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An Exercise for the Practice of Freedom

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By Carol Smaldino

For awhile now I've been writing about the human climate and about feelings fitness. The human climate has, for me meant the way we interact both with each other and with the endless streams of information that bombard us daily. Feelings fitness includes our practice of emotions in the same way we attempt--optimally--to practice the tools of physical fitness: it would include resilience, stamina, pacing and self evaluation. The connection between these two concepts is simple: to live with any significant degree of freedom, we are required to have the ability to evaluate our decisions, our opinions, and our direction, as each has an effect on our world, on each other and on ourselves.

I have also found it ironic and frustrating that environmentalists generally haven't included the necessary alarm about and investigation into the human climate of divisiveness, distraction and denial. They have no sense of "cause" about this, rather any notion of what it takes to improve the human climate is limited to weekend travel and barbecues for the celebration of freedom or even independence on July 4th or any other day.

More to the point, and to use another "d" word, unless we are motivated to examine our lives and our choices and the way we receive information, we will remain detached, and we will become prisoners of dogma.

Last month, Rolling Stone ran an article by Al Gore, "Climate of Denial," in which the former Vice President said that the media is pandering to a pseudo-debate against make believe "scientific evidence" on all sides of the global warming and pollution debate. He compared this to a wrestling match he witnessed as a kid in his apartment. He recalled how the referee penalized the "good guy" for even the pettiest of infringements while the more entertaining guy (i.e. the one with more punch literally and figuratively), was indulged.

To make money, the media indirectly supports and enables fighting at all costs. Mr. Gore says that we now have a "radically new reality" based on the fact that we face new potential for destruction beyond the old threats of nuclear wars and terrorism. To this he adds, "Since human nature makes us vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable, it naturally seems difficult to accept." As to the vulnerabilities of our human nature he adds that we "are being manipulated by the tag-team of polluters and Ideologues who are trying to deceive us. And the referee -- the news media -- is once again distracted."

While I applaud Gore's pleas for our greater participation in having our voices heard once we can wrap our head and hearts around the truth, I would like to add my concern about inconvenient feelings as well as the larger truths we need to admit into our reality check ups. One thing that has struck me personally is this: we are so bombarded by the emergencies that attract not only attention but on which we expend huge amounts of adrenalin that we come to both crave and dread disaster. We crave it as an outlet of our own aggression and make it our television preference whether in "Reality" TV or a crime show. Yet, at the same time, our dread may be driven by our sense of helplessness. It's a combination of "What would I/we begin to do if this/whatever it is were true?" and "It can't be true, it must be an exaggeration".

In our media age and in the collective psyche that is most often provoked by headlines, we simultaneously buy the media and reject it as hyperbole. Recently I found myself reacting to two pieces in the The Huffington Post with a quiet but forceful rejection. They pertained to climate dangers and warnings. As I read them, a small but strong voice in me reacted as if they were Biblical warnings of Armageddon. As is often the case in my psychotherapy practice and in clinical consideration, if a strong feeling is evoked in me, I wonder about its ramifications for others as well. In other words, I'm sure I'm not the only one to push aside information that puts me immediately into conflict and inner turmoil.

I often talk about looking at information In the spaces between clarity and action. By this I mean creating spaces that will allow us to consider what a fact might look like based on whatever vulnerabilities and fears are connected to it in our internal lives. Without attending to our vulnerabilities that lead to denial, we are effectively "missing in inaction" when it comes to the human climate necessary for dealing with factual evidence.

Without a vision of practical strategies and supports for dealing with big and small inconvenient truths and inconvenient emotions, we will continue to leave people too much in the lurch, too alone and chaotic to begin to allow any truth to enter. And without making the connection between all important truths and all of our internal lives, it will be difficult to interrupt our divisiveness.

My suggestion here is that we need a more connected connection to our human climate as we continue to ask the "why" about how hard it is to avoid denial, and even to penetrate it. Without understanding vulnerability and fear better, we will be at a loss we cannot well afford.

As we move into our July 4th weekend celebration, I'd like to leave one more feelings fitness concept: stretching. Stretching our capacity to conceptualize. Stretching beyond our comfort zone. Stretching to consider the human climate. Stretching so we begin to delve into the inner sanctum of those feelings inside each of us and collectively that tend to inspire investigation or deny it.

If we can learn to do this, we will be able to welcome information when we feel psychologically safe enough to digest it. The bravery of the aggressive wrestler is easy: the script is set and one jab feeds another. The bravery of human beings to wrestle with difficult information that carries a need for examination and change needs to be supported, and yes it needs to be practiced.

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