Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com Because Sometimes We Stay Lost if We Stay Quiet Sun, 10 Nov 2019 03:57:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 http://assertivespirituality.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-AS-Aonly-512x512-32x32.jpg Assertive Spirituality http://assertivespirituality.com 32 32 Why None of Us Can Be “Perfectly Woke” or Safe http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/09/none-of-us-perfectly-woke-call-out-culture/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/11/09/none-of-us-perfectly-woke-call-out-culture/#comments Sun, 10 Nov 2019 03:30:03 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=968 Well, friends, we’re here. Friday was the 3rd anniversary of the 2016 election. And everywhere I look I see the signs that we’re all pretty tired. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, one of the phenomena that pops up when we’re all as exhausted as we are (for good reason) is the “eating one’s own” phenomenon, especially within what’s often referred to as “call out culture.” Often this phenomena comes out in expectations of perfection that each...

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

TL;dr

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

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

How This Much Stress Affects Us in Progressive Spaces

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

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

No Shame in This Example

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

What Happened

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

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

Why This Stuff Happens

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

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

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

Enter Shame and Scarcity

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

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

Perfectionism as a Sign of Shame

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

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

Expecting Ourselves to Act Like Machines—and Worse

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Roots of Conflict Among Friends and Allies

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

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

The Problems with Fighting Systemic Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame, Exhaustion, and Attempts at Systemic Change

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

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

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

So yeah, it’s not easy.

Many of Us Are Traumatized, but in Differing Ways

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

Frustratingly, systems affect individuals differently.

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

We Shouldn’t Give Up

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

It’s not.

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

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

We Need to Strive for Excellence Rather than Perfection

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

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

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

No Silver Bullets in Communication

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

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

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

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

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

To prevent harm.

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

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

Why Shame Resilience Is Key

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

Shame as a Sign We Need to Work Collaboratively

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

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

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

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

More Resources and A Final Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why War on Christmas Rhetoric Matters

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

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

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

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

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

Santa vs. Jesus: The Cage Match

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

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

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

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

What Got Silenced by the Framing of the “Debate”

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

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

Projecting Our Anxieties About Whether We Were Holy Enough Outward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zero-Sum Take on “Happy Holidays”

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

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

The War on Christmas and the Anxiety of Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call to Old-Fashioned Repentance (I Guess)

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

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

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

The Tie Between The War on Christmas and Human Rights Violations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Charge

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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

More Resources to Help You Out!!!

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

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

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

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

None of This Is Easy

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

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

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

It’s Hard Not to Pull Away

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

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

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

Hard to Stay in the Race

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

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

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

Those Spouting Fascistic Rhetoric Want You Tired

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

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

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

The Danger of “Eating Our Own”

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

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

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

Relay Marathons Are Not Easy

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

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

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

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

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

The Danger of Removing Ourselves and Others from Social Support

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

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

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

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

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

Both Things Can Be True at Once

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

Gathering Inner Strength and Good Advice for the Journey

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

Rest, Don’t Quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hurricane Study and Doing What We Can

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

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

We Can Do This Thing!

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

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

More Resources!

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

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

There Was Excellent Rapport

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

And yet. And yet.

What Happened

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

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

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

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

My Diagnosis

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

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

This was not good. It needed to be stopped.

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

What I Did to Intervene

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

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

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

How Others Helped in the Moment

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

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

What This Moment Illustrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admittedly Easier to Steer It Back in a Classroom Setting

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

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

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

People Caught Up in the Tide of Unhealthy Nationalisms

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

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

It’s Key to Stop Such Conversations Elsewhere Too

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

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

Let those who have ears to hear let them hear.

The Challenges of Dealing with This “In the Wild”

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

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

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

Resources for Dealing with This “In the Wild”

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

Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar or by commenting on this article and checking the box. Once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you the link to our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. It should help unwrap more of the research behind visceral responses and offer some options of how to respond in such situations. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

A Final Charge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Against the Demonization of Progressives

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

Just stop it.

The Need for Openness to Being Educated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up with Educated Sustainable Farming

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

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

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

Continuing the Legacy

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

Knowing Climate Change Is Real Through Sustainable Farming

Now we are continuing the legacy of sustainable farming. 

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

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

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

What the Trolls Got Completely Wrong

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

Why I Am Thankful

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

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

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

Why I Grieve

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

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

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

To Assertive Spirituality

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

To the Trolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
A Concerned Farmer

More Help with Being Assertive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worrying Over Losing People Who Disagree

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

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

Why We Worry Over Potentially Losing People

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

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

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

Why Self-Censorship Isn’t the Whole Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Valid Fears that Emerge from These Interactions

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

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

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

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

Why Speaking Up Is Important Anyway

Pardon my French, but f*ck that.

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

My Experiences Defying External/Internalized Negative Beliefs with This Project

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

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

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

What It Took for Me to Start this Project

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

The Results Were MUCH Better than the Picture My Fear Painted

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

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

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

The Work Was and Is Worth It

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

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

Living By Our Values Is Worthwhile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Us!

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

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

Looking for Resources?

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

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

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

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

Notes before I dive in:

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

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

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

A Situational Approach to Assertiveness

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

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

Not Ordinary Partisanship

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

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

It’s All Quite Disturbing

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

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

Individuality as a “God Term” Playing into the Divisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t even bother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Okay with the Consequences

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

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

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

Standing Firm

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

The Benefits of Standing Firm

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

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

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

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

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

Some Further Resources

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

A Final Word

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

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

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

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

A Little Background

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

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

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

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

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

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

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

Why Anger and Fight Responses Aren’t Necessarily Dangerous

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

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

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

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

Some Biblical Examples of Empathetic Anger

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

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

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

Defining Empathetic Anger

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

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

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

Empathetic Anger Afflicts the Comfortable and Comforts the Afflicted

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

Empathetic Anger and True Civility

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

Why Empathetic Anger is Seen as a Threat by Christian Nice

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

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

Why People Try to Suppress Those Enacting Empathetic Anger

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

Let’s Not Let that Stop Us!

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Charge

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

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

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

Some Important Definitions

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

Sigh—People Exploit These Things

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

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

“Christian Nice” and Moral Disgust Toward Speaking Up

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

The Call to (Quickly and Universally) Forgive

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

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

So let’s quickly define both.

Defining Bothsidesism

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

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

Bothsidesism and “Reactive Abuse”

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

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

Bothsidesism, Cheap Grace, and Sin-Levelling

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

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

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

Yeah, So I Grew Up with This

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

Where the Problems Lie From Many Christian Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful Abusers Trying to Claim Victim

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

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

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

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

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

IMPORTANT NOTES:

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

Need more resources to do that?

Sign up for our email newsletter and confirm your email address and you’ll receive the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Trolls,” which will help you understand more of how the visceral responses behind conflict work, both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around.

A Final Encouragement

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

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Why “Christian Nice” Enables Covert Abuse and Authoritarian Politics http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/04/nice-covert-abuse-authoritarian-politics/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/08/04/nice-covert-abuse-authoritarian-politics/#comments Sun, 04 Aug 2019 05:36:36 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=902 So if you follow this space, you know that I grew up in a “moderate” religio-political space that followed the rules of “Christian Nice.” Under the surface, that often meant that the kind of “peace” that was spiritually elevated as a “god term”—that is, as I’ve said before, something to be defended at all costs, and, in this context, actually also seen as more godly—was too often associated with the suppression of confrontation. This meant “conflict” and “confrontation” were treated...

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So if you follow this space, you know that I grew up in a “moderate” religio-political space that followed the rules of “Christian Nice.” Under the surface, that often meant that the kind of “peace” that was spiritually elevated as a “god term”—that is, as I’ve said before, something to be defended at all costs, and, in this context, actually also seen as more godly—was too often associated with the suppression of confrontation. This meant “conflict” and “confrontation” were treated as devil terms, to be fought at all costs.

Interestingly, it also meant that being “political” (usually meaning only progressively political, really, as I came to realize) was also seen as a devil term. I’ve talked about that before several times on this blog, but perhaps most clearly here.

In this current post I plan to unwrap, more clearly than I have before, why those who protest evil are much too often seen to be more “immoral” than those who perpetrate it within this toxic kind of “Nice” environment. At the end I will offer more resources to better understand and speak up against the toxic crap.

Building Resentment Under the Surface

Unfortunately, this kind of environment, as I’ve discussed before, tends to breed what in civility studies is called “cordial hypocrisy.” (I’ve talked about this before, especially here.) In other words, a situation in which people accommodate and pretend to agree on the surface, but under the surface are building resentment all along.

This kind of resentment unfortunately eventually often outs itself, revealing a truly unhealthy dynamic bubbling just under the surface.

The problem with this kind of situation, of course, is that it doesn’t communicate either true peace nor a healthy set of dynamics. It just doesn’t. In fact, it creates a kind of situation that is ripe for both passive aggression and what a lot of great experts have begun calling covert abuse.

How Cordial Hypocrisy Lays the Groundwork for Enabling Authoritarian Politics

Cordial hypocrisy also unfortunately tends to lend itself to alignment with the kind of politics that pretends everything is rosy while stirring up that pent-up anger and stifling dissent. The practitioners of “Nice,” of course, shake their heads at any overt insults of the “other side.”

But at the same time, when you think about defending (faux) peace as a god term against confrontation as a devil term, it starts to make sense why practitioners of “Nice” might find themselves appalled at the rhetoric of strongmen demagogues even while they defend those same strongmen from “transgressive” folk who speak up against them.

This situation still occasionally shocks me. It also saddens me deeply.

So Let’s Talk Covert Abuse

But yes, you may not have heard much about the term covert abuse, so let’s talk about that. In covert abuse scenarios, people seem to be “nice”—they are just more adept at hiding their desire to control people and situations. Unfortunately, they often blame the people around them for things they themselves are doing (which is a mark of many overt abusers, corrupt politicians, etc. as well).

Covert abusers do it subtly, but they manipulate and control people in completely inappropriate ways.

What happens in covert abuse can be more damaging and difficult to recover from than overt abuse, ironically (and sadly), because it is so subtle and difficult to combat.

When Covert Abuse Is Seen as More “Godly” than Those Calling It Out

And it is even more difficult to combat covert abuse (or, for that matter, enablement of authoritarian politics!) in “nice” environments BECAUSE of the ethic of treating (faux) peace as a god term to be defended at all costs. In these kinds of environments, unfortunately, covert abuse, because it hides its aims, is often cast as more “godly” than overtly drawing attention to the misdoing of a covert abuser.

Let me say that again: In “Nice” environments, because an absence of conflict is seen to be the highest ideal, causing extreme damage as an abuser is seen to be more “godly” than the person who has been wounded calling this out—or even someone speaking up on the behalf of the wounded.

As a result, the covert abuser is supported in their “godliness” while the “divisive” person ends up being lumped in with the “confrontational” devil term.

Not Just in “Christian Nice,” Either—All Types of “Nice”

Please note that environments need not be religious to foster this type of environment—in fact, I have seen people supporting this kind of dynamic in every kind of environment, including those purporting to engage in Western rationalistic dialogues.

The kind of political “moderates” last week’s article was calling to healthier behaviors absolutely fit into this camp.

All of THIS is why religio-political moderates often see “progressives” who protest as “transgressive.”

THIS is why they tend to become as deeply uncomfortable with movements like #metoo and #churchtoo and #ChristiansAgainstHate and tend to silently buy the right-wing propaganda from dissembling politicians associating those groups with devil terms.

Why I Am Sooo Aware of These Dynamics

Since the environment I grew up in considered itself both religiously AND politically moderate, I can see from the inside out how this works. I can also see that from a Christian framework this kind of religio-political culture creates an idol out of “peace” in a detrimental way.

Which in turn helps me understand why the Bible always describes the (dissenting) prophet’s task as one that often leads to the religio-political establishment scapegoating and even killing the prophet who speaks out against abuse.

It helps me understand how Jesus’ words of dissent calling out the religio-political overt and covert abusers of his day got him killed.

Getting Past Christian Nice: A Long Road at Times, But Totally Possible

 See, as a recovering avoider of and accommodator to conflict, it’s taken me a long time and effort to train my visceral reactions to believe it’s okay to stand up. Starting this project and writing the series of blog posts I have up till now has helped me have insight into why and how I was trained to feel such things.

Here’s what I know: when we are viscerally trained to see certain groups as “transgressive” but our values lead us to join that group in speaking up against the toxic crap, we need to choose our values over our viscera every time.

Working Toward Healthier Responses

In fact, I believe we need to work to carefully retrain our visceral responses toward love for those “progressive” neighbors as well as those marginalized populations they represent.

I truly believe this—this retraining of our “natural” responses toward the Good Samaritans of our day, as well as those wounded in the ditch—is what Jesus was commanding his followers to do. And of course when I say “Good Samaritans,” I mean the way the term was used in its day: those people of “imperfect doctrine” speaking up for care and inclusion of the “least of these.” (I talked more about this here.)

Need Help Figuring More of This Out?

  1. Want more help figuring out how to recognize and healthily respond to these internal barriers in yourself and others? Sign up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar or by checking the box when you comment on this blog post, and we’ll send you our free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email once you’ve confirmed your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around!
  2. Want to learn more about covert abuse and how to speak up against it, especially in domestic violence and other #churchtoo situations? Check out the Confusion to Clarity, Flying Free, and Making a Statement: The Church Free From Abuse projects and pages. And remember, as you do your research, that authoritarian politicians are often using the same techniques. I talked about this here.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep working to recognize those patterns that hinder us from looking out for the common good and truly sticking up for the marginalized and oppressed as we do so. We can do this thing!   

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How to Be a Moderate Ally in the US Today http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/27/how-to-be-actual-moderate-us/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/27/how-to-be-actual-moderate-us/#comments Sat, 27 Jul 2019 20:52:19 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=891 As I’ve explained before, I grew up in a denomination which many describe as falling *just* on the Evangelical side of what’s known as the Evangelical-Mainline divide among more conservative and more progressive churches in the US. That means I know many people in the US today who claim to be religio-politically moderate. Most of these are polling in the “independent” category on political surveys–but some are more independent than others. I’ll be frank—I believe the country has swung so...

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As I’ve explained before, I grew up in a denomination which many describe as falling *just* on the Evangelical side of what’s known as the Evangelical-Mainline divide among more conservative and more progressive churches in the US. That means I know many people in the US today who claim to be religio-politically moderate. Most of these are polling in the “independent” category on political surveys–but some are more independent than others. I’ll be frank—I believe the country has swung so far to one side that I don’t believe many of them are *actually* moderate.

My goal in this article is a practical advice-giving one: I know there are a lot of people who feel politically homeless right now–they don’t trust the current administration, but have also been trained not to trust others either.

In this article, I hope to offer advice to help these folks to actually communicate that they are moderate, reasonable people who might be at least seen as compassionate allies for those speaking up against the toxic crap out there in the religio-political landscape today–and hopefully joining the cause where and as they can.

Hopefully this will also help progressives who are seeking allies and looking for signs about how to discern who is “safe” and who isn’t.

How Do I Have the Cred to Talk about This?

Since I study and teach communication, and have held positions on both sides of both the political and religious sides of the divide, and have listened extensively to “both sides,” and have been sorting through signs of who is and is really not a moderate and watching that definition shift for the recent decades, I hope y’all might give what I say a wee bit of credence.

(If you think that any of that I just mentioned makes my advice less eligible to be listened to, well, that’s my first pro tip that you might fall more to the right rather than being actually moderate. Which just means that you might need to start the hard introspection needed about what you’ve been believing.)

Disclaimer: I am writing this piece as an ally myself, as well as someone with expertise in stress, trauma, and confict communication. As you’ll hopefully see below in my advice, I’m not trying to shout down POC voices or others of marginalized populations offering advice on this type of topic. Just offering what I can with what I’ve got to collaborate with the efforts of helping those religio-politically homeless to do what they can toward speaking up for what is right in today’s challenging climate.

How to *actually* communicate you’re a “safe” moderate in today’s climate:

  1. Recognize the way you’ve been raised and socialized affects your views, and that in turn may affect how much you’re willing to participate in the religio-political world. For instance, if you consider yourself moderate, there’s a good chance you don’t like conflict much. Recognize that might be an issue at times, especially in today’s climate. Know that on the topics where you know you differ a lot from progressives, it might be wise to listen more than to talk when you enter more progressive spaces on those issues. But feel free to agree with what you can, loudly!

    (Note that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King particularly had an issue with “white moderates” for their desire to tamp down “good trouble”—I talked about that here. I hope the present article is a helpful extension of his advice, telling you good folk how to be a moderate that is perceived to help with problems of human and civil rights rather than being a hindrance! Or, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel put it, complicit with evil.
  2. Believe independent fact-checking organizations and organizations that have been helping the marginalized for decades (e.g., Amnesty International and other boots-on-the-ground organizations). Distrust organizations, both faith-based and otherwise, that have quickly changed their tunes on major issues over the last 3 years.
  3. You likely have heard messaging (and maybe participated in some) saying that “both sides are just as bad.” Don’t presume that “both sides” are equally untrustworthy or equally partisan in how they cast things. (They’re not.)
  4. Decry all human rights violations. Full stop.
  5. Look at a wide range of news sources if you choose, but don’t trust all equally. Check media bias sites regularly before believing things. (Don’t think you have to equally listen to “all kinds of sources,” though–that’s not always a merit in today’s climate. Propaganda can subtly change your perspective in unforeseen ways, and there’s no need to maintain a steady diet just to maintain a sense of self as “fair.”)
  6. Act like a detective—rely on the evidence of your eyes and ears, and also listen more carefully to experts than non-experts on various matters, while recognizing that all expertise has its limits. Remember you don’t have to give equal weight to the evidence of proven liars–and in fact, you definitely ought not to.
  7. Know that experience of marginalized groups is incredibly valuable evidence—these groups are often excellent at seeing power dynamics that those “on the inside” don’t regularly see. Definitely include stories from marginalized people and how everything is affecting them in your steady diet of information. Cultivate compassion for the marginalized and vulnerable, and look out for them.
  8. Know that no one is infallible or completely moral. That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more right than others.
  9. Learn how to ask for both more rationality and more empathy in both theological and policy-based discussions.  
  10. Be aware that alertness to power dynamics affects how those on the left see the world. Cultivate the ability to understand such viewpoints. Ask good questions and ask for book recommendations if you’re not there yet.
  11. If someone in a place of powerful leadership is claiming to be the victim, look for actual evidence as to who is to blame—and realize that the “viking or victim” phenomenon isn’t a great thing, whether you find it in yourself or others.  
  12. Recognize that all communication is a negotiated act between parties, and that sometimes everyone is right and wrong, but some people and some ideas will always be more right and wrong than others.
  13. Vote on more than one issue, and look for candidates who actually match up with your values on multiple issues.
  14. Seek and accept nuance, but don’t waffle on human rights issues or other important matters that marginalize and oppress groups of people. Once the evidence is in, defend proven and ethical positions and act/speak up.
  15. Learn about fascistic rhetoric, systemic conditions and values systems that marginalize people (racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc), and conspiracy rhetoric. Try not to get offended by people calling these things out, if you can.
  16. Be aware that actually being a moderate is going to get you labeled as a flaming liberal, a socialist, a snowflake, and/or a false prophet of Satan in today’s climate. Learn to be at peace with that–there are much worse things than being associated with compassion.
  17. Realize that those on the left may not fully agree with you on all matters, but need you as allies right now. Know that you may have to communicate yourself as “safe” and build credibility as part of that process.
  18. Learn about the ways we all respond viscerally in debates and discussions. (Read the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” to help with this. There will be instructions at the end of the article.)

But How Do I Know If I or Someone Else Is Really to the Right?

In case you’re actually on the right and don’t realize it, I offer this list about how to communicate that you only *think* you’re a moderate, but are really far-right in this communication climate:

  1. If your primary news source is legally considered an “entertainment news network” and begins with an F, then you might be missing out on some actual facts, and may be further to the right than you think.
  2. Pay attention to whether your primary news sources regularly offer corrections if they get information wrong. If you do, you might possibly be moderate. If not, you’re probably getting some propaganda and/or conspiracy rhetoric in there somewhere—and that’s not a great thing.
  3. Do you regularly defend bothsidesism and false equivalencies—in other words, do you agree that both sides *equally* insult the other side, even when one side is using accurately descriptive terms more and the other is using devil terms? If so, you’re not really moderate.
  4. If someone brings up questions surrounding higher education, do you occasionally break out into rants about how “our students are being brainwashed by liberals”? If so, you’re regrettably not moderate, but quite a bit further right than you think.
  5. If someone brings up the question of the human rights violations at the border, do you find yourself defending any part of the administration’s current policies, shifting blame to previous administrations of other parties, or doing anything other than decrying the human rights violations and wishing to decry them and help with that? If so, you’re not a moderate.
  6. If someone brings up a Democratic tax policy, do you find yourself tempted to break out in a rant against how you don’t want this country to be “socialist”? If so, you’re not a moderate.
  7. Do you decry the current head of the administration’s Twitter presence, but say he’s got good policies (especially on things like abortion and anti-socialist policies)? If so, you aren’t a moderate, but pretty far to the right. (NOTE: You may certainly be broadly pro-life and be a moderate. But if you’re stuck on the Supreme Court solution, you’re probably not a moderate.)
  8. Do you regularly defend “law and order” without actually knowing the laws? For instance, when someone says something about the human rights crisis at the border, do you find yourself complaining that “these people” have been doing things illegally? If so, you’re actually really far to the right.

There are, of course, more signs and seals of whether you’re communicating being a genuine moderate or not these days. But these are hopefully a good start to figuring out how what you may need to do to be perceived as a moderate–or, if you’re already further left, some signs to look for and distinguish among.

Most important of all:

If you’re a moderate and want to communicate that, it’s really key to be speaking up against the toxic crap that’s going on, at least among people you know if not further afield. I really hope that’s more important to you than any feelings of discomfort about being perceived as “too liberal” in the current environment.

Know that if you aren’t willing to do this, others may have a hard time trusting you to be safe. These are difficult days, after all, and the toxic crap that’s going on out there isn’t great. Nor is it victimless. Remember that there are lots of us out there speaking up in hopes of making change, and that cynicism and burnout help us not at all.

Some Resources for You

Speaking of cynicism and burnout, try not to troll those trying to help, please! If you’re interested in figuring out whether you or someone else is a troll, I recommend signing up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar here or while commenting on this or other articles. Once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

Quick Note to Friends on the Left:

Y’all, I know everyone feels suspicious right now, and so it’s okay to ask people to build cred in these times, but let’s do our best to welcome those who genuinely are showing signs of being true moderates as described above, can we please? We’re going to need all the help we can get. I know this is a hard ask…

One Final Note to All:

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! It’s (past) time that all of the reasonable, compassionate people raise their voices and help each other out so that the bullies don’t have the loudest, most effective voices. Let’s keep speaking up, even when it’s uncomfortable. We can do this thing!  

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“Go Back Where You Came From,” White Evangelicals, and Territoriality: An Analysis http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/20/white-evangelicals-territoriality-an-analysis/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/20/white-evangelicals-territoriality-an-analysis/#comments Sun, 21 Jul 2019 03:57:27 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=881 This week the current head of the US administration told four congresswomen who were women of color, three of which were born in the US, to “go back where they came from” (if you want to find out more about that, Google will get you to lots of articles–or hold on, and I’ll be linking a few throughout this article). This article is an analysis of this statement using tools from the communication field, including the way the phrase is...

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This week the current head of the US administration told four congresswomen who were women of color, three of which were born in the US, to “go back where they came from” (if you want to find out more about that, Google will get you to lots of articles–or hold on, and I’ll be linking a few throughout this article). This article is an analysis of this statement using tools from the communication field, including the way the phrase is a verbal expression of the nonverbal communication category territoriality.

I will also look at how this statement invokes for the conservative Christians defending it all of the god terms and devil terms and halo and horns effects I’ve been discussing in past articles, including this most relevant latest one. I will also provide practical resources for how to respond healthily to people’s attempts to evade this statement’s poisonous nature.

This analysis is a little long, but as I said, there are resources at the end, and nuance is key to fight these battles well and to fully understand how this all works; thanks for your patience! 🙂

Context Is King

So yes, context is everything when interpreting “go back where you came from” statements. When delivered to women of color who are progressive and speaking up to try to fix things in the country that 3 of 4 were born in, the intimation is deeply obvious—that these female progressive representatives are not *really* American. That they don’t belong in the US.

All week I’ve been reading things that talk about this verbal act as deeply racist. As sexist. As xenophobic. As nativist. I believe it is all of those things. It is also deeply, embeddedly partisan. And I believe it is that intersectional combination of things that makes the statement so effective—and so incredibly obvious that it is at its base incredibly territorial.

And sadly, I believe white Evangelicalism has a base territorialism of its own that has made it all too easy to absorb a partisan political identity on top of its theological identity. This makes it too easy for white Evangelicals to defend these statements.

(Again, as before, I don’t by and large see most POC Evangelicals defending these statements, so I refer to white Evangelicals as a cultural group. As I explained in the last article, I see some white Evangelicals speaking out against these types of remarks and very much hope more will join those of us decrying them.)

On Those Who Are Defending the Statement

The thing is that a lot of the white Evangelicals—and other conservative Christians—I know and grew up with are out there are out there trying to excuse these “go back to your own country” statements from the current head of the administration as specifically *not* being racist—or, if it is, to still defend or excuse the man who said it.

(I mean, sure, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you if you believe that it’s not racist. It’s so discriminatory that the New York Times quickly collected 16,000 stories of people of color being told to “go back where they came from.” And even though the phrase has a long rhetorical history in the US, it is actually illegal to use in workplaces according to current government law.)

But here’s the beauty of the rhetorical targeting of this statement toward partisanship in all its also-bare, also-extremely discriminatory glory: all of those people can convince themselves that, well, it was wrong to say, but that it wasn’t actually discriminatory.

Because, see, as I discussed last week, to self-identifying Republicans these days, these women are already the enemy. But to many, in their minds, it’s not because of their skin color. No, it’s because they are Democrats–and that means they are socialists. (I talked about socialist and liberal as a devil term here and here.)

Why It Matters that It Was Territorial

To those people defending the statement, I say now: whether or not you believe it was a deeply racist statement (and it was!!!! It really was!!!), you do need to understand that it was deeply territorial. The goal was to suggest that citizens who were hired to represent the people of these United States ought not to do their Constitutionally mandated jobs—and, in fact, not exercise their rights to disagree with the current head of the administration.

In other words, even though these types of words go back almost to the founding of this country, these words were also an attempt at the kind of tyranny the founders of this country set up checks and balances to prevent (even while they themselves had blind spots several thousand miles wide in the areas of discrimination).  

It’s Also Super Racist, Sexist, Etc.

The idea that women of color, most of whom were actually born here, ought to go back to some other place and fix those countries, is also incredibly racist—especially emerging, as it has been, from the mouths of many who have been telling migrants with darker skin tones that they ought to be going back and fixing their own “fixer-upper” countries.

As I described before, the outsourcing of problems to other places would very much fit into the god terms/devil terms rhetoric I’ll be unwrapping in a bit.

The combination of these two kinds of rhetoric–one about disagreement not belonging here and another about certain kinds and skin tones of migrants not belonging here–makes it extremely clear that the viewpoint being espoused is ultimately an unhealthy nationalist one.

In other words, that all marginalized people and those who are those allies, who actually want our government to represent their views toward fixing the problems in this country, ought to just go somewhere else, essentially leaving powerful white men alone with those who enable them.

Fascist Too!

Again, this makes for a deeply territorial statement—and one, despite its long history, that stands against the “checks and balances” ideals this country was founded on. And that makes this rhetoric line up with other fascistic rhetorics and rhetorics of petty dictators the world over.

That’s not a good thing. If you defend it, you sound an awful lot like you’re mirroring Nazi rhetorical techniques, and for good reason.

The Importance of the Word “Back”

And the framing of it IS racist. See, as a progressive who is advocating for the rights of marginalized and vulnerable populations, I’ve been told to move away, too—so the attempts at ostracism apply to me as well.

But as a white person the key word “back” is never included when the phrase is directed at me. I’m told to go away, sure—“why don’t you just *go* to Canada (or the UK or Europe) then?” But I’m never told to go back.

(Which in a way is funny, because I have lived in two of those three places, have visited all of them, and my ancestors came from two of those three places. If they wanted to tell me to go back, it would *almost* be dimly appropriate. Still deeply overlooking all immigration difficulties I may face, mind you. After all, I don’t actually have any type of job or passport in any of those places. But still, much more reasonable of a suggestion than telling these female US representatives to go back to another country they may have never been to.)

The Disturbing Ironies Run Deep

The point of all of this, of course, is that it’s racist to paint these women as enemies and interlopers to this territory that my ancestors—well, I believe the appropriate word is “stole” or “colonized”—by committing genocide, and then built up as a country based on the forced labor of enslaved people of color.

The Incredibly Strong and Harmful Irresponsibility of Doubling Down on the Initial Statement

Furthermore, the suggestion is deeply irresponsible, and the fact that the opportunity to apologize was followed up by the fact that it couldn’t be wrong because others agreed with it, and then the same rhetoric was used to stoke mob-like chanting at a rally? Yup, that’s exactly the kind of behavior fascists literally enact in order to demonize their opposition.

It is in no way a shock to me that it’s been followed up by death threats to those people. And the rhetoric seems strongly responsible for those death threats. It also seems deeply responsible for all of the ways such a powerful voice offering and doubling down and encouraging such racist rhetoric hurts all the people who will take the cue toward other racist words and behavior.

Not at All Unexpected

Again, it is a question of territoriality. The current head of the administration does not see himself, this statement confirmed once and for all (as though it was at all in doubt) as president of *all* of the people here, even though that was what he was hired to be.

This is not new. He has felt this way—and expressed it very openly, both verbally and nonverbally, since the beginning of his campaign and long before (this is just an extension of the birtherism controversy—but there are many others, as this article shows).

How Conservative Christians Have Been Drawn In to Defending

My argument here is that conservative white Evangelicals and others who refuse to denounce this rhetoric, even if they see themselves as against racism, have bought into this rhetoric specifically because they have bought into the partisan demonization of liberals and “socialists” I’ve been talking about on this site.

These conservative Christians may not believe themselves to be innately racist. But they ARE unapologetically partisan—and they have no problem with people demonizing their political opponents, to the point where they expect the same in return.

The kind of poisonous rhetoric they’ve been listening to for decades from peops on conservative talk radio and entertainment news networks for decades has laid the groundwork for this.

How I Know

I know—I grew up with this, and as I’ve discussed before on this blog, it took me a lot of development to get to the point where I was comfortable claiming the term “progressive” or “liberal” as a result.

White Evangelical-Centrism Has Made It Seem More Normal To Espouse This Toxic Crap

And as I’ve pointed out before and am building on now, I believe that a kind of long-term theological white Evangelical-centrism in which progressive Christian perspectives is seen as a threat only adds to these conflations between political and theological progressivism being somehow threats who need to be silenced at the very least.

This position has led to deep political disgusts with these “opponents” that makes it feel natural to try to get them “off the American lawn” and into “taking their negativity somewhere else.”

How “Christian Nice” Has Played a Role

The kind of unhealthy views of “negativity” and emotion I talked about last week make this kind of thing even more likely. See, if you’re so uncomfortable with people raising uncomfortable issues that you think people should just ignore them? That’s a situation absolutely ripe for both authoritarian dismissal of people trying to raise issues in order to fix them AND for fascistic rhetoric to take hold.

How “God Terms” and “Devil Terms,” “Halo and Horns Effects” Played a Part

So yes, because they have come to believe that the “Republican side” is a god term—in other words, something to be defended at all costs—and that the “Democratic side” is a devil term to be fought at all costs, they find it incredibly easy to excuse this statement as not racist.

I mean, the more reasonable folks in this defender group would say, it’s pretty nasty and distasteful partisanship.

But, they may argue, these women are not only women or people with darker skin tones—they are Democrats. There’s a longstanding history of partisanship in the US, reaching out from the beginning, is there not?

And, you know, some “good policies” (mostly around abortion, but also to head off the country’s feared decline into “socialism”) and conservative judges (to help with abortion, mostly).

The Fusing of White Evangelicalism and Political Partisanship

Deep sigh. There *is* a longstanding history of partisanship. And with that partisanship some folks have grown to see their side as associated with halo effects—that is, because someone is a Republican they are seen to do very little wrong, which is the base of defending that person as a god term.

And the other side is seen to be through the vision of the horns effect—in other words, because they are Democrats (and/or progressive theologically), they are to be fought at all costs.

And as I described before, in a single-issue world, anyone, however harmful in other areas (such as inciting death threats against female representatives), who is seen to be narrowly pro-life (and, as a bonus, is fighting that dim specter of socialism) is automatically excused from any major charge against them.

How All of This Comes Back to Territoriality

Let’s face it: war—which is what happens when you see your side as good and to be defended at all costs and the other side as bad and to be fought at all costs—is all about territoriality.

I mean, the basic premise of war is that it’s high time to push the “enemy” off this land. Right??? (I know this: I grew up playing Risk ad nauseum with someone who thought this way.)

NOT OKAY THINKING!

Sigh. Lord, no. This thinking is remarkably not okay. It’s definitely part of a strain of American thinking from the beginning of the country. It’s a zero-sum impulse that’s really common to us as humans and animals. But that doesn’t automatically make it okay–nor does it make it appropriate.

Goes Against Basic Christian Theological Premises

Nor does it make it at all in consonance with basic Christian principles. See, I grew up being asked to follow a man who told me to “love my neighbor as myself” which explicitly included my enemy.

I grew up being taught Scriptures that taught me to take care of the “least of these” and “welcome the stranger” and bring down the powerful to raise up the oppressed by doing justice and loving mercy. I grew up learning, albeit in a vague way, that human social identities weren’t supposed to be used to hurt others. And that we needed to call that out when we saw it happening.

Putting It Out There Why I Have Issues with This Statement

If you haven’t already figured it out, I believe this “go back to their countries” statement is wholeheartedly, blatantly wrong. I wholeheartedly believe my white Evangelical peops are being led astray from their stated core Christian beliefs in trying to defend it.

My training in communication and rhetorical analysis leads me to believe it *is* discriminatory—sexist and racist and xenophobic and partisan and nativist and, yes, descriptively fascist because it is all of those things at once.

And from a Christian perspective, I believe those things are not loving of either neighbor nor enemy. Nor are they just or merciful or kind to the least of these and those who defend them.

Why I See This Phrase as Deeply Wrong as an American

This statement unjustly takes a group of people who were actually hired to represent Americans, by Americans, and scapegoats them as the “enemies of America” who belong somewhere else rather than trying to draw attention to the problems in this country they want to help solve.

It strategically does so in a slippery way where many supportive audiences of the current administration could read it in a lot of different ways that would encourage them to defend against alternative explanations of the statement. But that just makes it more poisonous.

Being Practical about What We Can Do

So yes, enough analysis. To action!

It is so key that all of we who seek to fight such statements recognize that those who defend them won’t be easily persuaded of these things.

That doesn’t mean we ought not counter them, of course. On the contrary, as I’ve explained before, we need to raise our voices loudly to break through the spiral of silence about these things. It’s key that alternative views be raised, and raised loudly in these days.

It’s key that the racist context of these statements be raised and explained openly. That the death threats and rally cries and other appalling statements that emerge from them be thoroughly decried and drawn attention to and fought. This is key.

Recognizing Feasibilities of Persuasion

But it’s incredibly key to note that because, as I’ve explained before, the press and expertise have also been demonized for conservatives, the point is rarely to try to persuade those of opposing camps.

The point instead of persuasion is to draw attention to the incommensurability of these approaches (in other words, the ways in which the values are so differing that agreement is unlikely to happen), to draw attention to our alternative views as extremely valid in at least as equal a way as those of those defending the statements, and to not let this sh*t go unchallenged, as a recent meme we sent out on our FB page said.

Resources to Help in Speaking Up about This and Other Topics and Dealing with the Conflict

So…you’re probably looking for some resources to help you do that. Here goes:

  1. This week’s memes and links over at our Assertive Spirituality Facebook page will be addressing this issue. Hang out over there if you want some conversation starters and ammunition.
  2. Wanting some further knowledge about how to deal with conflict when you speak up? Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or when you comment on this or other articles, and confirm your email address, and we’ll send you our “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the resulting final welcome email. It’s designed to help with conflict both online and off. (You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.)
  3. Follow the links in the above article to learn more both from this blog and other sources about the context of everything I just talked about. The more you know, the easier it is to have the agency to understand and speak up about what’s going on–not just with talking points, but with a fuller understanding of the issues at hand

One Final Word

The idea is to avoid being silently complicit in letting this stuff go on. It is absolutely time to stand up, as we can where we are with what we’ve got to make a healthier world for us all, friends. Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! We can do this thing.

The post “Go Back Where You Came From,” White Evangelicals, and Territoriality: An Analysis appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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When “Christian Nice” Gets Mean about Emotions http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/14/when-christian-nice-gets-mean-about-emotions/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/14/when-christian-nice-gets-mean-about-emotions/#comments Sun, 14 Jul 2019 06:00:45 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=875 If you haven’t been keeping up with my schedule, by the time you read this, I’ll be largely done with speaking about “Stress, Trauma, and Conflict Communication” at the Wild Goose Festival, which is a progressive Christian social justice-themed festival in the Bible Belt in the Southern US. As I’ve described before, I grew up in my own mini-Bible belts in the Midwest. But the Southern US Bible Belt is its own special cultural flavor of Bible Belt. This piece...

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If you haven’t been keeping up with my schedule, by the time you read this, I’ll be largely done with speaking about “Stress, Trauma, and Conflict Communication” at the Wild Goose Festival, which is a progressive Christian social justice-themed festival in the Bible Belt in the Southern US. As I’ve described before, I grew up in my own mini-Bible belts in the Midwest. But the Southern US Bible Belt is its own special cultural flavor of Bible Belt. This piece extends what I’ve been saying before about the toxic sides of Christian Nice by looking at one example of one feature of Nice and what it gets right as well as the damaging effects the form and impact of the statement may have.  

The Inciting Incident that Birthed Forth this Article

I’m excusing the typo here in favor of analyzing more important things about this message. (But it does bother me. :))

So yes, I made it to the South. I had almost arrived at my AirBnb for the Wild Goose Festival when I saw a church sign that made me absolutely cringe-laugh: “Too blessed to be stressed or depressed.”

Well, technically there was a typo in there, but that can happen to anyone, so I’m not focusing on that at the moment. Instead, I want to focus on the intense cringe that came to me from the message itself.

What the Sign Came Close to Getting Right

See, as I’ve explained, I actually, teach and write about stress and trauma (and conflict communication–and when I saw this sign, ironically was on my way to speak about it).

And I hate to admit it, but I feel in the interests of honesty that it’s important to note before I dive into the down sides that the church actually got a few things right here:

  1. Gratitude-type exercises do actually help the brain. Specifically, they help it rewire itself to open up healthier pathways. This is especially key when we’ve been through experiences like burnout or trauma, both of which tend to train us to look for the negative more than the positive (which we tend toward anyway).

    That is to say that the church actually had a point, however crappily expressed, in gesturing toward the importance of being thankful for what we have. Not as a way to avoid bad emotions, but as a way to keep it possible for us to see the good possibilities in life without breaking down those neural pathways toward hope.
  2. Stress and depression are actually linked, and even beyond the near-rhyming effect found here.  That is to say, that scientific research shows that people and animals who experience too much toxic stress tend to feel less pleasure in the pleasure centers of their brains—which is why both gratitude-type exercises and conscious efforts to remind oneself and each other of the meaningfulness of what we do, regardless of perceived results, is so important.

    And as I said, gratitude can be a helpful scientifically proven antidote to unhealthy stress and depression at times.

Sadly, That’s Not Actually What Was Being Said

That said, those points weren’t really what the sign was saying, in my view. Which is to say, the WAY this message was presented was horrible, which is what made me cringe-laugh. Way beyond the typo, as I said, the message is CLASSIC toxic Christian nice.

When I read this sign, I didn’t hear “Wow, did you know research says you should try to maintain your mental and physical health through recognizing that not everything sucks all the time, and try to remember why you do it.”

Sigh—I wish that’s what had come across. Or even “I realize you have a lot of negative emotions right now, and I have a lot too under the surface, so let’s try not to take them out on each other.”

What the Sign Actually Seemed to Be Saying to Those Asking for Empathy

No, this is what I imagined coming across to a random reader of it who had just been through a stressful time. Imagine the following in a drill sergeant’s voice, if you will:

“YOU!!! THAT’S RIGHT! YOU! THE ONE DRIVING BY! THAT’S RIGHT: YOU!!!”

“LISTEN! I MEAN, I KNOW YOU HAVE STRESS RESPONSES. WE ALL DO. I KNOW YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH A LOT LATELY, AND ARE HAVING TROUBLE FINDING THE JOY. MIND YOU, I’M WELL AWARE THAT THESE FEELINGS COME FROM A NATURAL NEUROBIOLOGICAL TENDENCY BASED ON HOW YOUR BODY AND BRAIN PROCESS FELT THREATS.

BUT I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT, HEAR ME? I COULD NOT (STRING OF UNPRINTABLE EXPLETIVES) CARE ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL, OR WHAT HAPPENED THAT MADE YOU FEEL SO DOWN AND WEARY. SCREW THAT SO HARD.

I HAVE NO EMPATHY OR SUPPORT TO OFFER YOU, FRIEND, BECAUSE I FEEL THREATENED BY YOUR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS. I BELIEVE YOU SHOULD STUFF THEM DOWN AND KEEP UP A SMILE, BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T, THERE WILL BE RELATIONAL AND POSSIBLY ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES FOR YOU.

YOU KNOW THAT VERSE ABOUT JESUS CRYING? WELL, THERE’S A REASON THAT IT’S THE SHORTEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE.

OH, LAMENTATIONS? WELL, THAT NEVER POPPED UP IN MY VERSE-A-DAY CALENDAR.

OH, THOSE PSALMS OF LAMENT? WELL (MORE EXPLETIVES). The person trying to read the sign unwittingly ducks at this point.

ANYWAY, HERE’S THE POINT. YOU HAVE WAYYYYY TOO MUCH BLESSING TO ACTUALLY EVER FEEL THAT WAY, YOU JERK. HOW DARE YOU HAVE STRESS OR TRAUMA OR DEPRESSION?

OH! YOU WANT TO BRING UP THAT VERSE ABOUT GOD TAKING CARE OF THE BROKENHEARTED? WELL (THE SIGN ACTUALLY PICKS ITSELF UP AND THROWS ITSELF AT THE PERSON AT THIS STAGE. THE WHOLE THING DEVOLVES INTO A BRAWL.)

Not the Best Messaging, You Could Say, if You Want People to Feel Cared For

So…yeah. As you might have guessed, I think that the root parts of some of the scientific theory and the rudimentary ideas behind the sign here were honestly on track. It’s just that the actual execution of the message?

Ugh. Just ugh.

And Here’s the Thing–the Most Important Point

Remember what I said at the beginning about stress wearing down the hopeful and happy pathways in our brain?

That means that pretty much every single person reading it who is going through genuine stress-induced burnout or depression is wayyyy more likely to read it the negative way than the positive.

Which means that if you want to reach THAT audience as intended, and you’re making a church sign (or just trying to support someone in general going through a bad time), you likely need to work on more empathetic ways of packaging the message.

When Christian Nice Devolves into and Merges with “Christian Mean”

This, if you were wondering, is what happens when “Christian Nice” can come off as so passive aggressively downright mean that some concepts are actively holding whole swaths of all sorts of things down as though they were a bully stuffing them into a locker.

Telling Us Not to Have Stress Responses Is Counter-Productive

Oh, and if you’re wondering, telling someone not to actually have stress responses is not remotely possible and is really unwise. As you should know by now if you’ve read our Guide to Trolls or a lot of other material on this blog, stress is the body’s physiological response to felt threat. (If not, stick around–I’ll offer instructions for that at the end of this.)

The Sign Actually Made Me Feel Threatened by It in a Low-Key Way

You know, like the very same kind of response my body emerged with in a cringe-laugh just before I pulled over to snap a picture. See, the mode and delivery of the message on that sign were enough for me to see this message like an ALL CAPS-y drill sergeant, as I outlined above.

The irony is thick that the very sign who is telling me that I’m “TOO BLESSED TO BE STRESSED OR DEPRESSED” was making me feel in a stress response by the way the phrase was structured.

Sure, it wasn’t nearly as much stress as is implied by the above long explanation—after all, I grew up among Christian Nice not that different from this.

There *Is* a Stress Response for What the Sign Suggests

I should note quickly that there IS a stress response that correlates to what the sign seems to be asking you to do, and it’s a very natural one, and can be helpful in the short term. It’s often called dissociation or numbing. It’s a process that numbs the bad stuff so the body can process extremely difficult situations.

It’s natural, and it can be helpful short term, but when it tends to last too long the body often responds in unhealthy ways, with other symptoms. If you curious how this works, I strongly recommend watching the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix.

In Which I Acknowledge the Way the Sign Was *Meant* to Come Across

Because I grew up in Christian Nice, albeit a different flavor, I know perfectly well what they at the best were very imperfectly trying to say was “buck up, friend! It won’t always be this way. Surely you have a lot of good work you are doing that the world will find valuable, and even if not, perhaps there is something you can focus on and pay attention to that can help you think through the meaning of your life and reground it.”

And I also knew that here, in the Bible belt, there would be many people who would read it as seemingly intended, and feel better.

Still an Unhealthy Message for Too Many

But that doesn’t mean it’s everyone who reads it in the ALL CAPS form is in any way off base. Because this message in form and function is honestly pretty crappy.

The way it’s said implies that emotions=bad. That dissent=bad. That mental health issues=completely your fault. That stress response you’re feeling right now? Well, if you just focused on that blessing, well, that would totally not be there. Trapped in the depths of depression like that guy who wrote Ecclesiastes? Well, you must not belong here.

Sigh. That’s great if you want people to feel hurt and excluded and uncared for. But if you’re genuinely trying to love your neighbor who reads it in the ALL CAPS version? It would be better to shift the language.

A Healthier Way

In reality, research has shown that if we try to numb negative emotions, eventually our feelings of happiness and joy numb too. If we followed this sign’s advice, that would mean that we would get to a place where we might BE blessed, but likely wouldn’t be able to *feel* blessed. And I know, I know, feeling isn’t everything. But in reality, research has shown that numbed people are way more likely to dehumanize and attack others or themselves. It’s overall not a great situation.

In short, it’s not a great message. We avoid emotion management at our peril. It’s also intensely ironic how aggressive this kind of messaging feels to one attuned to the nuances of these kinds of Nice cultures. That’s because it itself seems to be coming out of a very strong denial/dissociative stress impulse. Sigh.

Anyway, that was the church sign I saw near my AirBnB on Wednesday. I hope it’s clear to you by now why it bothered me, and why many readings of the sign are really inaccurate and literally unhealthy for people, even while there are some good points behind the terrible wording.

I hope after reading this those who have been hurt by such messaging can recognize better after reading this WHY this kind of messaging gets offered, and still fight the negative parts while claiming the healthier versions of this sentiment.

And if you’ve said this before? Try to offer the healthier version, friend! If you’re at your emotional limit yourself, it’s okay to ask others to not put their emotions on you—that doesn’t mean you should be asking them to push them down long term, though. That’s simply not healthy for any of us.

Want to Learn More about Stress Responses and Conflict?

But if you’d like to know more about stress responses and how they are absolutely unavoidable in conflict (no matter how BLESSED you are ;)), I strongly recommend signing up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar or when you comment on this piece, because I get more into how stress works and how it affects conflict in the free “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” you get once you’ve confirmed your email address. (You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.  

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! May we all realize that stuffing down emotions—and telling others to do the same—doesn’t actually, on its own or especially in this form, make things better in the world. Instead, may we make space in our spirituality, whether in or out of the church, for there to be space for people to manage their real emotions. We can do this thing!

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White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/07/white-evangelicalism-eloped-unhealthy-nationalism/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/07/07/white-evangelicalism-eloped-unhealthy-nationalism/#comments Sun, 07 Jul 2019 06:41:09 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=865 QUICK NOTE BEFORE I EVEN START: In this article, as with this previous one and this previous one, I refer to “White Evangelicals” as a cultural and religio-political group. I refer to their presumed race mostly to separate this group from POC Evangelicals, most of which hold VERY different beliefs on the ways religion ties to questions of social justice and what we should be doing in the political realm. When you read the rest of this post and respond...

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QUICK NOTE BEFORE I EVEN START: In this article, as with this previous one and this previous one, I refer to “White Evangelicals” as a cultural and religio-political group. I refer to their presumed race mostly to separate this group from POC Evangelicals, most of which hold VERY different beliefs on the ways religion ties to questions of social justice and what we should be doing in the political realm. When you read the rest of this post and respond to it, do keep that in mind.

That said, as you will see, I believe out of my experiences and expertise that this same group has increasingly been mirroring and wittingly or unwittingly endorsing and defending the language and policies associated with (white) authoritarian nationalism, and that is highly disturbing to me. I think it should also be deeply disturbing to you. May those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

A Quick Further Summary of How I’m Using the Term “White”

In this latter way, the term “white” in this piece should absolutely be taken to be associated with disturbing and yet disturbingly still common and systemic ideas and ideologies such as “white supremacy.” After all, the rhetoric I’m about to describe that has been used by white Evangelical leaders doesn’t exactly promote equal treatment of all equally.

As was stated thoroughly by a Christian immigration lawyer in the US recently, this recent rhetoric from white Evangelical leaders such as James Dobson doesn’t even promote following existing laws about immigration much less following basic biblical principles as long commonly held by the church. (For the record, it doesn’t promote the standard American values of freedoms to protest and dissent either.)

NOTE: I’m not talking here about those who identify as white Evangelicals and yet are standing up against this rhetoric. Sojourners Magazine is a great example of some often-self identified white Evangelicals who are fighting this. Here is an important piece they just published about why James Dobson’s piece was so dangerously white supremacist.

TL;dr: This (white) nationalist rhetoric is highly unhealthy, and the way white Evangelicals have, in the words of many white Evangelicals, “jumped into bed” with it deeply disturbs me. I find it deeply wrong and harmful to so many. I’m going to keep speaking up against it!

Please Hang in There for the Longer Analysis, Though!

I actually hope you won’t TL;dr this article, though, but will stick around for a round of unwrapping unhealthy rhetoric. If you identify as a conservative Christian, please note that I’m not really trying to mince my words here. I find your use and defense of this rhetoric and its associated policies poisonous.

Why I Am Speaking So Passionately Here.

See, people sometimes laugh when I use the term doctor for myself, because I’m *only* a doctor of communication. But as someone who has studied poisonous rhetorics, I’m absolutely telling you and anyone else who will listen that this rhetoric you’ve ingested and are currently spitting out at everyone you perceive to be your enemy is deathly poisonous.

I’m deeply—and because I study stress and trauma, also literally—concerned about both your health and the health of those you’re spitting this rhetoric back out at if this continues. So please please, hold your nose and read and take this seriously, please. This is seriously life and death stuff.

Okay, Back to the Title—Let’s Talk about that Yoking Clobber Verse!

So anyway, let’s start with that, shall we? That verse that always gets invoked when anyone in white Evangelicalism may suggest dating someone from another religion or creed. It pops to all their lips super-quickly. “Do not be yoked to unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

If we are at all familiar with the American White Evangelical interpretation of this popular “clobber verse,” we don’t even have to look at the context to understand further. It’s all about “family values,” right? About not getting married to someone outside the church? Not so much, in my read.

Really About Unsavory Partnerships with Corrupt People

However, if you look more closely at the context of this verse in the original text and look at some commentaries, you’ll see this verse likely has nothing to do with romantic relationships or partnerships at all. Instead it seems to deal much more with unsavory religious and business partnerships that link people in the church to corruption and oppression.

In other words, when I read this verse more closely, I’m seeing the broader theme joining up with many others in the Bible that call out corruption and oppression and asking readers to speak up for justice and mercy over and above unjust laws.

As I’ve described before, I see this huge theme in the Bible as wayyy more prominent than concerns about heterosexual procreation. So I interpret this verse as concerned about unhealthy religio-political allegiances, especially by those with power and influence, than it would be concerned about ordinary people dating someone who has a different creed.

In Which I Remind You I’m a Communication Scholar Rather than a Theologian

I’m not a theologian, nor pretending to be, so this article isn’t about unwrapping this verse—you can look all that up and/or do your own study if you really want. Instead, I’m a communication scholar continuing a series about what we can do in the case of the unhealthy immigration practices in the US, and so this article will continue that work.

What I’ll Be Doing Today to Extend Previous Work

Last week I unwrapped some of the unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter. Since then this piece came out helpfully supplementing that work to show from the perspective of a Christian immigration lawyer just how unhealthy that rhetoric is.

This week I plan to as briefly as possible overview the way conservative Christians have been drawn into supporting unhealthy nationalisms, especially focusing on the way unhealthy nationalistic rhetoric tries to discredit alternative views.

As I’ve discussed in a long series starting here and culminating here, I see this as having taken place through long exposure to politically motivated weavings of god terms and devil terms and halo effects and horns effects (all of which I’ll redefine very shortly).

I believe the use of this rhetoric has led Christian conservatives to see even their religio-political progressive Christian brethren as enemies whose points of views are to be dismissed and/or beaten down or ranted against rather than heard and assimilated and collaborated with toward the common good.

If you haven’t already figured that out, I don’t exactly think that’s great (deep sarcasm alert!!!!).

The Work I’ll Be Doing in This Article

As you’ll see, I’ll be arguing that these conservatives have so come to see their religious and political positions as so fused that their conservative tribe of religious interpretations has become subservient to their conservative beliefs.

As I’ve explained before, I was raised among the more politically conservative side of a moderate denomination, and I believe that gives me a helpful vantage point together with my PhD in Communication.

Unhealthy Conservative Demonization of Expertise

The very fact that those last three words—PhD in Communication—would already put me among the category to be mistrusted for many if not most of my conservative Christian kin is one of the first points I need to raise here. See, the fact that only “theological knowledge”—and, in fact, often only a specific interpretation of Scripture—is seen as “GOD’S TRUTH” among many conservative Christians makes them VERY vulnerable to unhealthy rhetoric coming from or endorsed by seemingly reliable faith leaders they trust.

Why It’s Biblically Weird for Conservative Christians to Demonize My Communication Expertise

As a scholar of communication, this idea that conservative people reject my expertise about words both makes sense to me and is rather bizarre. On one hand, the Bible is made up of words communicated to and by people. Furthermore, Jesus was famously “the Word” from God made flesh.

Most people coming from an outside perspective, and even many from my educated moderate denomination, would, you would think (and many I know do!) happily marry these two things together and veritably welcome me as a communication scholar to try to explain what might be going on both in Scripture and in the conflicts between communication communities.

And yet, at least in part because of the unhealthy propaganda they’ve been consuming, even some of those from my moderate denomination have been showing strong distrust of my expertise. They have been trained anew not to trust it. As I discussed here and here, watching this has been deeply disturbing.

How My Expertise Helps Me Understand, But in No Way Endorse, This Demonization Phenomena

But I understand why this demonization of my PhD in Communication occurs. See, as a scholar of communication, I know there are a ton of reasons for those who are exhausted, burned out, or just have been told they aren’t very smart may feel “less than,” and reach out toward rhetoric that knocks down other forms of expertise as a sort of comfort food.

So I get it. I have huge problems with it, as any reasonable person might expect. But I get it.

So yeah, I understand. I understand why it is that people in this conservative Christian camp read the messages that tell them that all universities are brainwashing all students, and find it easy to buy in. Sure, it seems counterproductive to me to distrust those who train the doctors who heal us and the engineers who develop the computer software we type on. I also think it’s generally a bad thing to encourage sexual assault, so I’m all for hiring a few Title IX administrators here and there.

I Get Why It’s Hard for Conservatives to Trust Me

But I understand. After all, I have that PhD in Communication (and the vocabulary that comes with it can be a little intimidating at times, I’ll admit. I’m often in a hurry, and I understand that makes my stuff a little more challenging to interpret, as well).

But I’m really just here–and in my classroom–to communicate the few things I know, and the limits of that, to others. I don’t pretend to know everything–in fact, higher education is designed to show us we don’t.

But we do insist on a few things we’ve learned. And we often do so in ways that ask people to constantly think in nuance and consider differing points of view. And THAT is something my study of authoritarian rhetoric shows me is something that consistently been demonized by those seeking to take full control of societal narratives for their own unhealthy purposes.

Understanding Why Unscrupulous White Evangelical Leaders Would Encourage This Sh*t

Given my understanding of unhealthy authoritarian nationalism from my research, I can also see how those unscrupulous religious leaders who encourage such unholy unions as that between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy conservatism would encourage this kind of thing.

After all, if audiences are told that thinking critically about both religious and political information is unwise, then those leaders can completely change their messaging and thereby drag their trusted followers down really really unhealthy paths if that is somehow expedient for them.

This kind of unhealthy complicity, or yoking, as it were, with unhealthy messaging encourages people to see the religio-political leaders on the conservative side through the lens of “halo effects.” At the same time, everyone on the opposing side is easily painted through the lens of a “horns effect.”

Going Back to Some Definitions of Halo/Horns Effects and God and Devil Terms

As I’ve described before, halo effects are those phenomena in which people or groups are seen to be all good–or at least to have a lot of good things about them–because of seeing something good about them. Horns effects are the opposite.

In this case, those who have been trained to defend those on “their side” as “god terms” (the term is used non-religiously to describe things to be defended at all costs) and the little initials PhD with “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs) are trained to see me, someone who works hard to work at this puzzle of understanding and teaching communication–and communicating my conclusions, even if that goes against other understandings people may well hold dear–as part of the enemy to be fought.

Demonizing Other Sources of Critical Thinking and Fact-Checking/Alternative Thought as Well!

It’s not just academics who get lumped into this category—as can be easily figured out from a glance at Dr. Dobson’s newsletter, similar dynamics surround “the (liberal/mainstream) media” and “Democrat politicians” and even those citizens who protest human rights violations in the current immigration situations. As the Christian immigration lawyer has pointed out, most of these assertions are both untrue and unkind, both.

Long-term Demonization of Disagreement and Alternative Views

I could go on for awhile, but whatever the reason for this union, what has happened in the few years (centuries, many would rightfully argue!) is that conservative Christians have increasingly yoked themselves with this kind of dehumanizing demonizing propaganda that encourages them to dismiss any message from most of those in opposing groups, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo regarding white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, and so on.

However much I laugh at the person who told me last year—I’m roughly paraphrasing here—that I’m a “false prophet of Satan,” that’s exactly what many are told to feel. And it’s not really a joking matter.

In fact, this kind of loaded devil term language and its related horns effect encourages conservative Christians to presuppose that anyone who disagrees with what they’ve been told by their “trusted sources” will automatically be attacking them.

The Creation of Conservative Confirmation Bias

At the same time, this knee-jerk fear-based messaging is convenient, because it itself uses so many devil terms combined with horns effects to convince its readers and listeners to create a confirmation bias in favor of the “conservative side” over and against the “liberal side.”

And by pre-loading the presumption that the other side is simultaneously made up of people who use exactly the same methods and rhetoric, these audiences are drawn into thinking that the other side’s expertise is automatically to be dismissed. And in fact is seen to be more devil than human.

Before You Know It, Theology and Biblical Interpretation Shifts Dramatically!

And before you know it, the words of the Word made flesh (that’s Jesus, if you forgot!) like “love your enemies” are seen to have wayyy less “Scriptural authority” than obscure verses pulled from the Bible that weren’t seen to be central years ago—verses especially about how important it is to kowtow to authority and to build walls, etc. etc. etc.

And even the kindest of souls who feels all sorts of compassion for those children at the border may become convinced through rhetoric like Dobson’s newsletter that it’s somehow important to only choose a charity that will help those children “if they also turn in illegals” (shudder–hate that inaccurate demonizing devil term!). And those with the kindest hearts who do a ton of volunteer work suddenly, with the seeming flip of a switch, can snap into arguing that closed borders are a veritable gift from God.

The Examples I’ve Seen Confirm the Poison Has Been Getting Through

Both those conservative Christians I know in person and those who have popped up on the AS site have increasingly been yoking themselves to such unhealthy propaganda.

Having studied white nationalist rhetoric from the past and present, including Nazi propaganda, it frankly disturbs me intensely deeply to see how such Christians have been drawn into professing and actually supporting and defending such racist, xenophobic, and frankly hateful language and policies.

I’ve seen it everywhere in white Evangelical circles in the last few weeks particularly, but the seeds of it were planted many years ago.

Acknowledging that Writing This Isn’t Fun

As I’ve said before, even knowing the ways all of this works doesn’t actually make it better for me to hear my fellow Christians, many of which I grew up with, increasingly talking like, yes, Nazis.

To say so doesn’t make me feel like I’ve “owned the Repubs.”

On the contrary, it makes me want to lay down and weep, as the Psalmists did. I do, at times.

The Urgency of Continuing to Raise Our Voices to Warn of the Poison

But I also make sure to stand up to use my gifts to keep speaking up. After all, I know the truth is this: these words and ideas that are being peddled to my conservative Christian brethren are poison. They are not just ingesting this poison, but are in turn spitting it out toward the marginalized and vulnerable.

And not trusting those religio-political leaders on the conservative side, I haven’t forgotten the many many Bible passages about that.

So my Christian study of Scriptures, together with my scholarship and my study of founding documents of my country such as the Declaration of Independence lead me to conclude that my responsibility as a Christian, as a communication scholar, and as an American—all three—leads me to stand up against this unhealthy union between conservative Christians and unhealthy nationalism.

Time to Sum Up Using that Elopement Metaphor from that Verse about Yoking

I fully realize I may have already missed that part in the wedding ceremony between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy nationalism.

You know, that part when they say “speak now or forever hold your peace.”

I realize that ceremony happened when I was definitely not present. (In fact, history seems to show us it first happened here–though there would have had to be many further moments of decision since then to continue the path.)

Why I Refuse to “Hold My Peace”

But for God’s sake, that whole “speak now or forever hold your peace” part of even marriage ceremonies is a matter of cultural tradition. It is not in Scripture.

No communication theory tells me that there’s a time past which one shouldn’t speak up for better solutions.

And my reading of American history, including the Revolutionary War that we just celebrated two days ago on the 4th of July, tells me that rebellion against unhealthy authoritarian unions between the church and authoritarian states was what this country was literally founded on.

So yes, in case it isn’t clear: I believe I have every warrant and right to speak now and forever against this union between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy authoritarian nationalism.

Please Join Me in Speaking Up Against This Unholy Union, Friends!

I hope you will join me in speaking up. Please don’t hold such an unhealthy, poisonous peace, friends. For God’s sake. For the sake of the vulnerable. For the sake of human decency. For your own sake, as needed. For the sake of expertise, or science, or true freedom of religion. Or any other number of grounds.

I frankly don’t care which ground you choose to join me from. You do you, as long as you are willing to join with me to speak up for a healthier environment for us all, especially for the marginalized and vulnerable.

More Resources We’re Offering!

Need more resources to understand how to speak up with fierce kindness and deal with the conflict that inevitably comes? Whether you’re uncomfortable speaking up and need help with dealing with conflict you’re not used to standing up against, or perhaps a little too virulent and need help pulling back toward solving the problem rather than attacking the people, the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” ought to help you understand and deal with your own and other’s conflict styles better.

To get the Guide to Trolls, sign up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, the link to the guide will be sent to you in the final welcome email. It will help you with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around and continue to learn.

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s #resist and persist at it. #DontLookAway, friends! Instead let’s continue to work against unhealthy nationalisms and and unscrupulous leaders and insist on healthier ways for the dignity and human rights of all to be upheld. Let’s keep standing up for what’s right and for the common good. We can do this thing!

The post White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action appeared first on Assertive Spirituality.

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Unwrapping the Unhealthy Immigration Rhetoric in Dobson’s July Newsletter http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/30/immigration-rhetoric-dobsons-july-newsletter/ http://assertivespirituality.com/2019/06/30/immigration-rhetoric-dobsons-july-newsletter/#respond Sun, 30 Jun 2019 10:24:51 +0000 http://assertivespirituality.com/?p=861 Last week I helped you compassionate folks who want to help with the concentration camps at the border to think through how to help out without freezing up or looking away. One of those options I suggested was to speak up against authoritarian religio-political rhetoric. This week, I will provide a brief analysis of unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter piece (here’s a link that hopefully won’t give his site credit!) about his visit to one such...

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Last week I helped you compassionate folks who want to help with the concentration camps at the border to think through how to help out without freezing up or looking away. One of those options I suggested was to speak up against authoritarian religio-political rhetoric. This week, I will provide a brief analysis of unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter piece (here’s a link that hopefully won’t give his site credit!) about his visit to one such camp in order to help you identify and call out this kind of thing for those who might have ears to hear.

In addition to this primary goal I also have a secondary aim here: I hope that both Christians and others who aren’t on board with this kind of dehumanizing rhetoric will be persuaded that the compassionate voices and actions need to speak up more loudly than voices like Dr. Dobson are. It’s definitely not the time for the spirituality as accommodation problems I outlined in the “Toxic Sides of Christian Nice” series here, which started with this piece.

Note: Dr. Dobson’s piece had an incredible amount of factually inaccurate information that could be fact-checked easily through a Google search. In the interests of brevity, I’m choosing not to address those aspects here.

Instead, I will focus on the biggest shift that takes place within the document itself as it progresses—the shift from Dr. Dobson calling the situation at the camps a pitiable “humanitarian crisis” to demonizing “illegals” who are portrayed as untrustworthy, disease-ridden criminals who can’t even speak our language and are invading us and fraudulently outright gaming our system.

This whole movement seems to me highly designed to not only look away from the migrant crisis, but to leave its audience justified in atrocities against migrants because of how much it accuses them of. That’s the kind of rhetoric–and the policies that accompany it–that it’s ridiculously important to keep fighting right now. I’m hoping that this analysis will leave you feeling more agency over understanding the tricks of dehumanization so you can combat them and speak up more loudly for policies that humanize.

Okay, so in order to understand the following analysis, it would be helpful to know some terms I’ll be using.

Defining God Terms and Devil Terms

Let’s start with “god terms” and “devil terms.” We’ve had a whole series on the blog starting with this piece here if you want to read more in depth, but in short, a “god term” is used by rhetoricians to mean something to be defended at all costs, while a “devil term” is something that needs to be fought at all costs.

In this piece Dr. Dobson portrays himself and his side as fully righteous and trustworthy with a variety of other parties as increasingly not to be trusted. As I gestured at above, the most dramatic transformation in the piece is how he gradually portrays the migrants as shifting from seemingly good or at least as suffering objects to be pitied to seeing them as completely untrustworthy criminals.

In this shift, the rhetorical attempt at propaganda seems to be to get a compassionate audience to gradually see the migrants as inhuman non-Americans that are inherently flawed and less-than and actually deceitful and monstrous invaders that need to be expelled.

If you carefully follow how positive or negative the ways all of the characters are being presented throughout—especially who is presented as telling the truth or “good people” vs. those who are untrustworthy and the terms that are used to attack their character—you too can watch this shift from migrants as god terms to migrants as devil terms to occur in real time!

Deep sigh.

Defining the Halo and Horns Effects

In the piece I did on abortion rhetoric I added the communication studies terms “halo effect” and “horns effect,” and those apply here as well, so let me quickly define them again before I show you how they work in the Dobson newsletter piece and its shifting rhetoric about both migrants and other parties.

In short, the “halo effect” is the process by which when we know one good thing about a person or group, we automatically presume a lot of other good things about that person or group. The horns effect is the opposite—once you know one bad thing about a person or group, you start associating all sorts of bad things with that person or group.

Applying the Halo and Horns Effects

In the Dobson piece, you can very clearly see halo and horns effects starkly being applied in concert with god terms and devil terms being applied and enacted. In the piece Dobson uses existing long-standing god and devil terms to invoke existing halo and horns effects in his audience’s mind.

Specifically with the migrants, though, his shift from halo effect to the later really striking horns effect gains a lot of momentum as he goes.

Since terms criminalizing and othering groups are often associated with genocide and, well, Nazism, it’s not surprising to me that he builds gradually to using terms like illegals much later in the piece.

The Seemingly Most Bizarre Horns Leap

It’s also not at all surprising to me that he waits until his audience’s suspicions of the migrants are already engaged and their critical thinking probably not working quite as well before he makes the most illogically striking suggestion that those coming across the border in waves—even the adults!—are disappearing into the country to themselves morph into somehow-legal “anchor babies” (a disparaging term often used by white nationalists) who then are going to go on and magically be citizens who can invite all of their family to come very quickly to invade us all.

You may not be very up on all the immigration laws—they’re really hard to follow, so I get it—but it should not be hard to figure out that the man is making an impossible leap in his logic at this point.

What I see him doing here in his logic is leaping so quickly from associative horn to horn of the horns effect in his audience’s minds that he hopes they won’t pause and notice that it is impossible for migrant adults to actually become legal babies. Even outside of how badly he’s mangling the facts about the immigration system here, it’s key to take a pause and recognize that associational logic—suggesting that if migrants aren’t trustworthy that they’re also doing things that humans can’t literally do.

Making Immigrants into Monsters

At first I thought as though this might be an error, but there’s also another possibility. This argument truly makes migrants not only criminal but truly monstrous—which is a great way to demonize using a mélange of devil terms and horns effects. The rhetoric of conspiracy I studied during my PhD was FULL of such associational leaps.

Also, it’s helpful to note while looking through the piece’s language the way the migrants move from being faceless parts of a “human tragedy” to that the opposition is “lying about” to being traumatized prop-children who need toys being denied by the opposition to being dehumanized people at the whims of the political opposition’s cruelty (and the helplessness of the good border agents, who simply are only doing what they can with these border facilities!).

The “I Love You” Hinge

I don’t think it’s an accident that Dobson has his odd line about him telling them through the translator that God loves him and he does too, and expresses that his heart aches for him, directly before he starts on his rhetoric about the need for a wall.

To me it feels like at least some readers would feel led to led Dobson’s voice be their full feeling that they didn’t look away from concentration camps–but instead let Dobson’s voice and action be their own proxy action, leaving them free to move on to the dehumanization and suspicion portion of the article.

From there Dobson moved into them being deceptive people being told to lie by lawyers in their untrustworthy countries (the suggestion that people at the US southern border might be from Pakistan and Bangladesh is truly striking in this regard!) to being a mix of criminal and monstrous invaders coming to displace existing Americans.

The speed of this danger is emphasized throughout, and the terms illegals and anchor babies don’t come until toward the end, when the audience might have already anticipated them because other halo effects have been gradually replaced by horns effects throughout.

Building From Trusting Compassion to Distrust

As I said, I could go on and on with this, but I’ll stop after just one more set of terms I’m going to layer onto this—and that’s how the question of suspicion frames and  the whole movement from god term and halo term to devil terms and horns effects.

It’s really key to look at the fact that Dobson’s shifting narrative about the migrants hinges in pretty much the middle from seeing the migrants as a faceless but needy cause for sympathy to being a pretty shockingly monstrous force by the end of the piece.

Not Just about Distrusting Migrants–Other People Too

It’s important—and helpful—to track this next to how he tells you how other parties are also to be mistrusted, which unwraps other dimensions to how the rhetoric is working in the piece. But most importantly, I think it’s key that this shift is at the center of the piece.

After all, Dobson starts with common ground with the person who sees themselves as the type of person who loves their neighbor as themselves and has the fruits of the Spirit. It’s key to note that he has no compunction also tying into a sort of “Christian Mean” (as opposed to “Christian Nice”) in which he directs ad hominems at all sorts of people.

Early Trust for the Migrant

But he doesn’t start out with this with the migrants, and if he wants to persuade compassionate people to buy into the stuff he is into by the end of the piece, it’s honestly smart to build through all the stages to try to take his more compassionate and reluctant audience members with him–again, right up to the part where he tells the migrants that God loves them and he does too.

Dobson’s Abuse of Little Folksy Asides

He even offers little folksy asides to manage his audience’s potential concerns as he goes (as all writers tend to—but most aren’t trying to demonize vulnerable people, hopefully!!!).

For instance, when he is talking about the family separation process, he very flatly says in language that is eerily evocative of every concentration camp narrative I’ve ever heard that “they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed.” Just after that, he adds “If that seems inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to ‘house’ them.”

Introducing Suspicion and Criminality into the Picture

The scare quotes around housing are key at this point, because Dobson’s rhetoric has already made the turn toward suspecting “these people’s” motives for coming here. He has already moved from suggesting the traumatized children were victims to suggesting that “some of the vulnerable children are ‘recycled’ repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country.”

He went on to say from there that “An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners.” These unknown numbers are really powerful, it seems, because they both escape detection and make their way across the border.

In light of all this unhealthy criminalizing rhetoric that paints the children as stooges of adult hardened criminals, it’s perhaps not shocking that Dobson thinks his audience might be ready for these “fake families” to be dehumanizingly separated a few paragraphs later. Especially since the seeming reward for *only* 20 days of age and gender-separated detention is to get to be reborn as citizen anchor babies who can magically invite their real families here right away.

Deep Sigh of Lament.

There is much more to say about this piece, but I hope what I *have* unwrapped using these three sets of terms will be enough to help you understand some of the unhealthy rhetoric about immigration and how it builds gradually throughout Dobson’s piece.

It’s key to be able to trace such movements, and to be able to explain them to others. But most of all, it’s important to look out for the signs of the language that implies devil terms and horns effects that imply  untrustworthiness and criminality in vulnerable populations. If you want more details on this, I strongly encourage you to read through the blog series here on devil terms (again, it starts with this piece).

After all, for those of us standing up for the common good and against human rights violations need to be able to identify these kinds of effects as well as how these shifts occur in propaganda pieces if we want to speak up against them. And we really must speak up against them, friends! It is so important that these rhetorical moves not be the only narrative out there! Let’s keep looking back at that article from last week and figuring out however we each individually can not look away wherever we are as we can with what we’ve got!

One Final Note

Feeling like you’re on top of these rhetorical moves but want to figure out how to ethically and courageously speak up when you’re engaging with people who are out to push your buttons? Sign up for our email newsletter in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this article and checking the box, and once you’ve confirmed your email address we’ll send you a link to the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” in the final welcome email. You can unsubscribe at any time, but we hope you’ll stick around.

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s keep speaking up as we can, where we are with what we’ve got. Let’s keep working toward a healthier world for us all, especially for immigrants and other vulnerable populations. We can do this thing!

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