by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
I once went to a lecture by the famous linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky. Mr. Chomsky was brilliant and convincing and…just completely depressing.
His detailed analyses of just how hell-bound our nation’s hand basket was were a great lesson. Not in the way he meant it to be though.
The lesson for me was that alarming information, while attention-grabbing and strangely importance-bestowing (and what aging generation has NOT enjoyed the sweet-sour nostalgia flavor of condemning its youth?), does not motivate positive behavior.
After the lecture the departing audience turned to one another and morosely proposed getting drunk. Why not? If it’s all too late, and our collective Titanic is ocean-floor bound, why not dance the tango and smoke a good Cuban cigar in the minutes we have left?
In contrast to Mr. Chomsky’s approach, useful learning offers both information and proposes positive future actions—a.k.a.: Hope, that lovely intersection between personal activity and social contribution.
This all fits into trauma theory like a hand into a glove. Neurologically, when the amygdala and limbic system are triggered—that danger-obsessed fight-flight-freeze mechanism—and there is no solution we go into a state of dissociation (or freeze) and wait for death to come or danger to pass.
I’m thinking about the gulf oil crisis here. The news coverage, while incessant and interesting (who knew the Kremlin accidentally hit upon a more environmental way of doing business by being corrupt and controlling? NPR listeners do), often fails to remind the average person of the small but significant steps they can take to make some environmental amends.
Little things like recycling, composting, riding our bikes for short-distance errands, using reusable cloth bags when shopping, and eating less beef are relatively easy carbon footprint-reducing changes almost all of us can work into our hectic lives.
By focusing on what we CAN do and doing it, we resist falling into despondency about a bad situation we are ultimately powerless over. With the exception of the mechanical engineers/underwater welders/biosphere designers out there who may not be quite as powerless as the rest of us (good luck to you folks and drink a little extra coffee while you’re inventing the solution), let’s all choose to engage in modest contributing actions over fear-based paralysis.