I’ve been thoughtful lately about my responsibility as a citizen—a citizen who happens to be a sensitive person.
Deep reflection is one of the attributes all sensitive people share. It manifests in a variety of ways: vivid dreams, a search for meaning in all areas of life, a discomfort with small talk…and a capacity for deep empathy.
This deep empathy manifests not just on the personal level, but on the social and global levels. Of late I experience it as chronic unease about the well-being of this country.
My thoughts here are not political. That’s just as well, as I’m not equipped for political arguments anyway. My HSP brain freezes up under pressure and I forget names, facts, and figures. I’ve never found it helpful to argue with people about their views. And I’d rather get a root canal than get in a shouting match at a political rally.
I strongly believe people are entitled to their political opinions. At the same time I’ve cringed again and again at the racist, xenophobic, homophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric here. I’m afraid this conversation is careening in a confrontational, even deadly direction. And I’ve felt helpless wondering how I could possibly make a positive contribution to it.
What is driving this national fear?
I hadn’t realized how much this was bothering me until a colleague forwarded me an article from the online news site Vox called The Rise of American Authoritarianism. The article, which I recommend for its thoughtful, in-depth examination of sociological research on this important and troubling trend, concludes that current conditions in the US are perfectly aligned to bring out authoritarian tendencies that are usually latent in many people.
I learned that a significant number of Americans have a strong desire for order. They fear anything that threatens that order. That includes terrorism and social change. It also includes anyone who looks, acts or believes differently than they do. And they yearn for a strong leader who will use any means necessary, including violent force, to maintain that order. The authors use the label “authoritarians” to describe this group.
As I read all this, things began to make a lot more sense to me. I felt dismayed yet relieved, the way you feel when you’ve gotten to the truth of something, even when that truth is worrisome.
The bad news and the good news
I understand many people have good reasons to be scared these days. Their jobs are insecure and we’ve had terrorist acts in this country. But the sociologists found that many authoritarians are, under “normal” conditions, tolerant of other races, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles. They only start to sound and act racist, phobic, and prejudiced when their latent authoritarian tendencies are activated.
It occurred to me that, in Focusing terms, they are merged with something in them that is scared. They are not in Presence. Neither are the “protesters” who insult and taunt “authoritarians.”
It’s as if their fear flips a switch. Yet for me, seeing it that way is good news. It’s a lot easier for me to empathize with “something in them that is terrified.” It helps me see under the ugly, attacking words, whichever “side” they come from.
What can I do?
Elaine Aron believes sensitive people have a social and cultural role as “priestly advisors.” I find that title embarrassingly grand but I do think I have a responsibility, as a deep thinker and sensitive person, to do what I can to contribute to peace and connection around me. So far, I’ve tried these three actions:
- See the human being behind the fear. I don’t like the labels authoritarians put on others, and I’d rather not use one on them either. I can translate it that label to, “Someone who is overwhelmed by fear for their security and safety.” This is of course only my best guess, but it helps me cultivate deep empathy, curiosity, and Presence towards them.
- Stay in Presence with my fear. Rumi wrote of welcoming all guests in yourself, even when they “violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.” In that spirit, I need to keep Focusing with my own fearful “somethings.” The more I do that, the more I can be present with other people who are struggling with their own fear.
- Keep wondering. When I feel hopeless, I try to remember to wonder: “Hmm….I wonder if there could be some surprising way I could contribute to a more humane dialogue… I wonder if there is some better way to look at all this…I wonder what is scaring this particular person so much…” And so on.
If you are here in the US, do you share these concerns? How have you addressed them? And for those of you outside the US, I wonder how all this looks to you, and whether elements of it resonate with your own experience as a citizen of your country and of the world.
Thanks Kaitlyn (email@example.com) for another evocative photo. For me, it captured the fearful, ominous quality I feel in the political dialogue here.
Thank you so much for this powerful and timely post, Emily! I, too, sense a deep undercurrent of unease and worry within me in response to all of the fear, unrest and strife that’s so prevalent here in the US right now as well as in the rest of the world.
The sheer magnitude of it can feel very overwhelming at times and bring a sense of hopelessness and despair in the face of all that angry, fearful energy.
As a highly sensitive person, who cares deeply about the welfare of this planet and every being on it, I often ask myself what it is that I can do to 1) keep myself from spiraling down into despair and hopelessness and to 2) contribute to strengthening the Light and positive energy on this planet.
There are several resources that I utilize and things that I do (or don’t do) in my own life to help me with this…
First and foremost for me is staying away from the news and avoiding being around people who want to get into discussions about it. Your comment that you would rather get a root canal than get into a shouting match at a political rally resonated deeply with me and also brought a smile. That’s very much how I feel as well.
Then I use my Focusing skills to be Present with and for whatever comes up for me on a daily basis. I’m so grateful for this Focusing process and sometimes I wonder how I managed all these years before Focusing came into my life. A regular Focusing practice, especially with a partner, helps me to maintain some inner balance in the midst of all the turmoil.
I also love what you’ve said about seeing the human being behind the fear and recognizing that they’re merged with something inside them that is fearing for their safety and security. This helps me to open my heart more widely to them and to have a greater sense of empathy, compassion and even love for them. And by doing that, I’m also able to hold Presence for them, no matter how they show up in life, just as I hold Presence for whatever arises within myself.
There’s another resource that I tap into a lot and it’s something that I’m slowly learning to incorporate into my daily life: This is inspired by Pierre Pradervand and his “The Gentle Art of Blessing” (http://gentleartofblessing.org/). It’s all about the transformative and healing power of Blessings and there are many links on the website that offer written and spoken Blessings and many inspiring, beautiful and heartwarming testimonies of situations and people that have been transformed and healed by them.
Last though not least, I love the “wonder questions” and will try to remember to “Hmmm… I wonder…” more often, especially when I’m feeling closed down or in a protective kind of space. Just saying “Hmmm… I wonder” brings a sense of gentle quiet, peace and greater space within me, a sense of OK-ness with the unknown and trust in the life-forward movement that is already present within it and that will emerge in time.
Thank you, Emily, for this beautiful and inspiring post!
bright Blessings of deep Peace, Healing, Beauty and Love for all,
Rainbow, thank you for this in-depth response. I will look at the link you shared about blessings: that is not something I know much about. But I couldn’t agree with you more about the saving grace of Focusing when it comes to being with all that is going on in the world–to be able to encounter things freshly and sense, “What is it at this moment that is touching me about this?”