Across the country, gatherings of alarmed citizens are discussing our descent into tyranny. At these meetings a frequent question is asked, often presented in mournful desperation: What can I do?
Many of the individuals who ask this question are not really interested in a concrete here’s-what-to-do answer. They are stuck emotionally in a passive spot in their psyche. Their question is a cover-up of their unconscious collusion in their painful passivity. (Each of us can find plenty to do to help our country. Start with MoveOn.org’s 50 Ways to Love Your Country, and add to that list a thousand everyday ways that, while exercising our integrity and courage, we manifest our vision of America.)
The question (What can I do?) is superficial. Here are deeper, more helpful questions: Why am I doing nothing when I understand the gravity of our plight? Do I feel I have nothing worthwhile to offer? Am I secretly afraid to emerge from this sense of helplessness?
Bear with me for a few minutes to consider some in-depth psychology. And please forgive me for being pedantic. Normally, I write in a lighter vein. This deep in the psyche, though, my serious side takes over.
Two primary forms of energy or emotional processing are at play in our psyche—aggression and passivity. They are like two formats—or two different but related software programs—through which we individually experience ourselves and life. Usually, though, they are in conflict and produce much mental and emotional suffering.
An individual can become emotionally fixated with aggression and control and then identify strongly with those attributes, while another individual is more familiar with feelings of submission and powerlessness at the opposite pole in the psyche. Because aggression and passivity cover so much ground in our psyche, they inhibit the development of our own autonomous self, which provides us with inner peace, wisdom, resolve, and a sense of meaning.
Politically aware individuals who are passive are in a painful predicament. They subject themselves to inner criticism for their inertia, while they sink into feelings of hopelessness. Although their inaction is the result of an emotional block, they can feel it is due to some fundamental deficiency at the core of their being. Feelings of being unworthy and useless are common.
Typically, passive individuals feel completely stymied in shaping their own lives and forging a personal destiny. They can feel even more overwhelmed at the idea of contributing to a national undertaking of citizenship assertiveness, although they know their participation is vital.
A politically aware individual who operates in the world outside the sticky web of passivity does not ask mournfully, “What can I do?” This person is already doing something effective. This individual finds personal satisfaction, even pleasure, in the expression of his of her power and creativity in the great cause of democracy’s salvation.
Those who feel paralyzed or immobilized can quickly extricate themselves from that predicament. They begin to examine their emotional block and to understand that all of us are going to stumble over whatever is unresolved within. They can practice inner vigilance, whereby they consistently detect those thoughts and beliefs that reveal their underlying passivity. Our intelligence and good intentions rectify the weakness once the unconscious configuration is exposed.
On a related issue, some progressive activists become frustrated because they’re convinced they’re not effective. Or they may be discouraged or frightened by intimidation and harassment (i.e. being put on a no-fly list or an FBI list.) This week two letter writers to the New York Times, in reply to Frank Rich’s column, “The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us,” said their activism since 2003 has been of little avail. One writer signed off, “I am profoundly discouraged. What can we do?” The other ended her letter this way: “We have been betrayed by our government, ignored by our representatives and failed by our press. Please tell me, Mr. Rich, what would you have us do now?”
Chronic feelings of defeat at this point in our struggle are also primarily due to unresolved passivity. Any spirited activist will tell us, “If we don’t give up, we won’t be defeated. We will prevail.” We are in a dramatic showdown comparable to the civil-rights struggle, which for more than a decade in the mid-20th century was intense and exhausting.
Every petition we sign, letter we write, Congressional representative we contact, person we inform, and demonstration we march in undermines the liars, thieves, hypocrites, and murderers. This love for our country is all that stands between us and outright tyranny. The stronger we are emotionally, the more we practice some detachment, take delight in our fortitude, and move forward relishing the well-deserved satisfaction of our gallantry.