There are so many superstitions in our midst. One may be that we are free, free and independent. After all we celebrate Independence Day on Saturday or Friday — or on Sunday — or whichever day is right for grilling.
For some time, I’ve had as a theme in my work the notion of moving “from superstition to surprise”. We can’t be all that free if in fact superstition rules us — certainly if we hide this fact even from any awareness. And the fact that many of us are consumed by religions that center on assumptions that to everything there is a blame, and that the end of all endings has been predicted and choreographed already, will make it hard for us to prepare for many surprises. By “surprises” I mean only that we might not know in advance the answers to some important questions, we may not yet know how our children or theirs will “turn out” and so on. To stand by science is actually to adhere to the validity of surprises, to the importance of learning from mistakes and to realizing that our hypotheses may have been themselves mistaken.
According to Merriam Webster among the meanings for superstition are the following: “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation, 2. a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary”
The thing about superstitions is that if we are convinced of them widely, people in power may only have to echo them when they make big decisions or dictums that regard us. If many people have already “decided” that to wear a mask during the pandemic is unmanly and weak, President Trump’s decision not to wear one may be accurate if only that it mirrors that notion, that superstition.
I grew up with the family game of “Whose Fault is it Anyway?” It was not at the time a television show and alas (at least for me) the only stars were members of my family. The notion was that to every single thing there was a blame, starting from the common cold. It could be blamed by my mother on the pickle I had eaten that Tuesday, and on and on and on. Indirectly but fiercely, it/she was blaming the cold on me, since I had done the eating.
Recently, in fact, I mentioned to a colleague that it felt to me that I was actually raised by Donald Trump, albeit with a Jewish accent — and this more figuratively than literally. I shared that I had been recently realizing just how much we — all of us — have this in common, the superstitions rather than having been raised by the president. In other words for all of us, it seems, superstition can be a raging phenomenon without our even realizing it. And then I had the thought, “What if Trump is playing to the superstitions that many of us already have, that are either obvious and blatant or latent, right beneath the surface?
What if we are more superstitious than we know, less mindful than we imagine, particularly if we reckon ourselves to be above the fray of some of the chaos and even trauma of the human condition? What if, as one example, we are not so independent as individuals and as a nation? And what if the goal is wrong to begin with, namely what if we are supposed to — in becoming more mature and more aware and more honest — become increasingly humble and interdependent, as in, you know, we are all connected.
Since in November as of now a Presidential Election is scheduled, we just might want to try to decipher as best we can our own superstitions that might be played more cunningly and strategically than we might like, unless we have greater awareness — with help to get there as well. Paranoid, you say? Well, I think not.
To push this notion further, we might very well already be addicted to blame so that to every single thing, good or bad, we expect to attribute or to have attributed, blame and punishment, punishment or paradise. In fact, many religions have what I think of as “futuristic genocide”, something not very nice especially when it comes from people who claim to love you. Guilt is different because when its raison d’et-re is not poisoning a person’s digestive tract and nothing more, a person can realize the error of our (or their) ways, and potentially shift position. Blame is not the same as responsibility and reparations, because with harshness and shame alone, as in the harshness of blame for blame’s sake, people usually don’t mend a thing; or they do so and take it all back.
People in the field of collective trauma, are wont to say that we come into a world already traumatized. A good deal of what we take for granted in terms of customs and laws and habits and even preaching, is not always based on health or on intelligence or on wisdom or even on freedom, but yes, on superstition as it turns out.
Today, I was reflecting on trauma in my own life. I have thought before that people without awareness of their own emotional pain, can seem shallow, as in them the sadness of living does not seem to complement, to inform — to deepen — their sunniness. Today the words that came up from inside me were: “With trauma, life hit you at a deeper angle and you had to come to meet it.” I realized then that for me this meant that if we realize we have trauma in our midst and inside us, we might feel less a need to be (or fantasize that we are) exceptional, either by individual entitlement or by national identity.
On a personal level, I find that it can be hard to use this awareness to gauge and respect the other people in our lives, with other experiences and other interpretations of their own experiences. And it takes practice in any case. As Fred Rogers wrote (and I learned this from listening with my own children) “You have to learn your trade; Everything takes practice” (From the song “Everything Takes Practice”). It is a practice to be sure and often can be a spotty one, but Mr. Rogers came into my mind and heart and I’d like to keep him there for a while.
Some empathy, along with the recognition that the other person or people can have a different experience than we are having, can for some of us be easier with a baby or small child. When we have a new opportunity to be giving, to another but in a way that also nourishes us, it can feel rather divine. Whereas being told we don’t “get” something by a partner or a spouse or someone of another race and other circumstances, can be rougher. This is so when we are sensitive, also because it can make us feel cut or ragged and ashamed, as it makes us come face to face with the ways in which we are lacking.The self-examination we may well need to do this, can be painful as we face our own lacks and lapses, along with the sorrow that comes with real regret and remorse.
Those of us who may have just begun to realize how much mythology we have swallowed about American spoken ideals and American history, including our “independence”, have so much work to do. Learning or re-learning about the price that people and peoples had to pay for these myths, with their dignity and often with their lives, is something we cannot afford to insist on not knowing. We have work to do if we aim to be loyal to our integrity at the very least. And if we hope to have any chance of real dialogue about our future.
#Independence Day #Donald Trump #Slavery #Empathy #Mr. Rogers