The Ukraine and Kansas University

*This post contains quotes which have strong language. Just thought you should know.*

     Recently, KCUR (Kansas Public Radio) did a story on a professor that was fired from Kansas University for expressing a view that was in conflict with the views of KU. Please click HERE for that story. Leading up to that story, KCUR asked people to chime in on their own opinion concerning firing people for expressing views that are not compatible with the views of the employer. It was surprising to see how many people felt it was fine for schools or corporations to maintain a “media policy” that prevents their employees from expressing dissident voices; even on personal or private pages.
     It would be unfair to compare the firing of one professor to the current struggle and protests in the Ukraine. While the issues are very different, what interested me is the response of those in power to the protests of others. The Ukrainian president recently passed laws outlawing the gathering of people in order to protest. If a protester did register for one of these events, they received a text stating they were in violation of the recently passed law. Bypassing the Orwellian implications of receiving electronic notifications on something you haven’t even done yet, does anyone else see a similarity between what happened to this KU professor and what is happening to the Ukrainian people?
     Being kept quiet can happen through various means. In the Ukraine it is happening through threats, imprisonment, violence, and electronic tracking. In other countries, like North Korea, the control is more overt and the media is clearly a mouthpiece for the government. It can also be more subtle. In countries where advertising and media are prevalent, the fight can be so subtle we are unaware we are losing.
     In the 2011 movie, Detachment, Adrien Brody plays a teacher (who probably plays the piano). Speaking to his class he says this about the “Marketing Holocaust”:

     “Examples of lies in society: I need to be pretty to be happy. I need surgery to be pretty. I need to be thin, famous, fashionable. Our young men, today, are being told that women are whores. Bitches. Things to be screwed. Beaten. Shit on. Shamed. This is a marketing holocaust. Twenty-four hours a day for the rest of our lives, ‘the powers that be’ are hard at work dumbing us to death. So, to defend ourselves and fight against assimilating this dullness into our thought processes, we must learn to read. To stimulate our own imagination. To cultivate our own consciousness. Our own belief systems. We all need these skills to defend…to preserve our minds.”

This message is not new. Fight Club expressed a similar message, albeit with a slightly darker and nihilistic response. The Matrix is an allegory for this message that “the powers that be” want us to remain docile, calm, quiet, and forever pursuing the status quo which “they” conveniently create. If this is beginning to sound a bit paranoid, go to the Ukraine and enjoy a quiet and peaceful protest. For a less dramatic approach, why not try going shopping while asking yourself why you like the clothes you like.
     This is not a blanket excuse to be an unmitigated argumentative pain in the neck. Part of being mature and learning to exercise love is to be sensitive and appropriate. However, that does not allow institutions, in any form they may take, to silence our voices. An offense even worse than trying to silence a voice is trying to replace it. To require others say, through their actions or their voice, that everything is fine, when everything is not fine, is to deny them their humanity for our own comfort. If we are honest with ourselves, the reason we seek uniformity and conformity is to avoid the discomfort that comes with difference.
     As I tweeted to KCUR, firing someone for expressing a dissident voice is tantamount to eradicating autonomy in the name of peace; it is self-defeating. When we ask people not to disagree with our beliefs, our policies, or our motives, we deny ourselves opportunities for growth. When our insistence on being right outstrips our desire for relationship, our rightness no longer matters.

*UPDATE* I was informed by KCUR via Twitter that the professor from KU has not been fired and instead is on administrative leave. Here is an article from the Huff Post about his supension.

Everything Is Great No Mouth
Everything Is Great
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2014


Anxiety or Fear?

“I define anxiety as the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self.” ~ Rollo May (Psychology & The Human Dilemma, 1996, p. 72)

     Who would have thought that amongst the dust bunnies and forgotten Army men there existed a demonic force that no one would dare challenge. At least, no one under the age of 5. It would disappear when adults looked for it. Later, a movie with Fred Savage taught me that they really just turned into clothes, but I was unaware these powers existed at the time. The emotion was palatable in the darkness of night and, if I listened closely, the sound of breathing would be the only thing to comfort me. Once, it sent a minion out and as it scurried across my floor I screamed. Not ashamed to admit it, I screamed like a little girl. Father came rushing in, scanned the room, looked at me, and asked what happened. My mind rushed to create a logical explanation, otherwise the existence of the minion may be completely in question. What, in the real world, is black and scurries soundlessly across the floor and is about the size of a coffee mug? There’s only one obvious answer and you’ve probably beat me to it: Tarantula.

      I explained to my father that a giant tarantula had scurried across my floor. He looked at me, and managed to hold it together for a good thirty seconds before his expression of concern cracked and became laughter. He explained that it was “probably” just a mouse and he would buy some traps the next day. Fine by me. Mouse traps would probably work on giant tarantula’s, right? Of course!
      So, here’s the question: What was 5 year old me feeling? To whit; is there a difference between anxiety and fear? In The Courage to Be, a book often referenced by May, Paul Tillich draws clear, and perhaps arbitrary, distinctions between multiple forms of anxiety. However, one thing they both agree on is this: Anxiety is the fear of “no thing”. Kierkegaard calls it, “the dizziness of freedom” (i.e., potential). For me, that is distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear has a clear and distinct source: A lion about to pounce, a car swerving into my lane, emotional distance of a spouse. To quote Tillich, “Fear and anxiety are distinguished but not separated. They are immanent within each other: The sting of fear is anxiety, and anxiety strives toward fear.”
     The concept that “anxiety strives towards fear” is crucial. As a 5 year old lay in his bed, imagining monsters waiting to destroy him, a mouse running across the floor was the object upon which I projected my anxiety. Today, I’m trying to learn how to sit with my anxiety, but I doubt I’ll ever master that ability. People aren’t designed to exist in a nearly constant state of anxiety. If you don’t believe me, get some history on your neurotic friends; you’re going to find a great deal of anxiety. I always want to know why I’m feeling anxious, not simply that I’m feeling anxious. However, I have gotten better at realizing when my anger is misplaced fear/anxiety and it helps me realign my priorities and consider my actions in a new context.
    In other words, there have been times where my wife, my friends, my coworkers were just mice going along their way when I projected the fear of under-the-bed-monsters onto them. Then, trying to make sense of my irrational fears made real, I tried to think of a logical way to explain my anger with them: they must be tarantulas (things that I know exist and/or have seen/experienced in the past). However, understanding what I have projected onto others, my own transference and countertransference is a crucial step in being able to begin to know if how I perceive other people is more or less accurate. In other words, are my feelings for the other person based more on our interactions or on my presuppositions and projections? If the former is the case, then I can begin developing a genuine and authentic relationship. If it is the latter, then I am in a relationship with myself more than the other and most attempts to work on difficulties in the relationship will be for naught because the difficulties may lie more in myself than the other.
     What do you think? Are the terms “anxiety” and “fear” merely synonyms or are there real, meaningful differences?

(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2013

Less is More, or Less.

     “This is an age of cheapness. Get it as cheaply and as quickly as you can, with just as little cost and tiresomeness.” ~T. Austin-Sparks.

     For my sixteenth birthday my parents got me a car. Well, I should use the term “car” pretty loosely. It was a yellow GEO metro LSI, convertible, three cylinder, mobile coffin. Still, free car! It was “fondly” referred to by other high schoolers as a roller skate. It was small. For my wife’s sixteenth birthday she, actually, I don’t know when she got her car. I do know that she had a job at 15 in order to save up for a car. She eventually bought a 1985 Camry and affectionately named it Owen. About a month into her proud ownership, the engine exploded and she put in a new one. She still had her car after we were married. I was on my third or fourth car, none of which had been named. My wife took good care of her car. I did not take good care of mine. I appreciated them, but they were just cars, nothing more. My wife’s car, on the other hand, symbolized independence, freedom, genuine ownership, blood, sweat, and tears! It was more than a car, it was a symbol.
     There was less meaning for me in my cars than for my wife. While I appreciated them as gifts and they were a symbol of my parents love for me and a celebration of my birth, I never had the same attachment to my first car as my wife had to hers. Perhaps that could be better explained in the differences between male and female. In truth, I wasn’t all that attached to my next car for which I did work. Regardless, there is something to be said for the association between sacrifice and appreciation. The word we often use for that association between sacrifice and appreciation is “work”. In Psychology and the Human Dilemma, May (1996, p. 93) makes an incredible point that as therapists, people in relationship, and humans in general, often miss, and it’s this: Not everyone wants to be well.
     Please, let that sink in for a moment and really think about it. Not everyone who is suffering wants to be at ease. Not everyone who is hurting wants to heal. Not everyone who is angry wants to be at peace. This seems, to me, to be unhealthy. It is, inherently, damaging to self and others. It goes against the very nature of my calling. To be clear, this does not refer to people who are suffering and lack the skills, mental capacity, and/or tools to become well. I am referring to people who are in dispose of the necessary and sufficient elements to become well, and then, at some level, make the decision to remain as they are while knowing there are other options.
     May (ibid, p. 95), writes that, “sickness is precisely the method that the individual uses to preserve [their] being”. The neurosis, mental illness, or whichever myriad way the sickness manifests, it is there for a reason and has become a part of the person and they will cling to it like an addict. Yalom urges therapists to avoid the “crooked cure” (Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapist and their Patients, 2001, p. 102 ). In the entire chapter, he never explicitly defines what a crooked cure is, merely how to avoid it. However, what I think it may mean is that “giving” someone the answer to their problems instead of helping them “work” to get their own answer, can merely become substituting one neurosis for another. No genuine or authentic change has happened. Spoon feeding solutions often provides no real solutions at all. My car transported me just as well as my wife’s car transported her, but her car came with a heaping helping of earnest work and pride in accomplishment. Mine should have come with a helmet.
     Now, there is nothing wrong with giving gifts, I am still grateful for their generosity, and we should all be able to accept acts of love from others with appreciation and humility. If you want to buy your child’s first car, go for it! However, make sure, like my parents did, that they have plenty of opportunities to struggle and work for something. Otherwise, they may miss out entirely on understanding what appreciation is, what they are capable of, and what it means to earn something. And in that process of work we often discover that circumstances, our general being, and our world, can be made into something intentional and genuine. If we’re lucky, we may even learn there is nothing wrong with failing.

(c) Nathan D. Croy

Mediocre Expectations

     Kierkegaard, in Works of Love (2009, p. 246) writes that “The eternal does not even understand, it divorces itself as vanity the cleverness which speaks only about the extent to which one’s expectation has been fulfilled but does not at all consider just what the expectation was. In eternity everyone will be compelled to understand that it is not the result which determines honour and shame, but the expectation itself. Therefore, in eternity it is precisely the unloving one, who perhaps was proved right in what he [frivolously], enviously, hatefully expected for the other person, who will be put to shame — although his expectation was fulfilled”. Expectations matter. But what may be even more important than our expectation is an awareness of them and then being able to act on them authentically; genuinely.
     I remember reading a case about a man who desperately wanted a divorce, but was unable to ask his wife for one for multiple reasons. Instead, he began verbally and emotionally abusing her. It started a little at a time with passive aggressive comments about her cooking, her weight, or how long it took her to get ready. These escalated into more direct comments about who she was a person, how she was a failure, and could never make anyone happy. This went on for several months, nearly a year, before, she had an affair and left eventually left him.
     After the divorce he found himself in therapy trying to make sense of why he wasn’t happy. After several months, the therapist asked, if he could remarry his ex-wife, would he?  After thinking about it, he said no. The therapist then asked, “so, what’s the problem?” The client looked up and said, “the problem is, she left me and I was supposed to leave her.”
     These things may seem like technicalities or hair splitting, but they matter because they expose intent. If this man had been authentic and asked his wife for a divorce there would have been fighting, but there was plenty of that anyway. What he would have retained is the knowledge that he was honest; i.e., genuine because his intent was congruent with his act. And who knows, maybe a marriage could’ve been saved because both parties would know something was wrong. With his passive aggressive and inauthentic actions, his wife, and his self, were merely fighting shadows. Inauthenticity produces anxiety that takes an excessive amount of time to abate. Authenticity may produce discomfort and fear, but not anxiety. Discomfort and fear may give way to acceptance and courage. If anxiety as the byproduct of inauthentic actions, it merely conceives more anxiety.

Not me, nor I

    “So modern man was set up in an undeclared war upon himself. ‘Conquering ourselves’ of the Victorian nineteenth century became ‘manipulating ourselves’ in the twentieth. The human dilemma of subject relating to object…became perverted into the subject, ‘I’, exploiting the rest of myself, the impersonal object ‘It’. This sets up a vicious circle — one of the outcomes of which is the overflowing of our psychological clinics. The vicious circle can find relief, so long as it remains within this deteriorated form of the dilemma, only in the diminishing of the subject, that is, the reduction of consciousness. But alas! we cannot in the long run expect healing to come from applying more of the same disease we seek to cure.” ~ Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1996, p. 79)

     Read Huxley, Postman, Buber, Frankl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Fromm, or a hundred other authors who focus on the existence of individuals in relation to themselves, and a theme will emerge. Primarily, I believe, this theme is ultimately one of fear. The distraction to the point of losing one’s self that May’s quote speaks about (above) is, on the surface, a form of denial. But the question that begs to be asked is this: What is it that I’m trying so hard to deny, i.e., what am I protecting myself from? The word “protect” implies threat, and the perception of a threat is met with fear.
     Denial is fear of reality. Pride is fear of powerlessness. Envy is fear of inadequacy. Gluttony is fear of poverty. Sloth is fear of failure. There may be room to disagree with me on the particulars, but the fact is this: Fear is ever present, it is only our awareness of the fear that wanes. One point I would like to be clear on is that I do not believe each of us is under a constant threat of loss or pain in some form or another. While the existence of potential for suffering is universal, the potential for joy is just as likely.
     Here’s the challenge: Find your fear, face it. If my struggle is pride, what would it mean to be powerless? If my struggle is enviousness, what would it mean to not have “it”? Am I gluttonous? What would it mean to give something away? Am I slothful? What would it mean to try and fail? If we begin asking these questions, with trusted friends and/or professionals we may discovery a bravery that we had forgotten long ago. Begin asking the question without being so concerned with the answer, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the challenge of fear can become.