A New Year’s wish for 2022
Last updated 1/4/2022 at Noon
Feelings of powerlessness are insidious. While sometimes an opportunity for productive action, most often they plunge us into a state of primitive adrenaline: fight, flight, or freeze. These feelings may echo times of powerlessness from times past. They have a knack for triggering the shadows of our inner child, our greatest fears, and fortifying our defenses primed from traumas gone by. When faced with trauma, it is not simply the event itself per se that is damaging, but the surrounding feelings of powerlessness themselves leaving us feeling lost, unknowing, exposed, and shaken.
Powerlessness has encircled the world the last two years. I could give you the (long) laundry list as to why, but I think we have all seen that list many times by now. It has left many of us looking for solutions, avenues to control, somebody to blame. The muddy waters and complexities surrounding circumstances of the past two years have given us an unfinished narrative. How did this happen? Who is to blame? What is the best course of action? When does this end?
Instead of being able to sit with a storyline that is very much “under construction,” we seek to fill the gaps with our own handiwork. We create a story for ourselves that best provides a sense of safety, freedom, and control. We create our own enemies, our own protagonists, and our own plot twists. We each carry our own manuscript informed by layers of experience, culture, beliefs, opportunity, adversity, and relationships encompassing the multi-chapter, pre-COVID prologue unique to
each of us.
“Civility costs nothing and buys everything.”
— Mary Worley Montague
Evolution has taught us that when most vulnerable and powerless, we are stronger with a tribe. Our relationship to others is central to our identity and consequent behavior. Prior to the digital age (and COVID-19), connections to a group were solidified face-to-face. Emotions, sentiment, tone, and body language could be appreciated. While opportunities for face-to-face engagement continue to exist, our social affiliations have become far more informed by algorithmic and superficial mechanisms that pave the way for hate and extremism, as the ethics of civil engagement are stripped away.
Our media feeds often hijack critical-thinking skills and discernment. While many of us desire decency and common courtesy, we are also being manipulated into territorialism as our fears and vulnerabilities are exploited. Powerlessness and fear can be genuine but can also be manufactured.
With many of us triggered and primed to project our fears, we may find ourselves more skeptical, untrusting, skittish, withdrawn, and fearful of judgment. Civility seems riskier, as it demands a loosening of our defenses in a time where self-preservation seems so critical. Finding a scapegoat gives us false reassurance that there is a target, a definable problem, some entity to be fixed or silenced. More than anything, finding a scapegoat allows us to bypass responsibility and escape vulnerability.
When I see somebody overcome by anger or fear in my office, I often find myself envisioning them as a child. What happened? What informed such a reaction? What struggle is behind the emotion? We all have our dark places, our shadows. As unfair as it might be, we are not necessarily responsible for what happened to us, but inevitably most of us are responsible for how we respond to it. This is not always easy, is laced with privilege, and often cannot be done without help along
“The wound is not my fault, but the healing
is my responsibility.”
— Marianne Williamson
Our mind plays a lot of tricks on us.
What might allow for fleeting feelings of safety or control may not be productive and can sometimes be harmful.
Having convictions can be admirable, but if we are too zealous, we back ourselves into our own corner.
Rigid beliefs and behaviors lead to stagnation, the inability to grow, and lost opportunities for connection.
Our world shrinks.
Resourcefulness, openness, and flexibility become limited.
Clutching tightly to certain labels, affiliations, and marking our territory on either side of the fence can have the allure of power.
Perhaps, instead of having to choose a side of the fence, more applause should be given for those sitting on the fence thoughtfully observing either side, learning to be comfortable with ambivalence.
As the natural transition of 2022 is upon us, my secret wish is that we can all have the courage to be introspective — to own our energy, our shadows, and our responses. When we find ourselves saddled with anger, fear, and resentment, let’s hope we can all do better at opening the door for self-compassion and reflection rather than sabotaging with projection and blame. We owe it to ourselves, we definitely owe it to our youth, and the world will thank us for it.
Cheers to civility, cheers to kindness, cheers to responsibility. Happy New Year!