I was reading an article on human trafficking yesterday and realized something. Throughout history one of the techniques that has been used to bring human beings under control and to keep people enslaved is to create an environment in which a person fears their own thoughts and feelings. Historically this has been done by either convincing the person of a potential punishment that is promised to befall them if they should have certain thoughts or feelings. And/or to actually inflict punishment/torture if a person shows any indication of thinking or acting independently, contrary to what is desired. In such a situation a person is going to learn to fear the thoughts, the impulses that they experience. The natural actions of review, processing, the thoughts coming via their inherent survival orientation. Cruel and inhuman? You bet.
This training to mistrust or, as I’m writing about here to fear, our emotions, our thoughts, what our mind tells us, our intuition, extends to many parts of our lives. In the extreme cases victims, who are being enslaved, are taught to fear about any thought or impulse that isn’t given to them by their captors. But in general, in the U.S. anyway, there are many instances in which we are trained to accept external “authority” over our own intelligence, intuition, our internal survival mechanisms.
One book I am familiar with that addresses a specific aspect of this phenomenon is The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. (See the link at the end of this article.) Yes, sometimes fear can be a gift! But author de Becker is writing about a person’s personal, intuitive fear, not a learned state of fear imposed by an external “authority”. The Gift of Fear speaks to situations in which we are in immediate danger of assault/victimization from others around us; kidnapping, rape, murder, that sort of thing. And how we can be trapped by our own training, from external sources, to maintain “socially acceptable” behavior…even when our internal alarms are going off. In other words people can and are being made afraid to acknowledge and act upon intuitive fear when it arises. People are being taught that fear we are taught to feel by external “authorities” or other means is more important, more valid then our intuitive fear. This same essential mechanism of conflict between what we have taught about how we should behave and what we truly intuit about what is going on can and does occur in many different settings and involve many different emotions/thoughts.
Our thoughts and feelings are rooted in our desire to live, to experience and express life. Not all of them are stellar ideas, at least in their raw form. Some may be either homicidal or suicidal. But all ideas have some value in, if nothing else, helping us understand ourselves. Often we need to do some work (sometimes more work is needed, sometimes less) in understanding the origin of the impulse/idea. Specifically, how our survival impulse is somehow represented in every thought or feeling. If we search them well enough, understand them well enough, We will find that all our thoughts and feelings can provide us with valuable input for our lives. After all, they somehow represent “us”, individually in the most intimate way possible.
In every case the emotions and ideas that we experience are us experiencing our life. For another human being to cause us to fear our own experience of ourselves is as invalidating and destructive a action that one person can take toward another. It isn’t second to murder because in the long run teaching a human being to fear their own spirit, their own mind/thoughts/feelings is a form of murder.
As social beings it behooves us to find socially acceptable, socially harmonious, positive ways to express our lives and desires. Recognizing our interconnectedness and the mutuality of our plight on this wonderful planet go a long way in helping us guide our lives and actions. Respecting others is respecting ourselves. This does not mean kowtowing to those who wish to subjugate us. And those people exist. Sometimes respecting another’s position means accepting it for what it is and reacting to it accordingly. This may mean disobeying, resisting and in extreme situations defending oneself. Our first respect needs to be to ourselves, our own well-being. And what is going on inside us will lead us to respect and love others, when it is right.
Like all living things we grow and develop primarily via our own internal desires. And, as a civilized people, it is very much in our best interests to develop healthy, constructive “filters” for our desires. “Filters” which serve to keep us in balance with the positive, life oriented aspects of society and our natural environment. Filters that can protect us from following self-destructive thoughts and feelings. And sometimes external sources help teach us about building filters. And being taught to put instructions we receive from an external source first, before we honor our internal reality might be useful in certain specific, limited situations. But as a general guide for our behavior it is invalidating and crippling. Being taught our raw thoughts and feelings are inherently evil, being punished or tortured for having them or taught to punish ourselves for having them, goes against the very nature of healthful human development.
To be or not to be?