When you create a hierarchy to control a society, those individuals who benefit from that arrangement often resist change because they perceive it as a loss. The controls created over time can be substantial, hard to change, which creates considerable trauma for the members of society. Those who are aware can be harmed and killed. I call this the courage penalty, but there are bigger consequences than just instilling fear. These tactics, rather than creating the resilience and thriving we need to adapt to change as it occurs, put a society on a slippery downward slope.
Hierarchy: A Common Structure
What are ways in which a trauma-creating society can be designed? Generally, through hierarchical and dictatorial arrangements.
Some examples of how this happens are:
- by having a claim over the natural resources, others need to survive. If you need food and I control all of the agricultural lands – an extreme example, I know – then I have power over you because you need what I have to survive. If I am an abusive and dictatorial person, I can use your basic needs to get you to bow down to me in some way or to exploit you. Not very friendly, is it?
- by law. We make laws to enable us to live and work together. But some societies bake into the law benefits for some over others. Even in the US, land could be owned only by white men initially. It was only 50 years ago that women obtained the legal right to own property in their own name. Before then, she owned property as an “et uxor,” which was as a wife. Laws that advantage some over others have existed for thousands of years because of property-based legal systems and who was allowed to own property which created property-based dictatorships.
- by force. Dictators and authoritarians are generally ruthless and therefore have little hesitation about using force to get what they want. Often they consider themselves superior to others and justify their violence. Authoritarians expect to get their way, so when they do not, they usually feel insulted when, in fact, they have not been. It is a difficult aspect of their personalities.
- by consent. In some societies, the populace will elect a dictator, because they think that person will stand up for them. There may be times when a “strongman” type ruler is a good idea; they have been known to get societies with many warring factions to behave. But beyond that, however, they often have a lot of destructive effects on society. Authoritarians hold a huge amount of power in their hands and have little trouble throwing under the bus those who do not serve the dictator as demanded. They can also uphold and serve prejudices against different people.
- by hierarchy. When cultures develop, they tend to create hierarchies, and people who benefit from the hierarchy will resist change, especially if their position in the hierarchy is changed or their benefits are reduced. People with advantages in a hierarchy will often resist any change to their status.
Can We Change This?
Trauma makes us attached to someone or something. It may be that we become attached through trauma to a particular role in our society. It may be used to connect us to the desires of others and forgo our own. In essence, trauma makes us subservient.
Therefore, it is a way to keep us from being active agents in life and present and participating in the evolution of our society. Trauma creates a big stop sign. Trauma will result in fear and defensiveness when we think about making changes. This occurs primarily because change is considered a harm to the “system.” The framing of change as a harm, as something “bad” is why too often, those who are facilitating new ways of living or addressing important issues suffer trauma at the hands of those who want to deny change.
So can we overcome these ways of operating in a society that is so attached to the past that it harms us by refusing change?
The Benefit Of A Joy Practice
I believe a joy practice is very useful for doing so because a joy practice notices, focuses on, elevates, and celebrates the good in people, culture, and nature. Where authoritarian systems and highly prejudicial systems see something negative and focus on a perceived negative, real or imagined, a joy practice does the opposite. And we know that what you focus on expands.
Joy is a feeling, of course. It is also a way to shift out of fear-based living so that a healthier foundation can be created for living. It can be hard to imagine life without fear since we have so much of it. Our media offers plenty of doom and gloom and makes every decision fraught with potential harm and blowback. So many people walk around on tiptoes trying to manage the challenges of our fear-based world. It would make sense if everything was a matter of life and death, but is it?
This is the thing: fear causes us to constrict and contract to deal only with the risk or danger at hand. When it dominates, we set aside parts of ourselves that do not support dealing with the fear in question. A joy practice flips the script, so instead of being afraid of change, it embraces necessary change as an inevitable part of the natural flow of life. Most importantly, it is not adversarial in its approach to change. Instead, by embracing change constructively, we can find the value in change and use it to reduce the unnecessary vulnerability created by resistance to change.
All Aspects Of Yourself Are There For A Reason
Everything about you serves an important life purpose. So often, we are encouraged to stifle ourselves, not to be a bother, to be less than we are. It can be disheartening to hear these messages because they can be very rejecting, not just of uncomfortable aspects of ourselves but of the best in us as well. It can be hard to be comfortable in our own skin, let alone like or love ourselves, when we receive these negative messages. We need a different perspective to handle this kind of messaging.
A joy practice can help us to understand that these messages are meant to protect the past, not to address needs in the present and future. It can help us see ourselves as part of a world evolving to be friendlier to humans and non-humans alike. You belong to the universe, the human race, and the purpose of creating joy. This larger understanding of your belonging helps you maintain your friendliness to yourself and others while honoring who you are and what you need while supporting the emergence of more equitable and egalitsarian social structures – something we have needed for a long time.