February 26, 2010

COMMENTARYWhat the world needs now is a boost in morale

— Ican't tell you how many times I have mentioned to people that I am a writer and they ask me something to the effect of: ''So, how do you make a living?''

Never mind the arduous research, personal dedication and thought given to every writing endeavor. It is demoralizing to have one's occupation viewed through such a jaded lens. Off-topic, mean-spirited letters from readers don't do much for the soul either.

This is why I am sometimes jolted when I receive compliments about my efforts. Recently, I received an e-mail that read, in part, ''I hope that your evolving focus, verbal energy and acuity continue to afford us new surprises, insights and gratifications. Thank you for your good work.''

All ego aside, that one garners a prominent place on my office bulletin board. But, why is it so surprising to me and others that we hesitate standing up for our life's endeavors and often feel discouraged to the point of not taking constructive action to offset our sense of despair and social oppression?

Why do I hold back telling people that my low-paying work is part of my aspiration to help make the world better and more engaged?

''What gives people morale? Encouragement. Small victories. Models of courageous behaviors. And anything that helps them break out of the vicious cycle of pain, shut down and immobilization,'' writes Bruce E. Levine, author of ''Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy.''

On a larger scale, why is it increasing more difficult for Americans to fight back against injustices? For example, about 47 million people in this country have no health insurance and millions more are under-insured or losing their coverage. But, where are the protestors against the undue influence of insurance companies blocking health-care reform?

According to Levine, polls show that the majority of Americans oppose U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the taxpayer bailouts of targeted members of the financial industry, but a very small few people boycott against these circumstances.

''U.S. citizens do not actively protest obvious injustices for the same reasons that people cannot leave their abusive spouses,'' states Levine, also a clinical psychologist. ''They feel helpless to effect change . . . ultimately to deal with the painful humiliation over inaction in the face of an oppressor, we move into shut-down mode and use escape strategies such as depression, substance abuse and other diversions, which further keep us from acting.''

Levine adds that most Americans are also held down by financial fears. He asserts that there is the possibility of legal debt associated with speaking out against powerful authority, and other debts with non-compliance on a job. Young people face college debts and the fear of having no health insurance in the future.

Social isolation is a key component is our sense of helplessness. A 2006 American Sociological Review study, ''Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,'' that in 2004, 25 percent of Americans had no individual to confide in.

As observed by sociologist Robert Putnam, there is a significant decrease in face-to-face contact with neighbors and friends due to suburbanization, commuting, electronic entertainment, as well as time and money pressures.

In his 1978 book, ''Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,'' Jerry Mander outlines a variety of reasons why TV has contributed to breaking down the soul of a population, including that it separates people from one another, creates sensory deprivation, occupies the mind and fills the brain with pre-arranged experience and thought, eliminates or 'museumizes' other cultures to eliminate comparisons and redefines happiness and the so-called meaning of life.

What makes matters worse in that is that nearly everything on Earth is commercialized in some form or another, including spirituality, music and film, in such a way that most people are deadened in their ability to effect change in the world. We are constantly being relegated to being mere consumers.

''Consumerism breaks people by de-valuing human connectedness, socializing self-absorption, obliterating self-reliance, alienating people from normal human reactions, and, by selling the idea that purchased products -- not themselves and their community -- are their salvation'', Levine writes. A kind of opiate for the masses.

This is not a good way to look at the future. Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, ''I felt better when I gave up hope.''

I don't buy that line. As we approach each new year, we all should strive to fight the forces that make us stop doing what we believe in doing, especially if it can make all of our lives better.

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book, ''The Written Song: The Antebellum African-American Press in the Northeast,'' is due for publication early in 2010. He can be contacted at:

leighd@lycos.comBut, why is it so surprising to me and others that we hesitate standing up for our life's endeavors and often feel discouraged to the point of not taking constructive action to offset our sense of despair and social oppression?

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