Best intentions and idealism
As a bit of an idealist I have over the years worked for a number of organisations rooted in ideology. Without exception I have come rather rattled out of these experiences. Why? Mostly because all of these institutions have been based in one or more hypothesis – beliefs and suppositions which presupposes one or more hypotheses, not facts.
Despite every ‘Be yourself!’-slogan being banded about (and they usually are), challenging these assumptions always proved dangerous, usually kindling suspicion and sometimes outright paranoia, and more often than not vindictiveness, rejection, and on occasion, threats of exclusion would follow: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us. We’re providing the answers and the hows.” Of course this makes a genuine search for truth impossible within that given framework.
Most of these organisations have borne the mark of being institutions dominated by severe splitting. There are occasions I have been exposed to heads of organisations who have been so entrenched in their ideology that any threat to their set of beliefs appears to be synonymous with a loss of their very reason for being, a threat to their personal life work and identity.
As a rule such a person won’t go out of his or her way to destroy your further career in the aftermath (and you in the process), and furthermore and as a rule, they never forgive, nor do they ever forget. Without even having realised, you one day discover – suddenly and out of the blue – you’re serving a life sentence without knowing for what because no-one told you.
In my own work it has always been important to stress a person’s freedom and right to choose for him- or herself – it’s your life, your right to choose. This is your responsibility. I can’t make the decision for you. You’re free, I used to say. It was surprising for me to discover how many didn’t want that. Quite the contrary, they wanted and needed an answer to be given to them from someone else – they wanted a recipe, a fixed formula to apply in life. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm discusses this phenomenon most eminently in his book The Escape from Freedom. Psychologist Roy F Baumeister‘s book Escaping the Self is also enlightening on this subject.
A developmental flaw in other words – adult men and women still stuck in a childhood phase of psychological maturing, still needing the good (read: perfect – that’s the expectation, hence an implicit demand) parent.
Whichever side of the fence you’re on, operating within such systems and with such a population it usually proves difficult to come out right whatever you do. However, and this is the crux of the matter: some people exploit this vulnerability, frequently without even knowing, and the outcome can be devastating. They play the game, pretending they’re perfect by giving the impression they have all the answers and being in possession of the solutions and the hows.
If you are paying all the attention you can muster to the answers and faithfully practicing the hows, and you still don’t succeed, you’re simply told it’s because you’re doing it wrong, or that you don’t want it enough, or you’re sabotaging yourself. In the worst case scanarios where you dare keep on querying, you’re at risk of being told you’re divisive, toxic, dangeous, allied with the dark forces, or that you have a bad karma, therefore doomed (at least this time round). You’re no good, is the message – perhaps in another lifetime, buddy… You’re left in free-fall.
You’re at risk of erasure. Only if you happen to be intelligent, knowledgeable and convincing enough (read: powerful, as in perceived power) therefore impossible to entirely sweep aside, you may escape full annihilation. Instead you’re disarmed by being downgraded into a lower division, labelled “just a maverick.” In other words, don’t pay heed – you’ll be well advised to dismiss him (or her). It’s a clever trick because if you can successfully destroy someone’s reputation, the chance increases that the kingdom be yours and not theirs.
All that just because you’re in search of what’s true for you! A very high price to pay indeed, and a very surprising one at that for most us, as these messages are being voiced by organisations having invited you in with that very promise and for just that purpose: finding what’s true for you.
To our surprise, when the crisis occurs and push comes to shove, we discover a most striking feature characterising such organisations: a lack of genuine compassion and empathy, even plain humanity. This is a paradox and can be very confusing for some as these organisations usually work very hard, often successfully, at giving the impression they operate with oodles and scores of acceptance, love and compassion. But it’s not – it’s a look-alike, a method of seduction, and at it’s roots is self-interest.
The “love” displayed is of a kind requiring surrender from one to the other – it’s fusion and at best serves as a feel-good factor. It’s like a mother with her tiny baby or a father demanding his child to obey. A fully differentiated and respectful ‘I-Thou’ relationship such as Jewish philosophers Levinas and Martin Buber speak of, is experienced as a threat in these environments, making such relationships difficult to both fully form and build, let alone maintain.
Academia and any approach that could resemble intellectualism is frowned at and looked down upon remarkably often – “you’re being in your head – feel it!” Any attempt at critical questioning or analysis evokes skepticism, even fear, and is surprisingly often shunned outright.
Thus, whether you’re a leader or a follower, it’s impossible to be a lover of truth in these establishments. If longing and searching for truth is one’s motivation for being there, the only solution is getting out as fast as one is ready to. The best one can do is to move on and take the whole experience as just that, an experience, hoping and working at it being one from which one can learn, grow, and – most of all – mature in one’s capacity as an empathic, full human being and a lover of life (which, I hasten to add, includes a recognition, even joy, in the process of aging and maturing, and an acceptance of the reality of death.)
This article from The Guardian (see link below) goes some way to describe the background, thus explain, many of the vulnerabilities and fallacies in these kinds of organisations, as well as highlighting the potential for growth that can be gained from these experiences.
“Was it […] abuse? Yes and no,” he said […] “I think they had the best of intentions, but I see it as sick people trying to treat sick people. It’s their coping mechanism for figuring out why we’re alive. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, though, because it allowed me at such a young age to question my existence.”
“One of the problems with faith-based teaching is it teaches children not to trust their own reason and intuition, undermining their ability to have confidence in their own knowledge and ability to process information. There is a lot of psychological damage that follows when people are trained not to trust themselves.”
In essence: there is no shortcut. We all have to do the necessary growing in order to reach maturity. Without it, there can be no wholeness, no integrity.
“The kids of Jesus Camp, 10 years later:’Was it child abuse? Yes and no’“ (The Guardian, 06.07.2016)
Megan Phelps-Roper | I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s why I left (TED, February 2017)
The illustrstration at the top of this post is lifted from the Guardian article, link above