Assume for the moment that we know what the essential ingredients are to a community and its spirit; that we know the developmental path that communities follow; what we do not yet know is a community’s emotional climate? And how can a community psychologist help a community to transform its emotional climate? That is the focus of this article.
Psyche is the Greek word for the soul. And given that since the thing that creates and defines a community is spirit, community psychologists ultimately must tend to the soul and spirit of a community. Isomorphy in systems theory is essential to us in this endeavor as it was in the two previous chapters. What is lawful at the individual level is also lawful at other levels, including the community level.
Humans have nine basic emotions that are hard wired into their bodies and brains. These nine emotions express the current quality musical tone and color of their spirit. Communities derive their emotions from the same source as individuals.
A community can be angry (hence war) sad (hence depression) happy (hence celebrations of victory) startled and surprised (hence what happens when a power company announces that it is building a new power plant in the community). And we can go on. In addition to anger, sadness, joy and surprise the remaining five emotions are desire, fear, shame, disgust and relaxation.
Like people, communities are always feeling something. The purpose of this article is to describe how collective feelings work in a community. To do that we must detour through research on emotion and the brain to make our case that there are basic emotions and that emotions are discrete powerful forces that operate separately and collaboratively in humans and in human communities. The theory here is that one emotion can be resolved by any of the other emotions. People and communities have emotional habits. We use a few emotions and we avoid feeling and expressing others. Consequently we overuse some emotions and communities and individuals get stuck in emotional cycles that Laing (1972) called knots. These cycle become traps the communities sometimes cannot seem to emerge from (e.g., Afghanistan from 1980-2001 or the United States between 1929-1945).
Theory from Individual to Community Emotions
If the practicing community psychologist understands how these collective feelings work, which emotional sequences become knots and which emotional sequences are healthy paths in a community’s emotional history, then a community psychologist might be able to help craft an effective community intervention.
For the emotion theory base of this chapter refer to McMillan’s book Emotion Ritual. This book is written primarily for psychotherapists. Its focus is primarily on the individual. McMillan in that book described the dynamic power of each one of the basic emotions and how useful this knowledge could be when helping someone change. There he reviews emotion theory and the neurology of emotions. This is only tangentially of interest to us here.
Here we will describe the assets and liabilities each emotion brings to a community. For each emotion we will describe a four step process that community psychologists can use when helping a community transform its emotional climate when a community becomes pathologically trapped in one emotion or one emotional knot.
The theory is obvious to a musicologist, because emotional expression functions much like musical expression. In fact it can be argued that music is simply an expression of human emotions. Most music reflects one emotional tone or theme. It is the rare musical composition that moves from one emotion to another. Beethoven’s 95th Symphony is an example of this. Music historians say that it was written to express the feelings of a tempestuous romantic adventure that was particularly painful to the composer. The listener can hear the emotions expressed in Beethoven’s music move from one emotion to another. The music begins in the emotion of interest and moves quickly to excitement, which merges into joy, which is resolved by shame, which transformed by anger which moves into joy which turns to shame which transforms into fear and so on throughout the piece.
This is how emotions flow in all of us. Emotions are not just one current of energy. They are many different currents each with the capacity of resolving the preceding one. Emotions are different. It is just the flow that is constant. To work with human communities we must understand each discrete emotion and how we can use it to transform the human emotional flow.
Considering emotions in the singular as one and attempting to be a master of one’s feelings is like knowing how to play one instrument, for example, the drums and trying to play all the musical instruments like a drum. While it may sort of work for the piano or even string instruments, it will only dent the brass instruments and crack the woodwinds. Each emotion requires a different knowledge and a different set of skills to use that emotion correctly.
Consider another musical metaphor. Imagine that one believed that one knows music because one can play a single note, or even several single notes. What about chords or chords in a series or major and minor keys? To be a master of music one must understand how the notes flow together and yet at the same time remain discrete notes. To be a master of emotions one must understand the function of each emotion and how emotions flow together.
Though the reader might grudgingly accept that individuals feel these basic unique and separate emotions in this way they may remain skeptical about whether or not a community always feels one dominant emotion.
The answer is, of course not, and neither is it always clear what an individual feels all the time. There are times in individuals when feelings co-exist together without one single emotion emerging to the forefront of the brain. The same is true for a community. Various parts of a community might be feeling different emotions. But shared community events can bring the community together in a shared emotional response.
In a small rural Mississippi town five murders happened in a short space of time in 199_. The killer has yet to be found. This left the community of Columbus in a collective fear. In Arkansas, former President Clinton can tell you that when the Razorbacks football team beat Texas (a rare event) the whole state would feel delight and joy. We all can remember being in a movie or a play when the audience was responding emotionally in sync with the movie episodes. Mob violence is explained by a shared irrational rage. Countries have emotions that can be seen in their media and in the words that their leaders speak. Communities express collective emotions because people are all wired emotionally with almost exactly the same emotional circuitry.
Before we come back to how communities feel, lets consider first how it is that individuals feel and how social science has dealt with feelings.
We see this often in the 1960’s western movies. A lynch mob forms outside the jail. The crowd is angry. The sheriff comes out alone. His strength is not able to frighten the mob out of their anger. Then a woman steps up beside the sheriff and says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Now go home” and the crowd grumbles and disperses.
While there is one facial expression of anger, anger can have two different adaptive functions, represented in separate neurological structures. The first and most recognized function of anger is defensive. It is a response to threat or danger. The second is the consummatory anger of the predator. The facial expressions, the loud voice, the bared teeth, and the clenched fist all say, “I’m ready for a fight, so stop and submit.”
Defensive anger allows the object of the anger to withdraw. The predator’s angry expressions are merely the first part of an attack. Played out this way, anger expresses dominance. It says, “You might as well submit, because I’m going to have my way.”
Anger motivates and always provides energy. As a defense, anger is part of the brain’s amygdala system’s red-alert fight/flight response (Adams, 1979). Anger prepares us for a defensive fight, which of course can become quickly transformed into a predatory offensive attack where no prisoners are taken and dominance and consumption becomes the purpose.
Intelligence and Anger
Anger, especially defensive anger, shuts down the transmission of information from other parts of the brain. Endorphins render the neocortex inoperative. Thus our brains are reduced to the paleomammalian brain, which is about the size of our fist. This part of our brain is fully mature by the age of five, while the neocortex is not fully developed until age 26 (Panksepp, 1986).
Anger shuts down sensory input. We accept no information that does not support our reasons to be angry. Angry people rarely perceive reality as it is. They omit facts that don’t support their anger. They use high risk/reward decision-making strategies that often result in poor decisions (Baumeister, 1996).
Anger is full of cognitive distortions, particularly dichotomous thinking. Without the neocortex and with only the small mammalian brain, we cannot process complex thoughts. In red-alert situations, vigilant responses need to be immediate. Excess consideration would be dangerous. Doubt and second thoughts could get us killed. Therefore, we think in only two polarities: enemy/ally, good/bad, black/white, etc. Not only does anger filter out unwelcome information, it restricts our ability to think deeply.
Offensive anger is more complex and can include cunning and intelligent predatory planning. Still, dichotomous thinking dominates, and we filter out painful stimuli. Our intelligence remains compromised by this form of anger as well.
The Negative Consequences in Individuals
In addition to the physical problems anger can cause, it is easy to see to see the psychological damage and not to speak of the social pain anger can cause. Anger is singularly the most socially controlled emotion. In order to deal with anger, police departments, courts, and prisons employ millions of people. No other emotional behavior receives such legislative attention, nor is any emotion more frequently spoken of from the pulpit.
Anger causes violence in families. It creates fear in others, destroying the social fabric of families and friendships. It creates paranoia and the impetus for delusional thinking, as we construct the justifications used to excuse anger.
Although it can certainly become an expression of insanity, the worst thing about anger is not so much that it makes us crazy. The worst thing about anger is that it makes us stupid. It also inhibits us from realizing how stupid we have become because of the justifications that follow.
“I wouldn’t have hit her, if dinner had been ready. She deserved it.”
This is the second worst thing about anger: it creates righteous indignation and a sense of entitlement, where no justification or righteousness exists.
In United States history perhaps the clearest example of community anger was the Civil Rights Movement. In 1957 angry white people lined the streets of Little Rock, Arkansas as nine black children were escorted to school, protected by National Guard troops and federal marshals. The white community raged throughout the South as the schools and public venues were forcefully integrated. Angry black mobs rioted in many American cities after Martin Luther King was killed.
The television cameras captured this rage for all to see. Many contend that media coverage of the civil rights marches and the confrontations with Sheriff Bull Connor in Selma, Alabama were the critical moments when the country as a whole moved their emotional support to the Civil Rights cause. The media captured the ugly childish ranting of the angry white people and the vicious meanness of the angry police with their clubs and dogs. This stood in stark contrast to the calm, respectful demeanor of the civil rights protestors. The country’s compassion and sympathy went out to them and their cause.
The Negative Consequences of Anger to a Community
Collective anger is a powerful force. Its violent consequences can be seen in the aftermath of some soccer games in Europe. Riots in American cities leave death, buildings burned and people frightened to walk outside.
For authorities and the police who are trying to control this collective rage, they are fortunate that most of the time such community rage has no leadership structure and lacks good sense. Eventually an angry community collapses into rational thinking and compassion. Usually a spontaneous angry collective cannot sustain its anger.
When David McMillan was a boy in the first grade he hated school. He thought it was wrong to imprison children in the name of learning. Who could learn when they were still and quiet or being told to be quiet? He learned by playing and acting, not being still. He assumed everybody felt as he did.
One day in school something about the children’s crusades was mentioned. This sparked his imagination. He would stage a spontaneous revolt. He would walk into the halls and shout for all the children to follow him. He would lead them on a march down Main Street. The problem was that once he got them at the end of Main Street he didn’t have any notion of what to do then. His revolutionary anger had no plan or logistical strategy therefore it was ineffective. Anger cuts out creative thinking in a person and in a community.
The Positive Consequences of Anger to the Individual
Anger creates energy and a sense of purpose. It protects us from pain and powerfully focuses our attention. Angry people are often very successful. Tennis great John McEnroe is a celebrated example of a man who used anger as a powerful motivating force in competition. How many athletes have played without pain during a game, only to find out after the game that they were playing with a broken bone?!
Anger helps us get things done. It speeds up our thinking. It gives us a sense that we are right. Confidence and focus come with this sense of purpose. Self-esteem is a part of anger. We feel entitled to our anger. It is here because we must right some wrong. We must do something. As an example, we know of angry people who have picked automobiles off people lying under the car’s tires.
Anger comes from caring deeply and passionately about something. We would never be angry if we didn’t desire something that we were frustrated from having, or if we weren’t protecting ourselves and those we love from some potential loss.
In a way, predatory anger is a compliment. It means that the object of this obsession is wanted and desired. Many people want to be the prey for a particular person’s desire. When this works for the predator and the object of the predator’s desire, some call this love, magic, or romance. Certainly, both parties are fortunate that one has the desire for the other and the other wants to be the object of that intense passion. But there are times when the object of this passion does not wish for this attention. Then, predatory anger is at least intrusive and at worst dangerous.
The Positive Consequences of Anger for a Community
The Old Testament is filled with stories of God punishing Israel for His wrath because the Jews had become corrupt. Anger is clearly a parental socializing force. If anger, power and authority are combined people obey. Anger has been a powerful force in righting social wrongs in the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, desegregation and equal rights for women.
Anger can mobilize a victim to defend herself when attacked. Anger at people who desecrate an important community symbol, such as its flag, represents the depth of loyalty and love that one has for one’s community that the flag represents.
Each emotion can resolve every other emotion, but the resolve might not be a healthy one. Let’s consider each emotion one at a time as a potential candidate to resolve anger. Fear can resolve anger. Children’s anger is often resolved by the fear of a parent’s disapproval. Resolving anger with fear only represses the anger and creates a feeling of cowardice. Also fear is rarely a choice one can make coming from anger. If we assume that the amygdala mediates the fight/flight response in an emergency, and if we assume anger is the fight half, then if we are thrown by the amygdala into anger it is not easy for us to voluntarily return to fear. To resolve an emotion we need a path that we can choose and fear is not an easy choice from anger. (Danger or threat, which does not involve choice, can trigger a quick retreat from anger to fear).
Let’s save sadness for the last emotion we nominate as the emotion to resolve anger and get us back into the flow. Next then consider joy. Of course, when anger achieves a goal, joy resolves anger in the victory. If the victory is truly a reasonable achievement, then of course the anger was justified and joy is a healthy move from anger. But many times the victory and joy that can come from anger only perpetuates tyranny, and joy becomes an unhealthy resolution to anger, especially for a community.
Shame is an obvious resolve to anger. The problem is that shame is often toxic. When toxicity is a part of shame, it creates more hurt, which requires anger as a defense again. This is the typical batterer emotional cycle anger ® shame ® anger ® shame, etc.
Shame then becomes the precursor to anger, not its resolve.
Desire transforms anger from a defensive emotion into an offensive one. Becoming a predator is not necessarily bad, but often it is not something to be encouraged and may create a painful legacy.
Surprise is a neutral emotion: It will take one out of anger, but no one knows what emotion will follow.
Fatigue/rest/trance never did any harm to an angry person. It may provide some moments of calm and peace, but all too often a once angry person awakes from the trance and finds anger again.
Disgust is an important cog in the CAD (contempt-anger-disgust) triad (Rozin et al., 1999). But disgust adds fuel to anger and provides anger’s justification. It does not really resolve anger.
Treating Anger: Finding a Healthy Resolve
Treating anger requires a carrot and stick. Fear will always overcome anger. The angry confident person easily can flip the switch to the flight part of the fight/flight red-alert system in the brain. Similar brain circuitry is at work. Many neurohormones are shared. Though fear can be almost as stupid as anger, often it has a bit more intelligence.
Fear is the emotional base of respect. And an authority must have respect in order to be effective. Having a stick that creates fear and respect will stop anger quickly. Sometimes fear is an important treatment resource. Police and the courts can serve as the stick. Therapists and treatment programs can be the carrot. As noted earlier fear is a poor end-point for the journey out of anger and we can rarely choose fear on our own. If we submit just because the other individual is dominant and we are afraid, we can hate ourselves and the other. No real internal change occurs. When the source of fear leaves, the same behavior returns. Conforming out of fear can create much shame and resentment. These feelings become new fuel for renewal rage. Fear may be an effect first step for resolving anger, but it is a poor place to stop.
Once our anger is contained for whatever reason, the next step is to help the angry person find a path to sadness. When we reach sadness, we will discover the intelligence embedded in that emotion. Sadness is a healthy path of resolve for anger. When the angry person lets go of her predatory goal and grieves the loss, the healthy resolution of anger is not far behind.
Steven Stosny founded the Compassion Program based on this premise. (We modeled our Nashville Compose Program after this.) Stosny treated sexually offending priests for the Catholic Church in the Catholic psychiatric hospital in Washington, DC. In a visit to a Duluth, (Minn.), model batterers program, he discovered why that model had been so ineffective in treating perpetrators of family violence. These programs treat anger with shame. At conventions of domestic violence counselors, defenders of the Duluth model declare that these men* are difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Incarceration is clearly the only option. This blames the batterer for the program’s ineffectiveness, much like the batterer often blames the victim for the battering.
Stosny’s premise was that anger is a defense against hurt. Shaming the batterer only creates more hurt. And, hence, more anger. This is why the Duluth model cannot accommodate couples and why battering often reoccurs in families when the program participant returns home after attending a Duluth-model program.
According to Adele Harrell (1991), Duluth-model participants are as likely or more likely to batter after completing the program than they were before treatment. This is the one place where therapy seems to break the Hippocratic Oath “to do no harm.”
In contrast, Stosny’s Compassion Program graduated 75 percent of its participants, and 90 percent of its graduates did not re-offend for one year post-treatment. This contrasts with the Duluth model that graduates less than 50 percent and 90 percent of whose graduates re-offend within one year of treatment (Stosny, 1995).
In introducing his program, Stosny began by discussing his own violent father whom he loved. He presented coping with anger as a universal problem that all of us must master. And, of course, he stated that mastering our anger is not easy. Stosny told participants that the Compassion Program was there, not to condemn. It was there to teach skills, primarily the skill of focusing below the anger to feel the sadness and hurt first, thus derailing the anger. It takes courage to give up the defense of anger and to feel sad and hurt.
Sadness neurohormones dissolve anger neurohormones. After focusing on the hurt that the anger defends, the next step is to contain shame and self-attacks by offering compassion to one’s self. The final step is to learn perspective-taking and empathy by having compassion for the person who was, at one time, the focus of the anger. This brings self-esteem and pride (joy) in one’s own character – pride that we have the capacity to give compassion and understanding, even to an opponent. This process focuses on the universal sadness and tragedy of the human experience and ends with the joy, self-esteem, and pride that are by-products of compassion.
Explaining the Compassion Program, Stosny calls the skill he teaches the HEALS technique. It is an acronym. I have adapted this technique and rewritten it for our Compose Program. My version is the HEART technique:
Step 1: Imagine seeing in flashing images before you, the letters HEART. Focus on these to contain your anger. This step uses will power, which only lasts about 40 seconds.
Step 2: After you have contained your behavior, Examine the hurt below the anger. Nominations for words that express your hurt and sadness are: unimportant, disregarded, valueless, powerless or inadequate, unlovable or unfit for human contact. Feel these feelings for about 20 seconds. This will put in your brain the real feelings of sadness that your anger protects you from feeling. This changes your neurohormones from anger neurohormones to brain chemicals that signal your body that you are sad.
Step 3: Once you have realized that you felt unimportant, disregarded, unworthy, or valueless, etc., Ask the question of common sense. Is it true that at your core you are unimportant, etc.? The answer is always no. This inoculates you from toxic shame.
Step 4: Now that you have reaffirmed your basic worth, look inside give respect to the other person or look inside them and see that what they feel. They feel some of the same feelings that you do. He or she is most likely feeling one or more of these: unimportant, unworthy of regard, valueless, powerless or inadequate, unlovable, disgusting, or unfit for human contact. This is a tragedy. Respect them and their feelings. You are now sad for yourself and sad for your adversary, too. In this state of Respect you are having compassion as well. The next step is easier.
Step 5: Together solve the problem or wait until you can work together to solve the problem.
For more information about Steven Stosny’s program see his book Treating attachment abuse: A compassionate approach.
Treating Community Anger
Western movies borrow a technique for dispensing an angry crowd from the dialogue Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In such a scene the woman often calls each person by name. This individualizes the community members and separates them from the trance that bonds them to whole. Spoken this way members rediscover accountability and their own individual moral values.
Treating community anger follows much the same pattern as Stosny’s compassion program that works in tandem with the police. You must have a stick and a carrot. Fear will resolve anger quickly. Fear uses part of the same brain structure that anger uses. If authorities can activate fear in a rage community then their anger will transform quickly into fear. Submission or dispersal will be the consequence.
If this is the end of treatment the community will have a lot of people whose amygdala has been stimulated. Authorities have turned the amygdala switch to fear, but it could just as quickly flip back to anger. This is the dynamic for riots that continue for days or the dynamic of a neighborhood plagued by chronic rioting.
If the legacy of the intervention is shame then people will eventually require anger as a defense against the shame. This is a common emotional knot: anger resolved by fear, which is resolved by shame, which is resolved by anger, etc.
To stop this violent cycle some other tool must be activated. Compassion is the internal resource that Stosny used to treat batterers. And it is the next step in treatment for an angry community. (Later we will discuss compassion as emotions master key.)
Authorities should look under the anger to the hurt of that the expressed anger tried to protect. The question: “What is wrong here that made people so angry?” should be asked by people who can change things. As authorities model compassion by listening, caring and responding to the community’s hurt, authorities should also be asking those who were caught acting violently to be accountable for their behavior. Jail time may be necessary to help people calm down and protect the public, but jail does not make a person accountable. Perpetrators of violence should be taught to understand the pain their actions caused others (often not the people that they were angry at, but their own friends and neighbors).
They should be asked to apologize and make amends. There are several court programs that include restitution as part of the treatment. To make restitution something that transforms the perpetrator the court or some other authority should help the perpetrator find joy, pride and honor in their redemption. This creates a process that transforms anger through fear and shame into wisdom and honor (joy and pride). Too often the courts short-circuit this process and leave the perpetrator in fear and shame with no path to compassion and pride.
Community leadership needs to be accountable as well. They need to acknowledge that they were not listening and that in the future it will not require riot to get their attention. Their listening to the community’s hurt should bring change.
If this appears to be similar to individual treatment, it is. But all such treatment done on behalf of the public makes a statement to the community. These statements are that authorities are listening; that change happened because the community spoke; that anger without violence is fine; leaders will listen; but that violence hurts everybody, and compassion, accountability and forgiveness are things that everybody needs to participate in. These statements become healing community statements. Sadness is shared by the whole community, not just one part. All participants become proud of their part in the story. Our communities often use only parts of this anger transforming process. Hopefully this theory and community psychologists can be employed sooner than later.
Perhaps the best theatrical example of community fear is Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie thriller The Birds. In that movie something cataclysmic had happened to the seagulls consciousness in a small coastal community. The birds began to attack people. They seemed to be guided by a shared rage and a collective consciousness that directed their battle. The whole town was consumed with fear.
Natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanoes can quickly unite a community in fear. In American history perhaps the greatest moment of fear was when it was announced that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The white American myth was that in American frontier homes the words “we are surrounded by Indians” would create instant fear among the white settlers. African American myth finds collective fear in the words “Men in white robes are burning a cross outside.”
Fear is the other half of the fight/flight response. It shares much of the brain chemicals and neurostructure of anger. Fear, along with disgust, is also on one polarity of the approach/avoidance structure (Rozin, et al., 1999). Fear can mean “flee,” “run,” “get out of here,” but is can also mean “avoid,” “go the other way,” “hide,” or “be still and maybe they won’t notice.”
Fear announces a threat that is more powerful than we are and that this threat might hurt us, either physically or emotionally. In fear, the face seems to freeze (Izard, 1971). The skin becomes cool, pale, and sweaty. Fear turns up the body heat, increases the heart rate and breathing. Fear amplifies attention, thinking, and access to memory. It creates so much mental activity that we become mentally paralyzed. Breath moves to the top of the lungs. Often, hyperventilation is the consequence. Memories of other frightening times can flood the mind.
Healthy fear can protect us. Fear can help us be careful and cautious. Fear is associated with respect, sensitivity, kindness, and submission (Olds, 1977).
Fear and Intelligence
Fear makes us almost as stupid as anger, but not quite. Anger sends us boldly into action, sometimes ill-considered action. Fear shrouds us in confusion, doubt, and uncertainty (Lang, et al., 1990). We are so flooded with stimuli and memories of previous painful times that we cannot think straight. The only good thing about this is that when we are afraid, we know that we aren’t thinking straight. We believe we are in danger, and we hope to find a sanctuary soon. Along with the safety and calm we seek, we hope our return to sanity will come as well.
The Negative Consequences of Fear for the Individual
Chronic fear eventually leads to depression and hopelessness. Being afraid means that you still have something to lose. Eventually, people can become tired of being afraid. The only way out of their fear is to give up caring, letting go of their stake in life. This becomes cynicism, chronic depression, and despair. (These characteristics will be elaborated on in the chapter on sadness).
Fear can create many of the same health problems as anger: an impaired immune system, heart problems, cancer, etc. These problems seem to be a little less severe in fear, perhaps because fear is not addictive while anger is. No one enjoys being afraid, while many people enjoy confidence and dominance that comes along with anger.
Fear can encourage addiction to drugs. Fear along with shame and sadness are the three main feelings that people try to escape by using alcohol, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, etc. Many people would much prefer drugs to fear; for many, fear or drugs seem to be their only two options.
Real fears can become compounded with imagined fears, both of which can be magnified by painful memories (Morgan & Le Doux, 1995). Fears then can take on lives of their own with little reference to logic or reality.
This does not mean that the fears are not real. Phobias of things, people, and settings can emerge and grow. People can be trapped in their homes because of fear or forced to travel by a slower or more dangerous medium of transportation, e.g., fear of airplane forces us to travel by car or bus or fear of elevators forces us to take the stairs.
The Negative Consequences of Fear for a Community
In American history probably the clearest example of what fear can do to a collective people is the history of African Americans in America. They have reason to be afraid. They were enslaved. Then they intimidated by a culture that told them to stay in the back of the bus or die. Many were killed simply for being in the wrong place or speaking with an assertive voice or looking in the “wrong way.”
Because African Americans were dark skinned with definite physical features that distinguished them, they could not easily assimilate into the culture, as did other immigrants. The consequence of this prejudice against a whole race was that it took almost one hundred and twenty-five years after emancipation before an African American would be considered as prospect for Presidency of the United States (Colin Powell), almost ninety years before they could play baseball in the same league with white professionals (Jackie Robinson). And the list of injustice goes on.
It is no wonder that African Americans have the worst health, the highest rate of imprisonment and are often among the poorest people in the United States.
Fear can paralyze a community. It can stop travel, the free exchange of ideas and commerce. It can cause encourage epidemics of drug addiction, eating disorders and domestic violence. Fear can create dangerous myths, scapegoating people just for being different. A community that is chronically afraid can lose hope and become bitter and cynical. Initiatives for change can cease in such an environment. People living in such communities accept life at its lowest common denominator, compensating for powerlessness by sexualizing all behavior and tormenting others as objects of gratification. These behaviors can hide fear but they do not resolve fear.
This description fits most government housing projects in the urban United States.
Positive Consequences of Fear for the Individual
Success can be a consequence of fear. When we are afraid of failing, we plan. We practice. We prepare, and when it is our turn at bat, we hit the ball. We become a success because of all our hard work that was a consequence of fear.
Respect is a consequence of fear. Perhaps we need not fear poisonous snakes, guns, or chain saws. But it is important that we respect the dangers they pose. Respect is a product of fear with a bit of knowledge and wisdom added. We all need to look both ways before crossing a dangerous street. We all need to respect authority and the feelings of others. Caution and respect are healthy aspects of fear.
Some of us never get angry. We use fear instead. Although I don’t recommend this emotional stance, along with it can come a kind, sensitive person, who knows what it is like to be afraid. These people often help other people who are afraid. They reassure strangers that they pose no threat. They help others who are frightened and disconnected, because they understand how they feel.
This kindness can come at great cost. Anger can be an important source of strength and energy. Giving it up and allowing fear to be our only response to danger is like losing an emotional right arm.
Positive Consequences of Fear for a Community
Fear can be used to protect a community. Fear has helped communities bring added security to the public schools in the United States. Fear has lowered the blood alcohol level that defines a drunk driver. Fear is what New York City used to make New York City a safer more comfortable place to live in the 1990’s.
Fear can teach a community where it should focus its attention. Fear can give a community the commitment and resources required to address a problem. Fear can stop government officials from acting impulsively and abusing power. Fear can promote respect for the law and for authority. Fear can be used as a reason to protect. An example is the law that requires a special car seat for young children. Fear can motivate a community to hire more police and firefighters. Fear can help create an effective criminal justice system. Fear can promote mutual respect.
Fear is an essential community resource.
By now, one might be wondering about emotional paths that can resolve fear. Anger is a great resource. It is the other half of fight/flight in the brain. Anger brings confidence and poise rather than the doubt and confusion of fear. The problem with anger is that frightened people can rarely access it. When they do often they cycle back and forth between anger and fear.
Shame is often a consequence of fear. Shame and fear together can form a dangerous pathological emotional knot. Sadness when connected to fear also can create more problems and is not a good resource for resolving fear. Sadness and fear can oscillate back and forth exhausting our minds and hearts depleting us of norepinephrine (NE) and increasing the corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), thus locking people in chronic depression and obsessive fears (Risch, 1991).
If anger is not available, if shame and sadness only increase the brain’s pain and pathology around fear, then what’s left?
Surprise might work, but only to distract a person. Surprise can sometimes increase the body’s tension and magnify fears.
Interest/excitement? What about that emotion? Yes, that one is better, but fear usually blocks us from getting what we want. And caring and wanting can increase pressure and magnify fear.
Disgust? You can be afraid and feel disgust. But you better not let the person you are afraid of see your disgust or you risk precipitating an attack. Disgust implies a position of strength. Often when we are afraid we do not have the strength to access disgust.
Joy? Sure. But how easy is it to get from fear to joy without calming the fears in some way? This is why rape doesn’t satisfy a desire of the victim? That’s because fear at high levels is incompatible with interest and joy. You must be somewhat calm and relaxed to feel pleasure.
This leads us to fatigue/sleep/relaxation. Yes, this is the best first step in creating new body hormones and transforming a tense body into a calm, relaxed body. This will bring the oxytocin, serotonin, and GABA that are associated with rest and the activation parasympathetic activity.
There are two major ways of treating fear. The first is the well known behavioral technique of desensitization. The other is the cognitive behavioral technique of undoing cognitive distortions.
Let’s consider cognitive behavioral treatment first. There are two major thinking errors that contribute to fear. One is called catastrophizing and the other is called a cognitive loop.
Catastrophizing occurs when one looks into the future and imagines that some terrible catastrophe is inevitable because of some event that just happened. One can quickly become convinced that our concerns about the future are the same thing as reality. This way of thinking magnifies a reasonable concern into a paralyzing terrifying fear.
Therapists help their patient’s undo this cognitive distortion by asking a set of questions. The first is: “Are you able to know the future?”
Usually the answer to that is, “No.”
The next question is: “If you don’t know the future, reflect on what it feels like not to know what will actually happen. How does it feel to not know?”
The answer is usually, “Sort of like normal, some good, some bad, sort of neutral.”
The next question is: “You are at a fork in the road. You can know the future and feel afraid or you can be here in the present and feel what it feels to not know. Which do you choose?”
The answer is usually, “I would rather feel what it feels to not know.”
President Jimmy Carter, as he was running for President against Reagan, told Americans that this country must understand that it was time to be released from its mission of dominating the world. America should gracefully accept its role as one of the world’s leaders, not the world leader. As Carter read the future, America’s influence in the world was waning and that was as it should be. He saw the United States as having completed the mission stage.
Reagan on the other hand said Carter read the future wrong. Carter was not an Old Testament prophet and the United States was not a wayward Israel. Carter had no right to preach to Americans as if he knew, Reagan said, because he didn’t. Reagan still believed America was a noble country with a mission. He invited American voters back to the fork-in-the-road where they stayed in the unknown and believed that American values should be pursued on the world stage.
Reagan’s strategy of undoing Carter’s catastrophizing worked on the American voter and he won the election. One has to empathize with Carter. He had American citizens held hostage in Iran throughout his campaign. Interests rates were at 20%. It is easy to understand why he felt under siege and that the American people should demand less of their leader.
We all do this, some of us more than others. We worry about things that might or might not happen in the future. There are the famous catastrophizers who believe that the world is coming to an end. Others of us worry that our child, who is out riding a bike, will fall and break his or her neck.
The second cognitive behavioral technique is useful for people who obsess in cognitive loops. A cognitive loop opposes two strong moral values in the decision making process.
An example of a cognitive loop can be seen in one of the paradoxes of politics in the United States. The United States Constitution begins with the assumption that government cannot be trusted and should have checks, balances and citizen representation in all decisions. The United States Constitution envisioned a small central government. Yet the citizenry of the United States expect to have free public schools, the world’s strongest military, a social security system, and low taxes.
These values seem to be opposed. A politician running for office could stay up many nights trying to find words that would serve these two masters. Obsessive worry would seem the natural consequence of such a cognitive loop.
All healthy values, however, have a way of fitting together. And any value taken to extremes becomes pathology. The first step in treating a cognitive loop is to find a third position.
A practitioner treating a patient in a cognitive loop would label each opposing position with the value that it serves. Here one value is individual liberty. The other value is the good of the whole community. Then the practitioner would ask for the person to choose a third position. Let’s assume they chose free trade as a third value to be served. We need roads for trade. We need telephones, mail service, and the Internet for communication. The point is for government to enable trade not structure or impede commerce. Adam Smith said we need low taxes and a fair way to keep score to have a healthy economy. Taxes to pay for infrastructure is simply an investment in roads, sewers, and communication lines that all citizens can use. Even with a small tax base we need to have a central planning structure to be sure that highways in one part of the country meet the highways of the neighboring state. Even a minimalist government needs to set standards for interchangeable parts, standardizing weights and measures.
If the goal is for government to help its citizens build wealth then public schools are important and a military is needed to protect our trade interests all over the world. After exploring the value of using government only to enable its citizens, we find that we need a fairly strong central government, but not so powerful that it consumes most of our Gross Domestic Production. This large government led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
Now lets consider the value of a strong government nurturing and protecting its citizens. Money by itself does not make a good school. Good schools are a function of parent involvement with schools and their children’s learning.
Social security will not adequately take care of the retired population. People need to save and invest if they are to have an adequate resource base for retirement.
Yes we need a military but we no longer need the capacity to fight two wars at once.
We need an adequate tax base, but if our government overtaxes it hurts the economy which hurts the government because in business government is the partner of its citizens. The government benefits from a reasonable tax base. Therefore if the government becomes too strong and powerful it saps its strength at its base.
Now that both sides have been examined through a third position, we see that these values are not opposing but are compatible after all. So why then were they placed in opposition in the first place? The answer is the fear of being clear and taking a stand. Creating a confusing answer (e.g., “I’m not sure we should reduce the military but I’m against the taxes that are required to pay for it,”) is pandering to all sides of an argument so as not to offend anyone, but it is not statesmanship.
The reason for a cognitive loop is because we get the secondary gain from the confusion. It makes us look virtuous when we pay homage to both sides and worry about a dilemma that this creates. The way out of a cognitive loop is to step forward, face what we are really afraid of (e.g., in this case the voter) find a third position and a plan that will serve all three. We may lose votes, but it will stop obsessive worrying.
Surprise and Fear
Though wonder (the mild part of startle/surprise/wonder) helps resolve imagined fears borrowed from the future, the more intense startle/surprise emotion only embellishes our fears. The goal of fear is to motivate the person to withdraw, run away from, or avoid danger. It is the signal to retreat to safety. Safety means that you move toward a place where you know what to expect, where you have control over what will happen.
Surprise, even if it is intended to be positive, is not welcome in the context of fear. Rarely does surprise resolve fear. Fear arouses us; then surprise arouses us further into terror. When counseling a frightened person, we want to help her find as much certainty and control as possible. If, for example, you are driving a car with an adult, and that adult is frightened by the traffic, stop and suggest that she might feel better if she drove. Once she gets behind the wheel, she will usually become calmer, because she feels a sense of control.
When a child is frightened, you can help her feel more in control by giving her choices: “Would you rather go with your mother or father?” “Do you want to take along a toy?” “What would you like to wear?”
Choices give children and adults a sense of control and mastery. Control and predictability help calm fears.
Never say, “Relax. I will decide.” Or “Stop worrying. I will take care of it.” These words only make the frightened child or adult feel out of control and more afraid.
Beginning to Help the Fearful People
Never tell frightened people that their fears are crazy or unreasonable. Never ridicule or make fun of their fears. Fear is an instinctive response to danger. Sometimes we are afraid and do not know why. (Note that rape-prevention classes teach women to honor their instinctive fears that might appear unreasonable.) When we feel our fears are unreasonable and perhaps evidence that we are crazy, we learn to hide our fears. After repressing our fear in this way we feel afraid, ashamed, and very alone.
Often people are too ashamed of their frightening feelings to give them a label. The first thing a therapist should do is to give clients respect. Let them know that whatever they are feeling, we can understand. Then we can help them identify their feelings so that they are comfortable sharing their fears with us – someone who is interested in how they really feel, who will truly understand, and who won’t make them feel ashamed of what they feel.
The second step is to help clients make sense of their fears. Fears may be a response to a dangerous situation. When a frightened child races into the house screaming for help because a stranger in a raincoat tried to pull her into a car, there is no question that her fear propelled her into the safest and best course of action.
As an adult, that child might become frightened of men in raincoats and not really understand why. The job of therapists is to help their clients connect dots like these. When people have a frame for their fears, their fears do not seem quite so large. They don’t feel so crazy.
Systematic Desensitization as a Community Intervention
The second major psychological treatment is systematic desensitization. Cognitive behavioral treatment has its limits. Emotions change emotions. Thoughts follow emotion they do not change them. Systematic Desensitization is different than the two cognitive behavioral approaches. It uses an emotion as the change agent. This is compatible with our theory. Systematic desensitization engages the trance or the relaxation response as a resolve to fear. First the practitioner teaches the patient how to relax at will. Then the relaxation response is gradually associated with the object of fear. When fears are irrational this process is very affective.
One example of its use in American history is the strategy of Martin Luther King in the struggle for civil rights. He understood that the anger of his white southern adversary was a cover for fear. He saw that he must help his opponents gradually come to see that there was nothing to fear from black America. His non-violent strategy was a way of using calm as a weapon to engage the racist fear.
The calm of the passive resistance of the non-violent demonstrators absorbed the rage of the frightened white racists. Many people who were formerly racist began to see their prejudice as the unfounded fear that it was. Today in schools in the South race still is an issue, but many young people use music more than race to categorize their peers.
This is the direct result of using systematic desensitization on a community level to help calm hysterical racist fears.
Treating Community Fear
The most important tool that a practicing community psychologist needs in treating fear is media. There must be some way to speak to the collective. Martin Luther King would never have been successful if he hadn’t brought the media with him.
Given that there is access to the community’s ears, eyes, mind and perhaps heart there are four steps to follow to calm fear in a community.
First: Undo catastrophizing. Help people see that they don’t know the future and that not knowing feels better than believing in a horrible future.
Second: Take the reasonableness of the fears seriously. Find what it makes sense to be afraid of. Use that to inform the planning process. Create a plan to face fears and move forward toward the community’s goals. For the white southerner, living in a scarcity based economy, being a colony of the North after the Civil War; it was reasonable to fear that black labor family paid would take money away from their families. A plan to face their fear needed to include a way to create industry and a strong economy that demanded a large pool of workers that included black and white. TVA was a first step toward ending racism in the south.
Third: Get people moving and laughing. Fear can paralyze. Activity, practice and play can stretch the community’s muscles and prepare it for action. For the South this meant playing sports on integrated teams. This helped defuse racial prejudice.
Four: Before the community begins to move forward take time to rest and relax. When fears are brought up, replace those fear statements with faith statements. Discover spiritual values. In the South churches began to take a stand against racism.
Five: Act. Start. Move forward. Executing the plan. Go. In the South this meant building a New South, black and white together. (See Atlanta and Memphis with black mayors).
Fear can quickly take over a community. To treat fear, safety must be assured. The preceding five steps are contingent upon a reasonable sense of security. The relaxation that is the fourth step is not possible when threat is imminent. All communities require an effective authority structure that can give its members secure moments that allow them to relax.
The legal community, for example, has two periods a year when courts are mostly closed. These are August and Christmas time. Manufacturing companies often close plans for a week or two around the Fourth of July. Churches in summertime reduce their scheduled activities. Country Clubs close on Mondays to mow and groom the golf course and let staff have a scheduled day off. Touring bands that are based in Nashville schedule at least two weeks a year off the road. Businesses have working hours, times when they are open for business and time when they are not. Time off to relax is essential to managing community fear.
The first time that we were personally aware of community sadness was after President John Kennedy was shot. The whole country mourned for weeks after he died. The pictures of John Jr. saluting his father’s body as it passed still can reawaken this sadness for many American’s.
The book and movie the Grapes of Wrath is arguably one of the best representations of the effects of community depression. This story depicts a family that lost their farm to foreclosure in the 1930’s. The family joined the migration to California, hoping to find work and start over again, but the protagonist died in the journey, leaving his family to find honor and hope in their grief for him.
Community sadness is generally recognized. We even use the term depression to represent a time when the economy is down. Depression is the correct word for that too because people do share sadness when our country is not productive and some of its citizens lose their jobs and other have their income cut. Families suffer. Opportunities are diminished. People are individually and collectively sad.
A special time of sadness in the United States history was the sadness of the South when the Civil War was over. For almost one hundred years the economy of the South suffered the consequences of that war. It was not until air-conditioning was invented that migration patterns shifted and people began to consider southern locations for business and industry.
Other communities in the United States suffered local depressions when their mines closed or their industries relocated. People become sad when they lose their livelihoods. Communities become sad when hit by tragedy. In 1960 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, two prominent young lovers died in the August heat because their car air conditioner sucked in carbon monoxide. This left that town in mourning for months.
Sadness is a response to loss and separation from what we love and need. Our body has certain constant states that make up our physical and emotional equilibrium. When we lose the essentials of our physical and emotional constants, we are sad. Losing food, shelter, and clothes creates sadness, as does losing what we love. Sadness is the central emotion in the grief process. Sadness attracts comfort. Parents are attracted to a crying infant to offer nurture and comfort. The tears of our friends open our arms to them. As they feel sad, we feel sad with them. Sadness reflects how much we cared about what we lost. The greater we cared, the greater our sadness. Sadness cleanses, renews, and reconnects us with love.
Sadness is recognition that “we can’t have what we want.” It tells us to “let go,” “give it up,” “accept the fact that . . .” “you are going to have to start over.” It is what we do after a loss before we refocus our energy on a new goal and a different desire. It is the process we go through to put the past in its place. Though painful, sadness can teach us what we need to know to be successful in our next venture.
Sadness and Intelligence
There are conflicting opinions on whether or not sadness promotes intelligence. Clearly sadness helps a formerly angry brain cleanse itself of the good/bad, black/white two–category thinking of anger. Sadness helps us resolve anger and see reality more clearly (Stosny, 1995, Schneider, 1956). Others note research on depressed patients that documents decrease in I.Q. when depressed (Cicchetti & Toth, 1998).
We would suggest that the decrease in I.Q. that is associated with depression is a reflection of the famous bell curve relationship between anxiety and performance. Depressed patients in mental hospitals often do not care enough to attend or perform well on intelligence tests. Whereas persons, who are merely sad, not in a clinical depression, have a greater access to their brain and have their best common sense available to them when they are passing through sadness.
Sadness relaxes us while it sensitizes us to reality. The sadness neurostructure does not include the amygdala, which seems either to confuse us or give us false confidence. Its circuitry goes from the brainstem to the neocortex. Sadness touches every level of the brain; calming us, taking away the static that can come from fear and anger. In sadness, we have access to all of the brain’s I.Q. if we care to access it.
The Negative Consequences of Sadness for a Community
The negative consequences of sadness for a person are obvious and do not need repeating here. For a community sadness slows down community life. A sad community does not plan or form goals. It retreats and closes down. A sad community does not risk or take chances. Rather it becomes cautious. A sad community may have been an afraid community before, but it is tired of being afraid. Afraid meant that the community believed it had something to lose that needed protecting. A sad community has lost and is tired of fighting and fearing. It is time for the community to cease hope.
A sad community can turn inward on itself. It can begin a cycle of sadness, self-hatred that turns into a deeper sadness, cynicism and hopelessness. A community gripped by such bitterness can tear itself apart and cause its own premature death because of poisoned grief.
The Positive Consequences of Sadness for a Community
The positive attributes of sadness for a community are similar to those for an individual. Community sadness creates compassion. Members who have shared a loss understand how and why each other feels sad. A sad community inspires compassion. In 1998 Arkadelphia, Arkansas was hit by a tornado. Several people died. Many people lost their homes. The television scenes of the lost forlorn bewildered and sad community inspired people, churches, and communities from all over the country to send help. State and federal resources were mobilized to help rebuild the town.
This would not have happened if the community said to the world, “don’t worry about us. We’re fine. We know what we are doing. We’re a happy healthy town. We can take care of this.” The community’s expressed sadness was what inspired this national compassion and help.
Sadness also inspires community sharing. Poor communities live more communally than wealthy ones. When a community is sad members are pleased to give and sacrifice to help the community emerge from a tragedy. Sadness in a community can bring out the best in a community. When a community is sad its values emerge. Things can be lost, lives can be lost, but a community can keep and practice its values and traditions. Sometimes these spiritual resources are all that a sad community has left. It is the primary resource that they use to find comfort and hope. Sadness brings out a community’s collective wisdom and helps discover its essential values.
Joy is on the other end of the neurological polarity with sadness (Buck, 1999). It is surely possible for joy to resolve sadness. But for this to happen we must snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or raise Lazarus from the dead. Usually that is not possible. Joy is an excellent destination, but often it is not a realistic next move from sadness.
Sadness is an emotional place that is out of energy. It is a place where we believe that effort won’t work. We accept that there is nothing we can do. Hence, to get out of sadness, we must get energy from some source.
Four emotions give us energy. One is fear. Fear may help us resolve sadness if we can use our fear to help us develop a plan of action that will yield success and joy. But too often fear paralyzes us rather than gives us direction. Fear can create energy that has nowhere to go. Sadness will at least allow us to rest. It is difficult for us to rest when we are also afraid. Fear is usually a poor choice to resolve sadness.
The second emotion that gives us energy is desire. Sadness is boring. Usually we tire of sadness after feeling sad for a time. We want to refocus our attention from what made us sad to something we want (desire). But often we are discouraged, and we have no faith that we can actually have something we want.
Wanting is a good next step out of sadness, if we have the courage to want again after losing what we once desired but could not have. To want again, we must find a new reasonably achievable desire. The object of our desire is irrelevant. We simply need to find something that we want that will lift us out of our depression stupor.
The third emotion that can create energy is anger. Anger is a most effective next step out of sadness. Many of us naturally gravitate to anger when we are sad. Men are socialized to use anger to avoid sadness so that they never cry. Remember, “Real men don’t cry.” But what they can do is have a temper-tantrum like a five-year-old.
Anger has the energy, confidence, and focus that we need to emerge from sadness and back into life. Anger alone can be stupid and lead us to shame and hence back to sadness. If, however, we hold on to the wisdom of sadness and remember that our anger is stupid, we can play with our anger, using the circumstances to create a playful, angry fantasy cartoon in our minds. This form of silly, imaginary angry play can become an excellent energy source.
Surprise is also an emotion that creates energy. But we cannot create a surprise. By definition, if we are in control and expect something, that something will not surprise us. Even if we are startled out of depression, surprise likely will merge with fear, which probably will not resolve sadness. Or, surprise will be quickly resolved, and we will return to our sadness.
Disgust is an evaluative emotion that finds good in some things and rejects others. It is intellect more than energy. It is difficult to reach disgust from sadness. If disgust is combined with anger and we can be in a strong position, then disgust can become a part of the path that resolves sadness. But combined with anger, disgust can make us act impulsively and cast us back to shame. Rarely can we move in a healthy way from sadness to the strong position that the feeling, disgust, implies.
Shame and sadness cover much of the same neurological territory. They both hurt. Their function is to stop us or slow us down. Shame offers no energy. Shame and sadness together create a deep emotional hole. It is a poor choice as a next step out of sadness.
Fatigue/rest as emotion is the opposite of arousal and awake. Sleep can renew the body, but not the soul. Sad people often try to play Rip Van Winkle and sleep long enough so that when they awake, their problems will be gone. Unfortunately, most of us cannot successfully sleep our troubles away. Using sleep to avoid pain most often lengthens the time we are sad.
To help us out of sadness, we should use a combination of three emotions: desire, anger, and joy. Joy, of course, is the destination. Interest initiates our arousal and anger potentates the power of our arousal. In this process, we should not completely forget our sadness. Sadness brings to us the gift of wisdom and good sense. We need to retain what our sadness taught us. Our sadness can leaven our anger so that we do not take our anger seriously but only use our anger as part of a playful fantasy.
These emotions – desire, anger, and sadness – are the ingredients of determination. Determination contains the wisdom of sadness, the energy of anger, and the sense of direction of interest. It may also include courage, which is a combination of fear, anger, and desire. Determination will keep us moving forward, picking us up when we fall. With determination we will eventually reach our desired goal, feel joy and resolve sadness.
Treating Community Sadness
One of the first times that this notion that emotions resolve one another occurred to David was when he was in college studying American history. On the final exam was the question: How did the United States emerge from the depression that lasted from 1929-1942.
To him the answer was World War II. Anger mobilized the nation. Citizens stopped blaming government for their poverty. Caution was not an option. The country was at war. Risks had to be taken. Women had to go to work. Their husbands had to join the military. Those who couldn’t fight sacrificed by purchasing War Bonds.
Soon after World War II was declared the United States economy was producing airplanes, tanks, guns and uniforms. The country’s mood was no longer sad. It was angry. The country’s energy was mobilized toward the goal of winning the war. The country could not afford to be depressed. Even if they failed the citizens had to try. This attitude fueled the country out of the depression and into one of the greatest longest running economic booms that arguably lasted for the remainder of the twentieth century.
If sadness is the product of being tired and being afraid, yet afraid of wanting because wanting and failing to get creates so much pain, then a practicing community psychologist must help a community find something safe to want or find the courage to want again even though there are no guarantees of getting.
The first task then is to stimulate a collective desire. The second task is to use fear as a planning tool. Listen to the community’s fears. Address them with careful planning. Planning should develop strategies to achieve goals and at the same time avoid the dangers that the community’s fears represent.
After listening carefully to fears and developing effective action plans, the next step is to sell the plan to the community. This requires that the community have the courage to believe that the plan will work. The most important part of selling the plan is rebuilding a community’s faith in itself.
A disheartened community has difficulty seeing its strengths. Sometimes it can only see its weaknesses. A community psychology practitioner should help a community rediscover its strengths, being careful to be reality based. The job here is to convince the community of its importance, worth, power, adequacy and basic fitness. This contains toxic shame and builds the community’s confidence. This is the third step.
With wants expressed, plans made, confidence restored the next step is to playfully and imaginatively engage the community’s anger. The practitioner must be careful to remind the community that reality is different than fantasy, but with that in mind help the community visualize how satisfying it would be to let the community’s collective anger loose. Encourage cartoon images of good vs. evil, light vs. dark. After an exciting period of playful visualization the practitioner should reign in the community’s energy from silly anger to realistic determination.
Activated wanting or desire from step one, combined with wisdom from step two, and the faith from step three, mixed with the energy of anger of the fourth step are the ingredients of determination. Determination gives a community the strength to try and fail and try again until some success is gained.
The next step is to follow the plan of action. Help the community take its first step toward its goal.
It is important to remember that anger alone can create stupid ill-considered behavior that will lead a community back to depression.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of community joy in American history is the day World War II ended. The famous icon of that moment is the picture of the girl kissing a sailor in uniform as his hat sails in the air.
Almost all American war or adventure movies have this joy scene at the end, where the enemy is vanquished, the world is safe for democracy and the boy and girl kiss.
Joy is the emotion that a community struggles toward. It is the destination emotion. Unresolved joy can create problems for a community as well.
In considering the subject, we might confuse a sense of well-being, emotional balance, and personal fulfillment with happiness and joy. As we use these terms here, they do not mean the same thing. Remember, we are focusing on the emotion that we express through our face.
Joy is neither stupid nor dumb. It does not give specific action instructions; it prepares our brain to be at its best in playing, learning, or loving. Generally, joy relaxes and opens our mind so that it can function optimally.
Joy and happiness cover the same emotional territory. Joy is our destination emotion, and we all strive toward a goal that we believe will yield happiness. The joy that our faces reflect represents seven emotional experiences:
Tears of joy, representing a victory requiring great sacrifices;
Predatory joy, merging the focus of desire with anger and eventually ending in the expression of joy at the victory of consumption;
Joy, witnessing the tragedy of another; our laughter, for example, when someone slips on a banana peel;
Joy of mastery upon learning a new skill;
Joy of creativity, when we invent something, design something or make something that did not exist for us before;
Steady, mild joy or contentment, what we feel after the climactic, joyful celebration of a victory;
Joy of successful collaboration; the celebration of our achievements and those of friends, family, team, church, and country;
Communal joy is in the welcoming smiles of two friends being reunited; the joy of coming home, of belonging, of the safety that comes from friends and loved ones coming together.
We humans cannot discern among these seven versions of joy simply by looking at the face. Each of these sentiments is expressed with the same smile and laugh. Joy, therefore, is a word that represents them all.
The Intelligence of Joy
Joy is neither very smart nor very dumb. It can have anesthetic effect on intelligence. Contentment and the celebration of a victory can merge into arrogance and smugness. If denial is used to maintain joy, joy can become stupid. Often individuals who reject fear and sadness as emotional options keep their contentment and their optimism at the expense of good sense. But in general joy relaxes and opens the mind so that it can function optimally. Though joy is neither stupid nor dumb because it does not give specific action instructions it prepares the brain to be at its best in play, learning or love.
The Negative Consequences of Community Joy
There are four of them. We call them “joys four horsemen of the apocalypse.” They are: (1) arrogance, (2) conceit (narcissism), (3) cruelty and (4) denial. They are the same for a person as they are for a community.
This is false faith. A community can become over confident. It can believe it can do things that it cannot. It can underestimate the task or its adversaries. Eventually this will lead to defeat, shame and sadness. Joy can create a false euphoria that reality cannot perpetuate or penetrate. Arrogance is the consequence.
Conceit is different than arrogance or the overestimation of a community’s strength. It is a self-absorption that cuts the community off from the world around it. A community can become so taken with itself and its past accomplishments, so relaxed and satisfied with itself that it fails to notice the army gathering outside its gates or the clouds forming on the horizon. A community can convince itself that it is entitled to happiness and believe that it will just come (e.g., the 1999 stock market).
The definition of cruelty is taking pleasure in another’s pain. On a community level it is clearly seen when a victor takes pleasure in the suffering of the loser. The best example of this was the peace treaty made by the United States and its allies after World War I. In the treaty Germany was to pay reparations to France and England.
Given the shame that came with the loss, those economic burdens only added to that shame. This left German citizens vulnerable to the brilliant demagoguery of Hitler. He encouraged Germans to cover their shame with rage, to believe that Germans were an entitled master race. He chose the Jews as the communal scapegoat and World War II became inevitable. One of the engines of World War II were the cruel reparations required by the victors of World War I.
The forth and perhaps darkest horse of joy’s apocalypse is denial. Denial is a form of pretense or a believed wish that things were other than they are. Communities want to be happy. This is why the bearers of bad news have been beheaded, defiled or ignored. A community would rather whistle a happy tune, go to bread and circuses or watch pro football on television than hear about how the demand for diamonds and cotton is perpetuating genocide in Africa or that SUV’s are creating gases that destroy the earth’s atmosphere.
Marie Antoinette’s famous line, “Let them eat cake,” or King Ludwig of Prussia in the 1700’s as he built castles while taxing his people into poverty are examples of communities in denial.
Positive Consequences of Community Joy
After a review of the negative things joy can do to a community it is difficult to imagine that joy has a positive survival function. This is confirmed by Frijda’s (1986) contention that joy gives the body vague behavioral instructions associated with aimless activity. While it is clear that joy does not provide the same specific instructions as the more negative emotions do (e.g., fear instructs flight; anger fight; shame cease and desist; and sadness let go), the positive emotion of joy brings with it survival functions at least as important, if not as dramatic.
Fredrickson (2001) suggested that joy has an important species adaptive function. It broadens our perspective and builds positive coping skills. “Joy for instance broadens by creating the urge to play, push the limits and be creative. These urges are evident not only in social and physical behavior, but also in intellectual and artistic behavior,” (Fredrickson, 2001, p 220). The creative play that comes from joy evolves into practice that evolves into new skills (e.g., new dance steps, new songs, new moves to the hoop, new inventions, etc.).
With the creative play that is a product of joy comes interest or desire. This broadens by creating the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences and expand the self in the process,” (Fredrickson, 2001, p 220). New information can stimulate new ideas; new ways to problem solve and improve planning. Certainly these skills are relevant to our survival.
Contentment is a soft version of joy. It creates the, “urge to savor current life circumstances and integrate these circumstances into new views of the self and of the world,” (Fredrickson, 2001, p 220). Contentment encourages reflection. It helps us see what it is that we did that worked, so that we can repeat it again when the situation warrants. All psychologists know that we help children most by calling attention to the good they do, praising them, giving them a moment of contentment for safe reflection.
Pride is also a form of joy. It broadens and builds a community’s strength by, “creating the urge to share news of achievements with others and to envision even greater achievement in the future,” (Fredrickson, 2001, p 220). Pride gives us the courage and confidence to risk. Pride helps us get up and try again or try something different after we have fallen. The confidence that comes from pride keeps us from giving up. It gives us the survivor spirit.
Joy creates the context for love and communion. It broadens and builds a community’s strength by, “creating recurring cycles of urges to play with, explore, savor experiences with loved ones (and) to envision future achievements (with loved ones)” (Fredrickson, 2001, p 220). A community will use shared joy as the motivation to protect one another, to confirm that they are safe together to play, explore, risk and savor. It creates an atmosphere of acceptance that inoculates them from the toxicity that can come from the negative emotions of anger, shame and sadness. It is well documented that sense of community aids a community’s survival.
In Evelyn Loch’s (1991) book of quotes about Joy, there were more quotes about shared joy than any other type of joy.
All who would win joy must share it. Joy was born a twin. Lord Byron
Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have
somebody to divide it with. Mark Twain
It is a fine seasoning for joy to think of those we love. Jean Baptiste Moliere
A joy that’s shared is a joy that’s doubled. An English proverb
Who can enjoy alone? John Milton
By its very nature, life challenges us. Each of life’s significant challenges will force us to fall down, be sad, ask for help, get angry, get back up, make a mistake, feel shame, make amends, feel fear, and learn from it, create an effective action plan, keep desire alive, stay motivated, achieve the goal, and feel the joy and satisfaction of accomplishment. Joy is the destination emotion. In sex it is the climax. But as in sex the journey, the anticipation, the planning, the uncertainty, the excitement of hunger is at least as important to the sexual experience as the climax. Once the climax is over often we feel sad and lonely. Keeping the climax near without triggering its resolution is the advice of most sex therapist experts. The same is true for joy. Amando Zegri is famous for making the same point about the American culture. “Joy,” he said, “is the fruit that American’s eat green.”
Happiness is not life’s ultimate goal. Rather, living life to its fullest and feeling all the feelings life gives us is what makes life worth living. These accomplishments will give community members a rich and meaningful life.
Joy is essential for community play, learning, and love. And these functions are essential for community survival.
Shame and Joy
In the next section we will discuss the special relationship between shame and joy – examining it under the light of shame needing resolution. Here, we look at that relationship with joy as our focus.
Because joy and shame are so naturally related, we often use humor or laughter on the front end of shame. This laughter indicates, “I know I did something foolish, but I don’t have to feel bad about it, do I?” If the individual that we might have harmed laughs too, we assume shame is not required of us. This illustrates embarrassed laughter.
Laughter at the misfortune of others makes a similar statement. It means, “I am so relieved. That could have been me. I’m glad it wasn’t.” This joy is associated with potential shame and hurt that fate gave to someone else instead of to us.
Often we take a playful jab at a friend and follow our jest with laughter as if to say we enjoy the privilege of being able to tease our good friend this way. This privilege is confirmed by our friend’s wry smile that says to us, “No, I won’t require you to feel ashamed for what you said, because I know we are friends.”
Then, there is the joy of sex. Shame is the primary inhibitor of the sexual impulse (Nathanson, 1992). To make a sexual initiative, one must first overcome the fear of the potential shame of rejection. The overcoming of our fears of shame and of the contempt and disgust that can come from the object of our sexual desire is a great achievement and is part of the pleasure of sexual consummation.
As suggested above shame is a favorite resource for resolving joy. Other emotions can also serve that function. Joy is a heavy emotion to keep alive. Joy often resolves itself in boredom/relaxation. Once a community has achieved its goal and completes its celebration it is hard to keep the community focused. Perhaps after the Korean War was over this was the reason the 1950’s is considered boring. When the Russians launched Sputnik the United States was stunned out of complacency.
Often after completing a collective goal, the community can become sad and confused. The goal had given the community a purpose, bonding the community and directing behavior. With the goal achieved the community can feel lost. A community can only celebrate a victory for so long. Some communities want to hold on to joy. These communities can become mean and arrogant.
Fear, of course, can awake a community from joy. This is what Sputnik did to the United States in 1957. It is what the bombing of the World Trade Center did to the U.S. on September 11, 2004.
Desire or the awareness that a community has a new challenge to face or a new goal to achieve can resolve joy. Using the Sputnik example, the United States invested heavily in science education because of Sputnik. It accepted Russia’s challenge and the answer the United States gave was to improve our educational system. And this investment paid off in landing the first man on the moon.
Surprise can resolve joy. But surprise is a short-lived resolve. Soon a community will choose another emotional tone to deal with the meaning that comes from the surprise.
Disgust, anger and joy work well together in protecting a community’s mean cruel and entitled position over another community. If a community is victorious in one battle, but that battle doesn’t end the war, a community will quickly put aside its joy and use disgust and anger as motivators to continue the fight.
The trance is often associated with joy as contentment. Because of this it is not a very good resolve to joy. In fact the trance can be part of denial, which can be used to perpetuate joy.
The emotions that leave the most honorable legacy are first, sadness and second, shame.
Between these two, sadness is my first choice, because when we are sad that others are in pain, we are in the first stage of compassion. Compassion always gives us memories we can be proud of. Anger or joy in the pain of others alienates us from our community, friends, and family, as well as cuts us off from engaging our enemies. Compassion always opens doors and reconnects adversaries.
The second, shame, is more difficult for a community to negotiate. It takes courage and strength to feel badly as a community acknowledges a mistake. Though such strength, courage and amends making is honorable and a resource for pride, it is hard for a community to find its way from shame to pride. If it can though, alliances will be improved and wounds may be healed.
Treating Community Joy
Joy only needs to find resolution if it creates one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If a community is engrossed in arrogant joy, then the practitioner needs to help the community find a prophet strong enough to challenge the arrogance. Shame, fear, and disgust might be appropriate emotional tools needed to resolve arrogant joy.
In United States history these tools were needed to help it address its patronizing relationships and attitude toward Native Americans. White Americans have treated Native Americans horribly. It was appropriate that some prophet emerge to help this nation be disgusted with its conduct. Shame and amends making is appropriate. The United States should fear the legacy of this conduct. I’m not sure the United States has been effective in addressing this shame.
If a community is absorbed in its own self-importance of narcissistic joy, then the same tools are required. An example of this in United States history is the fear of dissent that was part of the Viet Nam War era. Many people had bumper stickers on their cars that said, “America, Love it or Leave it.” This was symbolic of a national narcissism that wanted the joy of being right so badly that it threatened to shun or expel citizens who questioned America’s war policy.
Treatment of Community Narcissism is similar to treating community arrogance. The nation needs voices to rise up against the narcissism and use shame and appeal to the collective desire to keep free speech alive. Fear should be used to ask the question what would happen to the United States if citizens who disagreed with the government had to leave.
Cruel joy also should receive similar treatment. It is never a good thing for a community to take pleasure in the pain of another. Often in the spirit of contest and play a community may tease another, but if the teasing hurts the community psychology practitioner should help resolve this joy. Shame is the most obvious tool. But fear can be used by asking the community to imagine what it would feel like if roles were reversed. Sometimes disgust and anger must be used to stop particularly heinous behavior. Examples of this behavior are torture, false imprisonment and other community violations of human rights.
Resolving the joy of the contentment/denial trance can be a bit more difficult. Surprise can be used to introduce a new reality gestalt that may create desire or fear. Fear will be an effective resolve to this kind of joy only if the community will pay attention. In recent United States history the energy crisis of 2001 appeared to be a market blip when supply was suddenly much lower than demand. Market forces rebalanced in time but political leaders used this surprise to awaken the country to what is happening to the environment and to our energy supplies. For a moment the country’s national complacency toward the environment and energy was broken, but only for a moment.
Happiness will destroy a community’s sense of mission. If a community is in the happy state of having accomplished its goals, then it has no further purpose for its existence. If a community cannot discover new challenges, new missions or goals it will proceed toward termination. Though happiness is a destination emotion, it does not give life meaning. Life’s passion, excitement, and wisdom come with collective shared experience of all the human emotions.
In United States history probably the clearest example of community desire was the period in which the country pursued what was called “Manifest Destiny.” This term was the justification for expanding the United States’ property and hegemony from the east continental coast to the west coast. Manifest Destiny meant to United States public opinion in the 1850’s that it was God’s will that the United States govern the continental land mass.
The policy was a cover for the greed of the United States business community and the jingoist nationalistic greed of the general American public. Under the guise of Manifest Destiny the United States bought the Louisiana Purchase from France and ignored Spain’s claim to that territory. It supported Texans to rebel against Mexico so that the United States could take over Texas. It used a similar rouse to take over California, New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico. It bought Alaska from Russia; colonized Hawaii in competition with European traders and took over Cuba from Spain only to decide later that this was too much and the United States left Cuba for it to become an independent nation, strongly influenced by the United States.
In movies and theatre such desire is exposed in dramas about leaders and courtier’s desire for power. Shakespeare’s trilogy the War of the Roses is an example of England’s desire to protect its boundaries and expand its territory.
Movies about sports and sport competitions themselves are about one community’s desire to defeat another in non-mortal combat. As long as a community lives and holds itself together there is community desire of some sort.
According to Lorenz (1950), desire “typically occurs in pattern with joy.” Interest enlivens and excites. It motivates the approach response and supplies the drive that pushes us toward meeting our survival needs. This is Freud’s libido.
According to Tomkins (1962), desire is the force that allows us to sustain long-term creative and constructive endeavors. It keeps us connected to our environment and is one of our emotional steady states along with contentment. These states can last a long time, although intrusions by other emotions can break them.
Desire organizes our focus of attention to stimuli. If we are hungry, for example, desire blocks out other stimuli and focuses our attention on food. Novel stimuli provoke desire (Fetterman, 1996). Desire helps us maintain our focus when there is much activity about. It helps us integrate a new stimulus into our homeostasis. The new stimulus excites us so that we attend to it, until we clearly understand how that stimulus relates to our survival. If we find it is irrelevant, we ignore it and attend to things that we believe will better serve us.
Desire is the emotion that alerts our body and individuals around us that we are approaching something we want to have or consume. Most of the time, we consider it a positive emotion. But we sometimes forget that desire comes from our biological appetites. It is part of gluttony, greed, envy, jealousy, lust for power, sex, and fame. With the exception of anger, these “I-wants” can get us in more trouble than any other emotion.
Excitement is an enthusiastic response that expresses how intensely we desire to consume, hold, and possess something that is near. Excitement includes anticipation of the pleasure of consumption and fear that we won’t get what we want. Interest, excitement, and desire are different parts of the same emotion – the difference between them is simply a matter of intensity and focus. Excitement is the equivalent of intense interest. Desire identifies an object that is our focus. Interest is the steady state of paying attention and being on task. This emotion represents life’s energy. It is the human volume control that goes from still to excited.
The Intelligence of Desire
Desire might be, along with sadness, the most intelligent emotion. When combined with the emotion of startle/surprise/wonder, it forms the basis of curiosity and inquiry. Its circuitry has access to the whole brain, all the senses, all our memories, and the problem-solving functions of the neo-cortex.
The Negative Consequences of Community Desire
Problems can come with desire when two communities desire the same thing. An example, in American history is the corporate conflict between Ford Motor Company and Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Company. In the years preceding 2001 Ford Explorers had an unusual amount of dangerous rollover accidents. Ford wanted to protect its corporate image so when it found that the tires that they purchased exclusively from Bridgestone/Firestone for the Explorers were in some instances defective, they used Bridgestone/Firestone as the scapegoat. They urged the United States government to force Bridgestone/Firestone to recall millions of its tires costing that company hundreds of millions in profits and injuring its public corporate image.
Bridgestone/Firestone desired to protect its corporate reputation. It attacked the Ford Explorer has having a design problem. It finished paying for the recall of its tires, settled its lawsuits and pointed plaintiff’s attorneys to the Explorer design flaws that were in part responsible for the wrecks.
It seemed obvious to some of the American public that tires that had a tendency to become unglued put on a vehicle that had a high center of gravity created many disasters waiting to happen. The result of these two companies desire to protect their reputations, each at the expense of the other only injured both companies. Sales of Bridgestone/Firestone tires dropped, as did sales of the Ford Explorer. Both companies desire to avoid shame created scapegoats in each other. Their greed led to a shared injury and trauma.
Community desire for one thing can create a community addiction. It can be argued that the United States is addicted to the automobile and the consequence of that addiction may be the destruction of the planet.
Community desire that intensifies and is unresolved can exhaust a community, creating symptoms that look much like an individual bi-polar illness. In the United States in the late 1990’s many dot.com companies became so caught up in their desire to get rich and or change the way business was done that they lost touch with the need to work inside the constraints of a budget. The consequence of that was the collapse of many of these businesses and a period of loss of confidence and faith in any dot.com business, even those who showed promise and worked inside a well-designed business plan.
Another problem with community desires is that community leaders can pander to these desires to stay in power. Julius Caesar in Roman times did this by giving away money to the masses or providing “bread and circuses.” This use of the community resources ultimately bankrupts a country. This is what George W. Bush was accused of doing when he won the presidency in 2000 by promising the largest tax cut in American history.
Positive Consequences of Community Desire
Without a shared community desire there is no fuel for the community’s duties. Shared wanting that motivates a collective to act as a team is an immensely powerful community force.
It is the nature of human existence of be dissatisfied and to want more or to want something new. This desire keeps people engaged with life. It keeps a community constantly in its mission stage. Without desire a community can become consumed in the lethargy of joy. Desire keeps a community growing, practicing, planning, failing, learning and loving. Without desire a community’s balloon will lose all of its air.
In the previous article we discussed the contrast between Presidents Carter and Reagan. Carter offered the citizenry a diminished vision of what they had a right to desire. Reagan invited American’s to desire again. Reagan won the day with this promise of new life and a reason to be. Reagan won the election and the Iron Curtain fell during his tenure in office.
Resolving Community Desire
All of the emotions are good candidates for resolving desire. Joy resolves interest when a desire is satisfied. Fear resolves desire and stops movement toward a goal, as does shame. Sadness is defined in part by the absence of desire. Sadness is what follows the realization that a desire is beyond reach. Anger will combine with desire or replace desire depending on the circumstance. The point of disgust is to move a person away from an unhealthy desire. Surprise will resolve desire, but usually just for a moment. The trance or sleep must resolve desire or the body will get no rest.
Treating Community Desire
Like joy there is no need to resolve interest unless it creates problems for the community. The first problem that we discussed earlier is that community desire can create conflicts with another community. In this case a cognitive behavioral technique is useful.
The primary resource available to a community in conflict with another over a shared desire is delay of gratification. Just imagine what might have happened if Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone delayed their desires to be free of blame for a moment and decided to work together to solve a common problem. All that would have been required was that each company wait until a shared strategy could be developed.
An obvious one is for them to announce together the recall of the tires, the increase in standards for bonding the tread to the tire infrastructure and the redesign of the Ford Explorer to make it less likely to roll over when something happens at its base. A community psychologist practitioner should use simple reason and good sense to encourage patience and shared problem solving.
The second problem with interest can be an addiction. To resolve an addiction a practitioner needs to help the community engage shame. Shame will help the community stop the addictive behavior, make amends for the wrongs done under the influence of the addiction and begin the process of rebuilding trust. If a community has the strength and courage to feel shame and address its collective addiction then it should reward itself with an internal sense of pride in its integrity and honor.
The community psychology practitioner should be sure that praise is poured on to the community as it completes the work started with having the courage to feel shame.
The third problem we mentioned that community desire can create is such an intense focus that it can burn itself out. Rest, sleep, relaxation is the resolve to interest here. A community psychology practitioner should help the community build in vacations, times for rest and relaxation holidays that offer collective times to celebrate the past and relax and play. This will revitalize a community helping it avoid the enforced rest that comes from failure.
The last problem with community desire comes from leaders who use a community’s desire to avoid reality and responsibility. The community psychology practitioner should help discover the community’s own voice of shame and particularly disgust, because the community’s appetites are being used to destroy its strength. It is the purpose of disgust to protect us from such poison.
Desire like joy appears to be a beneficial human emotion, but like joy it brings with it many potential pitfalls. The practicing community psychologist uses a community’s desire to provide a sense of direction and an energy source. As the practitioner works with desire she must be careful not to extinguish it while not letting it overwhelm the community. This can be a difficult balancing act. The best resources to the practitioner are all of the other emotions.
In American history perhaps the best example of community shame comes from the rash of school shootings that began in the 1990’s. Columbine High School was probably the most prominent among them. The nation was shocked and stunned by children murdering children and their teachers. The nation as a whole was ashamed and local communities were ashamed that its culture could not guarantee the personal safety of its children in public schools.
Though there is a great debate over what was wrong, there is general agreement that something was. Some argue it is the availability of guns to immature children with poor impulse control and bad judgment. Others contend that it was the breakdown of the American family. Whatever the reason the nation felt bad that this happened and has wanted to learn a way to stop this from happening again.
Movies and drama often depict an individual’s fight against shame for dignity. The Color Purple is an excellent example of this. In this movie Opray Winfrey plays a character that represents the African American and all of us who are unfairly shamed.
Managing and processing shame is perhaps the most important job of a community psychology practitioner. People and community’s have more to lose and more to gain from this emotion than any other.
Shame is not one of Ekman’s six, but Tomkins and Izard include it on their lists. It is the number one emotion among therapists as the cause of psychopathology.
Most of us hate to feel shame and we do a poor job of processing or transforming it into something healthy. We all know what shame is. It is often called a “loss of face,” which means a de-elevation of our public respect and reputation, a fall from grace. It is a sudden realization that we have done wrong, torn the fabric of trust we once had with a
friend or our community. When we feel shame, our neck turns red; our head turns down and away from the person or people that we believe we have wronged.
Shame is painful. It stops pleasure in its tracks and reins in whatever action we were taking. Our thoughts suddenly become confused, and we behave awkwardly and submissively toward the person who we now feel has good reason to disapprove of us.
Many theorists distinguish between shame and guilt (Lewis, 1971). Some say we feel guilt over what we did and shame over who we are. For our purposes here, guilt and shame are the same. They look the same on the face, and they feel the same in the body. The other words that are represented in this emotion are: humiliation, embarrassment, and mortification.
Tomkins (1963) said that “shame is the affect of indignity of transgression and of alienation … Shame strikes the deepest in the heart of man. Shame is felt as an inner torment, a sickness of the soul. It does not matter whether the humiliated one has been shamed by derisive laughter or whether he mocks himself. In either one, he feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, and lacking in dignity or worth.” (Affect/imagery/ consciousness. Vol. 2. The negative affects, p. 118).
Shame can be a socialization tool. Shame becomes an important resource for protecting social bonding. It motivates us to accept our share of the responsibility for the good of the whole (Izard, 2000; Lewis, 1971; Tomkins, 1962).
Shame focuses on and exposes our weaknesses and inadequacies. It exposes our sense of ineptness. It directs our attention to the work we need to do to strengthen our skills and heal our relationships (Tomkins, 1963; Lewis, 1971; Tangney, et. al., 1996; Izard, 2000).
When we feel ashamed, we sense that we have done something wrong and that we will submit and accept the consequences. Healthy shame is a measure of our bonds to others and of our concern and sense of responsibility for their well being. When we are unable to accept responsibility and pay the consequences for our behavior that harms others, shame can grow into a deep, unhealthy shame that is toxic to an individual’s sense of self.
The Physiology of Shame
The dilation of the blood vessels exhibited by blushing is the most obvious physical marker of shame, together with the drooping face that looks away (Nathanson, 1992). So little research exists on the anatomy of shame that we are reduced to speculation about how the body reacts to shame.
Again, a reason for this is that shame is not considered a primary emotion but rather a derivative one. I would speculate that when we feel shame, our blood pressure lowers, our heart rate slows, and our general muscle tone and arousal drops.
Perhaps researchers soon will give us more information about the physiology of shame.
The Intelligence of Shame
Using research conducted by Shin and others, we can begin to speculate on whether shame fills our brain with confusion, as Nathanson suggested, or whether shame is connected to the neocortex, bringing with it major problem-solving capacities. (Shin, et al., 2000). Shin’s study suggests an extensive neural network similar to that related to sadness.
If the function of shame is to reveal to us the work we need to do to improve ourselves and our skills, it makes sense that shame brings with it some formidable intellectual capacity. We believe that after the initial shock and exposure of shame, the whole brain gets to work trying to figure out how what happened wasn’t really our fault. Once we have finished trying to shift the blame, shame motivates us to learn how to avoid more shame by facing the task of self-improvement so as not to make the same mistake again.
The Negative Consequences of Shame
Shame is an emotion that people and communities try to avoid. The reason for this is that shame hurts. It pains a community to admit to being wrong. It is a difficult task for a community to take responsibility for its behavior and learn from a mistake and change because of it. Communities often perform extraordinary mental gymnastics to avoid shame, because they lack the fortitude to feel the pain of shame and face the problems shame represents. Avoiding shame usually does not eliminate it. When a community fears the shame that belongs to it, the community tries to hide the secret sense of shame it feels. Hiding from external shame can only increase a community’s internal shame.
On the other hand a community can become overloaded with shame. When this happens the community loses faith in itself. Because of the shame it can believe that it is unworthy to exist. Often this destroys the sense of community that bonds a community together. A shamed community, that because of economics or geography cannot disband, can turn on itself and injure its various members and values, like a bad marriage that cannot find an end point.
The purpose of shame is to close down behavior so that we cannot continue on a potentially destructive path.
The socially constructive function of shame is to rebuild a social fabric that has been torn. Shame used correctly builds, connects, ties and binds. When shame becomes pathological we can care too much about righting the wrongs that cannot be righted or pleasing people who cannot be pleased or who become tyrants empowered by our shame. When this happens instead of feeling empowered and reconnected by processing shame, we become stuck in shame, feeling closed down, dead to ourselves, choked, confined, imprisoned, too close, too exposed, needing distance, more clothes or other defenses or on stage required to perform and we don’t know what to say or do. This “I want to crawl under a rock and hide” feeling is very painful. In circumstances that require us to sacrifice our dignity and well being for peace, shame becomes what Thom Rutledge calls a “should monster.” Instead of redeeming and enabling, shame punishes and becomes a resource to evil.
The results of toxic shame in a community can be addiction. For example, in Russia, over 50% of the men are alcoholics and die prematurely because of alcohol related problems. It could also be argued that the United States cultural addiction to the automobile is because its citizens needs a vehicle to runaway from their shame. Often Americans say, “I need to get in my car and drive, just drive out on the open road to clear my head.”
A community can use scapegoating or projection as a means of avoiding toxic shame. In United States history this is what white people in the South and their leaders did to avoid the shame of their failure and inadequacy. They blamed African Americans and projected their personal inadequacy on a whole race of people. While this helped protect them from their internal sense of shame, it kept them from making a natural healthy alliance with their poor African American counterparts. Such a populist alliance of poor white and black could have been a powerful political force, if the poor white southerner had not scapegoated a potential ally.
The Positive Consequences of Community Shame
For most of us it is difficult at first to imagine anything good coming from shame. It may be even more difficult to understand how we can say that shame is one of the most important assets that a community has.
Shame is an essential element to sense of community. Without shame there would be no community bond among members. Shame means that one community member will feel badly if she harms another member. For the first element of sense of community, spirit or membership, the potential for shame is the reason members protect their fellow members and are careful about their community boundaries. Because members would feel shame if they did not do their part this gives the second element of sense of community, influence or trust, the sacrifices and dues necessary to create community resources. The third sense of community element, trade or shared integration of need, requires fair trades and accurate scorekeeping. The fact that members would feel shame for taking advantage of someone in a trade protects a community from corruption. The final element of sense of community, art or shared connection in time and space, often uses stories where community members are transformed by shame and tell these stories to honor this transformation. Using such events and stories encourages honor in all the community.
Shame is a community’s best teacher. The primary lessons that are part of a community’s traditional values come from the hurt that was once shame. Shame is part of the price communities pay for community wisdom. When a community makes a mistake, the pain of shame holds the community accountable for that mistake. The pain remains until the community makes amends for the wrong and learns a new way to accomplish its goals that does not harm others. Such shame produces integrity and honor along with wisdom.
Shame can remain a community asset only so long as it does not attack at the community’s essence or spirit. The community must protect itself from toxic shame. This can be done if the community views mistakes as only mistakes, not reflections of the community’s inner degradation. A community and its members make many mistakes. Mistakes are a result of trying. Only when a community stops risking and working does it stop making mistakes. It is essential for a community to have a way of facing and learning from its mistakes. This is the purpose of a free press.
If the community has an effective way of processing mistakes into learning then it can cleanse and heal itself and continue to grow. The community must have ways of reminding itself that many mistakes can be fixed and all mistakes can be learned from. Most mistakes are events that have unintended consequences. If amends are made for a mistake, then the community should celebrate its learning, its character and its integrity. No human community can exist without failing and making mistakes. If communities see mistakes as painful, and also as opportunities, then shame becomes perhaps the community’s most important emotional asset.
Shame used this way can teach a community about itself. From the pain of past mistakes a community can learn what it can do and what it cannot do. This creates healthy future predictions, helps a community manage its expectations and makes a community more productive.
By now you may have some idea about how we think shame can be reached healthily in a community (and in an individual). Nathanson’s 1992 book Shame and Pride suggests a resolving continuum from which each of these two emotions, shame and joy can resolve into the other. But before we explore the resolution of shame with joy, let’s consider the other emotions as resolving candidates.
Of course, all emotions resolve each other. Any emotion will take you out of shame for a moment. But not every emotion placed next to shame will lead out of shame and into a new emotional space.
Fear, for example, will resolve our shame, but probably only to return us to shame, because we might be ashamed of being afraid. Sadness contains much of the pain of shame. Even if sadness resolves shame, we are still in a painful emotional hole.
Most communities when ashamed don’t have the confidence to access anger. But when we can, anger can be of considerable help. It is important to remember that anger can create cognitive distortions. Acting out of anger can create more shame.
Surprise will jolt a community out of shame for a moment. This may help buy time. But the community will need an emotional place to land once the community emerges from surprise.
Desire can resolve shame by distracting a community toward one of its wants. But once a community’s desires are satiated, the undercurrent of shame can return. Desire can be a useful vehicle out of shame if it is the community’s desire to learn what it will take to make amends and how to do better next time.
Rest/relaxation/trance can give a community a reprieve from shame. Shame, however, can intrude in the community’s time for rest and can replay itself in the context of the community’s down time. When a community returns from its time off it may also return to its shame.
Disgust like anger can be helpful in resolving a community’s shame. Often shame is a product of caring too much. Shame used in this way closes down feelings that we believe will not be accepted by people we wish to please. Our mental voice speaks words like: “I have had enough,” “I want to throw up,” “I’ve had it.” These words imply that we are disgusted. We have eaten enough of what someone is feeding us. Shame can block us from speaking out and saying no, when that is exactly what we need to say. In these circumstances disgust is an excellent resolve to shame. But as with anger a community once shamed is rarely powerful enough to entertain the judgmental position of disgust. And disgust, like anger, can use only two category thinking. Thinking in dualities can lead a community into serious mistakes and back to shame.
This leaves joy. Pride is a form of joy. No one would intuitively expect that the healthy emotional route out of shame is joy. Yet it is. And it is the only real option for emotional well being. To use joy as a resolve to shame a community must be mature and responsible to work the shame puzzle effectively.
Walking into a community’s shame head-on takes courage and emotional strength. With practice it gets easier for the community to discover a friend and a teacher in shame. But the pain is always a part of real shame. The resolve for shame is the honor, joy and genuine pride that comes from being a responsible accountable community, for learning and growing from our mistakes and being better for our pain of shame.
Treating Community Shame
A practicing community psychologist must be a consultant to a community that is willing to work through shame. The practitioner cannot expect a frightened immature community to be able to embrace shame. In stages of development terms this means that a community needs to have experienced stage five, the accountability stage or be ready to enter that stage (see Defining A Community’s Developmental Paths).
The first step toward taking shame to joy is helping the community move into the pain of shame. The press or the community’s communication organ might be to especially helpful during this process. The task here is confession and acknowledgment of wrongdoing to those wronged.
The second step is be sure that the community feels the hurt along with those who were harmed. This compassion or empathy is an essential step.
The third step is to protect the community against toxic shame. A mistake is just a mistake. The practitioner should fight character assassination, blaming and negative labeling. It is important to remind the community of its essential strength and worth.
With shame contained the community should make a real and symbolic sacrifice to make amends with those wronged. Amends is the fourth step.
The final step is to help the community reflect with pride on the strength, courage and character it took to process shame into learning and change. This requires determined hard work. The community that does this work deserves to be proud. It is the practitioner’s job to see that this is so.
These five steps need some additional steps when shame has become a prison. When we care too much what other’s think and are ashamed because we cannot please them, pride in the fact that we are caring human beings is not enough to free us from shame. But it is a first step.
Pride in our compassion reminds us that we are the only people that can balance our needs with the needs of others. Others can never know us as well as we know ourselves. Our best effort at amends is all that is required. Once offered and rejected it is our task to feel good about our efforts and the internal process that we used to feel compassion and offer a basis for peace. Peace at any price is not peace.
In recent history South Africa and Bosnia have tried to implement plans of national reconciliation. These plans have included opportunities for people to come forward and confess without fear of retribution. This was meant to be an act of personal and community cleansing. Amnesty was an important piece, amnesty acknowledges that mistakes in the midst of war and social upheaval were easily made by both sides of the conflict.
These plans have not been completely successful. In South Africa it was partly because former President Botha, the last South African president under apartheid, and Winnie Mandala, the estranged wife of Botha’s successor, Nelson Mandala. They both refused to publicly acknowledge mistakes that were generally known. In Bosnia, at this writing, it is too early to tell.
At this point in the chapter hopefully we have the reader with us. Our most important mission is to teach practitioners how to help a community use and process shame. Practically there is much more to be said and done here.
A community surprise can have a positive outcome or a negative outcome. History tends to pay more attention to the negative surprises that upset the community’s equilibrium and require great heroic deeds to overcome. One famous positive surprise in American history happened in early John F. Kennedy’s presidency. It is commonly called the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was loosely chronicled in the movie Thirteen Days.
Russia thought that the United States had lost its collective nerve when the Invasion of the Bay of Pigs failed. Russian leaders thought that John F. Kennedy was a weak young president, elected by the slimmest of margins and that he did not have the strengths to keep Russia from putting atomic missiles aimed at the United States in Cuba (or what Kennedy pronounced Cuber with his Boston accent).
Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba preventing any Russian ships carrying missiles to Cuba from landing. All leaders recognized that if the Russian leaders refused to order their ships to turn back that world wide nuclear war would ensue.
The term “brinksmanship” was defined in this event. American leaders had to demonstrate that they would go to war to protect their country’s boundaries. The surprise came just before an attack of Cuban missile sights was to be launched. The Russian ships unexpectedly turned back. This surprise saved the world from a devastating nuclear war.
All the leaders involved showed great courage. It was difficult for Khrushchev, the Russian president at the time, to stand up against his military and order the ships to return. It probably marked the end of his career as Russia’s president and it is likely that he knew it.
And it took great courage for the inexperienced Kennedy to reign in his military to allow diplomacy to work, while at the same time firmly and squarely facing down an enemy.
Community surprises happen daily. No community knows its future. Yet communities must make future plans. These plans can never be completely accurate. Thus expectations are not met and surprises happen.
In movies and the theater most dramatic plots are created by a surprise that changes the direction of the lives of the characters from that point forward. These dramas remind us that Fate always gets to play.
Surprise is one of Ekman’s Sacred Six. It is well researched because of this. We first see it reported in infants of about six months. Surprise throws our body and psyche into
neutral (Nathanson, 1990). It clears our minds of other emotions and other thoughts
just as a clutch on a standard transmission car takes the car out of gear. As the mind’s palate is cleansed by surprise, we are asking the questions “what,” “how,” “when,” “where” or “why.” Our head tilts to the side. Our eyes squint as if we are trying to see more clearly. We have a blank look on our face, as if the face is alert, asking a question, wondering, not knowing. There has been a violation of what we had expected. A steady state has been interrupted. “What the . . .?” are the words forming in our mouths. Surprise can come from a discovery of a wonderful thing that we hadn’t expected or from a sudden threat. If we are hoping for something to happen, but afraid that it won’t, we are delightfully surprised when it does. If something other than what we hoped for comes to pass we are sadly disappointed, perhaps even frightened.
Surprise needs to be short-lived. Surprise prepares us for a new emotion, just as the clutch prepares the car’s engine for a new gear. Left engaged too long, the clutch burns out. Surprise makes way for a fresh start. It announces to us and others that we don’t know. We are confused. We are wondering. When in a crisis, we can only afford to be in the state of not-knowing for a short time. We had better get in gear, figure out what it is, and what we feel, if we are to respond effectively.
Startle is the most extreme version of this emotion. It is a sudden jolt of arousal. It fires all our nerves at once. Usually a startle response is not a pleasant experience. But we quickly forget our surprise, and we remember and associate it with the valence, positive or negative, of the emotion that follows.
Wonder is the most steady state of this emotion. It is the basis of awe, mystery, and spiritual experience. It forms the foundation, together with interest, of all curious exploration.
This is the emotion we feel in response to sudden change. Whether the response is as intense as startle/surprise or merely wonder depends on how much we care about
what’s going on and how afraid we are at the time. If we are not that aroused and we are not afraid and what’s happening doesn’t matter to us, a sudden change will make us merely wonder, “What could that be?” (Lang, Bradley & Cuthbert, 1990).
The Intelligence of Startle/Surprise/Wonder
Clearly, we cannot attach much intelligence to this emotion. The only thing wise about this confused state is that in this state we know that we don’t know and we ask questions. Sometimes that is a very wise thing to do.
The Negative Consequences of Surprise
Nathanson (1992) claims that there is little or no downside to surprise. And we may agree with him so long as surprise is a momentary response, but if a community holds on to the posture of surprise, of wonder and not-knowing then surprise can have a dark side.
Feigned confusion can easily become real confusion. This can be the tool used to act passive aggressively. Not-knowing being confused can become a cover for not wanting to act. Inside a community this stance is used by members to withhold their energy and resources. This behavior takes advantage of those who take up the slack and willingly pitch in on a community project.
It is a bit more difficult to see how a whole community can play dumb. But this was often the case in slave communities in the American South before the Civil War. Confusion fed right into the white slaveholder’s myth that slaves were inherently stupid. When a slave was in trouble and was being sought by the slave owner, universal reply to the question, “where is she?” was “I don’t rightly now Maser.”
This collective strategy of the slave culture is annotated in Uncle Remus a book by Joel Chandler.
Often the culture’s powerless use the confusion posture with the look of surprise to manage the powerful. Women historically have been reduced to using this tool. The refrain goes something like this “why, you are so smart. I didn’t know how to do that,” or “my look at those strong arms. I’m just too weak to ever lift that. I don’t know how you did that,” or “I’m never changed a tire in my life and you are so good at it.”
The problem with using this defense is that a community can begin to believe it. This is what Louis Farakahan says happened to the African American male. He became so used to saying, “I’m not good at that,” or “I’m not smart,” or “I’m not competent,” that he began to believe it. The result has been a collective low self-esteem, self-hatred, and self-destructiveness. This is one of the reasons the prisons are populated with mostly African American men. This is one reason that life expectancy of the African American male is so low.
For some communities surprises are always negative. They are always followed by a reason to fear. An example of this is the urban housing projects in the United States. Loud noises or bangs in that community are assumed to be gunshots not firecrackers. If a child in this community associates surprise only with danger and fear, surprise will be a source of fear and pain for that child for a lifetime (Panksepp, 1993). This assumed association can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that community. In such a community surprises become fear. An atmosphere of paranoia is the result. The community becomes risk-averse and cynical. Isolation becomes a natural response. Trust is stupid. The future becomes frightening rather than inviting. Such a community can suffer from chronic post-traumatic stress.
Communities often depend on experts in order to avoid surprises. An expert is one who can predict what will happen next if the community makes one decision over another. An attorney can predict how courts will rule by studying legal precedents. A structural engineer can predict how much concrete it will take to dam a river.
Communities can work more effectively if they are prepared. For example, San Francisco can prevent earthquake damage by designing buildings to be able to withstand the shock of earth tremors.
Mastery means control. Communities can become addicted to mastery. They can come to view all surprise as the enemy. Complete mastery is never possible. Surprises will happen in communities no matter how prepared they think they are.
Though surprise can knock communities off balance they can become resources for positive change. Floods can help communities find better places to put homes, thus preventing others from being flooded in the future. The community psychology practitioner should see the crisis that is part of a community surprise as an opportunity.
The Positive Consequences of Surprise
A curious open community is obviously a good thing. A community that forms answers and knows before the data is in is a community headed for disaster. Surprise and not-knowing is essential to inquiry. It is part of the foundation of problem solving, faith (in a community or in a religion), play, and creativity.
In play surprise exhilarates. Communities of children play games of hide and seek that are designed to stimulate the startle response. Rides at fairs take people on pretend journeys meant to surprise and raise their adrenalin and at the end resolve their surprise with the joy of standing on terra firma. Surprise, as mentioned earlier, is an important part of the dramatic plot. Suspense and putting the reader or audience in the state of wondering, not-knowing but needing to know is a standard artistic device, put in books and dramas for the enjoyment of the audience.
All communities are built on articles of faith. Some of communities are built on a shared religious faith that includes a respect for fate and the unexpected. Others are built on the faith that their form of government works best and is open to new developments or unexpected events. Whatever the faith the community believes in, whether it is a god or the collective hard work and practice, that faith will be used to meet surprise and give the community the strength to transform the surprise into an opportunity. Willingness to not know is essential to faith and the celebration of wonder.
Communities use surprises as the basis of their collected stories. Most community myths come from an historical community surprise. From that surprise the community’s symbolic hero emerged and lead the community to change and grow because of the challenge presented by the surprise.
Artists when they reflect on their work speak of unintended results that at first they considered mistakes, but after they looked again they found to be surprises that improved their work or sent them in directions that become fruitful for them.
The scientific community uses the famous example of bacteriologist Andrew Fleming. He was throwing away culture plates that had been contaminated with mold, when he was surprised to see something he had never noticed: a halo or ring of clear, bacteria-free medium around each island of mold. His surprise led to the development of the first antibiotic: penicillin.
Surely a community wants to nurture surprise to support creativity, play, wonder, mystery, and faith. But surprise needs to last for a relatively short period in order for it to remain positive. Surprise needs to be resolved by a new awareness and a new emotion appropriate to the new circumstance.
Almost every emotion creates an effective resolve for surprise. The only exception is rest/relaxation/trance. Since surprise is an emotion that arouses the body, it is the antithesis of relaxation. Hence relaxation has a difficult time following right on the heals of surprise. Anger can follow surprise when there is a threat. Sadness can follow surprise when the surprise is interpreted as a loss. Joy can follow surprise when surprise comes to mean success or achievement. Fear like anger can follow surprise. But we can get stuck in fear being associated with surprise, and that can keep us from finding opportunities to be creative with the change that is part of surprise. Often disgust is an appropriate resolve to surprise because some surprises are dangerous threats that can work like poison. Interest resolves surprise into a merger that becomes curiosity. These two emotions can create a great deal of energy for inquiry. Shame is also an effective resolve to surprise.
Treating Community Surprise
There is nothing wrong with a community accessing surprise and not-knowing what to do, if the inquiry that this represents produces an answer. But if a community holds on to the posture of surprise or wonder, then it will not be prepared when it is required to act or it will begin to believe its own words about not-knowing and being confused.
Using surprise is this way is the essence of a cognitive distortion and a cognitive behavioral intervention is appropriate here. The community psychology practitioner should help the community find an answer to the inquiry that surprise creates. This will require a decision making process. We nominate the following one:
Step one – use surprise to begin the inquiry into what does the community feels beyond surprise and what is the appropriate response.
Step two – imagine answers to the inquiry. Play with these questions. All possible answers are good answers. In this step remain curious open and playful.
Step three – here the community must use discernment or what we would call disgust. Reject the answers that do not seem to be appropriate ones. And choose the feeling and course of action from the nominations that is deemed best.
Step four – act on the answer. The community is required by this step to believe in itself and the process and creativity used to get here. In this place the community should act as if they did know and move forward with certainty until surprised again. When that happens the community can repeat the process over again.
When helping resolve surprise it is important for the community psychologist to note that it is not her job to find the answer. It may be the practitioner’s job to facilitate the process, but often even that role is too visible. When possible, encourage the community’s leaders or members to do this work themselves. The practitioner’s job is only to know where to point so that a community can resolve its own surprise.
This is probably the most controversial nomination for a basic community emotion. But this is one of the primary reasons to belong to a community. None of us can do everything well alone. Members often need relief from their work. That’s one of the purposes of a community to allow members to rest and still have the community’s work continue.
But communities often need to stop productive work and relax. Most citizens of Paris leave town in the month of August and many services and government offices close during that month.
In Mexico and Italy town stores close between two and four in the afternoon. In Mexico this is called siesta. In Italy it is called la pennichella. It is common for Germans to take six weeks of paid vacation.
There are examples of soldiers in war on either side of the front line singing Christmas carols together during a lull in a battle.
In American history one example of a community at rest or in a trance occurred in the Civil War the fall of 1864. In Tennessee the rebel forces were in the advantageous position of having the Yankee forces in the south of middle Tennessee cut off from their larger force in Nashville.
The Rebel troops bivouacked for the night on either side of the main north/south road. The generals of the rebel forces and perhaps the soldiers of lesser ranks had the habit of drinking corn whiskey in order to make war and sleep in the evenings possible for them. On this night the security around the camp was lax. While the encampment of rebel troops slept, the whole force of the Yankee troops south of Nashville, marched directly through the middle of the rebel troops on the main road.
General Hood, who was in charge of the rebel troops, was so angry at his generals for being asleep while the enemy marched right through the middle of the rebel forces that he ordered them to head the charge of the Battle of Franklin the next day. Five generals were killed and the organization of the rebel troops was dissipated. The Battle of Franklin destroyed what organized army there was on the western front. The devastating loss here guaranteed a Yankee victory. Being completely at rest caused the Rebel forces to lose what advantage they had.
Fatigue is a drive like hunger. Fatigue’s focus is sleep, or at the very least, rest. When we are fatigued, our bodies ache for sleep. Fatigue can bring a community near to sleep. When it has permission to the community will release its responsibilities and become at rest. Organized community’s focus on tasks ceases. Each member moves away from their community roles. Some members may go to sleep. Others may play. Others may eat. Others may go into a trance, e.g., watching television. Renewal is the function of this emotion.
Rest renews our bodies and our minds. It has its own facial expressions, its own biochemical brain chemistry, and its own neurological brain-wave patterns. It is an important physical state that our bodies must express.
Fatigue is our body’s signal that we need rest now. Without rest, we will lose our sanity and our physical health. Each day, therefore, our body needs to spend a significant time at rest. Relaxation is effective rest, but not deep sleep. The trance also is restful, but our eyes remain open. In sleep, we dream and lose consciousness. Our bodies are renewed and nurtured during sleep.
The Intelligence of FRT
Clearly, our mind is not at our disposal during this emotion. Perhaps it is being enriched and renewed by rest, just as is the body. Of course, the species cycle of exercise followed by rest has a genetic intelligence but not a person-specific intelligence. There are many reports of people going to sleep with a question or problem and waking with the answer, but we cannot expect or command our minds to do this work during sleep. Perhaps sleep can provide wisdom, but not conscious intelligence.
The Negative Consequences of Fatigue/Rest/Trance
In the previous Civil War story we described what can happen when a community is at rest when at least some part of it needed to be alert.
A community can go into rest mode to avoid feeling other feelings. If it is failing at a task one thing a community can do is to quit work and rest to avoid facing the shame of failure. Similarly for a community that is dealing with the sadness of loss or death, rest is a seductive alternative to processing the collective pain of sadness. The most dangerous (and the most productive) use of the at rest posture is to avoid fear. On a shorter term basis rest in the face of fear may be useful, but avoiding fear by resting over long periods of time can create a chronic community phobic state.
For whatever reasons resting for long periods can negatively feed on itself. Lack of practice (or what musicians call keeping up their chops) can create a loss of skill and hence a loss of confidence. Without a community’s normal strength or skill, the community will tire easily from work, which will encourage more rest. This helps a community avoid its problems creating a cycle of procrastination and fear.
When a community loses interest and becomes bored it is more polite to shut down and rest than it is to assert itself and demand that members re-focus and stay on task. When boredom takes over a community it is easy for it to lapse into a trance and allow its collective mind to rest. This is not such a bad response unless the community is expected to learn something or to be alert for some reason. Sometimes it is part of the community’s job to endure boredom and stay focused.
One common response to boredom or to painful stress is the dissociative response. Here the trance transports the community away from the present and into an imaginary perhaps delusional world. Religious communities have sometimes been accused of merging members into a shared dissociative delusion (e.g., The Jonestown mass suicide).
One of the worst things fatigue can do to a community is to magnify whatever emotions it feels at the time. Imagine an all-girls’ slumber party. The girls stay up late. The evening begins with laughter, but as it gets later and the girls get more tired, the giggling becomes constant and what they are laughing about is not that funny. Or, imagine a policeman who, because he is working two jobs, hasn’t had much sleep. He stops a motorist who talks back in a foul tone, and the policeman overreacts in anger. Or, recall being tired and sad at the same time, beginning to cry and having trouble stopping.
Often, groups trying to convince and encourage membership, (e.g., church youth groups, Werner Erhard Training, fraternity pledging) use fatigue to break down defenses to emotions and create shared emotional experiences that help bond the group and encourage self-disclosure and joining. In such circumstances, individuals go along with the group and do and say things that they ordinarily would not.
Community’s can misuse fatigue to control its members, but it can also ignore its fatigue and become a tense fractious and irritable community, tearing at itself because it is desperate for rest and won’t allow itself to get the relaxation and renewal it needs.
Positive Consequences of Fatigue/Rest/Trance
We have already talked about how rest can nurture the community’s bodies, minds and renew the community spirit. It is clear that every community needs to have rest built into its daily, weekly and yearly routine. In order to maintain a high quality of community life, after heavy exertion or being threatened, the community needs to find sanctuary so that it can calm and soothe itself.
All major religions discuss using faith to combat the fear demons. Indeed, fear can become a force that sabotages instead of protects. Bad things happen to good people. Tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, floods, accidents, crimes, and disease can make any community the scene of a tragedy. Communities strive to overcome these ordeals. But often no matter how great or heroic its effort, a community might still be unable to make a bad situation better. Fear is an inevitable feeling in these circumstances. Fear and dread can overwhelm a community.
In situations like this the best thing for a community to do is calm down and relax. When a community relaxes in the face of adversity it is using faith to fight fear –
Faith that the community can put aside its tools and weapons close its eyes and rest, hoping and believing that rest will bring with it new strength and new ideas and new energy that the community can use to deal with the crisis at hand.
Rest is often the next – and best – thing for a community to do to cope with stress, especially unrelenting stress. Often psychologists use terms like repression and denial to describe the process of pushing fear away with faith, which allows rest and renewal. This skill is not deviant or crazy. It can be the best response to overwhelming stress. Children often discover this skill by themselves and needn’t be taught. But when they depend on the trance as their only coping device this can present a problem.
Even the delusional dissociative defense makes sense when a community is stripped of all its assets. Prisoners of war can invent a collective imaginary world that they can use together to confound their captors (see King Rat, 1962 by James Clavell).
Any emotion can resolve rest. Awaking is a general arousal characterized by interest/
Shame, fear, sadness and anger are not pleasant emotions to return to after rest. Disgust is an emotion essential to a community’s survival, e.g., waking a resting community to the disgusting smell of a smoke filled room can save lives. Joy would be a wonderful emotion to greet a community on its return from rest, but most of the time joy comes after interest has provoked a community’s arousal to move toward a goal. When the goal is achieved joy is the result.
Other emotions have paths that may take two or three emotional steps to healthy resolve (e.g., sadness or shame). For rest to be resolved only one emotion is necessary and that emotion is desire. Desire arouses a community and re-engages it with a purpose.
Treating Community Fatigue/Rest/Trance
The fatigue part of this emotion reminds a community of a truism about all emotions. Clearly a community needs to rest and relax until it has had enough rest. The same applies to the other emotions. They have a course to run. That course should not be short-circuited until that emotion has been fully expressed. A balance exists for all emotions that are between enough and too much. A healthy community finds that balance.
It is the community psychologist practitioner’s job to help a community find that balance. And that is especially relevant to this emotion. The simplest part of this task for the practitioner is to remind a community that it may be tired and need rest. A simple reminder is all that the practitioner should offer. If a community is fatigued it will be obvious once it considers the question.
Treating a community stuck in a trance or in a resting pose can be more difficult. To do this the practitioner must have a community that is willing to accept her help. Most communities stuck in a trance are reluctant to come out of rest and do not want help. Indeed they may be afraid of help. We are not sure that the practitioner can do anything here. A practitioner is not a parent. When a community asks for help then the practitioner has a client that can be worked with. The first step is to do something that is theatrically startling. It does not matter what it is. The more playful the better. The practitioner is not asking to be taken seriously; rather the practitioner is merely trying to arouse the community from its deep sleep or trance. This action serves the same function as a loud bang.
The next thing to do is to use the startle response to open the inquiry. In this moment what, where, when, and how questions are asked. These questions orient the community to the present reality and pull the community out of its dream toward a shared desire.
Once a community is oriented to the reality of its present time, place, and purpose the next task is to face the demons that it used rest to escape. Here the practitioner should ask the community what feeling it was trying to avoid. Often the feeling is one or more of these: fear, shame, or sadness. The task here is to work through that feeling that has chased the community into its cave.
Now that the emotional to-do work has been identified and begun, the community should ask its critics to help it test reality. All communities fall into collective trances now and again and need to listen to its critics to be sure that it is getting reengaged with reality as it is.
The next task is to get to work. The community is now awake, oriented, critiqued and prepared to face its demons. Probably some change is required. It could be a change in behavior, community norms or community goals. It is at this point that the community gets on with its job; whatever it has discovered that job to be, as it emerged from its deep rest/trance.
More than any other emotion disgust forms a community’s values and protects it from ingesting poison. Community leaders point where they want the community to look and ask for collective expressions of disgust. This emotional tool is most clearly used during wartime. At such times disgusting pejorative names are created for the enemy.
In American history one example of this is President Roosevelt’s speech when he announced that Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States was at war with Japan. He began his speech with words to arouse the nation’s disgust toward its enemy. The words were: “This day shall live in infamy.”
In movies disgust is often portrayed as a source of evil (which it can be). The movies we are talking about are often aimed at a teenage audience. American Graffiti is probably the classic of this genre, but Elvis Presley movies or any movie that is the vehicle for a teen heartthrob are also examples of this. Basically the movie uses some moralistic, overprotective librarian or overzealous school principal who uses disgust inappropriately toward the energetic, sexually aroused, but basically good teenagers. The protagonist makes the point that these teenagers have good hearts when he saves the day. They have been misunderstood by the patronizing overprotective moralists that are misusing the emotion of disgust. The teenagers in these movies were the truly moral people fighting the evil overly moralistic disgust.
Disgust for our purposes is combined with contempt. The survival function of these two emotions is to avoid poison or contamination. This could be from eating or touching or from emotional poison or social contamination. These emotions are basically offensive and intended to harm or reject. The human object of these emotions is meant to feel shame.
Darwin defined disgust as “something revolting, primarily in relation to the sense of taste . . . and, secondarily, to anything that causes a similar feeling through the sense of smell touch or eyesight,” (The expression of the emotions in man and animals, 1872, p. 65, p. 253). Tomkins (1963) used similar words but placed more emphasis on interpersonal intimacy. He said disgust is “recruited to defend the self against psychic incorporation or any increase in intimacy with a repellant object” (The expression of the emotions in man and animals, p. 233).
The survival function of disgust/contempt is to protect the body from poison, disease, or infection. It can be elicited by food, body products, associations to sex, death, or hygiene. Evolution in humans has expanded disgust from the biological functions to include moral and social functions. It serves to protect the soul and the social order as well as the body. Strangers to the community, people who do not fit the community standards, those considered undesirable and offenses considered by the community to be immoral can also elicit a community’s disgust.
As humans evolved, so did disgust. What is now considered disgusting varies with the culture. In American most people were disgusted by President Clinton’s sexual behavior. In France this same behavior was considered of little consequence. Prime Minister Chirac’s mistress often presided at public ceremonies in his place.
Douglas (1966) implied that disgust is our reaction to something out of bounds or in the wrong place. Though disgust has made every list of emotions, it is not present in monkeys. It appears to be a distinguishing feature of the human species, (Chevaliar-Skolnikoff, 1973).
The biological purpose of disgust/contempt is to discriminate among tastes. This emotion protects a community from what it judges to be a source of contamination, disease or poison. Disgust warns a community to get away from, not eat, wash our hands after, touch with a stick rather than with its member’s hands. While the evolutionary base of disgust/contempt centers around food, it is used symbolically to express our negative judgment and rejection of things that the community disapproves of.
The expression used to express disgust mimics the expression that automatically comes with nausea. The mouth wrinkles as the upper lip is raised the lower lip and tongue protrude.
The expression of contempt varies slightly. The nose goes up in the air, as if withdrawing from an offensive odor. One corner of the mouth is raised while the other is lowered. Thus, the sneer of contempt.
The Intelligence of Disgust/Contempt
We would speculate that disgust/contempt is highly intelligent. Located in the highly evolved front of the brain (Davidson, 1992), it is one of the last emotions to evolve in humans. To be disgusted or contemptuous, we must discriminate or logically evaluate the source of the distaste or nausea. We need our intellect to make the discriminations and judgments that are part of disgust/contempt.
The Negative Consequences of Disgust/Contempt
Izard (1972) first conceptualized what he called the “hostility triad” of emotions. He identified these as contempt, anger, and disgust. These three emotions when viewed by an uninterested observer may be considered the three most unattractive emotions. Most of us are repelled by the person expressing these feelings. That is the point of the person expressing the hostility triad, of course, to push away or intimidate someone into leaving and submitting. But in addition to frightening and shaming their object, these emotions repel the observer as well.
Disgust/contempt is the basis of all kinds of discrimination and prejudice. These emotions entitled Hitler to attempt to eliminate the Jews and Americans to exterminate Indians or hold slaves. It is the basis of wars and social hatred.
Communities can become infected with too much disgust acting as if it had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. This was what happened in Spain and other Catholic countries during the Inquisition. This is what happened in the beginnings of the founding of the American colonies with the Salem witch trials. These were examples of communities trying to cleanse themselves of social and moral dangers.
Disgust/contempt tends to give permission to anger, thus releasing behavior motivated by our least intelligent emotion. This can result in inappropriate behavior and poor judgment.
Disgust projected outward onto others by a community can be a product of the community’s feelings of shame that it refuses to face. Such intense repressed shame projected on to others can produce a multitude of ill-advised, mean and pathological behaviors. An example of this may be the Afghanistan Taliban’s demonizing of the West, because they are ashamed of how they treat women.
Positive Consequences of Disgust
The negative consequences of disgust are so pernicious that it is difficult for us as community psychologists to complete the task of providing a balanced picture of disgust. But it is important that community psychologists recognize the good that disgust does for a community as well. Disgust is the basis of moral values and human rights. Without disgust we would not have laws or respect for human dignity.
The function of the emotion, disgust, is to teach right from wrong, good from bad, kindness from evil. Disgust/contempt has many parallels with how religion often is regarded in our culture. Religion is criticized as being the basis of wars, religious hatred, and intolerance. Yes, of course, this is true, just as it is true about disgust/contempt. But religion is also responsible for teaching love, compassion, kindness, and tolerance. This too is true about disgust/contempt. It can be a force for good as well as bad. Its effect depends on how we use it.
On the political right, Bill Bennett wrote a book called The Death of Outrage (1998), advocating that we should be intolerant, disgusted by, and contemptuous of certain behavior displayed by President Clinton. From a leftist point of view, Bennett’s judgment was termed “sexual McCarthyism,” or evil and dangerous witch-hunting intolerance.
This debate can be compared to the problem that every community has in trying to determine what is right. A community needs to have disgust for dangerous drugs, cheating, corruption and violence.
Disgust is one of two emotions that are essential to discernment and judgment. The other emotion is desire. When a community puts its wants in tension with its disgust it provides a framework for making judgments. Desire represents the emotion that reflects the community’s likes, what it is attracted to. Disgust represents a community’s emotions when it is repulsed by things or behaviors. What would a community be without the tension between these emotions? If a community was without disgust there would be no basis for discerning right from wrong, no values, no definition of what a community stands for.
As with the other emotions, all emotions resolve disgust. Some emotions lead a community from disgust to ruin. Other emotions lead a community to health and well being. Anger usually multiplies and adds to disgust/contempt. It rarely diminishes it. Fear might repress disgust. But it only keeps it below the surface. The energy that comes from anger and disgust united can bring the joy of victory. But this joy will only institutionalize disgust and entitle a community to continue feeling it. Joy and disgust together become ridicule.
Shame is the emotion most closely associated with disgust. It is the emotion disgust attempts to make its object feel (and usually that is someone else). But it works the other way as well. If a community uses disgust to judge others and discovers that it wrongly judged them or the community loses some battle to its enemy, shame will resolve its disgust. This is not a pleasant outcome.
Sadness is a leveling emotion. It will resolve disgust by reminding the community of its loses. Life is full of loses and a community must face its loses.
Shame and sadness are effective resolves for disgust, but the best resolution to disgust is surprise followed by interest. Disgust gives a community certainty and confidence that it is in the right. When a community resolves disgust with surprise it finds an antidote to rigid certainty. Surprise begins inquiry. Inquiry opens the community to wonder. If surprise is followed by desire then the energy that comes from desire is combined with the energy that comes from surprise to create curiosity. Curiosity leads a community to investigate reality which brings a community new information. New information will solidify good community values and help a community find appropriate uses for its disgust.
Treating Community Disgust
Treating a community’s disgust can first require treating its toxic shame. When disgust comes from a community’s repressed shame, disgust will not be transformed until the shame can be processed into a healthy emotional resolve. (See shame section).
Some communities may refuse to use its disgust to form judgments. The community’s passivity can open it to follow the assertiveness of other communities, e.g., Austria allying with Germany in World War II.
The consequence of the community’s passiveness and the trouble that comes from it can become the community’s teacher. The community psychology practitioner’s job is to help this community learn from its pain. Once again the healthy resolve of shame becomes the best resource.
For the community that finds disgust and judgment too easily the job of the practitioner is to teach tolerance. The first step in teaching tolerance is to help a community clearly record its defining principles and values.
Use these values to create boundaries of where the community belongs and where it does not, using these values as a basis to make judgments. The community should use these values to make judgments about itself. These judgments should apply only to itself.
The practitioner should help the community commit itself to apply its judgments only to itself and not to other people or people outside the community. When a judgment is made it should be made public so that it can be examined and critiqued.
These steps should lead to tolerance. The community will find it easier keep opinions to itself, so that impulsive community judgmental disgust is not misapplied.
The exercise in learning and practicing tolerance is not useful to all communities. It is useful for communities who tend to use their disgust to be cruelly judgmental. Tolerance for torture, slavery, censorship, and other human rights violations that are disgusting for the whole human community should not be encouraged.
Compassion: The Community Psychologists Emotional Master Key*
Each emotion can resolve their sibling emotions, some to the good and some not. Compassion is almost a healthy resolve to all emotions.
Consider the legacy of the Marshall Plan. After World War II, General George Marshall was put in charge of the Allied Forces occupying Germany and Western Europe. President Truman supported Marshall’s plan to rehabilitate Europe. The plan was simple. Instead of treating Germans as a disgusting people who owed the world for the damage caused by the War, as had been done after World War I, the Marshall Plan was to help Germany restore its infrastructure by spending money to rebuild its roads,
communication systems, water plants and their democracy. The plan was to respect the dignity of the German people and to have compassion for their suffering. General McAuthur followed a similar plan in Japan.
The legacy of the United States national compassion for its enemies is two strong allies and trading partners. And that is important to note. But perhaps even more important is the legacy of honor and pride the United States has over conquering its national impulse for vengeance. The United States can rightly see itself because of the Marshall and McAuthur plans as the nation that helped bring peace, compassion and democracy to the world. The United States has a right to be proud of this part of its history.
For the purpose of a community psychology practitioner compassion is probably the practitioner’s most important tool. In American history one of the best examples of a community psychologist at work is Eleanor Roosevelt. As first lady Ms. Roosevelt had no formal power or authority. Her power was her attention. Where she went, what she saw and heard, the media went, saw, and heard too.
When she went to the coal miners of West Virginia the media followed. As she listened to the coal miner’s stories of danger, disaster and black lung disease, the media heard that too. As she went down in the mines to see the difficult and dangerous working conditions of miners the media came along. Eleanor Roosevelt used her visibility to awaken her nation’s conscience to the poverty of Appalachia, to the racial discrimination in the South, to the powerless position of women in the United States.
The example of Eleanor Roosevelt as a hard working woman served as a role models for the women, who during World War II left their domesticity and went to work in industry.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s main tools were her eyes, ears and presence that she used to offer compassion to her fellow Americans.
Compassion or empathy is being open to and allowing one’s self to experience the feelings that another or others are feeling. Compassion does not require giving remedies or solving problems, although these may come later as a result of compassion. Compassion requires listening, understanding and caring how others feel. In this process the person giving compassion tries on the feelings of the other and as much as possible feels these feelings with the other. If the compassion is real it will move the heart and possibly teach the person giving compassion information that can inform changes in the way she behaves and responds in the future.
Evidence that one is feeling compassion comes when the giver of compassion uses the same language as the other or uses metaphorical language that describes the feeling at an even deeper level than what has yet to be said. After listening attentively, the most important product of compassion are words like, “If I understand I would feel just like you do, if I were you. Your feelings make sense of me.” Compassion includes listening, reflecting and validating.
The Negative Consequences of Compassion
There are few negative consequences of compassion if compassion is truly given. Compassion can be confused with sympathy. Compassion as sympathy can have a great deal of negative consequences. Sympathy uses the same emotional neurological reflex to merge with the feelings of another, but sympathy contains a defense that protects the giver of sympathy from completely emotionally merging. Sympathy has a distancing detaching defense that reminds the sympathy giver that she is not the other person. “Thank God I’m not you.” Sympathy provides a superior position to the sympathy giver with words like, “Poor thing, I feel sorry for you.” This can easily be heard by the one receiving the sympathy as, “I’m glad I’m not you. I’m glad I’m better than you.” Or “I’m sorry you are so stupid as to feel the way you do.”
The reason people tend to use sympathy rather than compassion is that they are afraid that merger will mean a loss of self. It is easy to confuse compassion with giving in to the other or letting go of one’s own needs and feelings and taking on another’s.
Some people do put aside their feelings for others never to return to their own. This creates conditions for an abusive relationship. When this happens it is certainly a negative consequence of compassion.
When compassion is seen as merger and loss of self it is easy to think that the compassion giver must be held accountable as a problem solver. If these misconceptions of compassion were true then one would need the protection and distance that sympathy gives the sympathy giver.
Though compassion is a natural reflex there are times when merging with another’s feelings is unwelcome, unwanted and inappropriate. An example of this is when one’s friend is sad from a serious painful loss. Even though the friend is sad she must appear in a public role as master of ceremonies at a club meeting. The minute the person sees her friend she feels the strong feelings of sadness that she knows that her friend feels and begins to cry. Tears can stimulate the friend’s tears and the friend who has a task to perform does not welcome this compassion.
Respect and boundaries are important to finding the appropriate time and place to give compassion.
The Positive Consequences of Compassion
Some people are confused about compassion. It does not mean giving in to get along. If one cares, which is part of compassion, what good is compassion?
Compassion that is not sympathy is such a simple way of connecting with others. It is a natural reflex that happens in the brain whether the person wants to feel compassion or not. In fact it takes thought to turn compassion off. Because of the ease of merging with another’s feelings compassion is a universal social tool. It instantly connects us in ways that words and language by themselves cannot.
When one is stuck in an emotion and receives compassion from another (“I see what you feel. I would feel the same way if I were you. Your not crazy for feeling that way.”) It opens that person to moving on to another emotion just as a key opens a lock. The reason for this is that feelings happen in the brain before the person understands why she feels them. Sometimes it seems that feelings are irrational. All humans are afraid that their feelings will not make sense to others and that they may be considered crazy for feeling as they do. When people are offered compassion, then they do not have to defend their feelings. As their defenses come down they are open to feeling the next feeling that occurs to them and they can move on in the emotional flow.
It is clear how the receiver benefits from being given compassion. What is not so obvious is how the giver of compassion benefits from giving compassion. It can be easily agreed that the giver is then the object of the compassion when they are hurt. But that is not the only positive consequence of being the compassion giver. Earlier we discussed how giving compassion activate new parts and new neurohormones in the brain. If the giver of compassion coincidently needs a resolve in her own emotional knot (without discovering a healthy emotional resolve to this stuck emotional place), the compassion giver finds herself with a new emotion and newly activated brain structures and neurohormones simply by seeing another’s feelings and feeling those feelings herself.
When people give compassion they move out of their self-absorbed focus and feel new feelings that comes from those around them. Being willing to care about others and become emotionally a part of a community will, in and of itself, keep their emotional flow healthy.
This could be the reason that social networks are such positive influences on our health. This could be why sociable single women are so much healthier than socially incompetent, divorced males. These women have a greater capacity for empathy and social connection (Antonucci, Lansford and Sherman, 1998).
In the previous section about negative consequences of compassion we discussed the potential loss of self that can be part of compassion. But just as compassion is a natural human reflex, so to is looking out for the self and being aware of what we feel. It is a great thing about compassion that we do not have to do anything but listen, understand and validate the feeling of another. That in itself is a great gift.
Once that is done people naturally return to their own feelings just as the human body naturally floats up to the top of the water after a dive in the lake. If the person who just received compassion is interested they can ask about how the giver of compassion feels or the giver can ask for a time to be listened to and understood. The feelings that the former giver of compassion has are never exactly the same as the person who formally received the compassion. People can always have access to their own feelings and needs when they want to express them. People never lose this. In fact they have to work hard to ignore themselves.
Mastering Compassion as a Community Psychologist
In the previous sections we had parallel topics of resolving (whatever emotion) followed by treating (whatever community emotion). Here that is not necessary because rarely does one want to resolve compassion. Sometime when compassion givers are fatigued they will need to resolve compassion with rest. Sometimes people or communities who are lost in compassion may need help reawakening their awareness of their own feelings and needs. There may be times when the practitioner must help the sympathy giver learn to become a compassion giver instead. But other than these refinements of the basic instinct of compassion, there is very little to do in resolving compassion.
The primary challenge that compassion poses for a community psychologist is to learn how to use compassion as an intervention tool. The first step in giving compassion is to give one’s attention, to listen and understand. Of course a practitioners can use their physical presence to demonstrate that they are and have been listening. This is an essential skill for any practitioner, learning how to be truly present.
In addition to this the community psychology practitioner has research skills that can be used compassionately to listen and understand. Asking questions in the form of a research tool can give the community a powerful voice to say what it feels and thinks. A community psychologist can listen by studying data and crunching numbers.
One of the primary questions that any practicing community psychologist should be asking is what is the quality of life of the community? This question can be answered by qualitative listening or by studying social indicators or by following community members as they move through their community settings and evaluating the support that community settings give to members.
There are many ways for a community psychology practitioner to listen, but none of them will be useful unless the community sees that it has been listened to and understood. Practitioners cannot dismiss their community by simply saying, “I understand.” “I hear you.” “I know.” Such responses will only alienate practitioners from their client communities.
Before the community will believe that practitioners understand they must tell their communities what they understand and ask the community if they have it right. If they do not yet understand they must listen further until all agree that they understand.
This step may require a great deal of time of reporting back to the community what practitioners believe they have learned from their community. This is best done face to face, but it can be done through the media or mail or e-mail.
The next step is to help the community see that it is indeed making sense. This means validation of the community’s feelings. This is not done merely by reflecting what the practitioner has heard, this is done by adding meaning and artistry to what the community psychology practitioner has heard. The community psychologist has an advantage over individual practitioners here. Community psychologists can bring research to bear here and can bring information that their scholarship has discovered to add to their own research and to their community’s sense of what it feels is happening. Putting together a clear picture of reality that validates a community’s experience is perhaps the community psychology practitioner’s greatest resource to a community. This validation creates a basis for action. It unifies and justifies the steps that the community takes to act on its feelings.
The final step for the practitioners is to get out of the way. After the validation occurs the community is ready to act. In the acting, doing phase the community psychologist should disappear and let the community get back to being the active engaged community that it wanted to be.
This concludes our argument that community psychologists have a great deal to learn from psychology. The individual practitioner often sees herself as working on the community one person at a time. Most of us who work at the individual and family level see the same dynamics at the community level. The mayor and council members are often similar to a dysfunctional family. The newspaper reporter serves as the only potential therapeutic voice.
We wish for another professional role that can nurture a community. We hope that you might someday fill that role.
* Part of the loyalty oath to the Duluth model that it is assumed that battering is an all male disease. New data from other countries indicate that women resort to domestic violence more than men. Women hit more frequently during domestic disputes then men, but their blows do not do the physical damage of the blows from men
* Yvonne Aggazarian considers her fork-in-the-road technique to be much more complex and involved than the version I offer here. For a more complete rendition of her ideas see her 1997 book, Systems-Centered Therapy for Groups. Guilford Press.
* Yvonne Aggazarian considers her fork-in-the-road technique to be much more complex and involved than the version I offer here. For a more complete rendition of her ideas see her 1997 book, Systems-Centered Therapy for Groups. Guilford Press.
*Earlier we noted that many people see important distinctions between shame and guilt. For us here they mean the same thing and have the same neurological correlates.
*Synonyms for surprise are startle, wonder, awe, and confusion.
*We use compassion and empathy as synonyms.