Yesterday a dear friend and fellow blogger posted a link on Facebook to an article by John Pavlovitz titled “No America, It’s Not Gonna Be Okay, ” which my friend said accurately reflected what she is feeling about the effects of the past several years and the poisonous social and political atmosphere that exists in our country today. Her feelings reflect mine–a sense of doom and deep fear that things will not be getting better for a very, very long time.
Many days I, too, struggle to pick exactly what causes the most fear and anxiety. Is it the lack of empathy for families fleeing violence and oppression in their native lands? Is it the eroding of relationships with countries that used to be our staunchest allies, or the nasty, bullying comments directed at anyone who dares to have an opposing opinion? Is it the flattering of dictators and belief in their honesty, coupled with disparagement of corroborated testimony, under oath, from our own public servants and military intelligence officers? Is it the disdain for science and the lack of concern for environmental damage that increases every day? Or is it the constant barrage of gaslighting that emanates from the White House?
I pick gaslighting. For anyone who may not be familiar with this concept, an article in Psychology Today gives a very clear picture. (“11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting,” by Stephanie A. Sarkis, Ph.D., posted on January 22, 2017) Briefly, gaslighting is a tactic used to gain power by engaging in behavior that ultimately causes someone to lose hope and begin to question their own sanity. It is a tactic commonly used by “abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.” Some of the specific techniques used by gaslighters as listed in the article are:
- telling blatant lies
- denying they said something even if you have proof otherwise
- acting in ways that do not match their words
- creating confusion because constant confusion weakens people
- continually projecting negative behaviors onto others to distract attention from their own
- calling everyone else a liar (the media, accusers, anyone who disagrees)
Given the numerous, almost unlimited options to pick from, why would I consider gaslighting to be the most serious? Because I believe that if the atmosphere that presently surrounds us continues much longer, it will fundamentally change who we are and what we stand for, both as individuals and as a country. If we begin to act as if this is just the “new normal,” I am afraid we will never be able to retrieve our democratic way of life, as imperfect as it may have been.
In a speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society on January 28, 1852, author Wendell Phillips said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten.”
Each of us can contribute in some way to this daily gathering of liberty. As difficult as it may be, we need more than ever to trust our instincts and refuse to succumb to the mental and emotional stress caused by the current political climate. May we all find the courage and strength to continue to speak truth to power and to make truth, compassion, and justice the foundation of our individual and national life.
©Martha Hurwitz, 2/9/20