Defiance Has Many Faces

Defiance – we have all felt and experienced it. Defiance has received a bad reputation. It is thought of as a refusal to conform or obey and it can be. Defiance is usually assumed to be a failing of one sort or another.

Is it?

What is Defiance?

This is definition from the Free Dictionary:

de·fi·ance  (d-fns)


1. The act or an example of defying; bold resistance to an opposing force or authority.
2. Intentionally contemptuous behavior or attitude; readiness to contend or resist.

Does it work then that being defiant is culturally defined? Is it perhaps something more than an issue with authority? What is the basis for deciding what is defiance and what is not? Obviously, we need rules in order to make our shared world work; we recognize that traffic laws and the like are necessary.

However, defiance is about much more than rules. As the Free Dictionary suggests, defiance is actually something deeper and more personal. It is also universal. Defiance is a refusal to be present.

The Liability Of Defiance

Defiance is not the same thing as questioning. Defiance is a preconceived idea about what should not be happening. It is a mental imposition on reality. So it is a refusal to accept reality. Whenever you decide what reality “should” be then you take yourself out of reality and increase your vulnerability and your potential to make mistakes.

What that means that in not accepting reality you close yourself off to the real possibilities in any situation. It is a limited consideration of what is happening that sets us up for failure because it overlooks important factors.

Identifying Defiant Actions

There are a lot of ways in which defiance operates:

  • not getting a night’s sleep when tired
  • not accepting or listening to your feelings
  • not listening when in a conversation with someone else
  • expecting problems to magically disappear
  • not respecting your limits and the limits of others
  • driving too fast
  • drinking and driving
  • eating food that is unhealthy
  • impatience
  • competition and snobbery
  • littering
  • expectations
  • self-deception
  • overwork

These are just some examples of ways in which an individual can be defiant and it is not limited to individuals. It can show up in groups as well and often does.

Attachment And Defiance

All fixed ideas end up inevitably creating defiance because life is not fixed, reality is not fixed and therefore our perceptions should not be fixed either. When groups get together and develop fixed ideas they become a set of beliefs that become the basis of social bonding and the idea platform that organizes daily life. Life, however, is organic and non-linear so all fixed beliefs will result in failure of some kind. It is not the job of reality to maintain our beliefs. It is our job to relate to and operate effectively in reality.

Since we need others to survive, when we are part of a group that has beliefs that defy reality then we are creating risks for ourselves and the group is making everyone more vulnerable. The easiest way to see this in action is to notice the increased vulnerability of people and the planet to environmental catastrophe because of climate change denial.

At a personal level, we can tune into the universe, and our surroundings and take them in without denial. At group level, it is a more difficult problem when the majority claims a set of beliefs that is harmful. We are still not able as a group to manage our beliefs so they are in touch with our life circumstances.

The Many Faces Of Defiance

Defiance can be found anywhere: in individuals, groups, organizations, and countries. It is our job to get a handle on what is happening so that we can respond intelligently.

Only in giving up defiant attitudes wherever it arises can we access out natural intelligence and creativity and put them to work in healthy ways. Relinquishing digging in our heels and replacing it with healthy receptivity is an important skill for anyone to learn but one that highly sensitive people with their increased receptivity have an easier time mastering.

The End Of Economic Man

Who is economic man?

Economic man is a human creation, an identity we invented to serve a specific purpose.

Economic Man And The Age Of Enlightenment

Many people think that with the Enlightenment we invented freedom. That is a myth. What we really invented was what I call “economic man” or the identity suited to the Industrial Age.

According to Wikipedia, The Age Of Enlightenment

was a cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries, which began first in Europe and later in the American colonies. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition,[1] intolerance and some abuses of power by the church and the state.

Religions ruled the world until the emergence of science during the Age of Enlightenment .  Science became the antidote to superstition and religious abuses of power from those religious systems and the basis and justification for economic and political changes.

These changes were not just political changes. Our ways of learning and knowing were undergoing a revolution because we had new ways of discovering and evaluating information through scientific process. The scientific process created a way for us to formalize trial and error which led to new methods of making goods which in turn made improvements in our standard of living. The contribution to human life of this age has been substantial.

Why We Changed

At the time of the Industrial Revolution, human needs were largely unmet, living standards miserable and life spans short. So we developed manufacturing capabilities to meet out needs. Since the needs were high and life spans short, we use short-term strategies to create support for this new system so that it could meet the needs of so many more people.

What we created was

  • scientific methods to help us develop tools and materials
  • capitalism
  • consumption
  • money as an indicator of status
  • more participatory political systems

Enter Economic Man.

Who Is Economic Man?

Economic man is the human being empowered to

  • negotiate and manipulate
  • bend the living systems of the world
  • to use nature to support human life
  • be opportunistic
  • work for himself and his own desires.

Economic man is about the trade. Economic man is about performance. Economic man is entrepreneurial. Economic man is not humanitarian although many living standards have improved because of economic man’s emergence.

The High Cost Of Opportunism

Where life before the Enlightenment was regulated by religious systems, the Enlightenment developed human social structures to support opportunism. It was a value that could foster innovation, create many products and solve many material problems.

Opportunism has a strong energy and people feel empowered when they are opportunistic. There is a catch, however. Opportunism is not creativity. It is not necessarily a life affirming value. It is often adversarial, and too frequently rewards those who get the better of others, fostering inequity and unhappiness.

Opportunistic societies place little value on friendship so they only satisfy some of our needs, and not our deepest needs. Opportunism is relentless. When it become a lifestyle it is a bottomless pit, an addiction. When it becomes a society’s dominant value, it creates inner conflict because it pits external values against the deeper more humanitarian needs of the individual. This inner conflict can be destructive and take a lot of energy.

Although winning can be fun, sustained winning is an energy drain and consumer of resources. At some point everyone becomes exhausted. This is where we find ourselves today – drained by too much opportunism and too many claims on our fragile resources. The costs now outweigh the benefits.

You could say that the Enlightenment has been too successful. We now live longer, have more and there are more of us.

So perhaps we can give thanks that we are being given the opportunity to wake up and find more important treasures worthy of pursuing in life: friendship, nature, our creative and spiritual sides. For HSPs the change couldn’t be more welcome.

Why Emotional Pain Should Be Public Business

We have so many examples of mishandled pain.  When are we going to address the problem?  When are we going to ask, why is this occurring and what we can do about it?

News about people shooting each other is so common now that many of us don’t give it a passing thought.  Or if we do it goes like this: …probably couldn’t take it… …sounds like a bad person… …I would never do that…  And so it goes, the rationalizing begins.

When we hear of a young person opening fire at a school killing others, we assume that we are dealing with a “bad” person.  On so many occasions we hear of an individual who had been abused opening fire on others. Too often, abuse and neglect were a part of the relationship between the shooter and the victim(s) until the shooter and the victim change roles.

We expect people to put up with social abuse as if it does not cause pain. Recent research would indicate otherwise. According to the February 24, 2012 article in Medical News Today ” Naomi Eisenberger of the University of Califiornia-Los Angeles, the author of a new paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, physical pain and social pain are processed in some of the same regions of the brain.”

This means that the person who is being abused or bullied is feeling physical pain whenever the abuse occurs.  The individual who is rejected repeatedly for being different is experiencing more physical pain with each negative experience.

The human body has the capacity to process experiences and “digest” them. However, when we become overloaded the ability to process and digest experiences can break down. We all have limits that need to be respected.

For a very long time, social pain has been treated as a problem in the individual.  It has been a way to make social ranking, social rejection and other forms of social abuse unimportant at the institutional level. We are paying a high price for our willful ignorance.

Denying social pain makes survival an individual matter and the well being of an individual also the problem of the individual.  Making people responsible for their well being is not intrinsically bad.  However, when the individual is in an environment where well being is not possible, then they are caught in an untenable situation.

I think we have let our institutions off the hook for too long.  If it is not the job of institutions to create conditions that promote well being, what are they here for? I think it is time we asked ourselves and our institutions that question.

Are We Kidding Ourselves About Abundance?

There has to be a better answer.

At least that is what I keep telling myself.

For the longest time I have asked myself why there is so much misery in the world and what can be done to change it.

We have had many answers in our human history, but often they fall into one of three categories:

  1. do without and learn to like it
  2. indulge yourself
  3. consume moderately which is a little of everything, no extremes of self denial or self indulgence.

I am not pointing in a spiritual direction with this post. I am raising practical considerations regarding material existence and human quality of life.

Why do we need to continually fool ourselves about material existence and abundance? I know I am speaking a heresy when I question current ideas about abundance, however:

  • there are only so many hours in the day; that is a reality.  Pretending that we do not need sleep does not change the number of hours in the day.
  • you can only really focus on one thing at a time.  Multitasking does not change that.  It just makes for sloppier work.
  • increased quantity of anything does not necessarily improve quality of life. A larger quantity of poor quality food just makes you sick.
  • taking more than you need now reduces your ability to take care of yourself in the future because all material existence takes time to replace.

Unfortunately, all of our “conventional” wisdom comes from times when there was an abundance of natural material for us to use and consume. In the past, times of scarcity came from natural causes ex. drought, or an inability to take advantage of natural resources, which capitalism has fixed.

Now we have to deal with our insatiable appetites at a time when there are over 7 billion of us, many of whom have had few material needs met.

Abundance does exist, but it is not fixed, permanent or immutable. We can destroy it. We can also nurture it.  Perhaps that needs to become our new skill.

So how do we nurture abundance in a way that is sustainable and meets the needs of everyone?

Why Kindness Is Winning

Kindness is winning!

Steven Pinker, the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, wrote an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Violence Vanquished, about the decline of violent conflict in the world, and how we have evolved to become more peaceful which means an increase in kindness.  The article was adapted from his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, published by Viking.

Mr. Pinker describes how over time we have passed through several stages of development, each of them reducing violence in the world:

  1. The first transition was from the early hunter/gather societies where people killed for food to agricultural societies when institutions started to be formed. Agriculture required the ability to store and protect food supplies which increased investment in a social structure and reduced crime.
  2. The second decline of violence occurred in Europe at the end of the feudal period. Apparently, killings declined 10-50 fold as nation states emerged, consolidating large territories and increasing the span of control of government institutions over greater areas of land.  This evolution had the additional effect of creating some standardization of laws which enabled commerce to flourish.
  3. The third transition which Mr. Pinker calls the Humanitarian Revolution, began with the Enlightenment and the effort to make human life more sustainable by harnessing nature to serve our largely unmet needs. The Enlightenment also ushered in democracy and even greater investment in social institutions.
  4. The fourth major transition is the one we are in with no world wars since the end of World War II called the Long Peace.

The Evolution Of Kindness

Over time we have a pattern of developing societies, institutions, and economies to ensure our survival on the planet that also makes human life more sustainable. As we have increased the sharing of power and responsibility, we have also reduced violence since people will not support a social structure that harms them.

Mr. Pinker points to the increase in humanitarian organizations and efforts that have exploded over the past century. Today the internet now makes humanitarian outreach a daily practice rather than something we do in our spare time.

Over time human rights have gradually triumphed over state rights which have been an important developmental shift in many human societies.  You could call it a rebalancing between the individual and the group.

The humanitarian evolution of our species has progressed to the point that empathy is becoming an important human value.  We now consider empathy to be one of the most important human characteristics which means that the basis highly sensitive people will become more welcome.

Mr. Pinker’s article is good news for HSPs. For a long time, sensitives had to hide their nature.  Now we are starting to be accepted.  As human creativity is evolving with our humanity, we may finally make a world which is good for all people, including highly sensitive people.