Earlier this week Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article for the NY Times highlighting the tragedy of human trafficking. His article and more information on the estimated 27 million people enslaved around the world can be found at www.ijm.org, the International Justice Mission. Most 21st century slaves are women and girls, and at least half are children. They face brutal forms of forced labor or prostitution, and are found across the globe, including the US. Our modern global economy has enabled us to not only access goods internationally, but for some to prey on the poor and the vulnerable. However, we can all work to raise awareness of human trafficking and speak out against this shocking exploitation of young people.
Anger is a necessary emotion and reaction to threat. In ages past it mediated the survival of the human species – if we were laid back about the predator entering our cave, we became immediate and phylogenetic history. Anger can also buttress appropriate outrage, for example if we encounter a playground bully, racism, or emotional abuse. Anger, however, is generally thought of as a “secondary emotion”, meaning anger is generally secondary to other emotions, such as fear, hurt, or sadness. Shame is a particularly unbearable emotion that can morph into anger. Anger can be thought of as one side of a coin, with the other side being another emotion. Therefore, to successfully express and resolve anger, we must be able to flip that coin and access both sides. Unfortunately our culture encourages men to keep only the anger side flipped up and women to keep the vulnerable side flipped up.
The expression of anger can be thought of as being on a continuum. At one end is passivity, which says, “I will let you stomp on me”. At the other end is aggression, which says, “I will stomp on you”. The entire middle of the continuum, however, is assertiveness, which says, “I will not stomp on you; neither will I allow you to stomp on me”. We have the option of being directly or mildly assertive, with many alternatives in between. In most cases, assertiveness results in the best outcomes, and enables us to be genuine advocates for ourselves and for others.
Ever since psychology emerged as an established discipline, debate has ensued concerning the causes of emotional suffering and mental illness. This is sometimes called the nature/nuture debate, and involves whether or not heredity or the environment influences the growth of personality and the possible development of psychic difficulties. During certain time periods, researchers and leading practitioners assert that it is nature – biology and genetics – that determine our psychic fate. At other times, leaders in the field have asserted that it is nurture – our families and other interpersonal experiences – that shape us as human beings. During at least the last three decades, the nature folks have held sway, possibly influenced by advances in the fields of neuropsychology and pharmaceuticals.
Like so many things in life, however, we come closer to the truth when we think in terms of both/and rather than either/or. While there is no disputing the reality of a genetic code, we also know instinctively that our families and our communities have a significant effect on who we become, and are becoming, as individuals. For example, biology may give us a predisposition, an “allergy”, to a certain condition (for example, substance abuse), while love, support, and good modeling will, in a sense, inoculate us against developing it; or, conversely, trauma and isolation will render us more susceptible. Human beings are so infinitely and wonderfully unique that establishing causation will always be difficult. Luckily, problems can be addressed, issues can be resolved, and life can be treasured, in spite of a lack of absolute scientific certainty.