Cults, Scapegoats, Hatred, and Violence

Trump is a symptom. He’s not our primary problem. Trump reflects and reveals American values: selfishness, materialism, greed, the lust for power, the desire to dominate, scapegoating, hatred, a disposition toward violent speech and violent action, worshiping “winners,” contempt for “losers,” the quest for revenge, “It’s All About Me (and my Family).” Most Trump voters seem to embrace those values, as do do many of those who (for various reasons) did not vote for him.

The United States also affirms many positive values. Like Leonard Cohen said, “America has the best and the worst.” Over time this country has made great progress. But there’s no guarantee it will continue.

In fact, America is becoming ever more polarized, divided, and selfish. It seems our addiction to screens has worsened that trend, which will likely worsen. We’re devolving and evolving at the same time. Which trend will prevail is uncertain.

Many concerned Americans have focused on Trump and the prospect of impeachment. But it might be more productive to build one or more national nonviolent movements to overcome the devolution and nurture the evolution. For instance a massive, grassroots movement opposing the attempt to repeal Obamacare could build a network of small, face-to-face communities that would stay together over time to advance a positive, proactive agenda. But it seems the Resistance, with its negative stance, may fizzle.

Donald Trump has become a scapegoat. He is alleged to bear the blame for our state of affairs. As such, he’s the object of hate, extreme hostility, dislike, and disgust. He is demonized.

That opposition is often expressed with violent language. And just as the atmosphere of hate in Dallas contributed to the assassination of President Kennedy, violent rhetoric contributed to the shooting of Republicans on that D.C. baseball field.

One definition of violence is a vehement, intense expression of hatred.  Violent words often help to cause violent actions. That’s one reason we need non-violent communication. Yes, words matter, whether they come from Trump or his opponents.

Once again the ”left” and “right” are mirror images of the other, with each rooted in America’s Shadow, attacking hate with hate, each assured of their own righteousness with cult-like devotion to their leaders, their presumed saviors. Demons and saviors are often two sides of the same coin: blindness. Blind hatred and blind loyalty.

Blind followers overlook or defend the mistakes and faults of their leader. Those tendencies have been exhibited by many supporters of Obama, Sanders, and Clinton, who have reinforced those tendencies by failing to criticize themselves to any significant degree.

Blind opponents of Trump have failed to recognize his humanity. He is a man-child whose father stunted his emotional growth. As is human, he has many sides to his personality, including the ability, at times anyway, to be kind and courteous.

But he’s also learned that the media loves the outrageous, especially if it’s violent, whether verbal or physical. Violence is good for ratings. The media’s infatuation with over-the-top greed and violence has buttressed Trump’s worst traits in a downward spiral. I too hope he resigns or is impeached as soon as possible — before that spiral runs out of control.

We should remember, however, that he’s a creature of our social system. If cable news had not given him all that free air-time, he would not be President. If a “divide-and-conquer” dynamic did not drive our society, we wouldn’t be so polarized and he would not be President. If climbing one social ladder or another, and looking down on those below, were not central to our society, he would not be President.

Ranting and raving about “enemies” like Trump may make us feel better. It may provide some temporary relief, which is fine. But if we dwell on that anger and it crystallizes into hatred, we become distracted from the primary task at hand: systemic, fundamental transformation that is grounded in compassion.

Holistic Movement Building Workshop Set to Convene

What demands might spark a national nonviolent movement? Mahatma Gandhi,  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Nelson Mandela focused on compelling issues that appealed to the self-interest of certain populations while making moral appeals to others. Are similar concerns at hand now? And how can activists support one another in their self-development? What decision-making processes might be most effective?

Those questions will be on my mind when I participate in the June 26-29 Holistic Movement Building Workshop led by Kazu Haga and  Sonya Shah. The workshop description states:

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, while love without power is sentimental and anemic.” Dr. King, Gandhi, Chavez and others envisioned a movement that harnesses the power to change policies and institutions while cultivating the love it will take to transform relationships.

What does it mean to build holistic movements for justice and healing? How do we build a movement grounded in love without giving up the power and the urgency of now? How do we dismantle systems of oppression without replicating those same patterns in our own relationships? How do we heal our wounds while transforming the systems that perpetuate them? How do we better cultivate the relationship between inner and outer transformation? What do holistic movements for justice and healing look like in terms of real practice and on the ground?

This workshop will engage these questions, explore past and current movements, and envision paradigms and practices to build more holistic movements grounded in both justice and healing. This four-day inquiry will interweave theory, discussion, experiential exercises, and a collaborative approach.

This workshop is part of the California Institute for Integral Studies’ Summer Institute, “On the Cutting Edge of Justice and Healing.”

Sonya recently reported to the registrants:

The workshop has a mixture of CIIS graduate students, undergraduate students and people from across the U.S. and abroad engaged in community based work. We hope this provides a rich container for growth,  and engaging in the subject matter.  

And Kazu posted:

Still time to apply! Really excited about the upcoming Holistic Movement Building, a four-day workshop with myself and Sonya Shah!!! Scholarships are still available. Hope to see you there!!!

Sonya Shah is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. With 20 years of experience in social justice education, she has been a facilitator of restorative justice processes in her family, community, schools and prison settings for nine years. She has trained hundreds of facilitators in trauma healing and a restorative modality, and helped communities design their own group healing processes nationally.

Kazu Haga is a Kingian Nonviolence trainer based in Oakland, California. Born in Japan in 1980, he has been involved in many social change movements since he was 17. He conducts regular trainings with youth, incarcerated populations and activists and is the founder and coordinator of East Point Peace Academy,

With the wealth of their experience, I trust they will guide us through a fruitful, four-day workshop. The registration fee is $425. Scholarships are available.

Martin Buber Saved My Soul

When I first read it at the age of 21, Martin Buber’s I and Thou led to a series of events that changed me profoundly, and continue to do so. My upbringing made it hard for me to express my feelings. With each reading, Buber’s book has helped open me to a new way of being, though I still have far to go.

As I understand it, the I-Thou relationship involves a spontaneous, honest, compassionate, equal, mutual dialogue that engages one’s “whole being,” during which each party is completely present, without reserve, and cares for the other unconditionally.

I take the “whole being” to refer to experiences that involve deep feelings and thoughts, the body, and the “life force,” which some call Spirit and others call God. However, it may be preverbal, beyond words, when you are left speechless. As I see it, an I-Thou interaction may involve the body, as with a warm embrace, cuddling, or sexual intercourse.  

“Mutual” is not the same as “reciprocal.” You do not give in order to receive. You give and receive at the same moment, with no regard for the future.

Nor is I-Thou a matter of helping someone so you will feel better. You may, or may not, feel better after giving. But that is not the point. You give sincerely. Any benefit to you is a byproduct, a gift.

The “I-Thou” encounter is a spiritual relationship. It happens in the air between those who are involved. It cannot be measured. Whether someone is giving, or receiving, more than the other is irrelevant. Those calculations are the result of self-centeredness.

It can happen in therapy. I would like to talk to others the way I talk to my therapist. And I would like others to talk to me in the same way.

I’ve often been frustrated when others mostly talk about themselves — their thoughts, feelings, and stories — and express little or no interest in me. Most conversations strike me as a series of monologues.

But that frustration is often a reflection of my own self-centeredness. When others appear to be self-centered in that way, they may actually be concerned about me but unable or afraid to express it. And they may have good reason to be afraid. In this world of ours, there certainly are many understandable reasons for being guarded.

The nature of my personality may be one reason others hold back when we’re together. I can seem to be distant, less than fully present. I often think before I speak, which can leave the impression that I’m less than authentic. And they may know that I can be judgmental (I’m working on that). So for those and other reasons, I shouldn’t blame others. There are many factors involved, including our society and its culture.

Regardless, the I-Thou attitude does not require the other to respond in kind. I can engage the I-Thou attitude while waiting for a mutual I-Thou relationship to emerge, if and when it does. And I can be compassionate and be a good listener. If they want to talk, I can listen, without demanding they listen to me. Maybe they really need to talk about themselves. Who am I to say?

After all, maintaining an I-Thou relationship over time is impossible. It’s like a red-hot fire that must burn out. Then we rest, fall into I-It relationships, and use others as objects.

We can also use ourselves as objects. We often reduce ourselves to instruments to achieve a goal.

But using ourselves or others as objects does not preclude I-Thou.  So long as those I-It characteristics are in the back of our minds, I-Thou can still be central. Anyway, those are my interpretations.

Buber’s book is not the only tool that loosened me up. There were many other influences, most of which go back to Germany in the 1920s and the rich cross-fertilization of thought that emerged at that time, in which Buber was immersed. Those innovators included Jacob Moreno, psychodrama; Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy; Wilhelm Reich, bioenergetics.

Their work contributed to what became known as the “human potential movement” in the United States, with which I became involved, at times with my peers in non-professional capacities. It’s hard to know what kind of person I would be without that movement. But I believe I’m better as a result, for which I will be eternally grateful. And most of all, I’m grateful to Martin Buber.

On the Road

Now that I’m retired, before I return to San Francisco and sink my teeth into one project or another, I’m traveling for five weeks. First I went to Seattle to see how Brandon Faloona and his family are doing. The answer was: very well. Brandon likes his new job and his wife, Kristen, has done a marvelous job homeschooling their children. They study hard, have learned a lot, and are totally into baseball. While I was there, the elder co-chaired, with a peer, a global, kid-led Plant for the Planet meeting and refereed two girls soccer games (for money!). And the younger performed a piano solo that he composed at a recital with fellow students.

When I returned to San Francisco for three days, I stopped drinking coffee — partly because I knew I wouldn’t have access to good espresso on my East Coast visit, and partly because I prefer not to be addicted to anything and feel more grounded when I don’t drink coffee, Fortunately I had largely recovered from the withdrawal symptoms before I arrived at my older sister, Sara’s, house in northern Virginia to help her prepare for a sudden move to another residence.

After a few days with her, I headed south through the Blue Ridge Mountains to visit with old friends from San Francisco, Sara Colm and Andy Maxwell, who are homesteading a beautiful, sizable piece of land in southern Virginia.  A few days there helped me become more relaxed each day.

Now I’m in  Asheville, NC, where Rena Lindstrom, an old friend from Mexico, will give me a tour later today, after which I’m foot-loose before I go help my sister move on June 21 and fly back to SFO on June 24.

When I get back home, I’m still very optimistic about the Holistic Movement Building workshop and Thrive East Bay, both of which I discussed in Wade’s Journal. With Sara’s help, I’m learning how to make movies and hope to engage that medium once I’m settled.

Concerning the state of the world, it’s an open question for me whether we’re on a downward spiral of increasing selfishness (see “It’s All About Me (and My Family”) or will sustain humanity’s history of social progress. The hard time Trump is getting is cause for hope, but the warning signs are ominous, especially the growing use of social media, which may be causing serious harm.

Following are some photos and videos from my travels so far:

Seattle 2017
Ruby’s Place

It’s All About Me (and My Family)

According to a University of Michigan report that combined the results of 72 different studies, “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago.” Self-centeredness, being concerned solely or chiefly with the interests of the individual, is a growing plague.

Parents can also be egoistic with regard to their children, their genetic extensions. And children can be engrossed in the self-interest of their parents and their extended family. Selfishness can go beyond the self.

Bruce Springsteen articulated that loyalty-to-family perspective in his song “Highway Patrolman” about a cop who lets his brother escape after committing a violent crime that may have led to death:

Well if it was any other man, I’d put him straight away
But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way…
Me and Franky laughin’ and drinkin’
Nothin’ feels better than blood on blood…
Man turns his back on his family well he just ain’t no good.

On this issue , the Trump phenomenon is revealing. David Brooks hit the nail on the head with “The Politics of Clan: The Adventures of Jared Kushner.” Brooks argues:

All his life he’s been serving his father or father-in-law…. Jared interrupted his studies to take over the family business. He lived out his family-first devotion, his loyalty to kith and kin…. We tell young people to serve something beyond self, and Kushner seems to have been fiercely, almost selflessly, loyal to family. But the clannish mentality has often ill served him during his stay in government….

Clannishness …is about tight and exclusive blood bonds. It’s a moral approach based on loyalty and vengeance against those who attack a member of the clan. It’s an intensely personal and feud-ridden way of being…. The essence of clannishness is to build a barrier between family — inside the zone of trust — and others, outside that zone….

Our forebears have spent centuries trying to build a government of laws, and not of hereditary bloodlines. It’s possible to thrive in this system as a member of a clan — the Roosevelts, the Kennedys and the Bushes — but it’s not possible to survive in this system if your mentality is entirely clannish….

The same traits are seen in the Trump family. Loyalty, automatic allegiance, is prized above all else. It seems Donald only trusts his family.

Social media has likely contributed to the increase in selfishness. When confronted with a challenging need face-to-face, it’s hard to run away. But when it happens online, it’s easy to disconnect.

Another factor may be that communicating online entails more time devoted to self-expression than to listening. That pattern may establish a habit that contributes to a growing imbalance between talking and listening.

Those tendencies have become more ingrained and have spread into daily life. If you get so wrapped up in yourself (and perhaps your family) that you fail to be present, attentive, and responsive to others when you have the time to do so, you have a problem (as I do often).

People act the way they do for many complicated reasons. They may be suffering so much or have so many responsibilities they may not have the time or energy to pay attention to others — although a bit of authentic dialog can liberate energy for life’s other tasks. Or they may not trust the person standing in front of them to be nonjudgmental.

Regardless, I figure all we can do is be of service as best we can and be available if and when others choose to engage in soulful, mutual dialog.

Prior to the 2016 election, the co-author of one study on selfishness, MarYam Hamedani, suggested another strategy: “Currently, if we want to inspire Americans to think and act interdependently, it may work best to actually emphasize their independence to motivate them to do so, Tell them, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ instead of ‘We’re all in this together.'”

Trump’s success indicates the need for an alternative to Clinton’s compassionate “together we can” approach. It seems many Americans identified with his family loyalty, his unabashed selfishness, his self-centered affirmation of “America First” rooted in strong military action, and his rejection of humanitarian nation-building. America’s tsunami of selfishness may have been too much for Clinton to overcome.

Once again, as I discussed in The Backfire Effect and “Reactance” and How to Talk, it seems we need to learn better what language to use. Otherwise, we may never reverse what seems to be a downward spiral of increasing selfishness.

 

 

A Comment on “Individualism and Collectivism”

Yahya Abdal-Aziz, a long-term Australian subscriber, offered the following response to my “Individualism and Collectivism.” A comment of my own follows:

If it is true that:

” liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities…”

– then this may go some way toward explaining why liberals have more difficulty creating and maintaining cohesive groups that act liberally.

Each individual, acting alone, is their own leader. Does this imply that liberals all want to be leaders? No, rather that they tend to make poor followers! 😉

One may argue that the very notion of community requires us to surrender just enough of our individuality to accept leadership and direction from others when we perceive that doing so will be for the common good – even if, acting as individuals, we would not choose the same direction or actions.

The crux of the problem of making collective liberal action effective is this: we must recognise that acting as individuals and acting as a group are two different things. For a group to act effectively, its members must unite in supporting the direction chosen by the group and in carrying it out – even when that means acting in ways those members would not choose to act as individuals to achieve similar goals. If the liberal psyche has a weak point, it’s in being reluctant to hand control over action to somebody or something outside the individual.

For liberals to act effectively in groups, they, more than conservatives, need leaders they can trust to act in ways consonant with their beliefs, values and ethics. For many conservatives, simply being the leader is enough to command trust. But the trust of a liberal cannot be commanded; it must be earnt. Nobody can be more sceptical, or harder to convince, than the individualist liberal. And this is despite their tendency to be more optimistic than conservatives. Conservatives band together in groups to conquer their fears; liberals join loose confederations with other liberals to share their hopes.

Now, nothing I’ve written above addresses your concern, Wade, with how to reconcile a conflict between liberal and conservative tendencies, and the suggestion that these opposing tendencies contribute to polarisation. If anything, I’ve described these dynamics in terms of polar opposites! And that’s despite the fact that I don’t usually label people as either liberal or conservative. You asked: “Does this distinction make sense?” and I think, yes, it does make _some_ sense. But my normal thinking on this is pretty much like my thinking on, say, sexual orientation: that there’s a continuum, spanning all shades between the two extremes, and that people may fall at different places on that line. Even, at different times in their lives, and on different issues, they may fall at a point quite radically different than they do at others. In fact, there may even be a line for each important issue! Radical liberals usually die young. Conservatism tends to increase with age, except for a few free spirits. We all have some conservative tendencies and some liberal leanings, too; but the balance between them will vary depending on our background and on circumstances.

To reconcile these opposing tendencies in our society we need to first recognise that they exist in ourselves. In each of us, there are both fears of losing what we value (which Buddhists call “attachment”) and hopes of new achievements. We need to see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. And show others, by example, how it’s possible to do so. Then we’ll begin to realise that we’re not so different after all.

Yahya, I tend to agree with your comments about continuums, though I’d like to look into research on the matter more thoroughly. And I appreciate your all-important conclusion. Indeed, “we’re not so different after all.”

But what challenges me most is your insight: “If the liberal psyche has a weak point, it’s in being reluctant to hand control over action to somebody or something outside the individual.” Unfortunately, that has often been the case with me.

Emerson said we should live as we want others to live, while acknowledging and accepting that they should do the same. Your point is similar. We can have confidence in our own opinions, while also trusting the “wisdom of crowds.” What effective choice do we have, after all?

Is Our Democracy “Healthy”?

The New York Times opens “Checking Democracy’s Pulse,” an article about a survey of 1,126 political scientists, with the following conclusion, “American democracy remains healthy,…”

That article reports that a majority of those scholars believes that the United States “mostly” or “fully” meets the following standards:

  • Elected branches respect judicial independence
  • The judiciary can effectively limit executive power
  • Government does not interfere with journalists or news organizations
  • Government protects individuals’ right to engage in unpopular speech or expression
  • No parties and candidates barred because of politics or ideology
  • Government officials are legally sanctioned for misconduct
  • Government prevents politically motivated violence or intimidation
  • Government agencies are not used to monitor, attack, or punish political opponents

A majority also believe that the United States “mostly” or “fully” does not meet the following standards:

  • Executive authority cannot expand beyond constitutional limits
  • The legislature can effectively limit executive power
  • No foreign influence on elections
  • In the elected branches, majorities act with restraint and reciprocity
  • Leaders acknowledge bureaucratic or scientific consensus on public policy
  • All votes have equal impact on election outcomes
  • Government officials do not use public office for private gain
  • Political competition occurs without criticism of opponents’ loyalty or patriotism

Assuming for the sake of argument, if those characteristics are accurate, was the Times correct to say  “American democracy remains healthy,…”?

Individualism and Collectivism

 

In his January 2015 op-ed, “How Did Politics Get So Personal,” the invaluable Thomas Edsall examines many factors that have contributed to increased political polarization. In that piece, he refers to a paper, “Liberals Think More Analytically Than Conservatives,” by Thomas Talhelm, Jonathan Haidt and others. In that piece, Talhelm and his co-authors associate liberalism with individualism and, contrary to the norm, associate conservatism with collectivism.

They argue that

liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities…

If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed [liberals] are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”.

On the other hand, conservatism

is often associated with rural areas, where people are enmeshed in tight-knit communities and are more likely to know the people they see walking on the street. Conservatism is also associated with interconnected groups, such as churches, fraternities, and the military….

Collectivism is not generalized sharing with “other people.” Collectivism is a system of tight social ties and responsibilities, but less trust and weaker ties toward strangers — a stronger in-group/out-group distinction. Conservatives care deeply about close others, but they may dislike welfare programs because those programs serve strangers or even people from out-groups.

Edsall suggests that this divide between people who are inclined toward individualism and those who tend toward collectivism has contributed to polarization.

Does that distinction make sense? If so, can that conflict be reconciled. If so, how?

Healthy Competition?

A passage in The Book of Joy, a wonderful book by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, shifted my thinking. For some time, I’ve been arguing that because most people either dominate or submit, mutually respectful partnerships are rare. The Book of Joy offers a different perspective.

It reads:

There is a Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says what causes suffering in life is a general pattern of how we relate to others: “Envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower.”

That saying suggests that many people who see others as equals compete to establish dominance or superiority.

But does all competition cause undesirable suffering? Many leftists disparage competition and advocate cooperation as an alternative. But the situation seems more complicated than that to me. It seems some competition can be fruitful.

So I posted to Facebook, “What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition?” and received four responses:

  1. If we are just as happy whether we win or lose; when we can be sincerely happy for the person who wins, then we are not really competing – we are testing ourselves against a standard that involves other people. Depending on the area, we can sometimes test ourselves against our previous level, but sometimes it is helpful to test ourselves against our peers to make sure that the standards we have set for ourselves are reasonable.
  2. Playing by the rules and knowing that winning isn’t everything, [but] too many hormones & egos get in the way!
  3. I always think of how musicians play TOGETHER rather than compete… takes a stretch to apply that to sporting competition
  4. I think it’s really quite dependent on the situation. Some behaviors that are healthy competition in some arenas are not healthy in other arenas (e.g. team sports vs individual sports, any sport vs any artistic endeavor, any artistic endeavor vs any business endeavor.) But one thing I think is true across them all: If you’re so focused on your ‘need’ to win that you’ve stopped taking the humanity of your opponent into account, then you’re probably deep into the unhealthy zone….

What do you think of those responses? What do you think about the question? Is there is a  difference between healthy and unhealthy competition? If so, what’s the difference?

 

“Reactance” and How to Talk

In addition to the Peter Coyote talk, another piece that has prompted me to reevaluate my thinking and my rhetoric is the June 2016 “The Anti-P.C. Vote” op-ed by Thomas Edsall and two articles Edsall referred to. He also reported that Jonathan Haidt, a professor at N.Y.U, told him “reactance” is

the feeling you get when people try to stop you from doing something you’ve been doing, and you perceive that they have no right or justification for stopping you. So you redouble your efforts and do it even more, just to show that you don’t accept their domination.

The theory was first developed in 1966 by Jack W. Brehm in “A Theory of Psychological Reactance,” in which he stated:

Psychological reactance is an aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy. This reaction is especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior. Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom ignites an emotional state, called psychological reactance, that elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy.

Haidt argued, “The accusatory and vindictive approach of many social justice activists and diversity trainers may actually have increased the desire and willingness of some white men to say and do un-PC things.”

In his reference to another article, “Psychological reactance theory” by Dr. Simon Moss, Edsall summarized that Moss found that the kind of messages that provoke a defiant or oppositional response include “imperatives, such as ‘must’ or ‘need’; absolute allegations, such as ‘cannot deny that …’ and ‘any reasonable person would agree.’ ”

More fully, Moss wrote:

Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom…elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy. Reactance, for example, often encourages individuals to espouse an opinion that opposes the belief or attitude they were encouraged, or even coerced, to adopt…. Reactance was proposed to explain many common examples of resistance in society, such as the adverse effects of prohibition.

Reactance is experienced whenever a free behavior is restricted…. Specifically, individuals often show boomerang effects, in which they become more inclined to enact the very behavior that was restricted…. Finally, reactance provokes adverse attitudes towards the source of any restriction….

Research indicates that some linguistic features seem to evoke…psychological reactance. In particular, dogmatic messages were perceived as more threatening, which provoked reactance, anger, and unfavorable thoughts. The dogmatic messages include:

  • Imperatives, such as “must” or “need”
  • Absolute allegations, such as “cannot deny that…” or “This issue is extremely serious”
  • Derision towards other perspectives, such as “Any reasonable person would agree that…”
  • Threatening warnings rather than merely impartial, objective information

In contrast, messages that are less dogmatic do not provoke this sequence of reactions. These messages are more likely to include:

  • Allusions to choice, such as “You have a chance to…” or “We leave the choice to you…”
  • Qualified propositions, such as “There is some evidence that…” or “This issue is fairly serious”
  • Impartial, objective information
  • Avoidance of imperatives or derisive language

Questions are less inclined to promote reactance. These messages are not as dogmatic or dictatorial…

In the writing I’ve done since reading that article, I’ve tried to follow its recommendations. But old habits die hard!

That’s especially true when one feels a sense of urgency, and Lord knows we face many urgent issues. It’s easy to develop tunnel vision on one pressing crisis or another. But I think it’s helpful to recall Coyote’s long view and Dr. King’s faith in the moral arc of the universe — and step back to see the situation from multiple perspectives.

Yes, the Apocalypse is happening. Pick your Apocalypse; the options are many. But the ultimate Apocalypse is Death itself. All life dies. Even the universe as we know it will die (and perhaps collapse into another black hole that will explode in another big bang which will lead to new life. And let’s remember that each day more than 20,000 young children die needlessly, prematurely.

It’s hard, but we can face those realities, change what we can, accept what we cannot, and still embrace the joy that life offers — a joy that becomes deeper the more compassionate we are. With that perspective, it may be easier to avoid reactance-provoking language.

As one who has long been intrigued with the power of questions, I was struck by Moss’ report that questions are likely to be more effective. I would add, that’s especially true if they are sincere and not rhetorical questions. Regardless, I yearn for a world that, one way or the other, learns to better communicate.

What suggestions do you have for less dogmatic language — as alternatives to “must,” “need,” and other absolutes?