Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rules of Engagement

A friend and fellow Blogger just posted an essay about how fear affects our ability to engage others in responsible interaction.  He specifically invited my response to that article.  You can find the original essay at:

I hope you will check it out.  What follows is my more detailed response.

The essay on engagement, referred to above, highlights the character of much of our American society today.  Times are tough economically for 90 – 95% of the country.  An increasing number of citizens do not know where the next meal is coming from, if it’s coming at all, or where they will lay their head in sleep tonight.  When such circumstances exist and show little sign of easing, a desperation and sense of fear begin to develop.  Fearful people may take one of several courses of action as a result.

Some will simply slink away, discouraged and feeling impotent to change their circumstances.  They are unlikely to engage with anyone because they fear their own weakness.  Some will become angry and strike out at those they blame for creating the circumstances in which they find themselves.  They are more likely to engage others sometimes violently in order to vent their frustrations and fears of greater loss.  They will find someone or some group that they can tag as responsible for their plight.

My personal religious philosophy does not include fear of God.  The God in whom I place my faith is not vengeful or punitive.  My fear, it seems to me at least, comes from my lack of understanding of my own worth.  To the degree I feel worthy my life operates with less fear.  With less fear I am more likely to engage with others and willing to listen to ideas and philosophies that differ from my own.

So, for me, engagement in and of itself is not the question.  The kind of engagement we express, the quality of our character, and our sense of personal responsibility for the quality of our lives and our society, determine whether engagement improves or diminishes our society.  It is all too clear that many Americans today are so fearful and angry that equilibrium is almost lost   Those willing to exploit our fears and rally us to find a scapegoat always seem to rise to prominence in such times.  To blindly follow such provocateurs is an abdication of personal responsibility.

To positively engage in debate, to seek to understand others, especially those whose ethnicity and cultural foundation differ from our own, can bring harmony, a deeper sense of community and a freedom from fear.


Inspector Clouseau said...

The operative word in your piece Dan is "positively." Although some have obviously figured out that negativity works on a static basis and for the short term, why people would want to dwell in the sphere for very long is beyond me. It's ultimately counter-productive and destructive.

Dan Perin said...

Absolutely. However, when conditions are especially tough and discouragement and fear set in, some may feel the need for an external "leader" who tells them who is to blame. Then they have something to fight, thus negativity is the result before they know what hit them.

Dan Perin said...

Forwarded to me by Raven.
OK Here’s my take:

Real fear of ‘engaging’ is actually fear for our survival. It is ancient, hard-wired and depending on the circumstances, can be nearly impossible to override. To think that fear of anything is a ‘sin’ is honestly one of the most absurd ideas I’ve come across in a long time. When presented with what we as humans automatically do not trust, including…strangers, people who look/talk different than we do, a new country-what we find is an true biological directive, which in most cases serves us-and our survival.

So we can also mistake culturally induced fears for REAL threats to our survival, such as- dare I say it- a new air of distrust within our own country that is being fostered and fed by media from all directions.

When fears are excited by culture, even when overblown and exaggerated, then fear will make us suspicious, isolated, and unfortunately, thereby unable to find the trustworthy and helpful people among the ‘suspects’.

We are living in a culture in which dishonesty is the norm-from the top down, a culture that is constantly becoming increasingly ‘loner’ oriented, with email and text messaging replacing face time, with computers and Wii replacing outdoor play time, and with families in which both parents MUST work-just to pay the bills. There is a good reason that we are suspicious of each other, when the nightly news focuses on the crimes, the neighborhood pedophiles, and when prime time is absolutely filled to the rafters with fear evoking crime drama’s. And sure, even though the good guys usually ‘win’, we are left with a culture of fear in which even at the airports we hear announcements to report ‘suspicious behavior’ and have to take off our shoes to pass through security.

So YES, fear of others is definitely created and held in place by our culture and our overdependence on technology alone to solve our problems. It is only kinder, calmer, smarter people than can reach out from the edges and consciously make an effort to touch the lives of those who have become irrationally afraid. Rather than criticize and condemn the fearful people, perhaps a better course would be to offer a hand-repeatedly-until the fearful can realize that they are being offered kindness rather than a backhanded slap.

Raven Dana
Stress Wizard Coaching

Inspector Clouseau said...


I'm glad that I came back and took another look at this, in order to view the comment of Raven Dana.

I am in absolute agreement regarding the hard-wiring aspect of fear. All of the comments about survival are absolutely appropriate.

However, we also know that a different part of the brain kicks in during EXTREME SITUATIONS when humans need to survive. To suggest that we should not try to consciously override fear, especially in situations which are not life threatening, is an interesting position for someone to take.

It's as if we're providing people with a reason or justification for their fearful behavior in a civilized society.

There are very few things which the typical American citizen encounters on a daily basis in a typical city which should trigger the fear factor. We usually know in advance if we are about to approach a dangerous situation, and avoid it, or take steps to protect ourselves.

Why should someone standing in an elevator with 13 others, during the day time, in a busy office building, be fearful of engaging anyone in that elevator in a conversation? If they were out in the jungle, it might be different.

I believe that you previously read our piece entitled, "Racism, While Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function." We argued that racism has biological / genetic and survival underpinnings. In fact, we further argued that by understanding that, we might be able to craft some different approaches and solutions to racism.

The same analogy applies to fear.

We're sorry that Dana chose to view our suggestion for a new construct to be "absurd." But then again, folks are entitled to their opinion, and can engage in making subjective evaluations if they feel that it works for them.

We can always use more positive approaches to problems.

Dan Perin said...

Thanks, Inspector, for the continuing dialogue. It seems to me that from the interplay of opinions we can find a path that satisfies our own needs for positive resolution. While I may not speak to anyone in a crowded elevator, I might in the jungle situation if my life depended on it. Hmmmm. Maybe swe should move to the jungle for awhile.

Raven Dana said...

From Raven Dana--
Clouseau wrote about my comment: “To suggest that we should not try to consciously override fear, especially in situations which are not life threatening, is an interesting position for someone to take.”

That is not the 'position' I took, but see that it is your interpretation of what I wrote. So.. actually, the body does not distinguish between 'real' threat and an imagined one, so only in EXTREME immediate threat do we engage that part of the brain that triggers pure unconscious survival reaction, ALL the rest of the time whether the survival fear is imagined or not the fear reaction is the same. My point is this:...understanding the fear-and having compassion for the fearful, not 'justifying' the fear... not making the fearful wrong... not assuming/imagining that fearful people actually understand their own fearfulness and ‘should’ resist the fear...seems to me to be a more useful place to come from.

Inspector Clouseau said...

Dan and Raven:

It, once again, appears that my less than artful use of the English language, and less than coherent organization and lack of structure in my comment, has led to this confusion.

Let me see if I can restate my point, and make it clearer. As a general proposition, I see no reason why people, on a day-to-day basis in civilized society, should be afraid of one another, particularly if it is broad daylight and there are many other people in the vicinity.

To avoid affirmative interaction with those who are different from us, or who have different views, deprives us of an opportunity to learn something new, and work in a collaborative fashion to society's long term positive benefit.

Dan Perin said...

Inspector & Raven: Nice discussion in which you each have good points. I am not sure I see a lack of clarity as much as perhaps viewing from a different perspective. Maybe my comment here is a cop out in terms of wanting you both to "win!" --NOT!