I just figured something out the other day. The reason so many people in this country feel so helpless is because they are taught, by people in power and with media access, that complaining only makes things worse. In families, we call this abuse.
When I was a kid, I had a friend whose mother was a mean woman. She said to her son, “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about!” Then she would hit him or threaten to hit him by raising her hand to him. I have since learned that this is a classic statement of abusers of all shapes and sizes. It still bothers traumatized people when they hear it years later.
In clinical terms, it’s called “overlearning” and it’s behavioral modification by giving a small problem a large — perhaps ridiculously large — response and it cements fear of being imperfect, among other things, causing anxiety and over-control of the self. It kind of goes with the sentence, “That’ll learn ya!”, and it’s effective. It also leads to depression and learned helplessness in animals and people.
This kind of abuse has to be actively undone in the case of dogs who have learned they are helpless. You have to save them then teach them that they aren’t helpless in order to restore them to “normal”. I suspect it’s that way for human beings as well. If a client comes to me with this kind of experience, I explain to them that “if the stimulus (what you did) is this big and the response is THAT big, all that other stuff isn’t about you, it’s about them”.
What does this have to do with the news and the political landscape? The prime examples lately are in Florida, though they could be anywhere. In any case, they are destructive to the human spirit and thus to democracy.
Both of the clear examples right now are related to “Stand Your Ground” laws. The first case is the now infamous Trayvon Martin case. It’s bad enough that a boy is dead and the man known to have killed him is free after a huge trial. That’s bad enough for his parents. Making it worse is the fact that recently George Zimmerman (the killer) has been signing autographs lately. What is he famous for? Getting away with murder. How does he make money then? He doubles down on his “fame”. Not only has he killed an unarmed boy due to the boy’s race and his fear, he has gotten away with it, and now, he’s making money for getting away with it. Both he and the people buying from him are doubling down on his evil. If people didn’t start by thinking the legal system was against them, they probably think that now. This is heartbreaking learned helplessness. Martins parents wanted justice. They got less than that when they did and now they watch their son’s murderer prosper, so unfairness gets multiplied. That’ll learn ’em.
Also in the state of Florida is a Black woman on the other side of that law. Marissa Alexander was found guilty — despite the stand your ground laws used by Martinez when she fired a warning shot upon being threatened by her abusive boyfriend. She didn’t take his life and – though I’m sure there are more details — she was found guilty. When the Martin trial shed publicity on the case, the woman won another trial — not her freedom, mind you, but another trial. That’s bad enough. The district attorney in the case is doubling down on mean by saying if she loses this time, her sentence should be three times the first sentence — for defending herself! That’ll learn her.
To compound matters, a state representative named Matt Gaetz is now trying to restrict the press from investigating Stand Your Ground laws. That’ll learn the press for thinking they can make things right.
These are the most grievous cases I know of right now, but cases like these have been making news all the time for as many years as I can remember. People poor enough to qualify for welfare are now being asked to give drug tests to prove they aren’t ripping off the system. While some or many people on welfare are drug users, a person can be poor (and needing welfare) for a whole host of reasons — like losing a job, death of a spouse. Illness or whatever. The government is saying to them “you ask for help and we’ll make things harder on you “. That’ll learn ’em for having problems and asking for help.
Want the right to have an abortion? Not an actual abortion, but the right and facility to if you need one (Did you know the Plll doesn’t work if you have a flu and are taking anti-biotics, for instance)
— same thing.
Woman fought for years to have that right. Last year, Wendy Davis of Texas gave an actual filibuster speech to keep funding going. Still some states require vaginal ultrasounds in order to get an abortion. If the abortion is due to rape, a woman has to get raped again to get one. That’ll learn her.
Whistleblowers in all kinds of cases are taught that the problem is that they complained about some situation or other, rather than the problem or corruption existed in the first place. Luckily, we have whistleblower laws. Unluckily, they aren’t always applied or don’t always work. That’ll learn ’em for talking, making us safer, freer,or saving us tax dollars.
We wonder why people feel or hopeless — why they don’t vote or fight for their rights or have stopped trying to feed their families or… all kinds of things. This is why.
Here’s the thing, though: if you have been the victim of people who are meaner than you deserve — and mean even more because you challenged them — and you feel crazy, you’re not crazy, they are</
. You may have done something or you may not have, you’re responsible for being human or making a mistake or having a lapse in judgement. Everything else is them.
When you see politicians doubling down in their rhetoric to prove how mean or crazy they are, don’t vote for them. Don’t make your situation worse. And if you feel like you have to choose between the lesser of evils (nobody’s looking out for your interests, consider running for office yourself. If you fail, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll be in the same situation you are now.
Don’t buy into bullies. They have the problem. You don’t. Furthermore, we all have a problem in a democracy if yours doesn’t get fixed.
Let’s not support mean- or crazier-than-thou. It hurts all of us.