(The following excerpt from Let Me See Your Brave by Brian A. Kinnaird, Ph.D., recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
I believe we are at a crossroads in society. The theory of relative deprivation illustrates that, at a tipping point, we turn to destructive heroics or deviant rebellion in response to people taking things away from us—our employers, our government, our families, Moreover, it’s not just the fact that it’s gone–it’s that we either think we need it and can only survive with it or we are looking to blame people or circumstances that have caused the disparities (hence the term relative deprivation).
In the 1727 literary work Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift gives us an extreme narrative on the human condition—conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, and banishment. He goes on to say, “….I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicous race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
Pretty ugly indeed, however, this view does not conclude with Mr. Swift. Other literary classics such as 1984, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Brave New World or new tales that lead to contemporary films such as The Hunger Games, V for Vendetta, or War of the Worlds illustrate the dystopian society that we identify with—and feel powerless to confront. At least initially.
These literary reflections on mankind’s great fall were critiques well before the chaos, savagery and disobedience that marks our 21st century—domestic terrorism, a war on cops, corrupt governments, disease, lawlessness, and a host of malignant actions that further diminish the moral compass that were certain “anchors” of a distant past: education, religion, and family. Corrupting influences and fragmented identities of those social forces often promote the view that we are driven by voracious appetites, hostility, and wanton desires.
The situational determinants that place us into the continuous debate of an evil society corrupting a noble person or the toxic avenger who must be redeemed by a good society is longwithstanding in religion, art, film, literature, and science. Given what we now consider a “society” and how that is governed and respected (up to and including our microcosmic system in play at home, work, or school), we no longer know how we are propelled or toward what we move. If, on the other hand, there is some vestige of how to be positive and progressive in standing up and moving forward, we are simply afraid to do it.
If you listen carefully, you can hear forlorn attitudes about keeping a low profile, staying off the radar, not rocking the boat, and being a team player. We are rocked by top-down authority structures that often ask us to do the unethical and illegal—always defined and rationalized as appropriate under special circumstances.
Outside of acknowledging the actual, dystopian acts that do occur, a socialized fear of insecurity, instability, violence and crime creates a host of psycho-social conditions that lead many to self-defeat, apathy, and denial. These become further victimizations that result in a world that restricts their activities, avoids certain places and people, and decreases social interaction, i.e. a turtle in its shell.
We’ve all heard the phrase “pick and choose your battles,” but what if every day is a battle—to find or keep a job, to pay our bills, to stay healthy, safe, and spend precious moments with our family? Do you wonder if you’ll find your inner courage of your convictions when the time comes? Will you be able to sound the alarm when forces clamp down upon you? Cultural anthropologist, Joseph Campbell, once explained that it is not our society that is to guide and move us forward, but precisely the reverse. This, then, is our call to order.
Being a courageous resistor and taking a stand against evil social forces (I won’t define them or draw that line for you) is not a step-by-step process. It is situational and extremely personal. The bright side is that it is not unique and many before us have taken such a stand. The idea is to understand the behaviors of action (vs. inaction) and push through knowing that the stakes and risks are high, but the alternatives may be equally, if not more, toxic:
1.) Make quick decisions on the spot;
2.) Be resolute in your convictions. Stand firm despite the pressure;
3.) Lead from the front (despite your actual position);
4.) Explore unknown areas and do your research;
5.) Step in to help others in need (it doesn’t have to be a physical, life-saving event);
6.) Use your spiritual convictions to inform political practice (the two are not mutually exclusive);
7.) Be a model for others by overcoming your own limitations (real or perceived). They are watching;
8.) Report illegal or unethical activities;
9.) Own the qualities that are necessary for you or your group to survive;
10.) Be a teacher and pay it forward.
Remember that recognizing the toxicity of social forces existing in our day-to-day lives is a good, first step. The medicine lies with you (and only you) as you step out into the rain and open your umbrella for you and for others. In doing so, you will embrace a responsibility to seek out answers—to suffering and injustice—and experience a certain freedom in letting go of the bad.