Who or What is Under Attack?
February 01, 2017 -Steve Hays
In case you’re uncertain about the times, I wanted everyone to know everything in the US is fine and working well. The President has spoken. Not to worry.
Meanwhile, others are very concerned about clean air, clean water, oil spills, public health safeguards, our health care options, workers’ health and our civil rights—to name a few things.
As inconceivable as this may appear, I agree with both.
Given the flurry of new policies coming out and reactions to them, many groups feel under attack.
I have to disagree, though, with the common opinion about the target Trump is “attacking,” and even whether it’s totally bad or without some benefit. Eliminating the human suffering would allow me to say “this is great,” but obviously that’s real and not great and makes recent Executive Orders so questionable and unnecessary.
When a gift I gave someone recently came back to me, I was reminded of an analogy that I think applies. At the least it was great to revisit the message.
I was visiting my friend Patrick and he thanked me for a book I reviewed that he bought. I saw it on his coffee table, but didn’t recognize it. We were distracted and I didn’t think of it until later, but researched a bit and found it. I had reviewed a Ted Talk by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. I mentioned she wrote a book, The Upside of Stress, in 2015, but had never seen it.
Her Ted Talk was valuable in multiple ways. She said that for years she had worked with people to help them deal with stress. Then, a study came out that totally changed her thinking and made her realize she was giving people the wrong information.
The study Dr. McGonigal referred to divided people into three groups based on stress level. The group that said they had the highest level of stress also turned out to be the group with the highest mortality rate. But, she points out, there was a big IF to add that changed everything. It was true, only IF people also believed that stress was harmful for their health.
If the people in the high-stress group did not believe stress was bad for them, it wasn’t, in terms of their mortality rate. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying than any group in the study.
She does a great job of describing it. Listen to it at Ted.com/talks. I appreciated Patrick’s thank-you because I rediscovered her talk and received her Dr. McGonigal’s gift again.
I have to wonder if McGonigal doesn’t describe what many of us are feeling about the changes going on now—stressed and overwhelmed feeling a whole series of “mistakes” and “attacks” are coming at us.
They are! It’s not an illusion or just us. The whole world is reacting to “our” changes. The mistake is thinking we are powerless or alone—and that it’s all bad.
Muslims may look like they are the focus of attacks. Do you feel safer now or the opposite? The Environmentalist may feel our earth and common resources are under attack. Those who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act and even vets who use the VA are concerned they are in for unwelcome and radical changes. Ethical people are concerned about the many financial -conflicts of interest that are simply being ignored. Ignoring a question from a reporter because of what his publication said? And then there are the foreign influences in our election by a Russian government that most of the world acknowledges is controlled by organized crime. “Let’s be friends” may not be how to approach such a group.
There are many other issues to mention—abortion, women’s rights, civil rights—but that’s enough right now.
While it looks to those of us who are concerned about the above that we are under attack from multiple directions, the common target of all of the above is the US Constitution. All of those are Constitutional issues.
It appears that Trump will always be able to feed distractions to the media and the country.
To respond in a way that’s beneficial, it might be best to remember McGonigal’s message. To shift our feelings and emotions about perceived challenges, as in the study Dr. McGonigal talked about, we have to give up the idea that something bad is happening. We can see the benefit only after we give up fearing the worst.
For a more in-depth physiological description, listen to the talk. McGonigal describes how the body, in times of high stress, actually mirrors what happens in the body in states of joy or courage—once again—IF we believe that the body is getting us ready to meet a perceived challenge.
Fearful people don’t make great decisions. Trusting ourselves means we are acting from courage—that shifts our perspective.
We also have to trust that people really do believe in the principles of this country—a lot of the world does—while educating ourselves about what is in our Constitution.
Then when something happens, there is at least the chance we can see the opportunity that’s appearing. Recognizing that what’s happening may be beneficial even though it doesn’t fit our set pictures as “good” isn’t easy, but more rewarding and allows us to take more focused action that fits what’s going on.
I think it begins with knowing what the target is—our Constitution—and know that means all of us/US—personally and as a society are under attack.
One “benefit” that may come from the present administration’s actions are that we’ll discover that Superman is a fictional fantasy—not someone we elect that will fix everything for us. We could learn that to get what we want, our system requires our participation.
Interesting enough, Dr. McGonigal has something on that too. Stress, she says, makes us social. We seek out others. It increases oxytocin levels in the body and makes us more compassionate and caring. It’s a stress response that motivates us to seek support and communicate with others. Caring increases our resilience.
Trump is pushing people to join together in a way that Hillary Clinton would not have been able to do. He may be the one to increase public participation in the political process more than any president we’ve had. That’s good for us/US. Or do you think it more balanced to have a cabinet full of billionaires and multi-millionaires look out for our interests?
This participation may appear to be in opposition to Trump and not what he seeks, but does he really seem concerned about how what he does affects people? As long as they don’t criticize him?
Seeing Trump in action may be teaching a lot of people that his approach will not work—and the sooner he is removed from office the better.
If the GOP continues the strategy they used in the primary—accepting any criticism of Dems as valid because it fell into the category of the enemy of my enemy is my friend—which resulted in a candidate few wanted—what will they get this time?
It’s a good time to support them in being independent and not accept the whole package.
The last word goes to Kelly McGonigal. Thank you for your work.
“Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. So really that’s the best way to try to make decisions. It’s go after what creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”