Something To Trust In

Steve Olweean

Perspective magazine
October 2002

Events of the last year underline for most an intense need to understand just what is going on in a world suddenly gone mad (if living in the US) or simply more mad (if living outside the US). We’re pressed to be more aware, pay more attention, be more vigilant. The telling question is: for what purpose – the purpose of understanding root causes of conflict and animosity between segments of the entire global community, or simply watching out for “the evil ones” and the next attack? For each of us the next steps are shaped by our answers, with quite different implications for the future.

A sense of impending, and, by all government accounts, absolutely certain catastrophe from encounters with mundane everyday life leaves us with the worse, most distressing kind of intense fear – nonspecific and generalized. A resulting casualty is our tolerance for diversity, nuance, and multiplicity of perspectives. Anything and anyone different and out of the ordinary is suspect, even sinister. Out of this view and fueled by trepidation individuals can act toward others “not like us” in ways often quite contrary to their usual good self-concept.

Fear can do that, especially the nonspecific, shadowy kind. The multitude of examples in our long human story would require a more extensive commentary than this, but fear of the unknown “Other” can be found deeply woven throughout our many and varied chronicles, with, paradoxically, no group enjoying immunity from the label.

Perhaps a more important and deeper question has to do with presumptions of the very character of human nature – as either essentially flawed, problematic, and prone to destructive drives, or fundamentally capable, good and constructive.

If there is any indication of progress in true civilization it may best be revealed in being able to discern the two and seeing the ultimate, invariable consequences of each. The most obvious are that one leads to a more confining, ever-shrinking view of what can be trusted in the world we inescapably share with Others, and that the second leads to an ever-expanding one. Authentic, realistic trust is at the heart here, as the most natural, effective antidote to fear, trembling, and even paranoia.

The unambiguous premise is that peace is a normal, healthy psychological state; a natural state of being in harmony and balance with ourselves, others, and the world. Whether we speak of this perspective in the language of Humanistic Psychology over the past half century or more recent renderings like Positive Psychology, it presumes a basic, positive character to human nature – one that calls for nurturing, encouraging, and even trusting in, as opposed to controlling, suppressing, or, heaven forbid, eliminating. The most formidable challenge we may be facing, then, is the negative and self-defeating belief that this is not so.

Peace psychology would seem to assume there’s much to be gained from understanding and appreciating the diverse experiences of others, as opposed to insulating ourselves from them, and from being able to acknowledge and rely on the basic desire – the fundamental drive – for balance and harmony in human beings to form cooperative, mutually beneficial, and compassionate relationships. A rational sense of safety and security in our day-to-day lives lies with this, not with dehumanizing and demonizing entire groups of “Others.” In that direction lies the deadly risk of stripping other individuals, and the groups they compose, of the very fundamental human qualities we need to trust in from them.

Steve Olweean
Perspective magazine, October 2002

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