Please note: This entry focuses on how certain current political strategies illustrate examples of actions that would be incompatible with healthy psychological functioning at a personal level. It is hoped that these illustrations can help readers make decisions that are useful for effectively coping with stress. There is no intent to make a political statement in this entry.
“This makes me uncomfortable and I take offense at your position.” Have you jumped on the “I’m offended” bandwagon yet? Adherents already on the bandwagon search for “offensive” material – offensive defined as something that makes them uncomfortable – and take steps to remove it. Thus, a book is banned; a speaker or writer is vilified, denigrated, slandered, and threatened; an apology is demanded. The I’m-offended-movement is based on self-preoccupation and self-absorption, vanity, arrogance, narcissism, and just plain selfishness. “I don’t like what you are doing, and I’m going to do everything I can to ruin your life for doing it.”
When it comes to coping with your personal stressors, you should not incorporate the actions of this movement into your own life. From an individual psychological perspective, authoritarian actions like arbitrarily banning a book from a school library, demanding that educators remove material from a school curriculum, or insisting that others speak only in language that you find acceptable – all these and similar actions are forms of denial and avoidance: “I don’t like it so remove it from my presence. I should not have to deal with it. My attitudes and judgments trump yours, so get rid of it – delete it.”
If we speak from a perspective of individual psychological health and well-being, denial and avoidance are the first steps on a destructive path that leads to dangerous dysfunctions like insecurity, ambivalence about the value of life, adult dependency on parent surrogates, expanding fear and anxiety, self-criticism, and self-hurtful actions. Denial and avoidance occur in people who become anxious and frightened when they realize that others’ opinions are real, maybe even stronger than their own. So, they lash out to destroy those others. The data are clear and incontrovertible: when fear motivates you to avoid what makes you uncomfortable, you will be ill-prepared to deal with the stresses of life; you will be unable to communicate effectively with others; you will refuse to be held accountable for harm to others; and you will be unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. In short, you will be dominated and blinded by fear.
Think about it: The whole point of life is to make you feel uncomfortable at times so you’ll work to improve yourself. By the same token, the whole point of education is to make you feel a bit uneasy with your ignorance, so you’re motivated to learn what you don’t know, and thereby remove your discomfort. Coping with stress means embracing – not fearing – discomfort. People who are psychologically sound, who have appropriate levels of self-esteem, confidence, independence, and who are able to accept their weaknesses and work to improve them – these are the competent folks who are able to cope with the stresses of life, and who are not afraid of being offended.
I heard a politician say: “I’m offended by this, and I’m offended by my colleagues that are offended by what we’re doing.” When you cut through the convoluted nonsense and self-focused drivel in this statement, you’re left with a frightened, self-centered person who is unable to confront a stressful situation in a constructive way. Is that how you want to go through life – mired in a swamp of denial and dependency, unable to adjust and improve? A servant to your fears and anxieties? Someone unguided by a system of values, a loss of direction that results in ambivalence toward the very worth of your existence?
Cameron is a company executive who very much enjoys his job. What he really loves, however, is coaching the little league team in his neighborhood. During a game one evening he sent a boy to the plate as a pinch hitter. Suddenly, a booming voice rang out, “Send that little fag back to the bench and put in someone who can hit!” The umpire yelled, “Time!” and motioned to each coach to come out to the plate.
The ump asked, “Do you know who that clown is, Cameron?”
“Yeh, I do. Father of one of my players. Usually he’s OK, but if he’s had a couple of pops he can get out of control. This time he’s really said something offensive.”
“Well,” said the ump, “I’m sure we’re all offended. I’m going to throw him out and send him home. You guys OK with that? We don’t tolerate this stuff in little league.”
One coach said, “Fine with me.” Cameron said, “His kid’s embarrassed to hell. Let me try something.”
“OK,” said the ump, “but move it along. This guy’s a jerk.”
Cameron went back and huddled with his team for about 30 seconds. Then he and one of his players, Ryan, walked over to the bleachers where loud-mouth was sitting. Cameron let the boy do the talking:
“Dad, what are you doing to me, in front of all these people and in front of my friends? Tommy is our friend, every one of us on the team, including me. I feel ashamed…I’d like to crawl in a hole. What you did is awful. Please just watch the game and cheer for us.”
And the boy turned and walked back to the team, followed by Cameron, who had no idea what would happen next. Would the dad attack him for bringing his son into the bleachers and saying what he did? “Get ready to defend yourself,” Cameron thought.
When they returned to the field, Cameron turned around. The dad was gone. And then he heard the umpire yell, “Play Ball!” Cameron sent the pinch-hitter back to the plate and thought, “Think I’ll give Ryan a ride home after the game so I can talk to his dad.”
Cameron taught a valuable coping lesson to Ryan. Who knows if he can do so with Ryan’s dad? But Cameron will face the issue and try.