Posts Tagged 'resilience'

A conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner: Embracing self care

With this post I conclude my 5-part conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner, author of Less Stress Life.

Dennis: For several years I co-facilitated grief support groups for a local hospice. 

In addition to their profound grief, participants had one thing in common — difficulty practicing “self-care.”

The only homework assignment participants were given each week was to do at least one self-caring act, no matter how small. 

The other facilitator and I would offer self-care practices from our own lives, things like reading, walking, feeling the warmth of the sun on our faces, or cleaning the house (not mine!). The group then brainstormed possible actions, and we gave participants handouts with dozens of examples.

At the beginning of each session, we asked participants to share the self-caring acts they had done in the previous week. Week after week, they reported very few.

Grief robs people of energy and sometimes even of the desire to live, so that certainly was one reason.

Another was that participants often had been caring for their loved ones for some time, which made it difficult for them to think about their own needs.

Many participants also said that they had little overall experience with self-care.

Through these groups, I learned that self-care may begin with simple, seemingly small acts like buying seeds in anticipation of planting a garden, using fragrant bath oil, or calling a friend.

Self-care is obviously of value in a wide variety of situations, including pandemics.

I’m curious about your personal experience with self care, Jamie.

Jamie: So, cleaning isn’t your idea of self-care, Dennis? I happen to feel calmer after a good sweep of the kitchen. This shows how differently we each define self-care.

It can be surprisingly tricky to know what kind of self-care we need in a given moment. I suggest we start by checking in with our bodies and our beliefs. Here’s a little example of how this showed up for me.

During my first few years as a school principal I was constantly running on fumes, like a car with a nearly empty gas tank. Refilling my tank felt kind of selfish when the school needed so much caretaking, too. In 2001 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That wake-up call prompted me to figure out how to take better care of myself. It took years for me to fully embrace self-care. 

With an hour-long drive to and from school, I couldn’t make it home for a dinner break on the days when there were evening events. I didn’t believe naps were professional (though thankfully my views have changed since then). So, instead of caring for my sleep needs, I’d pop a piece (or more) of candy to help keep me going. Of course, that just gave me a quick rush of energy and an even bigger crash later. 

My exhaustion showed up in unfocused thinking. I wasn’t at my best when sleep deprived. So I finally gave in to my need for sleep and made a bold purchase of a recliner for my office. After the students left the building, and when that yawn arose, I taped a note to my office door saying, The principal is napping. Please come back in a half-hour. With soft music playing, I tipped my recliner back and drifted off for a delicious 10-15 minutes.  

I worried at first teachers or parents might ridicule me or decide I wasn’t working hard enough. I weathered some gentle teasing from the custodian but continued to muster up my courage to stick with my plan. I knew if I didn’t get adequate sleep I couldn’t sustain my best service to my school community.  

Embracing self-care gradually became one of my central beliefs, and in turn, one of my priorities.

So, I suggest that we first check in to learn what we believe about self-care. Believing that self-care is selfish blocks us from making good choices and produces guilt when we take care of our needs, which in turn diminishes our emotional well being.

Whether your self-care involves exercise, sleep, a movie break, or even cleaning, remember that self-care is essential—not selfish. Then when you get in touch with what your body needs you’ll be on your way to a more balanced and less stressful life.

Dennis: On behalf of our readers and myself, I want to thank you, Jamie, for the ideas, practices, and personal experiences you have shared to support all of us during this difficult time. Hopefully, we will continue this conversation at some point in the future….

What self-care practices are most important to you?

A conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner: Minimizing loneliness

My dialogue with Jamie Sussel Turner, author of Less Stress Life, continues.

In a Washington Post essay Amanda Ripley offered four ways we can minimize the coronavirus pandemic-related loneliness many of us feel.

Surprisingly, at least to me, some of her suggestions seemed to have little to do with other people. Here, placed in bold for emphasis, are her suggestions:

“[A]nyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great….”

[P]ositive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking…. To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.”

“The third antidote is mindfulness…. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.”

[D]o something small for someone else.”

Ripley includes: “Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities.”

I liked all of Ripley’s ideas, but especially her emphasis on exercise and mindfulness, probably because they are two practices that I value and have practiced for some time.

Walking, especially in nature, and other forms of exercise not only improves our physical health, it can lift our spirits.

Her mention of mindfulness, which in its simplest form is a kind of mental training that enables us to more clearly view whatever is happening in our minds, reminds me of our discussion regarding the importance of becoming aware of distress as it arises.

As an introvert, reaching out to others using the telephone (or FaceTime) is a bit more challenging, but something I know is important to my physical and emotional health. So I’ve set a goal to reach out to at least one person a day through text, email, the phone, or FaceTime, and I made an ever-growing list of people I want to contact (typo: not contract) from which I select one or more each day.

Given your research and work with clients, Jamie, I’m curious what you think of Ripley’s list and what, if anything, you’d add to it.

Jamie: It’s definitely a list worth sharing, Dennis. I especially like how you’ve adapted the list to the practices you’ve learned will help you most. I encourage my clients to start with unleashing their options when feeling stress. This list offers a great start.

The suggestion regarding exercise really resonates with me. Walking is absolutely my favorite way to improve my mood and even have a better quality of sleep.

My recent blog is about walking with my 88-year-old neighbor. Sheila has never walked or exercised! She jokes about her favorite t-shirt which sums up her exercise beliefs. It reads: Eat Healthy, Exercise, Die Anyway. Knowing Sheila’s not the stay-at-home type (pre-pandemic she worked five days a week at a travel agency), I worried about her isolation stress. So, I offered a suggestion: Let’s walk. We meet at 2pm every day (even walking through light rain). Recently she said, “This is almost euphoric. I didn’t know what I was missing.” It’s been a dramatic change in her life, especially now, and an unexpected benefit in mine.

In the stress research they call this “tend-and-befriend.” By caring for and connecting with Sheila, I’ve also lowered my stress. So, I encourage others to reach out and connect, especially with those you think might be struggling.

I agree that meditation is wonderful, though I’ve never been able to maintain a consistent practice. I’ve practiced yoga for over 20 years. The first time I became aware of my breath and began to learn to be comfortable with stillness was on my yoga mat.

The difficulty for many of us is transferring our meditation and yoga developed awareness to stressful moments when they occur, which is why it’s so helpful to establish the habit of challenging ourselves in those exact moments.

I really like Ripley’s notion that disasters provide opportunities because it acknowledges that we can learn and grow from our experiences.

Positive social relationships are very important to me, and I use the phone and other means to stay in touch with people.

You mentioned that it is challenging for you as an introvert to reach out to others by phone or other means. My husband, Wayne, is an introvert who is way more talkative on the phone than in person. Any insight about that, as a fellow introvert?

Dennis: Wayne and I prove that introverts can be very different from one another. One of the things that introverts have in common, though, is sensitivity to stimulation that causes us to more easily feel overloaded than extroverts. All of us introverts seek ways to manage that overload within the context of our lives. As a teacher I always appreciated the quiet of the school before students arrived and after they left. And that’s why I will sometimes drive for hours without playing the radio in my car and savor the silence of my home after becoming too absorbed with daily or even hourly news events.

Jamie: Thanks, Dennis. You’ve helped me understand how Wayne could spend the last month painting our home without a single sound other than the swish of the paint roller!

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Are there ideas on this list that particularly resonate with you?

A conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner: Spotting stress before it overtakes us

My conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner, author of Less Stress Life, continues.

Dennis: Your approach to stress management, Jamie, begins with an awareness of distress in the moment you’re feeling it, and you use a journal to note it and to identify a strategy to address it. That is a wonderful and very specific use of a journal!

Many of us are unaware of our stress until we are some distance down the “psycho path.”

Do you have any hints about how we can become more conscious of our stress before it begins to possess us?

Jamie: You’re so right, Dennis. When we’re not conscious of stress it’s like noticing a few weeds in our garden and letting our weeding task slide. Pretty soon our garden is so overtaken by weeds we can hardly see the flowers. 

When we don’t spot our stress it can overtake us and we can hardly find joy.

What’s worked for me is to start spotting stress—right in the moment that it happens. 

Here’s what that looks like. I might notice, as I’m reading the newspaper, that I’m nearly holding my breath from worry. I’ve learned that shallow breathing is a sure sign of stress in my body. That observation puts me on a stress alert so I can move to unleashing some options.

Like your “news diet,” I might shift from the news to the crossword puzzle, put the paper aside, or skip over the coronavirus stories (as compelling as they are) and read the latest book reviews instead. But if I haven’t even spotted my stress in the first place, I won’t have the option to consider what might make me feel calmer.

Knowing how stress shows up in our bodies is different for each of us. Look for things like fluttering in your chest, crunched up shoulders, a clenched jaw, or tightness in your neck. We each tend to have our “go to” stress patterns.

Stress also pops up in our thoughts. When we learn to spot those worrisome thoughts the moment they occur, we can create a habit of talking back to them by reframing the thought in a positive way. 

So, when you catch yourself with a thought like this, That darn cat litter really stinks, consider reframing it to this thought, Well, at least my sense of smell is still intact and I don’t have coronavirus.

You may notice in my above examples that stress often shows up around things we can’t control. So also be on the lookout for when frightening thoughts are outside of your control. Stay present and focus on what you can control. Like purchasing toilet paper! My hunch about the current toilet paper hoarding is that people feel out of control with fear of contracting the virus, so they are looking for things in their lives they can control. Buying paper products is one of them.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

What do you do to become aware of your stress before it overtakes you?

A conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner: How can I think or behave right now to feel less stress?

My conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner, author of Less Stress Life, continues.

Dennis: A recent local newspaper headline said “Michiganders deal with fear, death and isolation during coronavirus.”

That is what a pandemic feels like to most of us, a reality that cannot be denied or minimized.

And when you add to that the “ordinary” pre-pandemic problems of life, the stressors of families thrown together 24/7 with no end in sight, and the financial burdens that many are facing, it is hard not to worry or catastrophize, especially if we are already prone to those mental habits.

I am fortunate to have valuable pandemic-management resources at hand that are not available to everyone.

I walk several miles a day in a city amenable to walking, read books and newspapers on my digital devices, watch Netflix and other streaming services, and like others, try to stay connected through FaceTime and Zoom. 

Nonetheless, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by recent events and flooded by sadness at the images I see on cable news.

But like you, I see life as a series of choices that affect my well being, although I regret to say that I am too often unaware of my options at the moment of choice.

I remember a cartoon in which hikers were looking at a marker that named the two trails ahead, the “scenic path” and the “psycho path.” I think we determine which path we walk through the countless decisions we make each day.

I see the psycho path in front of me when I find my mind projecting too far into the unknown future, creating a tension that reminds me to return to the present moment by simply paying attention to my breathing or to the sensations of wind and sun and to birdsong when I walk.

I also feel the psycho path arising before me when I become too absorbed or even obsessed with daily news events.

My remedy has been to put myself on a “news diet” which limits my consumption to news headlines and occasional op-ed pieces. I have learned that the news coming from the radio is less stressful for me than that provided by cable TV with its unrelenting, repetitive images of tragedy in its many forms. 

But I know a lot of people, as you likely do as well, Jamie, who feel resigned to their current reality rather than empowered to shape their lives.

In your writing you often illustrate your points with personal stories. What other tools do you use?

Jamie: I’m laughing out loud at the image of “psycho path” and “scenic path.” But, it’s so apt, especially for these trying times. It’s a humorous reminder that we each have choices in how we respond. Some choices will lead to a calmer state and others will keep us on edge and feeling anxious. 

Here are three tools that can help us stay on the scenic path.

  1. Appreciate what’s good along the path. We could stroll along a beautiful path in the woods with our heads cast toward the ground, filled with worry. Or, we could look up and see the budding trees and cloudless sky. Choose to look up.
  2. Decide who to walk with. Stress is contagious. Some people bring out our worry while others help us feel calm. Remind yourself of the typical feelings you have when interacting with each person in your life. Then, depending on your stress level and what you need, choose wisely with whom to spend your time.
  3. Recognize it could be worse. Maybe the weather is colder than you’d like as you walk the path. Take a moment to consider how much colder it could be and appreciate that you’re able to walk the path at all. 

It takes some practice to have these kinds of tools kick in when we need them. But, after a while they become our default way of thinking and behaving in the face of stress. 

Dennis, you have great tools that show how well you know yourself and what will help you maintain equanimity. That kind of insight is a key part of what it takes to shift our thinking and behavior. 

Imagine if when we felt stressed, we looked within and asked ourselves this question: How can I think or behave right now to feel less stress?

That’s what I did starting in 2017. I challenged myself to look for a moment of stress every day. Then when I was in that moment I thought outside the box for how I could think or behave differently. I committed to asking this question daily for one year. 

It was easy to find stress, as I imagine it would be for you. There were little moments like my printer jamming and bigger moments like my dire health diagnosis. Each day I jotted what happened in a journal so I could capture and dissect what I was feeling and learning. 

Just three months into my challenge I was surprised to find this new way of thinking had become habitual. I saw stress as an opportunity to try something new, like tackle the printer when I had plenty of time and wasn’t rushed. 

The changes in me didn’t happen overnight, but I gradually began to feel empowered. I’m now consciously choosing the “scenic path” while avoiding the “psycho path.”

[TO BE CONTINUED]

What methods do you use to stay on the “scenic path?”

A conversation with Jamie Sussel Turner: Seeing stress as a choice

I have known Jamie Sussel Turner for perhaps 20 years. I first knew her as a principal and then as someone who wrote and taught about stress and ways to address it.

As a regular reader of her blog, The Less Stress Coach, and more recently her book, Less Stress Life, I recognized that there was Jamie Sussel Turnerconsiderable overlap between resilience and how individuals perceive and respond to the stressors in their lives.

And so I invited her to begin a written conversation in which we would share our thinking and experiences related to those subjects.

Dennis: In Less Stress Life you discuss, among other things, a two-decade journey with cancer that continues to this day. 

For that reason, among others, your life has given you lots of opportunities to practice what you’ve learned about stress management.

In addition, as I write this we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely prove to be among the darkest periods in U.S. and global history.

Many of us live within homes that are pressure cookers fueled by countless stressors, large and small, familiar and unfamiliar. We are frightened about our own health and the health of those we care about, while the daily news unrelentingly brings us more sorrow and uncertainty than we can absorb.

Given that you are living with the daily reality of your own illness within the larger context of a pandemic, I’m wondering what you have learned about stress management and resilience that is working for you at this moment, and what continues to challenge you.

Jamie: Well, I’m 68 years old with a weakened immune system from 60 rounds of chemo over the past two years, so I can’t be too cautious. And knowing that stress weakens our immune systems makes it even more important than ever to get a grip on stress.  

From 20 years of learning, writing, and lessening my stress and the stress of others, my overarching lesson is that we each have as much stress as we choose. I didn’t used to believe that. I would blame bad drivers, bad bosses, or bad situations for my stress without considering what I could do differently. 

Owning how I contributed to my stress led me to this understanding: A stress free life is not an option. What is optional is how we handle stress. We can fall back on lifelong patterns where stress triggers us to panic, not sleep, and have digestive disturbances, skin rashes, headaches, or any number of physical issues. Or we can choose to search for new ways to think and act in the face of stress. 

Once we see stress as a choice, everything changes. 

I’m not saying this shift in thinking and behavior is easy. As a natural catastrophizer, I’m continually challenged by staying in the present moment. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2018 my son and his wife were five months away from the birth of their son. I instantly jumped to thinking; I’m never going to hold this precious baby. This thought brought me to tears until I caught myself and chose to shift my thinking. When my sadness would surface I’d say to myself, No one knows if they will be here in five months. And I have the best doctors who are delivering excellent care. 

And now that we’re in new territory with COVID-19 my fear surfaced quickly. I thought, What if the hospital is overrun with virus patients and I can’t continue my chemo? After spotting this catastrophic thought I asked myself these questions: Should I try to suppress this thought? Should I write about my fear? Should I try to understand my fear? I chose to share my worries with my doctor. Speaking it aloud helped. She expressed confidence that the infusion center would continue to function. I also consciously chose to talk back to my fear when it crept back into my brain. Now I say to myself: You can’t control how the hospital functions. Thinking about it is counterproductive. Remember how reassuring the doctor was. 

By spotting my stressful thoughts, unleashing some options, and practicing staying in the present moment I am able to remain calmer than I would have imagined was possible. I remind myself to stay out of the “what ifs” and stay with “what is.” 

When faced with stress we always have a choice in how to respond. 

[TO BE CONTINUED]

What methods are you using to more or less successfully manage the inevitable stress of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Are our memories trustworthy?

I have spent much of my life being drawn forward by goals and plans.

Then I decided it was time to look back in time to solve the mystery of my father’s family which was to a large extent invisible to me as a child. A few months of investigation revealed that they had been hiding in plain sight, both geographically and genealogically.

I hoped to link what I was learning about my family from documents with what I recalled from childhood experiences and recollections of conversations from decades ago. 

But it didn’t take long for me to become suspicious of my early memories, often finding myself wondering whether others would confirm or alter what I claimed to be true. 

Later, as I reflected on my career, many of the memories I was attempting to retrieve were more than 50 years old.

Was what I remembered accurate, or did it only feel true?

Or, was my memory simply the story I had repeated many times to myself and to others, a story that has supplanted the actual experience?

When I could, I checked for accuracy with others who were involved, but more often than not they had no memory of the event or conversation. 

I quickly concluded that it was possible for something to feel true without necessarily being accurate, that is, if accuracy means that the memories are faithful to the “reality” that would have been captured by, say, a video recorder, had they existed half a century ago. 

Seth Godin labels this phenomena “memories of memories”:

“That’s most of what we’ve got,” he writes.

“We don’t actually remember much of what happens. Instead, we get what we’ve rehearsed.

“If we fail to rehearse, the memory will fade.

“And if the memory isn’t serving us, we can work to stop rehearsing it.

“Choosing what we rehearse is a way of choosing who we will become.”

I believe two things about my memories—that they serve me by helping me make sense of my life, and that the meaning I draw from those memories will likely affect my future.

While I’ve done my best in these posts to accurately describe the experiences that have shaped my career, I know that I have likely fallen short of that goal.

But I am heartened to know that those memories, as Godin points out, can serve the future as well as recall the past.

Do you trust your memories? How have they served you, and how might they affect the future?

What to do when you feel like an impostor

I have sometimes felt like an impostor, particularly when taking on new, more demanding responsibilities.

Over time I learned that many leaders also have felt like frauds whose incompetence might be revealed at any moment, and that there was a name for such a feeling—“the impostor syndrome.”

Here’s what I had to say on that subject in January 2013.

When leaders feel like impostors

A surprising number of us feel like impostors. Even people who appear confident and in charge may be experiencing what some have termed “the imposter syndrome.” 

Those who suffer from it may appear to know what they are doing. They may appear confident, or even superbly confident. But deep inside they fear the moment when their incompetence will be revealed.

Here’s an example in which Ben Affleck describes what it felt like to direct his first movie, “Gone Baby Gone”: “I was very, very scared. I just didn’t know if I could do it. . . . And every day I was scared, and I probably stayed that scared throughout … and not sure of myself at all.”

So, if you sometimes feel like you have risen above your level of competence, here are some things you might do:

1. Admit it to yourself and to trusted confidants. Because this is a very common feeling, they are likely to disclose the same feelings to you, and together you will experience the relief of knowing that you’re not alone.

2. Read what experts have to say about the syndrome and what can be done to address it.

3. In those small number of areas in which there may be reality-based knowledge or skill deficits, engage in the process of professional learning to remedy the deficits.

If you have felt this way, what strategies have you used to counteract the impostor syndrome when you felt it arising within you?

Expanding the boundaries of our best selves

Occasionally I find myself in uncomfortable situations over which I seemingly have little control. 

“Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now” is an idea I draw on to improve both how I am feeling in that moment and the situation itself.

“Do the best that you can…” is an empowering thought that enables our resourcefulness by reminding us of the options available to us to change things for the better, as this April 2017 post reminds us.

Do the best that you can…

Do the best that you can with what you have where you are right now. — a poster in a high school science teacher’s classroom

That’s wonderful advice for all of us that applies in many situations. 

And it’s an approach to life used by many resilient people.

But because resilient people are resourceful, consider these additions to it:

Do the best that you can by expanding what you know and can do through lifelong learning

With what you have, and with what you can acquire through learning and by using your resourcefulness to provide additional tools to more effectively accomplish your goals

Where you are right now, and, when appropriate, by changing your environment or your mental perspective about the place where you are.

What do you do to continuously expand the boundaries of your best self?

The attributes of resilient people

Resilience is something we learn through adversity. We apply those beliefs and skills, in turn, when we face new adversity.

Here is my list of attributes, from March 2017, that support resilient people during difficult times.

“6 Cs of Resilience”

I offer the “6 Cs of resilience” to stimulate your thinking and perhaps guide your actions: 

Clarity about values, ideas, goals, and strategies to accomplish those goals. Such clarity will come in and out of focus and require fresh thinking when circumstances change within and around us.

Commitment to persist through difficult times. Resilience sometimes requires doing the thing we don’t want to do but that we know is important.

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive. Such communication is particularly challenging when people vigorously disagree with us by asserting values and positions that we believe are irrational and even immoral. 

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action when we are addressing powerful social and economic forces. Dialogue created in community can also help us find and maintain clarity.

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening. Courage is not the absence of fear, but instead acting in its presence. As someone once said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” 

Care, beginning with self-care. Self-care means making our physical, emotional, and spiritual health a priority because if we don’t care for ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Care also includes, of course, respect for others, particularly those with whom we most strongly disagree.

No matter our starting place, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are significant to us and to join with others to achieve what we cannot accomplish alone.

Which of the Cs is most important for you at this particular moment in time? What would you add to this list?

Maintaining your sanity in the face of relentless lying

“The political lie has achieved a kind of unholy immunity, such that when liars are caught they no longer complain that they have been misunderstood,” Louis Menand wrote in the December 10, 2018 issue of the New Yorker. “They ‘double down’ on the lie as shamelessly as possible. An accepted way to respond to someone who accuses you of lying is to accuse that person of lying, an invitation for people to choose the falsehoods that suit them, since it’s all fake anyway.”

While I am hopeful that truth telling and reasoned debate will again prevail in our civic life, at the moment I am putting more of my faith in the rule of law and a robust free press.

In the meantime, the suggestions I offered in this post in February 2017 are as relevant today as they were then.

When you think you’re going crazy…

[I]t’s always possible that Trump himself is simply unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, or can’t be bothered to try. But the darker possibility is that the conflation is deliberate, not with the intention of deceiving, of substituting false for true, but of disrupting our ability to tell the two apart, or indeed, by advertising how vast is his own unconcern for the distinction, to lead us in time to be as indifferent, if only out of fatigue. —Andrew Coyne

lie: intransitive verb: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 

There are few greater tests to one’s resilience than to be in the presence of sustained lying.

A steady drip of lies, like water on rock, can gradually shape the contours of reality and even our sanity.

Here are three contemporary forms of lying that are shaping our political reality and sanity:

1. gas·lighting/verb, gerund, or present participle: manipulate someone by lying or other psychological means into questioning their own sanity

The repetition of a lie in the face of contrary evidence, including what we can see with our own eyes, can cause recipients of the lie to question their sense of reality.

I remember a story from decades ago, which may or may not be true, about a professional baseball player who asked his manager what he should have done when his wife caught him in bed with another woman. “Say you weren’t with the woman,” the manager said. “But she saw me,” the player repeated. “Tell her you don’t know what she’s talking about,” the manager replied. “And keep saying it.”

Big lie: noun: a false statement of outrageous magnitude employed in the belief that a lesser falsehood would not be credible, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician or official body.

A leading contemporary example is the “birther” big lie employed by our current president in an effort to discredit and undermine the presidency of his predecessor, which also served the purpose of attracting to him many of his core followers.

“Alternative facts”: a form of mind control and dominance used by demagogues in which information unsupported by objective reality is declared to be true (you can learn more about the history of this term here)

Examples: “You say 2 + 2 = 4. I say 2 + 2 = 5. Who’s to say which is right. Certainly not the lying media.”

You say “Climate change has widespread support in the scientific community. I say that it’s just a theory and that China thought it up. My theory is just as good as your theory.”

Taken together, the unrelenting landscape of falsehoods makes it understandable that Americans may be feeling a bit crazy these days and why 1984 has become a bestseller in recent weeks.

Why do leaders lie?

• because lies can be used to manipulate public policy, intimidate enemies, and exaggerate accomplishments 

• because lies can be used as loyalty tests to see who repeats them, which is especially important for authoritarian leaders who value loyalty beyond all other things.

What can we do in the face of such lying and manipulation?

1. First, call lying what it is. Don’t minimize it by calling it a “fabrication” or a “falsehood” or “alternative facts.”

2. Recognize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.

3. If in doubt, do a reality check. Talk with others you respect to maintain your confidence in “reality.” 

Stay in those conversations as long as necessary to restore your sanity and to give yourself courage to label the lying for what it is and to confront it at every opportunity.

Given that such leaders prevail when we become overwhelmed by and resigned to their lying, what are you doing to maintain your sanity and motivation for challenging the lies?


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