Category Archives: Responsibility

Power vs. Empathy

More and more lately, I have an impression that the results of parliamentary elections across the world partly reflect the percentage of population who admire power/money and individuals who have power/money. The desire for power and admiration for those who have power is one of human biological instincts, and is often in conflict with the instinct of empathy.

For a long time I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that most people on Earth seem to ignore blatant lies, abuse, corruption and lack of ethics in their leaders, and continue to follow them and vote them back into power even when they have better options. I was raised in a family that rejected and condemned greed and violence, and, on top of that, in a socialist country that (at least theoretically, within the school system) promoted solidarity, fairness, equal rights and equal respect for everybody, regardless of how they are born, the type of work they do, or how much power and money they have. The importance of those values was obvious to me even as a child, and it’s still difficult to comprehend how many people don’t seem to share them, especially in light of all the violence and injustice throughout human history.

Then that system fell apart, and people voted in a political party that showed itself amazingly greedy, corrupt and blatantly criminal. But people kept voting them in. With each electoral victory, the governing party showed itself even more shamelessly corrupt and shady. Still people voted them in. Said party is good in manipulating nationalistic feelings (and, perhaps more importantly, undeserved social benefits) and is heavily promoted by corrupt religious leaders, so I kept hoping that people were mostly badly informed and manipulated to vote for them, and if they were only better informed, they would vote differently.

Yet I can see all over the world that, even when corruption and lack of ethics become blatantly obvious, it doesn’t seem to matter enough. Too many people still not just vote for, but admire and find various justifications for criminal leaders, as long as they show enough confidence and hunger for power (or as long as people perceive them as members of their “tribe”). No “red flags”, no obvious lies, arrogance, violence and lack of compassion is enough to deter a significant number of people. I found this difficult to even acknowledge, let alone accept as reality.

Yet we can see the urge to seek/follow power already in children’s playgrounds and schools, where a fair number of children either seek power, or follow and suck up to popular kids and bullies, just because they have some external power.  Seems that many adults are not so different after all.

Whether we seek advantage over others, or just increased security and protection, this attitude brings with it the need to disdain more kind and warm human emotions, including empathy (emotions often associated with femininity; thus misogyny, too) and to blame victims rather than violators, often with ridiculous excuses and blatant hypocrisy.

The only explanation that makes sense is that there are many people whose instinct to seek power is stronger than their instinct of empathy, whether it is inborn or culturally enhanced. Those people are likely to seek and follow power, even if they suffer merciless exploitation by the powerful people they follow. They might create and believe justifications even for lies and abuse they themselves are exposed to (and even more if it’s somebody else rather than themselves who is abused and hurt) and may feel visceral discomfort and threat if their values or the power they follow are threatened. This is also reflected in cults and often individual relationships.

 

The need for safety and ideology of justifying selfishness

Worse, it’s not only the need for power itself, but the need for safety in power/following power that makes people follow predators. The need for safety is perhaps an even stronger instinct, or at least more common than the need for power.  It can feel like a perfect justification, consciously or unconsciously, to disregard empathy and human concern.

Speaking of cults, it seems that the ideology of justifying greed and lack of solidarity is becoming just as extremist as communism was, and might create just as much damage, perhaps more insidiously. Since nature hates imbalance and strives towards balance, every extremist ideology sooner or later collapses – but usually not before it reaches its peak and creates enough damage that people are forced to abandoned cherished beliefs.

Tribal instincts, greed and selfishness are powerful urges, some of the basic biological instincts, and people will easily embrace and enjoy any ideology that enables justifying them, especially if their parents and their culture keep telling them it’s not only OK but actually ethical.

Many, if not most, power-seeking people dismiss compassion as weakness (which can even become a part of the culture, such as USA conservative ideology with its laughable claims that solidarity makes people lazy and dependent). Of course, just like everything on this Earth, compassion and solidarity can also be used in unhealthy and extreme ways (and sometimes, yes, the other person can try to exploit it), but that is easily prevented with some sense of balance. In its healthy essence, compassion is a crucial strength of humanity. It enabled humanity to survive through many hundreds of thousands of dangerous years. It is the primary force that, ever so slowly, keeps making the world a better place. It also shows mental strength.

 

Complex thinking and balance vs. oversimplifying

Perhaps the key problem of humanity, through centuries as well as today, is that instinct to seek power doesn’t require work. It also enables one to feel “above” others, which is tempting especially for people who didn’t get enough love and reassurance by their early families (i.e. most of us). Paired with the need for safety and tribal instincts, it requires even less work – it can be a strong automatic response.

Empathy and solidarity, on the other hand, require work, self-restraint, self-questioning and some sacrifice. It requires you to put some parts of your own interests aside, identify with another person and see them as equally human and worthy. It requires you to recognize long-term consequences of selfishness, not just on the individual, but on the global scale. Empathy also brings pain and sadness, often sense of helplessness in face of others’ suffering. Many people habitually avoid painful emotions, and that can include empathy. Yet the key to inner strength is to be able to feel such emotions.

You can recognize how people’s lives are influenced by their upbringing, environment, and others around them, while also recognizing one’s own responsibility. You can help people while preserving your own boundaries. You can give them some wind in the back rather than be a crutch. You can be fiercely self-reliant, and yet recognize the importance of empathy and solidarity. That requires wisdom and complex thinking. Yet simplified thinking is way easier and often more emotionally rewarding.

 

Cultural and environmental influences

My current impression is that the percentage of people who instinctively follow power is about 25-40%, depending of country and culture, and in some societies, especially undeveloped ones where people feel less safe, it might be higher. I also notice that rational intelligence and exposure to information in adulthood don’t seem to influence those numbers much. This is because the problem is on the level of values, which is much deeper than individual beliefs or lack of information.

Good news is that family upbringing and cultural influence can dramatically reduce that percentage, but the culture needs to be developed enough to recognize the value of empathy and solidarity, not just in words, but in deed. Usually, the more people feel unsafe, whether realistically or because of an unhealthy family history, the bigger the need to follow somebody powerful.

The feeling of lack of safety might be growing with increasing automation, just like the industrial revolution in 18th century brought along temporary loss in hand-production employment and social unrest. Just like unemployment benefits serve to avoid social unrest and diminish crime today, I believe sooner or later guaranteed minimum income (GMI) will have to become a widespread practice to offset the effects of automation. In the meantime, though, the quality of social and political life will probably decrease – as it’s already happening – as more people turn to powerful predators in futile hope to be safer. 

 

How can you help?

You can’t do much for already formed adults, except to provide a different perspective when possible, which might hopefully sway those people who are somewhere in the middle between empathy and urge for power (make sure that such a different perspective is not expressed in oversimplified, prejudiced ways). You can donate to NGOs which promote education, science and human rights. You can encourage people to feel safer or to find ways to make themselves safer.

It’s particularly important to find and work against faults and hypocrisy within your own tribe; the groups you belong to whether by birth or by choice. Common sense and research show that people are much more likely to value and consider criticism and arguments from somebody belonging to their own tribe than from somebody from a different tribe. So if you want to make a positive change, you need to first work on making your own group better and more ethical; call out exaggerations, hypocrisy and prejudice in their thinking and provide a different point of view.

Men need to work on improving men, women on improving women, conservatives with conservatives, liberals with liberals, tea lovers with tea lovers… you get my point. Few people have the integrity to do so, though, and more often than not, tribalism encourages extremism. Extremism from one side encourages extremism from the other. The more you can help your own group become more moderate and more balanced, the easier it is to promote its values.

As many of our basic feelings, including the feeling of lack of safety, stem from our primary families, my hope lies in the fact that more and more young parents are aware of children’s emotional needs and child development stages, and so they are more likely to give their children the essential feeling of safety. Something similar, I believe, was the result of the invention of the contraceptive pill: it enabled parents to love their children more and give them more, because people who could plan for children could be better emotionally and otherwise prepared. This enabled the new generations to create (slightly) more tolerant and compassionate societies. (Truly, I think the inventors of The Pill should have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize.) Sadly, there are many groups lately that try to promote unwanted births by reducing education about and access to birth control. Let’s hope reason will eventually prevail.

In the end, educating parents and promoting mature parenthood is probably the most important way to increase global empathy. Children learn through what they experience, especially by their parents.

Last but not least, do not forget do be an example of what people can be when they have healthy compassion together with healthy boundaries. In the world we live in, such people are beacons of light.

My 2 cents about chemtrails

A few years ago, the idea of chemtrails (conspiracy theory which claims that condensation trails left by airplanes are full of dangerous chemicals deliberately sprayed to damage, manipulate and enslave people) was rather unknown and promoted by only a handful of people. These days, when I look at my Facebook homepage (I know, it’s Facebook, but still…), chemtrails are all over the place. Many people talk about them as casually as about weather, as something obvious and proven true. If I try to challenge such comments with logical questions, the reactions are often angry or condescending; some people claim that I’m “in denial”, “lazy” or “refuse to see the obvious”. So I’ll write some of my thoughts here, in hope that whoever reads them is willing to think rather than believe.

According to some promoters of chemtrails theory, such harmful spraying is a common practice all around the world. It actually doesn’t stop with airplanes; the conspiracy is supposed to include things like huge radars which emit harmful frequencies, geoengineering and other practices. But, let’s keep it simple and stay with chemtrails only.

First of all, such practice would demand huge resources and huge number of people involved: factories to produce such chemicals, people who would organize and execute packing, distribution, fueling airplanes and actual spraying. Let’s say that a number of manual workers might be oblivious of the true purpose of their jobs; it still leaves a lot of people who are aware of what’s going on. These people all have children, families or at least friends out there. Hell, they themselves have to go outside and breathe the air that we share. Don’t you think there would be whistle blowers? Even less harmful practices have whistle blowers. Or are we supposed to believe that there are so many socially isolated psychopaths out there who all stay at home with gas masks all the time and never experience spring or summer outside? Or that they are all given magic pills to counter those chemicals (more resources, more people involved) so that they could go outside?

You could say that all the media keep rejecting and downplaying such reports because of fear or corruption. If it was so, wouldn’t the media also avoid or downplay Edward Snowden or the Wikileaks affair, for example? Quite the opposite, the media jumped on those affairs with delight. Such stories are fresh meat for media; they are what brings most profit. Media are often willing to promote them even without enough proof, even at a risk of loosing a little bit of credibility. If there was anybody with actual reasonable data about chemtrails, media would fight over them.

Let’s think about some technical aspects next. Obviously, the more developed a country, the more efficient and common such high-tech practices would be. As a result, the people in highly developed countries would be more docile, more manipulable, more afraid to speak against the government; less creative and less individualistic. Yet if you take a look into what is going on around the globe, it’s people in undeveloped countries who are likely to be easier to manipulate (religious manipulation, for example), less independent, more traditional and more afraid. It comes with fight for survival, lack of resources and lack of available education, of course.

There is something seductively pleasant in having some vaguely defined “others” to blame and be angry at; to feel like a victim of some powerful, soulless entity; to feel righteous and clean-handed. My therapist’s brain immediately seeks for connections with early childhood feelings, and I can find many: feeling helpless, feeling controlled by whims of powerful people, feeling excluded from vitally important decisions…

Indeed, most people I know who believe in chemtrails also have huge unresolved issues with their parents. Don’t most of us, though? Yes, so this observation is just a theory of mine, but I’m letting it out here in case somebody might want to consider where their anger comes from.

My primary worry is that in wasting energy on such far-fetched theories that make no logical sense, we are drawn away from real problems that we could do something about: pollution, poverty, discrimination, social injustice, wars… These are things that we could take some responsibility for and do some things, however small, to improve the situation. The problem is, with such problems, we are all responsible. We are all accomplices. It’s easier to blame somebody else.

If you believe in chemtrails, I’m not seeking to change your mind. I just want to make it clear that blaming other people for not believing in the same things as you, or trying to change their minds just by expecting them to believe anybody’s word, doesn’t make sense. I don’t have problems with believing in conspiracies that include a small number of powerful individuals with a limited scope of personal gain. But a conspiracy that includes whole professions all across the Earth, which would themselves be harmed by their own actions…  it doesn’t fulfill my criteria of reasonable. There is plenty of pain in the world that is real and that we could do something about. Let’s do something about it.

Internal issues and external solutions

Even when we are well aware that our strong emotions might be awakened memories from childhood, we might still find it very difficult to focus inwards to resolve those emotions. The urge to blame people around us and seek to change or control them can be overpowering. Why is it so difficult to recognize the truth even after spending much energy in vain, causing stress to ourselves and others by trying to change who they are? Even if we know that the real cause of our emotions is probably in our pasts?

As babies and toddlers, it’s our biological instinct to turn to other people to solve our problems. Hungry? Mommy will nurse you. Peed yourself? They will change your diapers. Bored? Scream energetically enough and they will do their best to amuse you. Tired? They will do just about anything to avoid waking you up and enjoy some well deserved peace. Even children of toxic parents inevitably learn that sooner or later, no matter how much pain and struggle experienced in the meantime, at least their basic needs would be fulfilled by others. Thus the biological instinct is reinforced and grows into an emotional habit.

When we age regress into childish emotions, this instinct can be awakened alongside them. Age regression includes forgetting or temporarily losing touch with our adult resources. What would be more natural in such a state than to turn to the solutions experienced in childhood? Thus we may once again feel as if our emotional well-being or even survival depends of those around us. This essentially means that we confuse other people around us with our parents.

This is visible in many parts of adults’ lives. People try to solve their emotional problems through all kinds of external means. For some people, money can be a weird substitute for parents, as it provides safety, comfort and toys (often other people’s attention, too). Others might turn to religion (heavenly father), magic or New Age bioenergy theories. Food can be a temporary emotional comfort, reminding us of the pleasure of being fed on our mothers’ breasts.

Where this instinct of seeking external solutions is most obvious, are intimate relationships. They are often created as substitutes for parent-child relationships from the start, and when problems arise and we regress into childish states, it can be extremely difficult to take responsibility for our feelings. The old instincts from childhood awaken again and we can start expecting our partners to provide solutions – which usually means expecting them to change.

It never rains but pours – and usually in an intimate relationship, both people experience childish states from time to time. This means that both start demanding the other to change. The problem is, even if our partner tries to change, the childish parts of us will always want more – just like, as children, we always needed more from our parents.

Depending of how much time people spend in such states, their relationships will deteriorate and they will start accumulating resentment. If good communication skills are lacking, too, a crisis is almost inevitable. If an age-regressed state is intense, it can take exceptional self-awareness and responsibility to avoid blaming your partner and pull yourself back into an adult frame of mind.

I hope this can help you understand an aspect of relationship behavior which very few people are aware of. Simple understanding won’t bring automatic change – but it might help you deal with your childish issues in the moments when this is most important.