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activist emotional landscape

Survival by Not Seeing

People who turn their heads to not see get a bad rap. But I would like to point out that not seeing can be an absolutely necessary survival mechanism.


* if we looked at each and every tree, and the woods as a whole and the grass and the sky and everything equally, that could keep us from focusing in on the tigers, snakes and spiders

* if we saw all the faults in ourselves and our friends at all times we would go nuts.

* if we could see the future clearly, would we ever dare to take it on?

* if we look at all the plans we make, as in when I recently changed computers and am transferring over my PLANNING folder and look at all the plans I made, with lists and charts, which I have not fulfilled, I could get seriously depressed and never make a plan again, much less work on carrying out, considering the low percentage that activity seems to have

* even the things that we do fulfill, if we saw beforehand how hard it would be to do them, and how long it would take, and how much aggravation there would be, we would never do them

* if we compassionate activist types always clearly saw, all the time, the pain of the world, we would be in an endless state of anguish, either in a state of constant frenzied mobilization to stave off at least some of the terrible things we see, or else immobilized by the realization that we can’t possibly do all that needs to be done, fast or effectively enough to stop even a fraction of it.

In order to survive we must not see it all, all the time. Instead, we have to be selective and focus where we can, and withdraw our gaze when we must.

It makes me feel guilty even to write this, to acknowledge that I willfully turn away from others’ pain. But even though I and fellow activists, generally look more directly and more often and more closely at the world’s horrors and injustices, we can’t do that all the time.
Unlike many, we do not pretend that these things exist, or claim that they are inevitable or even desirable. We try not to evade responsibility by numbing out, drugging out, or vegging out (though we may all do this from time to time). But to survive, to not become overwhelmed and swamped, we have to employ, maybe not blinders but focusers.

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