Blog Post

Are We All Feeling Like Victims? The Disease of a Pathogenic Time

Are you feeling heartsick at this time too?  I am.  I want to address this directly.

This is normally the time when I write a WELCOME TO A NEW ACADEMIC YEAR @HASTAC  message of cheer and hope. I'll write that message later but, today, I want to address, urgently, a feeling of "heartsickness" I'm hearing and experiencing everywhere, and before we can be engaged, active, and optimistic, we may first need to admit and understand the heartsickness.  Are you feeling it too?

I have never had a semester start with so many people, of every age and status and with every variation of identity, say to me that they feel the world is giving them particular, crushing stress right now and they need a mentor who shares their identity to help them through.

  • One friend, who is white and identifies as "straight," said to me that he doesn't remotely identify with those crazed Trump supporters but he needs guidance on how to "be" in the world right now and isn’t sure where to turn.
  • Another friend, who is young and African American and identifies as "lesbian," said to me that she doesn't feel anyone understands what she is going through now in this historical moment and desperately needs an older mentor to show that she can and will make it through. 

These are just two examples, chosen because they seem so opposite yet share so much. It's not useful to even begin to think about who might have a more or less useful case to make, for certainly that is true. At the same time, you cannot rally energies for change if you feel isolated and separate and unacknowledged in your pain. I bet I've been in two dozen of these heartsick, face-to-face conversations and probably two or three hundred if I include my virtual friends.

Why do allies feel divided? Why do so many feel sick at heart?

I feel it too.  What's going on?

Dr. D's Diagnosis: This is a Pathogenic Time.

It's making us ALL ill in such profound and alienating ways that we feel heart-sick personally and are not tracking that it is a world-wide epidemic. We each feel individual variations relevant to who we are but the disease itself doesn't discriminate. It infects us all.

Reading Sartre, writing in the 1940s, on the disease of anti-Semitic propaganda makes me understand that spewing hatred and chaos and misinformation in all directions is exactly the tactic of fascistic populist movements.  It ropes us all in as victims while dividing us as actors.

(Sartre's essay is called "Anti-Semite and Jew."  The Wikipedia entry about it is a good summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Semite_and_Jew )

Think about that, what it means if we all feel personally singled out and victimized.

I'd love comments from anyone who has constructive ideas about how to get past this intense feeling in order to feel like we all have agency, personally and collectively, in the world.

So, now:  WELCOME TO A NEW ACADEMIC YEAR @HASTAC.    I mean that. 

HASTAC is a great, welcoming, energetic community dedicated to "Changing the Way We Teach and Learn."  Our other motto:  "Difference is not our deficit.  It's our operating system."   HASTAC offers hope.  However . . . as anyone who has ever worked in trauma and self-care knows, you cannot move on to hope without first acknowledging material, existential, spiritual, emotional conditions that mitigate against hope.  

I hope this message of solidarity at a very difficult time offers insight that is helpful to you.   Please do offer any advice, tricks, tactics, services, organizations that might be of use in the "Comments" section below. 

Thank you!

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1 comment

In these times, in truth, there are distinctive - if not unique challenges. Politically, socially, and the underlying cultural discords are all rising to a surface long coated with, it now seems, increasingly superficial cures. But, in truth, even in constructing cures that don't work, we've learned the tools of recovery, if we but pause, examine, talk, and listen, listen, listen. A good friend once interviewed Cesar Chavez, trained by Alinsky and creator of the Farm Workers Union. My friend asked, "What do community organizers do?" Chavez answered, "Well, you listen to people; then you listen to more people; then you listen to still more people." The cure is at hand.

About a year ago at a StoryCorps meeting, between seniors and high school age gay people, the seniors recounted their stories of oppression. After a very polite half hour, the kids asked - almost in unison - "But why did you care?" They were right, as were their senior story tellers. It is dialog like that, however, which reveals the failure of oppression to maintain it's traction, in spite of what we see today.

Your blog arrived at almost the same time as a confirmation of a dinner guest tonight. By coincidence, once a month I host a dinner of geeks and geezers, millennials and boomers, that addresses exactly the same edges of depression your blog reflected this morning. And, by another coincidence, the topic of our dinner tonight is a perfect job for one of your millennials - as head of innovation in a local school system - to which all of our boomers can contribute. As you imply, the best way to cure this edginess is mentorship - for both mentor and mentee - and to recognize that that mentorship is, in fact, mutual.

The oppressive disparities - of money, of age, of sex or sexuality, of religion, race, disability, language, or nativity - are only cured by collaboration. And that collaboration builds both communities, societies, politics, power and opportunity - for all.

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