s possible to know what’s true or false outside a political context.

Trying to convince someone—even when you are giving them false information—offers at least a certain type of respect, because it admits that you care about the cognitive consent of the person who is being lied to. With post-truth, the ploy is instead to say “I am the boss so I get to frame reality in any way I like, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

The point is domination, not persuasion.

Negative Outcomes=(Even More) Cynicism

The result is that the population becomes more cynical, perhaps believing that since there is really no way to know the truth, one might as well believe whatever lie is being manufactured by one’s leader.

Given the context of his presidency, it came as no shock whatsoever during the 2020 election that Trump continued his massive campaign of “post-truth” lying and distortion.

The Difference Between Misinformation and Disinformation

There is an important distinction to be made here between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is merely false, but disinformation is information that is intentionally false. Such lies are created on purpose, normally with a political, economic, or ideological goal in mind.

Thus the challenge during a political campaign is to sort between claims that are merely hyperbolic and those that have been created to dominate your reality.

Dirty Tricks and Disinformation: How It Works

A single example will suffice. In a 2018 Congressional campaign in New York, the Republican incumbent Lee Zeldin created flyers which said that the deadline for absentee ballots was November 6th, whereas the actual ballot was due no later than November 5th. This had the consequence of causing many students (who were more likely to vote for the Democrat) to miss the deadline. Zeldin kept his seat, and denied all wrongdoing, even though it later came out that he’d made the same “error” in 2016. This is a textbook example of a disinformation campaign, which was created for the express purpose of depressing Democratic turnout.

During the 2020 election, we saw a much wider disinformation campaign, during which President Trump desperately tried to push the narrative that virtually all absentee ballots (which were favored by Democrats) were fraudulent.

Now that we are in the post-election period—with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their way to the White House—one might think that it doesn’t matter so much how to deal with this kind of “dirty trick” anymore.  Let the liars embarrass themselves. What can it hurt?

Plenty.

Why Should We Worry About All This Now That Trump Is Leaving?

In the post-election period, Trump has continued his bogus claims of voter fraud, which has the potential to undermine faith in one of the most basic pillars of Democracy, hobble Biden’s transition, and perhaps even endanger national security.

Even so, it is important to remember that context matters.

To claim that—due to widespread voter fraud—the Republican-controlled Michigan state legislature should install its own slate of electors (rather than one based on the will of the voters) is a pathetic, anti-American power play.

How seriously should we take it? That depends on the electoral context.

The Stakes Are Still High

Is there is chance that this could happen?

Yes, and given our Constitution it would be perfectly legal. In a national environment in which Biden and Harris have already been declared the winners, and are in the middle of their transition, it might seem less important to push back.

But I think that is the wrong reaction.

Although the stakes might seem lower in a post-election environment—where misinformation and disinformation could do less damage—it’s important to remember the overall goal of post-truth: the political subordination of reality.

In a situation in which there might be grievous harm from an unlikely event, we are still wise to take it seriously.

Actuaries and statisticians make a living calculating things like the extreme unlikelihood of a nuclear meltdown multiplied by the unspeakable harm that might occur if one occurred. This is a bedrock principle of “risk analysis” and a cornerstone of rational judgment.

The Price of Silence in the Face of Lies

So let’s ask ourselves: what would be the price of losing our Democracy on the off chance that a group of Republican toadies in Michigan succeeded in making a power play that is fully allowed by the U.S. Constitution, even though most people still regard this as unimaginable or inconceivable?

In a political environment in which Trump used tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors, Mitch McConnell denied President Obama a rightful Supreme Court pick, and Republican members of the House and Senate have yet to challenge Trump’s fantasy about voter fraud, is it really inconceivable that a group of Michigan legislators might try to subvert the will of the voters if they thought that they could get away with it?

Why We Need to Keep Challenging Misinformation and Disinformation

Misinformation and disinformation must be challenged, each and every time they appear. There is no such thing as a claim that is so outrageous it need not be “dignified” by a response.

John Kerry learned this when he was “Swift-boated” by manufactured lies about his war record during the 2004 Presidential campaign. President Obama faced it when Donald Trump invented a conspiracy theory about his birthplace that dogged Obama during his entire presidency, and lead to Trump being rewarded with the presidency. If lies and falsehoods are allowed to fester, they can do great damage.

Yes, context matters in assessing risk, but in today’s supercharged political environment, any false claim—if left unchallenged—can eventually grow into something unforeseen and sinister.

At the dawn of American political history, no less a figure than George Washington learned this political lesson between his first and second terms. According to the author Ron Chernow, author of WASHINGTON: A LIFE, during his first term in office Washington was accused of all sorts of outrageous conduct, such as that he was plotting to restore the British monarchy or that he was actually a British double agent. Washington refused to respond. During his second term, however, he began to take a different tack, “realizing that if you drip water on a stone—if it drips on the stone long enough—it will leave a mark.”

The Road Ahead

No matter the context, political lies and disinformation are dangerous. In the wrong hands, when given enough repetition, even the most absurd claims can grow to threaten Democracy itself. Shall we let Trump take as long as he needs to admit that he lost the election — making baseless claims of voter fraud along the way — because he’s on his way out no matter what?

But what happens when Trump creates his own media empire, and attacks Biden throughout his first term, or perhaps decides to run again in 2024? How might our “risk matrix” look then?

If we have learned nothing else from Trump’s presidency, let it be this: resistance is a necessary tool to fight against tyranny. And sometimes it works! But we must keep an eye out too even when tyranny is not on the horizon. As with so many precious things, the price of guarding them is eternal vigilance.

About the Guest Author

Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. He is the author of Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), The Scientific Attitude (MIT Press, 2019), and numerous popular essays that have appeared in such venues as the New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, and the Boston Globe.  His website can be found at leemcintyrebooks.com.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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Thou Shalt Not Steal and the Rhetoric of Vote-Counting: An Open Letter http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/31/thou-shalt-not-steal-rhetoric-vote-counting/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/31/thou-shalt-not-steal-rhetoric-vote-counting/#comments Sat, 31 Oct 2020 20:20:40 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1144 I grew up in a church where most Sundays they read the Ten Commandments and such. I knew them, and still know them, incredibly well. And my family’s been in this country, at least in one branch of the family tree, long enough for me to have relatives that went to war to fight for their rights regarding this no taxation without representation business–in other words, the right to have one’s vote count. The question of vote-counting has mattered since...

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I grew up in a church where most Sundays they read the Ten Commandments and such. I knew them, and still know them, incredibly well. And my family’s been in this country, at least in one branch of the family tree, long enough for me to have relatives that went to war to fight for their rights regarding this no taxation without representation business–in other words, the right to have one’s vote count. The question of vote-counting has mattered since the beginning of this country.

So as I watch the increasingly brazen attempts to silence voters’ voices paired with the silence of my conservative Christian peops, I can’t help but marvel at the levels of cognitive dissonance my conservative peops who still think they’re “moderate” must be going through.

In this article I plan to talk about the rhetoric of vote-counting and how it relates to the ten commandments—and not just thou shalt not steal but way more of them. What can I say? I’m feeling disturbingly inspired today by events current juxtaposed with the past.

Oh, Yeah, and It’s Reformation Day, So This Fits

Not to mention, today’s the observed anniversary of when Martin Luther had the assertive audacity to pound his 95 theses into history. (Well, probably not onto a church door, but it was an assertive act either way.)

Anyway, since ALL of my ancestors I know of fall into that Protestant tradition, it’s highly appropriate that today I put out an assertive open letter of sorts to my peops, helping other more reasonable folks to understand the dynamics I grew up with as well as the dynamics all of us Americans have grown up with to some extent.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

So yeah, let’s talk about the American Revolution and the Founders and their views on vote-counting, shall we?

See, things have been really complicated regarding vote-counting since those days when my ancestors were concerned about everyone having a voice—because, well, let’s be honest, my ancestors could have given a flying f*ck about *everyone* having a voice. (Concerned about my language more than what’s happening? See what I have to say about swear-policing here and here.)

They wanted a voice for white men, and preferably landowning ones, and pretty much no one else.

They were pretty much only out for their own good, let’s be honest.

To them, everyone else was to either to be conquered or treated like property.

I Know, I Know, I’m Late to the Party on This

I mean, I dimly knew this before the last four years’ worth of apocalypse made this sickness that’s been in our country since the beginning (not COVID, mind you—being metaphorical here!) abundantly clear. But current events are making it incredibly stark in terms that I can no longer dismiss or deny or gaslight into oblivion (see my piece last week for more about gaslighting).

Nope. It’s really blatantly clear. What conservatives these days are trying to preserve is the gangrenous side of the heritage from my patriotic ancestors—the legacy of stealing power at others’ expense through trying to remove the power of the vote.

Now, I’m sure my BIPOC friends are all shaking their heads at me too, and I feel you. Sometimes it takes an apocalypse or two to make things clear to us white folks deeply socialized into white supremacy. I apologize to you that it’s taken me this long, and promise to do better now that I know. As a reminder, the meaning of that word—apocalypse—in the Greek is “to make clear.”

Power Over All Else

Well, the current actions of the Republicans have made baldly clear what they care about, and that is gaining and maintaining power. They care, sadly enough, about nothing else.

They don’t care about the common good. In fact, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, the current party in charge has actually demonized the common good. Any time some sort of policy that promotes loving one’s neighbor as oneself comes up for discussion, the devil term “socialism” gets applied to it as a way to invoke fears in their base, as I’ve discussed here and here.

Conserving Which Part of the Heritage, Exactly?

Interestingly, in seeking to “conserve” the gangrenous side of my white ancestors’ legacy, these “modern conservatives” seem to be seeking to “progress” from the rest of the system of government—the healthy side of the governmental system my ancestors helped to set up.

That whole “no taxation without representation” business? Screw that.

Checks and balances between the various branches of government? Screw that.

The right to protest? Screw that.

The idea of the press as the “fourth estate”? A institution outside of government designed to push with checks and balances to keep government responsible? Screw that.

The idea that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through reasonable policies toward public health and other thoughts for the common good? Screw that.

Doing Evil Deeds without Cover; or, The Emperor Has No Clothes

Screw it all, they seem to be saying. Scratch that—no f*cking seems.

They ARE saying it, flat out—and they have been, for four years.

Ever since grabbing people by the p*ssy was somehow deemed to be an acceptable part of presidential* rhetoric. And only those so deep in the propagandistic gaslighting put forth by the current head of the government and his cronies could be so deep into believing this garbage not to see it.

The Continuing Gaslighting

And we’re still being told it’s not happening.

That the election is somehow free and fair.

That the pandemic is over.

That everyone has a voice that needs one.

And THERE—there’s the rub.

Who The Right Thinks Should Only Have Representation

Because according to these folks, only powerful aggressively masculine Republican white men and those who enable them ought to have a voice and a vote.

Only they, they believe, should get to decide who has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Everyone else can go screw themselves. Or, to put it in starker, darker terms, get raped. (AGAIN, NONE OF THIS IS REMOTELY OKAY!!! Nor should it be normalized.)

Calling My Peops to Repentance

Let me be clear, to my religious peops:

THIS is stealing. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented set of trespasses against God in the guise of the least of these.

THIS is coveting one’s neighbor’s voice and representation. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented set of trespasses against God and the least of these.

THIS is rape and pillage and killing. It is a deep, dark, yet-to-be-repented trespasses against God and the least of these.

Again, the Emperor Follows No Commandments and Cares About No One

I could go on, because ALL those commandments have been violated here in particularly egregious ways, but conservative Christian friends, I know you know them as well as I do. I trust you can work the rest out for yourselves.

And speaking of repentance, why, oh much-loved conservative Christian friends, do you continue to vote for a man who has said openly that he’s never ever felt the need to ask for forgiveness from God or anyone else?

For the love of all that is holy and just, this man, who the most twisted memes compare to King David, is King David, except without a really important difference. There’s no Psalm 51 anywhere remotely in or near this man.

He’s Darth Vader without the kicky reconciliation scene.

Reclaiming the Healthy Storylines

For the love of all that is holy, my dear peops, THAT is not the storyline you taught me to support.

Calling My Peops to Repentance

For the sake of all that is holy and just, I sincerely call you away from supporting these blatant violations of the healthier sides of men’s law and your own valuation of God’s law.

Please, for the love, come home. There’s space for you at the table if you turn from supporting these wicked ways, that are not okay, and need not be continued to be normalized.

More Reasonable Friends, We Have Much Work to Do!

And to the rest of you more reasonable and empathetic people, let’s be clear: the gangrene that’s showed up these last four years has been particularly vicious, but it is not an anomaly. No matter how well or poorly this week’s election goes, we have much more healing work to do, friends. Let’s keep at this relay marathon of ours as well as we all can!

A Final Charge

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

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

The post Thou Shalt Not Steal and the Rhetoric of Vote-Counting: An Open Letter appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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Standing Firm in an Era of Public Gaslighting http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/24/standing-firm-era-public-gaslighting/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2020/10/24/standing-firm-era-public-gaslighting/#comments Sat, 24 Oct 2020 21:19:25 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=1138 The further things move along, the more intense they get out there. The religio-political gaslighting from the right wing is particularly intense right now, so I wanted to offer a quick post talking about what that looks like and offering some techniques for reasonable folks to stand firm in these challenging times. About Me As a reminder, I’m approaching this topic as a communication scholar who teaches interpersonal communication and has emphases in rhetoric and mediated communication. My research focus...

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The further things move along, the more intense they get out there. The religio-political gaslighting from the right wing is particularly intense right now, so I wanted to offer a quick post talking about what that looks like and offering some techniques for reasonable folks to stand firm in these challenging times.

About Me

As a reminder, I’m approaching this topic as a communication scholar who teaches interpersonal communication and has emphases in rhetoric and mediated communication. My research focus is on stress, trauma, and conflict communication, and my field has spent a lot of time analyzing unhealthy religio-political dynamics. I’m thankful to have benefitted from that.

So yeah, as someone who has looked really closely at how unhealthy communication and persuasion works in both the public and interpersonal spheres, I can tell you (as have other experts, and as I’ve said here before) that we’re dealing with an extraordinary amount of religio-political gaslighting in this particular era. (I’ve talked about gaslighting previously in these articles on this blog.)

What Is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting as a term has been getting a lot of play in recent years because it accurately describes what’s going on. It’s a term that comes from the study of unhealthy relationships and domestic abuse, and yet it applies incredibly well to what also happens in unhealthy religio-political rhetoric, including fascistic rhetoric.

In short, gaslighting describes a pattern of communication that denies a person’s evidence-based knowledge of the world. The movie, Gaslight, that the term’s name is based on specifically shows an intentional example of this kind of rhetoric.

Gaslighting Can Be Intentional or Unintentional

But in reality, gaslighting can fall along a continuum from intentional to unintentional.

How Splaining Can Be Gaslighting

In fact, where we have little knowledge, it is easy to unintionally gaslight people who have more knowledge or expertise of a particular area, either by explaining things they already know or by telling them that what they know to be true is actually false.

This is what’s often referred to as splaining, and it cames in all sorts of varieties—mansplaining and whitesplaining being the most popularly applied.

In this form of gaslighting, someone who is feeling a visceral threat to their ego or position in the societal hierarchy reacts strongly to someone (often someone who is perceived to be societally lower in the hierarchy) having more expertise than them.

The result has nothing to do with rational explanations for things, but everything to do with people reacting to felt threat by those who know more and seek to have that expertise valued, and seeking to gain or maintain status by how they communicate in a situation.

How This Applies to Other Types of Gaslighting

This matters because what’s happening in splaining is also often the visceral motive for all types of gaslighting, whether in the religio-political world or not. This is important.

Let me say that again: In the religio-political world as in the world of domestic abuse, gaslighting most often occurs because the person viscerally feels the other person is seeking equality and/or a higher status. It is not a rational activity—it comes out of stress responses.

It’s Often More Intentional Than You Think

This doesn’t mean people can’t control their gaslighting–in fact, people can control such responses, and Lundy Bancroft’s therapy work with domestic abusers (recorded in his powerful book Why Does He Do That?) shows that in many cases, abuse is more often conscious and intentional than we give abusers credit for.

(In fact, part of the gaslighting is often getting victims and opponents to believe it’s happening fully unconsciously. This leads to a convenient for the abuser assumption that the abuser is a victim unable to stop their abusive patterns. That’s rarely true.)

In short, gaslighting emerges from felt threat. That does NOT mean that gaslighters can’t control their actions.

Gaslighting=Zero-Sum Visions of the World

So the practice of gaslighting is based on felt threat. It’s also based on a depressingly zero-sum vision of the world.

In other words, in this view of reality, if one person “wins,” or “is right,” that means the other person or group automatically “loses” (and the corollary is that being wrong is automatically a loss).

What Gaslighting Is All About

In short, the view behind gaslighting, whether someone means to do it or not, is too often all about status and dominance, coercion and control. This status and dominance comes at the expense, often, of practicality, of rationality, and of the common good.

At best, the more unintentional varieties of gaslighting are about protecting one’s own flight response from reality at the expense of the truth. (That’s natural, but not generally a good look on people, and is often counterproductive.)

So Yeah, Gaslighting Is Unhealthy—How Does It Work?

Gaslighting is considered a form of abuse because it seeks to dominate another person’s first-order realities. As I’ve described before, communication scholars define first-order realities as observable facts. Second-order realities, on the other hand, involve our attaching interpretations to those first-order realities.

Gaslighting can work a lot of ways, but it often tends to either deny first-order realities. Or it works to twist them into saying that some first-order realities are accurate, but only if you deny others in order to buy into a set of second-order realities the gaslighter is peddling.

As I described in my rhetoric of conspiracy series, conspiracy rhetoric does this. That’s why unhealthy leaders often elevate the rhetoric of conspiracy. We’ve certainly been seeing from the right strongly these days.

Fascistic Rhetoric and Types of Gaslighting

As I’ve said before, a couple of the most common forms of gaslighting rhetoric in fascistic rhetoric both relate to false equivalency. These include  whataboutism and bothsidesism.

So what is a false equivalency? It’s assuming that two things that look alike on the surface are the same. In both the worlds of domestic abuse and of fascistic rhetoric, the idea is often to promote the idea that the abusive gaslighter is not being a bully because the person on the other side is just as bad or worse.

In the whataboutism, the abuser seeks to wriggle out of responsibility for something. They often do this by insisting that someone else (usually an enemy or victim) started it or did something worse. In bothsidesism, the person insists that both sides do the “same thing.” This, again, is a way to wriggle out of responsibility.

Particularly Toxic when Religion and Spirituality Become Wrapped In

And let’s be honest—it just gets worse when things like theological concepts and verses from sacred texts and appeals to “what a deity wants” become part of this picture.

When God and morality are used to gain status and security and to control rather than out of collaboration and love and to take care of the vulnerable? That gets d*mned ugly and spiritually abusive.

Interpreting the Golden Rule Healthily

Every religion has a version of the Golden Rule. And it’s important to realize that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” doesn’t mean we need to practice bothsidesism.

In fact, as I’ve described many times before, healthy spirituality is that in which love must include calls for healthy accountability, especially in situations of abuse and gaslighting.

The common good often requires some people to be right and others to be wrong. That’s okay. That’s healthy. What’s unhealthy is when people’s need to be right and to control and to dominate becomes more important than taking care of the common good.

So How Can We Stand Firm in Response to This Toxic Crap?

Okay, so some quick tips for continuing to stand firm in the midst of all the unhealthy gaslighting going on these days:

  1. Look for and separate first-order realities from second-order realities. Insist on the reality of first-order realities. Acknowledge the limits of second-order realities wherever it makes sense.  
  2. Look for and insist on adding to the conversation other first-order realities that add nuance to the conversation.
  3. Offer reality-checking support and reassurance to those around you. That should include regular confirmations that the first-order realities are true, and that reasonable second-order realities are supported by the first-order data. (This helps all of us who are resisting gaslighting stand firm while leaving room for reasonable disagreements by those who all recognize the same first-order realities.)
  4. Look for genuine experts—both those with on-the-ground experience and those studying and researching and practicing a certain area—as guides when it comes to second-order realities. Recognize that because they’re working in second-order realities, their interpretations will be limited—but that doesn’t mean they don’t have good info to go on. Don’t let gaslighters diminish expert conclusions without good reason.
  5. Don’t play by the gaslighter’s playbook. (Also, don’t accept their likely demonization of you for drawing attention to their garbage.)
  6. Judge your own energy levels in speaking up against gaslighting. Sometimes drawing attention to the first-order facts of unhealthy rhetoric as you are walking away is the best move for a given situation. Engage in as much self-care as you need to. And remember this is a relay marathon. Come back when you’re able.
  7. And, of course, look for and check yourself if you find yourself following gaslighter patterns–but look at the data to make sure that’s happening before you trust the other person’s judgment. You can look at the above definitions (and of course cross-check them with other expert definitions of gaslighting–mine aren’t necessarily the best, and don’t need to be) for help in prising that out.

Why Public Gaslighting Is Harder to Pull Off—and Why It’s So Dangerous

Overall, the weird disadvantage of when gaslighting occurs on a public stage as opposed to a domestic one is that it’s often harder to get everyone on board.

The problem, of course, is that the reason it often works is that everyone is vulnerable to stress responses and the unhealthy forms of status conflict that can emerge.

And if you can convince a large group of people that the gaslighting is correct and that the oppositional group is not just wrong but an untrustworthy source of information (and morally suspect as well), it’s just possible at times for the gaslighters in charge to gain and maintain enough power to pull off their power play.

Why We Need to Keep Standing Up

The truth, of course, is that religio-political gaslighting ought not be underestimated, but it ought not be overestimated either.

The current gaslighters in charge are relying on the perception that what they do will work. They rely on the exhaustion of the opposition in order for their power plays to work and keep working.

THIS is why we need to keep supporting one another and speaking up assertively against the unhealthy rhetoric and policies. It’s crucial to keep going in this relay marathon the best we can, toward the common good.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got. We can do this thing.

Looking for more resources toward speaking up for what’s right and dealing with the conflict that results?

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

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