July | AUTONOMY
Article: Strange Drain: When Enough is a Communal Effort
By Tricia Stewart Shiu
“Earth Shadow” – Deuter
Autonomy (Noun) — the right or condition of self-government. In developmental psychology and moral, political, and bioethical philosophy, autonomy is the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision. Autonomous organizations or institutions are independent or self-governing. Wikipedia.
There was a time when effort put forth would achieve an outcome, but all that has changed.
Goal setting, vision mapping, missions statements, affinity diagrams, prioritization matrices, and quadrant assessments, just don’t have the same meaning they once did, not so long ago.
It’s as if our world’s sense of cause and effect has developed a slow leak, our individual and global compasses are whirling uncontrollably and we are, collectively, awakening from a long-term toxic relationship. The trouble with any abusive bond, is that it works for some people—until, of course, it doesn’t. So, while some are bumping up against the hard edges of their own tolerance of injustice, others see no issue, at all.
It is interesting that the recent glaringly inhumane events, which occurred in the US, have sparked fury around the world.
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The current global outrage has resonated on a deeply personal level for many and although the governmental structures and judicial systems created in various countries are, decidedly, not human, the emotional chords struck by the iniquity connected therein, reaches humanity at a core level.
Right on cue, art has, like a cosmic pressure valve, emerged and diverged in some unique ways. Sculptures of leaders have spontaneously been erected or toppled, overnight. Portraits of past presidents have been used as expressions of praise, in the midst of hate speech. Video has opened our eyes to actual events, versus our idealistic imaginings.
All of this is art. Every bit of horror and humanity, fury and fortitude. It is the great equalizer, healer and expression of our collective experience.
With the toppling of ideas and ideals, structures and laws, comes a very individual understanding. We, none of us, are immune to what goes on around us and if we don’t, individually do our part, we fail.
Our “part” or contribution to stopping or sealing up that “drain” comes at a cost—it’s incredibly lonely work. Sometimes, we are not surrounded by like-minded individuals and must forge ahead, doing the internal shifting and learning before our external environment catches up.
Managing a relentless personal drain, can run much deeper, than merely, becoming less complacent. In fact, that sapping of energy and adrenal overload, is a part of a much larger, far-reaching modus vivendi—learned helplessness.
“Learned helplessness is a behavior pattern involving a maladaptive response characterized by avoidance of challenges, negative affect, and the collapse of problem-solving strategies when obstacles arise,” according to an article, “What is Learned Helplessness,” which details the origins of the term and the studies that detail the psychological elements connected, therein.
Understanding and clarifying the behavioral and emotional pieces of such an overwhelming sense of helplessness, is, at the very least, the first step in moving away from being mired in pain and ending the cyclical nature of the abuse.
“Three components are necessary for learned helplessness to be present: contingency, cognition, and behavior,” the article continues.
Contingency is espoused when one connects one’s actions with an environmental or external outcome—like asking for help and receiving advocacy. In learned helplessness, contingency becomes less clear, and one’s control over the outcome is nebulous. So, after asking for help and not receiving it, or receiving negative responses to one’s pleas for help, there is nothing that truly connects the cause and effect relationship. Cognitions, are the manner in which one understands and/or explains contingency or lack of outcome. The logic one might use to explain environmental contingencies connects the final component of learned helplessness—behavior. “Thus, learned helplessness exists in a situation in which there is no observable contingency and in which one expects that this uncontrollability will continue and behaves accordingly, such as by quitting.”
The systematic oppression of individuals and groups is directly related to learned helplessness, which is slowly showing up just as global atrocities are being spotlighted.
After all, not everyone is on the same page. When we speak up for ourselves over abuses we experienced in the past and are currently experiencing—even if everyone can’t fully comprehend or see them—and our pleas go unanswered and unheard, we experience a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.
We as individuals and as a global community are at a fork in the road. The choice to give up, in the face of adversaries and adversarial events or to continue on with a sense of agency. The journey may not be easy and the outcome may not be immediate, but the cost of quitting could far outweigh the benefits of communal unity.
Enough, is most certainly, enough.
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