For the past year or so I have been noticing a tendency within myself which I have come to refer to as “the fight.” It all started when I became aware of a kind of tension that seemed to be running just beneath the surface; showing up in my mind and body even when there was nothing to be tense about. I really noticed it in my jaw. When I began to pay attention to the way I hold this part of myself, it linked me to a whole set of thoughts built on the belief that I needed to be regularly defending myself. Regularly coming up with an air tight argument. Regularly girding myself against some possible verbal attack. Regularly protecting myself from something that might violate what most I loved and valued in the world.
I would catch myself engaging in fantasized conversations with select people from my life. Do you know the conversations? I am talking about the ones where you tell someone off. The ones where you stand up for yourself in your own mind in ways that you cannot in the real world. I would feel so justified in my anger and in their wrongness. And that is when it hit me. I was just rehearsing something. I was just trying to become more masterful at representing myself and a way of life that mattered to me. But more than anything else I have come to see that whatever it is that I would say to another in those moments is something that I need to know for myself. I was the one who needed to know what I stood for, and what it was that I would do to represent that. I was the one who needed to know that I would protect what I valued. I was the one who needed to know what was truly life-affirming and decent while claiming that for all the world to see. It had nothing to do with the other person and what they were or were not doing.
It is a kind of addiction that we get ourselves into where we keep ourselves preoccupied and focused on that thing outside of ourselves that we are convinced keeps us from being who we most want to be, or living how we most want to live. We tell ourselves that if that other person or thing would just go away, or just line up with how we want it to be, then we would be OK. Then our lives would be as we want them to be. This is a very childish way of being in the world. This is the view of the disempowered. Of the victim. Of the one who believes that their happiness and well-being hinges on what another does. Holding the need to believe that we cannot be OK as long as the world is not OK places us regularly in “the fight,” along with all of the tension and misery that accompanies this. Worse yet is that there will never be an end for us because there will always be someone doing something, somewhere, that feels offensive or threatening to us.
Can we learn to be OK even when others are not behaving well? Can we learn to be OK with others holding beliefs that feel in violation of our needs, wants and values? Can we learn to be OK when our most deep and heartfelt code of decency is being challenged? For many of us, this is the precipice we find ourselves on following this election.
So, will we spend our energies in “the fight,” or will we choose to stand clearly focusing our energies on what it is that we want? Will we fall into despair and apathy or will we come to accept the challenges and the responsibilities of taking our place at the table no matter who else is there? This is no easy task. It requires that we let go of blaming others as a solution. It requires that we let go of returning the insults and the smears, justified as they may feel to us in the moment. It requires a degree of personal accountability rarely encountered in our world. For here is the truth; if you bash up against hate, fear and misogyny meeting it with blame, ridicule, hate and fear of your own, you have just created more of what you say you do not want.
Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, and a prisoner in the worst of the Nazi death camps, reminds us that the last of the human freedoms is our ability to choose our own attitude. That no matter how horrible the outer circumstances, no matter what has been done or taken away, this is the one thing that can never, ever, be taken from us.
Unless of course we allow it to be.