I've been speechless this week. In the midst of my struggle to understand recent events in our society, I have thought a lot about the psychological phenomenon of Learned Helplessness.
Learned Helplessness is defined as "a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression"
I feel the tug of Learned Helplessness threatening to drag me down every time I read stories about the latest gun violence in our country and the endless streams of outrage and disappointment that we haven’t been able to do better than this. It’s why I couldn’t bring myself to comment on this nation’s deadliest mass shooting a couple weeks ago. I just don’t know what I can say that hasn’t already been said. I struggle to make a meaningful addition to the discussion.
I suspect many of you feel this way too. We wrestle with a loss of hope and are dumbstruck in the face of the never-ending violence and hatred we see. We want to stop it, we don't know how.
I may not know the right thing to say, but here's what I do know:
- I know that we need to stay pissed off, and use that to heighten our awareness of the world around us and the positions we take within our communities. Mindful living has a role in creating real transformation. We need to be aware of what is going on. However, we DO NOT need to traumatize ourselves watching videos we can't unsee or immerse ourselves in news stories serving up perpetual grief and anger. If you're upset, that's a good thing. It means you care. But we have to protect our mental health and defend against Learned Helplessness, which can drag us down into resignation, numbness and inaction.
- I know that racism and judgment are rampant and we have to educate people. This includes educating OURSELVES, (especially white people), really thinking about our perceptions and assumptions, about our own unseen prejudices and privileges.
- I know that the only way through any conflict is compassion. There are no good guys and bad guys, just frightened people with different points of view. Nothing will ever be achieved through vengeful acts. People can only be reached, and healed through understanding and compassion.
- I know that all people are equal, all life is precious and our legal system needs to walk the walk, and show that it values black lives the same way it values white lives. #blacklivesmatter
- I know that it is up to us to learn where politicians stand on the issues that matter and be prepared to use our votes wisely this year. We are not helpless.
- Last one, and this may be the most important: I know that we need to get assault weapons off the streets. There’s a reason you and I can’t buy a nuclear bomb. We have no business with it. But virtually anyone can get their hands on a gun. More hot air is being spent trying to police women’s reproductive rights in this country than trying to control guns. This shit has to stop.
I've written this post in defiance of helplessness. It's to remind me, as much as you, that we are powerful, especially when we stand together. There is always something we can say. Something we can do. (If you're not sure where to start, there are some great suggestions here.)
Please take care of yourself, and each other. Please stay strong. We need you.