The first part of this essay dealt with setting the stage, in a way, finding our home position. Let’s take that groundwork and begin to look at what’s hinted at in the second half of the title, Confronting Abuse.
In our stressed, fight or flight states we jump right past the significant aspect of confrontation and assume fight or flight the only possible responses. Something, or somebody, is opposite us and seemingly blocking our way. Once we become transfixed within the narrow logic of power, there are no other options than to win or lose, kill or be killed. Justification rises in us and let the escalation begin!
The assumption that an accident of positioning, this appearance of opposition by geography we might say, doesn’t automatically mean that you each stand there with malicious intent. Many such encounters are accidents resulting in collisions that are then construed with meaning fleshed out by justifications. It’s not too difficult to see that these could be resolved differently by a mindful approach.
But what about the ones where we do find ourselves in opposition and conflict appears inevitable? Are the choices as simple as the old Hawk/Dove analysis would make it seem? You know, the Hawk sees a first strike as the only viable option. The Dove wants to negotiate. The Hawk sees the Dove as naive. The Dove sees the Hawk as mean. What do they have in common? They seem diametrically opposed. They are, and that leads us to their common ground, they both believe that power is the answer and only disagree on the means to that end. One wants to take through physical force. The other wants to take, while appearing magnanimous, by utilizing indirect means; but neither argues with their shared premise, that power trumps all.
In this shared assumption any viability of a sense of alternatives, that between these two views we could put together a flexible response to threat, is shown to be a false set of choices that lead us astray right from the start. Much of what’s been looked at here over the life of this blog has had to do with smoking out the dynamics of power and with a growing realization that to find any viable alternative to business-as-usual requires looking beyond its self-serving rationalizations and emotionally compelling justifications. In finding a dynamic relationship between power and strength we’ve begun to look at the way the first leads to a vicious cycle of increasing weakness and dependance on power while the latter takes place within a virtuous cycle in which a rejection of power’s enticements and false promises, we gain in strength and effectiveness.
How does this apply here, in this most direct expression of issues concerning power? The key is supplied by that word, negotiation. The Dove sees this as the only response. The Hawk sees it as a dilution of what can be gotten by a more direct use of power. In this the Hawk is more truthful. At least she sees negotiation for what it is, another form of wielding power while the Dove would like to be seen as avoiding the messiness and meanness of using power directly.
There is an alternative to negotiation, dialogue. Dialogue is in itself a form of confrontation with others and the World. It differs from the habitual forms of confrontation in that it asks us to use our strengths to see past the seductions of power. This is true in every case whether it be our internal dialogue which we can establish as an alternative to the power-plays of dominance that make up our neurotic or psychotic states. Instead of being ruled by what appear to be irresistible forces, of emotion and internalized voices of abusive domination, we find ways to see this for what they are, the Ego’s desperate attempts to control our being. We begin to see how we do have the benefits of acknowledging our proprioception of these responses, that they can be suspended as unhelpful delusions and that in the opening this gives us for our attention to find its own focus we begin to trust that our organism is better able to deal with our situations than the Ego would like us to believe. This destroys the dynamic of power that has us in its control and we can then develop more relevant and effective tools of engagement with our internal and external realities.
The significance of a phrase like confronting abuse now becomes clear. Within our habitual power-infected conditioning we are incapable of seeing abuse for what it is, a pattern of behavior that infects us as part of our infatuation with power. This pattern locks us into responses that perpetuate abuse and keep us in thrall of power. It’s as though power were a form of mental parasite, that causes us to exhibit symptoms that make its control over us easier and easier even as its parasitic action weakens us we are compelled to look only to it for relief. Our growing weakness hungers after more power which then makes us yet weaker. This is classic parasitism at work.
When we begin to see abuse from a perspective built around strength and not power, we find that the most significant aspect of abuse is the way it locks us in that relationship. We identify ourselves exclusively with a role, that of victim, and we increasingly act out the role of abuser in our efforts to right all the injustices we feel piled on against us. No tyrant sees himself as an oppressor, they are always justified, in their own minds and hearts that they are victims and that their enemies deserve to be routed. There is another way to see abuse. And that is to confront abusive behavior, wherever we find it, including – hell! – starting with our own.
This is a process of disillusionment. It’s also a process of finding and building empathy for everyone, again starting with ourselves. Through this we begin to see what compassion is and how it can work. The result regarding the transition from seeing injustices to recognizing patterns of abuse is that we see that complicity is all of our starting points, not innocence. We are not fallen from innocence, nor are we able to cut ourselves out of the ledgers of complicity. We are complicit in every act and form of abuse, through our actions or inaction, through our knowledge or our studied ignorance. Resisting this is a ploy to maintain ourselves in a power-play where we can look to violence whether active or passive as a way out. To admit this is to begin to find the power of empathy and the ability to forgive, starting with a forgiveness of ourselves.
This works because abuse is a pattern of behavior. It is the way power parasitizes us. It works because it blinds us to our role in its perpetuation.As we begin to see that role and refuse to perpetuate it, we free ourselves of this drain on our vitality. We gain in strength and are better able to resist the parasite’s attempts to control us. We also gain evidence of the way another set of habits lead us to a balance of satisfaction and effectiveness that confirms our growing trust in the way this approach is connecting us with all aspects of our World.
How does that protect us from our enemies? The voice of fear asks with righteous self-justification. After all, this question has always trumped in the past.
How would you respond?