Healing America’s Narratives: Our Collective National Shadow

[Adapted from Chapter Two of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow]

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In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin and others in Payson, Arizona, for five days of an experience entitled “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities, and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, the United States began bombing Iraq. So while we were exploring our respective individual Shadows and projections, our country’s collective Shadow and projections — “the evil out there” that we tend to see in other nations, groups, cultures, genders, colors, orientations, and people — was on full display, providing us an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration at the national level as well.

Jungian analyst Robert Johnson refers to “persona” as “what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world.…our psychological clothing” — the mask we wear. He refers to “ego” as “what we are and know about consciously” and to “Shadow” as “that part of us we fail to see or know…. that which has not entered adequately into consciousness.”¹

In A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly posits that behind each of us in childhood, “we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag.” In order to keep our elementary-school teachers happy, we continue to fill the bag, and in high school we further fill the bag in order to please our peers. “We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed.”² Bly points out that “There is also a national bag, and ours is quite long…. we are noble; other nations have empires. Other nations endure stagnant leadership, treat minorities brutally, brainwash their youth, and break treaties.”³

So, Shadow refers to disowned or repressed traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly projects onto others, whether or not the trait is considered positive or negative and whether or not the others actually embody the projected trait. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. If I tend to have a disproportionately highly charged emotional response to someone I experience as angry, there’s a good chance that I’ve repressed or disowned my own anger — it’s in my invisible bag.⁴ Until I recognize this dynamic and work to integrate my anger, anger will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people “out there” everywhere I go, while I remain oblivious to being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not. Oops.

Finally, the word shadow is sometimes used to refer to negative or undesired traits that we don’t like about ourselves. We might refer to these traits as our “dark side.” These undesired traits that were never in or that we’ve already retrieved from our invisible bag are not what we mean by Shadow in this essay.(6) We don’t know our Shadow is there. Our repression and denial are not conscious choices. Collective Shadow, as used here, refers to elements that are common to individuals in the United States. A nation does not have a discrete psyche or Shadow. A nation’s Shadow exists in the collective impact of individual Shadow elements that are common to many — not necessarily all — of its citizens.

As developed in Healing America’s Narratives, the collective Shadow of the United States historically and currently includes at least nine traits: ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness. Chapter Ten of the book argues that one man — a former president — embodies all of these traits and that his life unintentionally presents us with a gift: an invitation to recognize, own, and integrate our national Shadow amid our ongoing American experiment.


1. Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow, 3–4.

2. Robert Bly, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, 17–18.

3. Ibid., 26.

4. Anger is not necessarily a “bad” thing; it is clarifying. What can go wrong is how we understand and what we do with our anger.

Cultural Givens and the View from Here

[Adapted from Chapter One of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

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Everything we do or say arises through our worldview, which arises through our experiences, beliefs, values, relationships, aspirations, and development. It includes those aspects of ourselves of which we’re not yet aware — our Shadow. Each of us, in our earliest moments and years is given a view of the world — “cultural givens,” — direct experiences of and beliefs about the world that our family of origin holds to be true. These experiences and beliefs include everything from ethnicity to local community to religious belief (or lack thereof) to national citizenship to our parents’ personalities to geography, climate, and year of birth.

It is possible to embrace these givens and live our lives without ever questioning them. It is also possible, and advisable, from the perspective of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, to embrace these givens early on and then, most commonly in adolescence and beyond but sometimes earlier, to reflect on them, challenge them, and see how they hold up against our direct experience of life.

An example: my current worldview is not the one I was given at birth and began to accept in early childhood. That worldview held that I was living in the greatest country in history and tended to favor being Italian-American, Catholic, and a New Yorker, among other characteristics. Our intention here is not to criticize our cultural givens. Criticizing our earliest views and ways of being in the world makes as much sense as criticizing an acorn for not yet being an oak or an infant for not yet being an adult. There is, however, a time to wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up. In waking up, we commit to seeing ‘what is’ through various states of consciousness. In growing up, we develop by seeking and taking increasingly inclusive, comprehensive, complex, and balanced perspectives. In cleaning up, we recognize, own, and integrate Shadow. And in showing up, we live authentically and help others. You get the idea.

The obvious (and easy to forget) importance here is that every person born anywhere and at any time since humans first appeared has his, her, or their own set of givens — in every location on the planet, with or without religion, and in poverty and wealth. Makes sense, yes? Each of us has a given story — an initial set of givens — whether or not we are aware of it. Some of it is given in order to simplify a complex world for young children; some of it is given as literal truth by the adults who believe it; and each of us continues to be given more input through late childhood, adolescent, young adult, and adult experiences and observations. What we choose to accept, embrace, revise, or reject is up to us. Each of us is responsible for our choices, acceptances, embraces, revisions, and rejections. No one is exempt.

SOCIALISM,* Critical Race Theory, and Total Radical Left Control in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District

In mid-June a letter arrived in my mailbox addressed to someone who was assumed to be and has never been a “longtime, dedicated Connecticut Republican.” The letter was signed by George Logan, who’s “running to defeat liberal Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.”

*With the exception of the italicized book titles, the uppercase letters and underlined, italicized and bolded words in this post appear as they do in the in the letter.

Very little, if any, of the hyperbole, generalizations, and vague references that appear in the letter appear on Mr. Logan’s website. He is an engineer, husband, and father, and has served in the Connecticut State Senate. I have no way of knowing if he truly believes in and is 100% onboard with the content and form of the letter that bears his name, or if his campaign staff and others who would like to see him defeat Congresswoman Hayes make the strategic and tactical choices and require that he sign his name. Either way, this writing critiques the letter and not Mr. Logan.

What follows is grounded in the concepts discussed in the 2020 book Enough with the Talking Points, and is also informed by the exploration of America’s collective Shadow as explored in Healing America’s Narratives (forthcoming, October 2022). Stated briefly, George Logan’s June letter makes generalizations and assumptions that are not defined or backed up, it attempts to manipulate and/or scare prospective constituents while insulting their intelligence, and it subtly does to Congresswoman Hayes some of what he accuses her supporters of doing to him. Don’t take my word for it. Read the letter and decide for yourself. Candidate Logan is not the only candidate who behaves in this way; both Democrats and Republicans employ these tactics. Had his letter not arrived in my mailbox, I would not be writing this.

Some quotes from the letter, along with my commentary follow.

First quote:

“You’re NOT someone ready to just sit back and submit to total Radical Left control over your life by Democrats in DC and Hartford. You understand the importance of FIRING PELOSI. So I felt confident sending this Campaign Battle Plan to you.

“But before we dive into the details of the document, please keep in mind:

“1. This plan has some sensitive information. Nothing ‘top secret,’ but please don’t leave this lying around where just anyone could see it.

“2. After you’ve read it, please mail your entire Battle Plan Document back to me using the envelope provided.”

My Commentary:

The language of “submit[ting] to Radical Left control over your life by Democrats” is a hyperbolic, sweeping generalization the only purpose of which might be to terrify prospective Republican voters who might be easily scared by such exaggeration. “You understand the importance of FIRING PELOSI” says nothing about Mr. Logan’s actually opponent, Congresswoman Hayes, and, in my reading, is condescending to any prospective voter who sees that the letter attempts to conflate the two women.

The condescension continues by first characterizing the enclosed “Campaign Battle Plan” as “nothing ‘top secret'” and then requesting that letter recipients “…don’t leave this lying around where just anyone could see it.” Nod, nod? Wink, wink? Sure, it makes sense to try to appeal to in-group bias and build a community of support, but respecting the intelligence of prospective voters would similarly appeal to the sense of belonging and build support.

I’ll provide several more quotes here, and comment immediately on each one:

“Your gift of $500 could pay for television ads holding Jahana Hayes accountable for the crushing inflation we’re all feeling across Connecticut thanks to her socialist overspending.” Really? It’s a bit more complex than that. Jahana Hayes is simply not responsible for the inflation in Connecticut (and throughout the country). Mr. Logan’s letter provides no evidence that she is, or what he would do to stop it. Regarding “socialist overspending,” throughout U.S. history, attempts to use government spending to help individuals in need has been characterized by those who oppose such help as socialist or socialism. Attempts to use government spending to support failing corporations deemed too big to fail is characterized as being in the national interest. Individuals, it seems, are deemed too small to help.

Mr. Logan’s letter makes it clear that the “key to victory is delivering my truthful message to the voters about who I am, where I stand, and what I will do on issues they care about, including [among others, these two]:”

“Fighting and winning for [sic] low taxes – NO MORE SOCIALISM” See above and below for more on this socialist bogeyman.

“Getting rid of Critical Race Theory and putting parents in charge of their kids’ educations” As I write this, neither the letter nor Mr. Logan’s website provides any evidence of what he thinks critical race theory is or why he’s against it. The letter doesn’t address that many parents see Critical Race Theory as helping them stay in charge of their children’s educations. Here’s an exploration of why most Americans never heard of Critical Race Theory until 2020 and why it’s become the flashpoint it is.

In attempts to discredit Congresswoman Hayes by association, Mr. Logan’s letter refers to “the Pelosi Dark Money Machine” — as though there is not a Republican dark money machine–this is Trumpian projection for sure. What I just did there attempts to associate George Logan with Donald Trump, just as he, in his letter attempts to associate Congresswoman Hayes with Speaker Pelosi and a variety of concepts and groups (bolded and capitalized throughout the letter, which goes on: The road to FIRING PELOSI runs through Western Connecticut, and [big money liberal donors all over the country] all know it. Hmmm. But what about your opponent? Why not speak directly to how and why you would better serve all of the people in the 5th Congressional District?

“Because of the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar socialist debt bombs, families are suffering under record-high inflation.” Blaming inflation solely on Democratic policies without providing evidence thereof is overly simplistic and dishonest; combining the words “socialist,” “debt,” and “bomb,” is clever and not original. It’s also misleading and falls again into the habit of calling anything that attempts to help those most in need in this country socialism, as noted above. As an aside, we have a socialized interstate highway system, locally socialized police, education, and fire departments, and a socialized military.

“Because of the ‘Defund the Police’ crowd, citizens across Connecticut and the whole country are enduring a nationwide crime wave that’s costing lives and livelihoods.” This sentence is simply a lie, and it will probably scare Mr. Logan’s least informed prospective supporters. The lie has nothing at all to do with his opponent, Congresswoman Hayes, whose husband is a police detective in the city of Waterbury. Neither of them has spoken out in favor of defunding the police, but Mr. Logan’s letter attempts to link defunding the police with the congresswoman.

Enough. Again, read the letter yourself. My point is to point to the generalizations and lack of substance and evidence in the letter, and I would have done the same had I received one from a Democratic or Independent candidate–I am not registered with either major political party, and I vote. I believe George Logan can and should do better than this, and Jahana Hayes deserves better than this from an opponent. I have had Enough with the Talking Points and remain committed to Healing America’s Narratives.

I suggest that the candidates discuss their positions on specific issues and that they provide specific, relevant evidence to support those positions in future mailings, conversations, and debates.

American Status Quo

The following is excerpted and adapted from Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra—forthcoming in October 2022.

On September 23, 2001 Rabbi Marc Gellman was one of the religious leaders who gathered at Yankee Stadium for a memorial service for the victims of the September 11 attacks. At the time the estimated number of deaths still hovered around 6,000, and Rabbi Gellman spoke of how stating the number of deaths—like 6,000 or six million—explains very little other than “how much death came in how short a time.” He went on to say that “the real horror of that day lies not in its bigness, but in its smallness. In the small searing death of one person 6,000 times, and that person was not a number. That person was our father or our mother or our son or our daughter…”1

            America’s ongoing domestic body count requires that we honor this observation. As a nation we have become numb to the 103 gunshot deaths a day because this everyday violence only earns headline status if it qualifies as a mass shooting—with four or more victims at the same time and in the same place.2 Three doesn’t cut it. Recently, ten shooting victims in a grocery store and twenty-one in an elementary school were required to remind us of our American status quo. And even with the headlines and talking heads that such tragedies elicit, even with the photos and brief bios of the deceased, the “small searing death” of each individual carries with it agonizingly intimate memories and moments in the hearts and minds of surviving family and friends that the rest of us simply cannot imagine, try though we might.

            The United States struggles and has struggled since its inception with the denial of the worse demons of its nature. Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness cross breed and manifest in what Robert Bly called the long invisible bag we drag behind us—filled with all we deny and repress about ourselves—our collective national Shadow.

            As a nation, America remains an experiment. We were conceived through an often remarkable fertilization of ideas that gave voice to some and subjugated others. We were born through a bloodbath that separated us from the British. We were raised on the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, on land theft from and the massacre and betrayal of Native Peoples, on the subjugation of women, and on peasant labor. We were reborn in an attempt to maintain the experiment through an anything-but-civil bloodbath with ourselves, from which we have yet to fully recover. And we were reborn yet again as a financial and military superpower as the result of a global bloodbath.

            We regularly perpetrate and perpetuate violence against others while refusing to acknowledge and address in any effective way the everyday violence we commit against each other. Not yet 250 years old, we embody unhealthy iterations of adolescent beliefs in invincibility and immortality, despite clear evidence that we are neither. Not only have we not recovered from our bloodbaths of birth and rebirth in any whole, integrated sense, we continue to choose to bathe ourselves and others in blood, literally and metaphorically, because that is the normal we know.

            Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness: we can recognize them, own them, and integrate them, or they will continue to own us. Which do you choose?


1 Rabbi Marc Gellman, remarks at the September 23, 2001 Prayer Service at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The video is available online: https://www.c-span.org/video/?166250-1/york-city-prayer-service.

2 2014-2019: 14,515 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 40/day avg; 23,094 suicides by gun = 63/day; 37,609 total annual gun deaths = 103/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

Fully Human at Work: 2022

The ninth offering of Fully Human at Work begins on April 22, 2022. You are invited.

Whatever you’re currently doing to earn money in order to provide food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, indoor plumbing, heat, air conditioning, electricity, internet, phone service, transportation, and other necessities and luxuries for yourself and those you care for, consider for a moment that what you do to make money 1) may or may not have anything to do with your deepest purpose and place in the world, and 2) it may be an essential delivery system for, but is not in fact, your deepest purpose and place. This is not to say that what you’re doing to earn money is not good or important work, or that your employer (including you, if you’re self-employed) is in some way wrong or bad. It is to say that a delivery system is different from what it delivers—especially when it comes to delivering one’s true purpose.

Eco-depth psychologist Bill Plotkin writes that everything in the natural world—this oak tree, that Labrador retriever, this blue jay, that poison ivy, and every mountain, rattlesnake, dolphin, cow, river, rose, potato, salmon, grain of rice, stone, spider, and tick—has its place and purpose. Plotkin uses the word Soul to refer to a person’s or thing’s unique place in the world, and he uses the word in an ecological, rather than psychological or spiritual context. That is, he considers Soul to be “a person or thing’s unique ecological niche in the Earth community.”1

Despite what we do with, in, and to it, we humans are part of the natural world. If each of us has—if you have—a unique ecological niche, wouldn’t you want to know what it is? Rather than plugging your gifts and talents into the socket of someone else’s prefigured task and job description in order to make a living, might it be worthwhile to explore your unique place in the larger scheme of things and perhaps fully live into the one wild and precious life that you can truly call your own?2 Most of us, at least at the outset, find a job to make a living. Sometimes, if we’re willing to explore a bit and stay open, we begin to get glimpses of our unique place and the gifts we carry. And sometimes we may even get to make our living through the delivery of our unique gifts to the world. It is absolutely possible and admirable to live a good life working in a job that allows us to care for ourselves and our loved ones—without any sense of our unique place in the world. It is also possible and admirable to live into our unique place in the world in a way that allows us to care for ourselves and our loved ones.

Prior to the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much had been written and said about employee (lack of) engagement, mental health and the workplace,3 and, beyond just compensation, the importance of autonomy, self-management, mastery, wholeness, and a sense of purpose on the job.4 Less devastating than the illness and death inherent in the pandemic—but highly relevant to many lives—are the post-pandemic shifts in how and where some of us work and the shifts in how some of us view work. These shifts challenge varied assumptions that that many of us had (or that had us) about work and life. The pandemic exposed and continues to expose both the fragility and the resilience of humans and the systems we create. Because millions of workers have resigned their positions ostensibly due to what they learned about themselves and the possibilities for work, the media have named the impact of these shifts the “Great Resignation.” But you know this already.

Whether the Great Resignation was on its way and the pandemic simply accelerated it, or whether the pandemic played a more causative role, millions of people are shifting how they view work. And life.

In July 2019, my friend and colleague Kent Frazier and I engaged a series of conversations about mental illness, mental health, and mental fitness in the workplace. Fully Human at Work, a 12-hour, 6-session online program emerged and we offered it for the first time in January 2020. Our ninth offering begins on April 22, 2022. Details and registration information are available at: https://fullyhumanatwork.com/programs.

Fully Human at Work invites you to explore what it means to be fully human at work—and in life. This exploration is grounded in your unique experience of the relationships among:

  • Recognizing, owning, and developing your perspective—or worldview—including the “cultural givens” from your earliest years
  • Getting clear on how your intentions emerge through perspective and how they influence your words and behaviors
  • Doing more good than harm in your spoken and written communication
  • Doing more good than harm through your behavior
  • Choosing and engaging your livelihood in ways that honor your gifts and the world
  • Attending to the quality of the effort you put forth in your endeavors
  • Becoming increasingly mindful of your moment-to-moment existence
  • Navigating the multiple demands for your attention and focus5

The program emphasizes the importance of practice—in terms of what we consciously or unconsciously practice every day due to worldview and habit, and in terms of what we are willing to commit to intentionally practicing for our own development as we move forward with our lives.

Kent and I would love to have you join us on April 22: https://fullyhumanatwork.com/programs.

Comments from past participants: https://fullyhumanatwork.com/reviews-2


1Bill Plotkin, The Journey of Soul Initiation, (New World Library, 2021), 15, 378, 382-83.

2one wild and precious life that you can truly call your own emerges from the intersection of language from two poets: Mary Oliver’s “one wild and precious life” (“The Summer Day” in New and Selected Poems, Beacon, 1992, p. 94) and David Whyte’s “There is only one life / you can call your own” (“All the True Vows” in The House of Belonging, Many Rivers, 1997, p. 24).

3Regarding mental health and the workplace, among many other sources, see:

Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/12/burnout-is-about-your-workplace-not-your-people

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

MIT Sloan Management Review: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-every-leader-needs-to-worry-about-toxic-culture/

4For self-management, wholeness, evolutionary purpose, see Frederick Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, (Nelson Parker, 2014), 56+; for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, see Daniel Pink, Drive, (Riverhead/Penguin, 2009), 68-145; and Pink’s TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y

5These eight foundational elements are based on the Buddhist Eightfold Path. We do not teach Buddhism in the program, nor are we Buddhists (aspiring Bodhisattvas, perhaps). The Eightfold Path has been around for two millennia-plus, and it holds up.

Found Poems – Ukraine, March 1-2, 2022


I wouldn’t really want

to participate in anything like this,

but I don’t really have any choice

because this is my home.

I have nowhere to go.

and I’m not going

to give it up.

I don’t get to decide

if Putin is going to invade or

to launch a nuclear weapon or

whatever. What I get

to decide is how

I’m going to respond to it.

My choice is to do something

productive and to help the people

who are defending my city.

     – Hlib Bondarenko, 21 years old, Kyiv, Ukraine. Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak, Mark Boyer and Michael Downey, “’There Will Be a Battle’: A Family Prepares for War in Kyiv,” New York Times, March 1 & 2, 2022.       https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/03/01/world/ukraine-russia-war


I am the mother of my son.

And that is it. And I don’t know

if I will see him again or not. I can

cry or feel sorry for myself, or be

in shock—and all of it.

     But we’re past that phase.

There are more important things

in front of us now. Right now

they are coming to kill us all.

Everyone, 100 percent. Not one person

in Kyiv is feeling safe now.

     – Natalia Bondarenko, Hlib’s mother (source as above)


It’s very simple. We

protect our choice of freedom,

what we selected many years ago.

We proved this several times in 2004,

2014 and now. Fight for your country.

And I pass this message to Hlib. And

I believe the same message Hlib

will pass to his children.

       – Oleg Bondarenko, Hlib’s father (source as above)


Russia, the war, the

whole situation –

It’s just barbarity.

That’s how I see it.

They surely will lose

because they don’t have

any other arguments

besides cruise missiles and

heavy weapons.

       – Boris Redin, volunteer, near Freedom Square in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Associated Press, March 1, 2022

Waking Up to and Canceling ‘Woke’ and ‘Cancel’ Cultures (and the Implicitly Woke Critics Who Try to Cancel Them)

Woke and Canceling: A Quick Look

In its healthiest manifestation nowadays, being and/or staying ‘woke’ refers to an attunement to or an awareness of social justice issues that need to be addressed, and ideally, taking action that addresses them. More generally being woke involves being increasingly able to see “what is” (not just around social issues) beyond the limitations of one’s personal, familial, cultural, etc. biases. No one (that I’ve met, read, listened to, heard of or been) does this 100% successfully. In its least healthy manifestation, being woke refers to an attitude of superiority – being more woke, seeing more than someone or some other group: I’m (or we’re) better than you are. So there. Currently, most folks accused of being, or claiming to be woke are characterized as being more liberal (among other things); most of their opponents and accusers are characterized as being more conservative. These characterizations tend to do more harm than good despite any partial truths they may contain.

A casual review of history demonstrates 1) that the general concept of being or staying ‘woke’ has been around since at least the mid-1800’s in the United States – as in the “Wide Awakes” abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln (and elsewhere at least since Siddhartha Gautama famously woke c. 500 BCE); 2) the specific use of the word ‘woke’ (as opposed to “awoke”) has been around since at least the 1930’s – as in Lead Belly’s (aka Leadbelly) commentary at the end of his song, “Scottsboro Boys”; 3) many folks whose behavior embodies wokeness don’t talk about it or posture as being superior; they simply live as exemplars for the rest of us – the late Congressman John Lewis comes to mind, among others; and 4) as above, some folks who talk about their alleged wokeness wield it as a weapon to point to the shortcomings of others. They (we) can be found everywhere – in the media, government, our neighborhoods, our kitchen tables and even peering back from our bathroom mirrors. Uh oh.

The allegedly woke folks (not the actually woke folks) who wield their wokeness as a weapon of superiority, whom we’ll call unskillful, publicly judge and attempt to ostracize or ‘cancel’ the inferior sleepyheads – pointing out their inferiority, silencing them, and symbolically or literally canceling their membership in whatever they had previously belonged to. Woke critics work at canceling woke people, essentially practicing what they’re allegedly opposed to. If a government agent or agency does this, it’s a First Amendment issue; if anyone else does it, it’s inherently contradictory: if I’m truly woke, I don’t need to judge, shame, silence or cancel you. In fact, I’ll probably model my wokeness by engaging you, when possible, in a conversation that does more good than harm, beyond the talking points, so we can both be woke. Buddha and John Lewis, among others, engaged in such modeling and conversation. The late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia regularly engaged each other in this way.

The Problem with Wielding Wokeness as a Weapon

The words and behaviors of these unskillful woke folks – again, those who are allegedly woke and behave as though they are superior and right, imply a binary “woke/not woke” universe. One problem with their implication is that they never mention (perhaps because they haven’t woke to them yet) numerous other “awakenings” that are available to us, awakenings that have been researched, identified and studied longitudinally for decades.

The current woke folks’ particular wokeness, whether skillful or unskillful, seems to refer to some of the perspectives that may accompany awakening from a modern to a postmodern worldview, such as a commitment to equal rights for all in practice – which would be the not-yet-realized promise of the U.S. Constitution, its Amendments and other legislation, which emerged in an awakening from a traditional to a modern worldview. Said differently, the framers’ documents outlined a move from “traditional” monarchy to a “modern” representative democracy. It was written by, for and about landowning white men (emphasis on landowning, white, and men). Modernity woke us up to the possibility of democracy, which is more inclusive, balanced and complex than traditional monarchy (Having to do what the king or queen says is waaay more exclusive, imbalanced and simple than electing some people to represent us and letting them tell us what to do). Postmodernity, among other things, woke (some of) us up to notice those pesky landowning (or otherwise wealthy/powerful), white and men traits, and asked where the freedom and equality were for everyone else. Again, modernity gave us the Constitution; postmodernity continues to demand that it apply equally to everyone, and that it be amended as necessary to reflect the realities of the times in which we live. Why would anyone want to cancel this particular wokeness?

There may be anywhere from two, to as many as six (as far as the research shows right now) awakenings available after postmodernity, and some four or five available leading up to it.So those of us who would wield our postmodern wokeness today as a criticism of others are not at the cutting edge of anything (in fairness though, whatever awakening is next for any one of us is our personal cutting edge). When we’re unskillful, we know what we know, we’re oblivious to what we don’t know, and we consider those who are “other” as less than or wrong – just as any fundamentalist or unhealthily reformed _____ (pick your own) does. How I hold my wokeness, not its content, is the issue. If I believe in and behave every day in ways that work toward equality and freedom for all, how much sense does it make to treat as unequal or limit the freedom of those who do not yet so believe or behave? A bit contradictory, yes?

We’ve Been Assuming Wokeness and Canceling Others for Centuries

The Europeans who kidnapped, transported and enslaved Africans, and eventually the Americans who continued and fought for the right to continue that enslavement, encountered cultures they did not understand, believed they were superior to (more woke than), and literally worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through both legal and extralegal means such as slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, unequal protections and voter suppression, initially in the name of the economic advantages of unpaid forced labor and later (and still) in a bewildering embrace of white supremacy. The Europeans who bumped into the indigenous peoples on the continents now known as the Americas, and the Americans some of these Europeans chose to become – making that 18th-century monarchy-to-democracy move, believed they were more woke than these peoples whose land they coveted, and literally worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through a history of trespass, theft, betrayal and slaughter (in the name of helping them be more like us). To take one example, “Indian” killer and remover, slaveholder, President, and fading face of the $20 bill, Andrew Jackson, stands out as an exceptional ‘woke canceler’, who as President remarked that he had “done his duty to his red children,” and that he would “now leave the poor deluded creeks & cherokees to their fate, and their annihilation.”

From about 1954 through 1974 four U.S. presidents tried to cancel Vietnam’s sleepy insistence on self-determination. Using espionage, bullets and bombs, and despite the experiences of the Chinese, Japanese and French before us, we attempted to impose our bipartisan woke democracy on the Vietnamese (in the name of helping them be more like us). In 2003 we tried it again in Iraq. More recently almost every Republican in the U.S. Congress, led by the 45th President, attempted to cancel the 2020 election results, resulting in an attack on the U.S. Capitol. More examples exist; these will suffice.

While political, media and personal clamoring about “woke” and “cancel” culture is currently popular, it is not new, although its motivations, tools, language and tactics shift with the times. Nat Hentoff’s 1992 volume, Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, clearly captured our dysfunction and attempts at mutually canceling censorship. Today, elected officials, news commentators, family and friends don’t know how, or choose not, to disagree (or even agree) in respectful, civil conversation. We point our fingers and wring our hands, on average we kill others with guns 39 times a day, we commit suicide 63 times a day with guns, and another 62 times daily by other means, we terrorize American citizens of Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian ancestries because we blame the Chinese for a pandemic, we are disengaged or not engaged, anxious and depressed at work (and were before the pandemic). And yes, that’s a selective and limited catalog of issues. We have so much that we need to awaken to and that really does need to be canceled, so to speak, and yet we play on social media trying to cancel voices we don’t like or understand or both. Freedom, equality and justice for all, indeed.

Wherever and however each of us is, another awakening awaits. It doesn’t require (or desire) that we cancel anyone, not even the paradoxically grave and goofy current version of our one precious self, who is longing for an increasingly inclusive, balanced and complex way of being in the world.


Copyright © 2021 by Reggie Marra

Parts of this essay are based on excerpts from Healing America’s Narratives: Owning and Integrating Our National Shadow (forthcoming in 2022).

Notes and Selected Resources

“…characterizations not very useful”: See my Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation (2020).

Lead Belly’s “Scottsboro Boys”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrXfkPViFIE&t=181s

“Postmodern to modern awakening” among numerous others:  Some folks who make the transition from one developmental worldview to another wield their new perspective as a weapon in this manner. The postmodern-to-modern “woke” move mentioned in the text is one example.

Useful notes: levels of development can manifest in healthy or unhealthy ways (would you rather live in a healthy monarchy or an unhealthy democracy?); later levels of development are more inclusive, balanced and complex than earlier levels (as in our monarchy-to-democracy example above).

    Knowing about development and actually developing are different and neither makes problems disappear, but actually developing does help clarify patterns and differentiate perspectives. Not knowing about development doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. An over-simplified example of earlier through later development can be expressed in the following way, (less woke to more woke): Self-centric (it’s all about me) >> Group-centric (it’s all about us, where “us” can be anything from a couple, to a family, to a team, to a branch of the military to an ethnic group to a corporation to a religion to a nation, etc.) >> World-centric (it’s all about all of us – aka “human-centric”) >> Kosmos-centric (it’s all about all that is – both exterior and interior realms). A significant majority of humans on the planet live through group- and ego-centric perspectives. Some of us can understand what “world-centric” means, and even espouse that view, but we don’t live there. Caring about “all of us” does not mean that we no longer care about specific groups or ourselves; it means that the groups and the self are no longer primary.

A brief sampling of books related to adult development:

Fowler, James. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1981.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993 (1982).

Kegan, Robert. In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994.

Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009 (pp 11-30).

Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. Novato CA: New World Library, 2008.

Wilber, Ken. The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions. Boulder: Shambhala, 2017 (especially pp. 180-250 / charts pp.190-95).

“bewildering embrace of white supremacy”
Some would argue that “states’ rights” and not white supremacy were and are the real issue. The states that historically make that argument all fought to keep slavery, and then to terrorize freed African American slaves. Implicitly inherent in each, and often explicitly expressed, is a belief in white supremacy.

“‘done his duty to his red children’” In Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic, p. 97. Saunt cites The Papers of Andrew Jackson Digital Edition, ed. Daniel Feller (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press: 2015). I generally don’t endorse the imposition of current values and perspectives on people of the past, who often did not yet have access to what the present allows us to understand. In this case not everyone thought killing Native Americans was honorable, and there were plenty, albeit not enough, abolitionists during Jackson’s “Indian”-killing and slaveholding days.

“kill others…we commit suicide…” These numbers are based on five-year averages from 2014-2018:

2014-2018: 14,307 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 39/day; 22,925 suicide by gun = 63/day / 37,232 total annual gun deaths = 102/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ Accessed April 21, 2021.

2014-2018: 45,500 suicides/year avg. = 125/day: https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html Accessed April 21, 2021. Search criteria = 2014-2018 / all causes, races, genders and ages.

we are disengaged or not engaged…at work”: https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/employee-engagement-rise.aspx (e.g. “34% of U.S. workers are engaged, tying highest in Gallup’s history”)

Among many sources on suicide, depression and anxiety:

Suicide: https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Depression: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression

Anxiety: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Additional works cited:

Hentoff, Nat. Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Saunt, Claudio. Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020.

An Example of a ‘Conversation’ that Does More Harm than Good

What follows here is an example of the type of exchange that led me, some six years ago, to begin a process that manifested in the writing, and publication in June 2020, of Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation.

Downloadable PDF of this post is available here.

The intention of this ‘conversational review’ is to point out the type of thinking, reacting and writing that doesn’t do any good, and not to take one or another side in the content of the exchanges. If I miss the mark toward that end, I welcome clear, substantive feedback that points to it.

The primary exchange is between ‘commenters’ Rick, Gus and Gary, with other commenters contributing as well. The first comment for each commenter is bolded.

My exploration of each comment, through some of the lenses in the book, is bulleted in red font.

These lenses include, and are not limited to: recognizing “cultural givens,” personal experience, preconceptions, judgments, assumptions, labels, insults, and sweeping generalizations; differentiating facts and opinions; staying curious on and committed to the path of learning; knowing your intention in conversation; seeking and recognizing similarities as well as differences; staying focused on the topic of the conversation; understanding emotion; embodying another’s story; exploring the impact of getting or not getting one’s way (who wins and who loses); understanding the difference between truth and truthfulness, and committing to both. There’s more, but these will suffice for now. Not all of these lenses are explored below.

My intention in what follows is to provide a more-or-less-brief example of what the book addresses. I don’t do this with any definitive sense of being “right,” but I do approach it with 40+ years of  engaging with human development and various forms of conversation that do more good than harm, and having spent major parts of the last two years developing the processes in the book.

The names of the “commenters” are pseudonyms (except mine). Not every comment in the thread is reproduced here – a few other folks chimed in, but did not stay in the thread; each comment that appears is reproduced unedited.

Thanks to Sal who has read the book and decided not to get involved in the thread, except to mention that it could appear as an example in a 2nd edition.

As you read through this, note which comments, including those in red, bring up an emotional charge for you. Get curious as to why. Explore a bit. Reflect. Think and feel critically. Commit to the truth.

My comments in red refer to the statement immediately above them. I used a bulleted form to provide more white space and make the piece easier to read.

*Note also that because of the format of social media exchanges, unless the commenter directly addresses the person he or she is responding to, it is not always clear to whom each subsequent comment is directed. This thread is a clear example of why social media generally are not effective for any kind of authentic, rational exchange of ideas or opinions. But you knew that.

(Original Post) Reggie: “When asked if he found (John) Lewis’ life impressive, Trump responded, ‘He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches. And that’s OK. That’s his right. And, again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have.’”

Atta boy, Don, way to stay with the question, hold that big picture, and conclude with a whopper with a straight face. Full interview here: https://www.axios.com/full-axios-hbo-interview-donald-trump…

  • Donald Trump deflected the question about John Lewis’s life and spoke about Lewis’s decision not to attend specific events that were important to him (Trump) – this is an example of not focusing on the topic being discussed/question asked.
  • Trump has a history of reflecting events and questions back to himself.
  • The final sentence in the quote is provably untrue (whether we call it a lie, hyperbole or ignorance) and is consistent with Trump’s language patterns regarding himself and his plans as the best, greatest, and more than anyone else. The list of names of people living and dead, who have done more for Black Americans than Donald Trump (and most of us of any skin pigmentation) is exhaustive.
  • “Atta boy,” which is my commentary, is mildly sarcastic. A more direct approach would be something like “The President’s response dodges the question asked, makes it about himself rather than the deceased, and concludes with an outright lie.”

Gus: At this point, is anyone surprised by this?

  • A straightforward comment, in the form of a rhetorical question that indicates the writer expects this type of response from Donald Trump.

Al: Disgusting. Exactly what a racist would say.

  • “Disgusting” is a label/characterization, which could be clarified with something like “I find the President’s comment disgusting.” “Exactly what a racist would say” is inflammatory and indirectly calls the President a racist. Something like “I find that last sentence to be racist” would comment on the sentence and not the person.

Rick: Lewis was a racist and only looked out for blacks.
Trump is right

  • The initial sentence here is provably untrue, insulting, and a sweeping generalization of the life of a man who has been honored for over 50 years by whites, blacks, liberals, conservatives, etc. for his courage, humility and service.
  • The final three words, stated as a fact, which it is not, could be clarified with “I believe Trump is right.”

Reggie: Good book. Worth reading. https://www.amazon.com/Enough-Talking-Points-Doing-Conversation/dp/0962782890

  • My response to Rick here is based on first, my completely subjective but informed belief about the value of the book, and second, on my awareness that using false statements, insult and generalizations are specific behaviors the book explores.
  • My response also intentionally avoids getting involved in attempts to refute or debate anything or anyone in the thread.

Gerry: you have lived too long to have learned so little

  • Caveat: I know the general relationship between these two people, which goes back to the late 1970s/early 1980s.
  • The message is that Rick has not learned certain things over the course of his 50+ years of living. One way to take the edge off this might be something like, “I’m disappointed that you would write what you’ve written, remembering you as I do.”

Rick: Quite the contrary. It’s not how long you live but the experiences you’ve been through that teach us. My experience and the current culture we are in is my basis for my comment. Take away from that what you may. Live, experience and then learn. Don’t just live.

  • This response could be a simple statement of the writer’s belief (as he says); the last two sentences together seem to imply/can be inferred as a course correction to Gerry, implying that Gerry has lived, but not learned. This could have been clarified with the word “I” at the beginning of each of those final sentences.

Gus: What is your major malfunction that you write something as heinous as that?

  • This is insulting, assumptive (that someone has a major malfunction if they disagree with Gus) and inflammatory. “Heinous” is a characterization/judgment that does not consider that the other has a worldview that differs. The whole sentence invites what follows.

Rick: what’s your problem with what I said . Do you have a problem with what I feel and experienced. ?

  • This response is measured, and asks Gus a question that is somewhat deceptive. The question asks if Gus has a problem with what Rick has felt and experienced. Gus’s remark was about what Rick wrote, not about his feelings or experiences. This is nuanced for sure, and its clarity is necessary.

Gary: It seems your life experiences having led you to this post ignoring all of the struggles of Mr. Lewis. Putting his life on the line for people. Which is something trump does for no one. All of this convinces me that you and your life are first hand experts at what racism is.

  • Gary begins with a measured view (It seems…) bringing John Lewis’s life and work back into the exchange.
  • The second sentence, in light of putting one’s life on the line, supports the first and is factual.
  • The final sentence, albeit in an indirect way, calls Rick a racist (expert at what racism is). This is insulting, inflammatory, a judgment and a label.

Rick: typical liberal answer , when someone disagrees it is automatically considered racist.
Wrong way to define racism.
That’s the real issue.
Just for being a member of the black caucus makes him a racist

  • The first line here includes a sweeping generalization (typical liberal answer) and an assumption (when someone disagrees it is automatically…).
  • The second line is meaningless as written – it implies that Rick knows the wrong and right ways to define racism, but he doesn’t offer either, so the five words accomplish nothing.
  • The third line asserts that defining racism the right way is the “real issue” but again, offers no definition – again adding nothing substantive to the thread. It is also asserted as a fact (i.e. “I believe” or “I think” would be less declarative), and there’s no evidence that it is factual.
  • The final line is a provably untrue generalization and seems to be based on unstated assumptions and/or preconceptions.

Gary: Not typical. You can cast me as an easy strawman but most critical thinkers will look at your post and see the bigotry. But go ahead cast me as a “typical” while you cast yourself as an independent thinker. Because obviously you cannot hold the concept that us liberal progressives might have come to our conclusions based on our life experiences, specifically our dealings with bigots.

  • This response by Gary stays with the content of what it responds to – Rick’s immediately preceding comment.
  • First it refutes the accusation that his own previous comment is “typical,” and then, without labeling or insulting Rick notes the “strawman” move that Rick has made (i.e. moving the conversation from a discussion of Lewis’s and Trump’s respective lives to an attack on “typical liberal answer[s].”
  • Then, “most critical thinkers…bigotry” is an assumption that’s not proven here.
  • In the next two sentences, Gary challenges Rick’s claiming to be an independent thinker while characterizing Gary’s response as a “typical liberal response” – a challenge that holds up rationally.
  • The next sentence holds up as well, and might be more effective if begun with “It seems that you cannot…” rather than “Because obviously you cannot…” This revision identifies the statement as the writer’s view as opposed to an obvious given (which would not be obvious or given to someone who agrees ideologically with Rick).
  • [This text should be red, but WordPress will not cooperate] Finally, “…specifically our dealings with bigots” is an implicit attack on/insult to Rick, which simply does no good.

Rick: You are the bigot and antiAmerican socialist who has decided that our capitalist system is flawed.
I believe in God , family and country .
Marra can give you a pretty good background on who I am.
You don’t know me and call me a bigot , that’s ignorance at its best. But expected from someone like you.

  • The first sentence is an assumption, sweeping generalization, insult, and label that accuses Gary of something of which there is no evidence in the exchange (i.e. “who has decided that our capitalist system is flawed”).
  • The second sentence is fine, as a stand-alone – Rick is stating his beliefs. In context however, it follows the previous sentence and seems to imply that Gary does not believe in these same things (admittedly, I’m inferring that, and, I believe, reasonably so in the context of the thread; I would defer to Rick if he offered another reason for stating his beliefs in this comment).
  • The third sentence directly involves me (Marra), is an assumption and not true. I knew Rick as a high school student in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.
    • My memory is that he was a good kid. I also know via social media that he is a professional singer, but I have not had direct, in-person contact with him in some 40 years (give or take). In terms of who he is now, my only response is that he has written what he has written in this thread, and while that may not capture who he is, it indicates aspects of how he views the world.
    • In other words, I am not qualified to give anyone “a pretty good background on who [Rick is].” I disagree with his calling John Lewis a racist, can refute that easily, and don’t endorse his, or anyone else’s, labels, insults and generalizations in this thread.
  • The fourth sentence begins with what a misread or a projection on Rick’s part. Nowhere in the thread has Gary called him a bigot. The closest thing to that is Gary’s “Because obviously you cannot hold the concept that us liberal progressives might have come to our conclusions based on our life experiences, specifically our dealings with bigots,” does not call anyone a bigot, but I can see how, in context, Rick might interpret it this way.

Gus: I am NOT the one with the problem. You are a foul racist.
The very fact that your kind still exist in 2020 is the reason we need Black Lives Matter.
I look forward to the day when such hatred as your is exterminated by goodness, compassion, and empathy.

  • Because of the timing and nature of the thread, it is not clear here if Gus is responding to comments that Rick directed at him, or to comments that Rick directed at Gary.
  • That said, the first sentence is a judgment that states that it is Rick only, and not Gus, who has a problem, but provides no evidence for this.
  • The second sentence, calling Rick a “foul racist” (insult/label) and the third sentence, in which Gus refers to Rick as “your kind,” which is a sweeping generalization, suggests that both Gus and Rick engage in similar strategies and have similar “containers” for their views, albeit from opposite sides of the content of the thread, which has deteriorated to insults and generalizations.  They seem to hold opposite views and each, in this thread, is intolerant of the other.
  • The final sentence makes a subtle and meaningful move from talking about Rick to talking about the hatred that Gus attributes to Rick, and while “exterminated” is almost always a charged word (outside the realm of cockroaches, etc.), Gus’s stating the means of extermination as “goodness, compassion, and empathy” softens the charge and any historical violence that may be connected to the word. What I infer from this last sentence, and this is nothing more than my inference, is that Gus is becoming aware of how he “sounds” and is making an attempt to move from name-calling to a remembering of goodness

Rick:  you are living in fantasy land. You are the liberal socialist antiAmerican pig .
Misinformed ,people like you should be re-educated to become normal again.
Remember liberalism is a mental disorder.

  • The first sentence is a characterization of Gus (or Gary – it’s not completely clear, but context seems to point to Gus) as being out of touch with what’s real.
  • The second sentence hits Gus with labels, insults, sweeping generalization and assumptions – together a name-calling that seems to name what Rick doesn’t like (liberals, socialists, anti-Americans, and pigs). 
  • The third sentence begins with a judgment and assumption (“misinformed” which for many of us typically means a different perspective than my own, and therefore incorrect), and continues to provide a solution (re-education), and a goal (to become “normal again,” which does two things: 1. Suggest that Gus was once normal like Rick, and 2. Identifies Rick’s perspective that his view is “normal.”
  • The final sentence goes a step further, characterizing liberalism as a mental disorder, which is false, as would be characterizing conservatism in the same or a similar way.

Gary: since you believe in god and country then it would be important to remind you that Jesus and the founders of this country were all people who had that disorder called liberalism. They railed against the powers that be at their times. Plus your liberalism is a disorder post is kinda bigoted.
You may be a very good person for all I know. I am responding to the bigotry I see in your posts while you are carving out a summary of who I am. And very incorrectly, I might add.

  • Gary takes Rick’s earlier statement, “I believe in God , family and country .” and challenges it with a reference first to the story of Jesus, who, whether one reads the Bible as literally true history or powerful allegory (or a little of both), attempted to liberate the people of his time from the limitations of their ways of being in the world – meaning not that everything about their ways of being was wrong or bad, but that there were certain opportunities for growth available, a “New Testament,” and then to the Founding Fathers, who, in fact did work together to liberate the colonies from British rule, and in so doing created what is still commonly known as a “liberal democracy” that in its liberalness has room for liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc.
  • Gary’s “They railed against the powers that be at their times” is a concise, accurate summary statement, evidence of which can be found in the Bible and in any generally accepted (by conservatives or liberals) history of the 1770s concerning what was going on in the British colonies in North America, and subsequently in the United States which emerged from the colonies.
  • Gary’s next four sentences begin to shift the tone of the exchange.
    • “Plus your liberal is a disorder post is kinda bigoted” comments on the post and not the poster. This is a simple, yet important move away from the personal insults and labels that appear earlier in the thread.
    • Gary then further differentiates the post from the “poster” with “You may be a very good person for all I know,” which establishes Gary’s ability to separate Rick’s language from who Rick is.
    • Then “I am responding to the bigotry I see in your posts while you are carving out a summary of who I am,” is a statement by Gary of what he is doing and what he sees Rick doing.
    • In the final sentence, Gary asserts that Rick’s belief that Gary is a “liberal socialist antiAmerican pig” is incorrect: “And very incorrectly, I might add.” Gary has created an opportunity for Rick to move away from the generalizations and name calling, inviting a more civilized exchange.

Rick: I stand to correct you, the founders of this country I guarantee you were not liberals. They believed in principles of law , created a constitution and offered the freedom to achieve any dreams and practice our religion ( not to kill babies after they are born a liberal concept).
Jesus said and remember it my friend ( it is a sin to fall in love with money) bigotry is carried out when someone is AntiAmerican and loves socialism and does not accept opinions of other people.
You liberals call racist and bigots anyone that disagrees with your Ideas.
My posts states that I agree with Trump and that he is a great President. I also believe that liberals are trying to destroy America.
I also know that it is impossible to debate a liberal because they suffer from a mental disorder.

  • Rick’s initial sentence, guaranteeing that the founders were not liberals is a statement of opinion that history refutes (addressed above re Jesus and the Founders).
  • His second sentence attributes to the founders a belief (re principles of law), and two behaviors (creating a constitution and offering freedom) that are provably true as written. The parenthetical comment at the end, which seems to limit religion to not killing babies after they are born, an act he refers to as a “liberal concept” is hard to understand. He may have meant “before” they are born, but even that renders the parenthetical statement a generalization based on an assumption.
  • Rick’s next sentence, “Jesus said and remember it my friend ( it is a sin to fall in love with money) bigotry is carried out when someone is AntiAmerican and loves socialism and does not accept opinions of other people” seems to contradict itself, in paraphrasing Jesus about it’s being a sin to fall in love with money (typically a trait tied to unhealthy versions of capitalism, not socialism), describing bigotry as being AntiAmercian, loving socialism, and not accepting the opinions of others. This sentence needs to be clarified in order to be understood (at least by me) in the context of the thread.
  • “You liberals call racist and bigots anyone that disagrees with your Ideas” is another example of a sweeping generalization, and one which Rick is actually practicing throughout the thread – calling those who disagree with his views “racist,” “liberal socialist antiAmerican pig,” having mental disorders and not being “normal.” This is an example of projection; for more on projection and Shadow, visit here among many other sources.
  • Rick’s next two sentences stand up well, whether or not one agrees with them. He states that his posts state that he agrees with Trump and that he is a great President, which are two opinions that he states as opinions.
  • “I also believe that liberals are trying to destroy America” is his belief, stated as a belief, albeit with the generalization of “liberal,” which like “conservative,” outside of a specific context, and the worldview of the writer/speaker doesn’t carry a lot of clear meaning. See Chapter 4 of Enough with the…Talking Points and this post for more on this.
  • While that last statement could be made more powerful with a clear articulation of what he means by “liberals” and substantive, specific, factual examples of how they are destroying America, the belief, albeit with the generalization, is his, and stated as such.
  • Rick’s final sentence reverts back to a generalized assumption that is false, as would be its opposite (i.e. it’s impossible to debate a conservative…) and the earlier insult that liberals suffer from a mental disorder.

Gary: You are calling me all sorts of names while your posts constantly portray bigotry. You are constantly labeling me without knowing me and I am pointing out bigotry in your posts. I have no idea who you are but your posts are bigoted. And very uninformed. This liberal believes in law and order. I find it quite humorous that you say liberals do not accept the views of others and then post that liberals are trying to destroy America. Not exactly accepting our point of view hmmmm?
Anyway. I have made my points and you have shown us all who you are.
I wish you peace and happiness in your life and as a fellow citizen I wish you well.
Can you do the same?

  • Here Gary seems to double down on his earlier move to avoid insult and point out what is happening in the exchange.
  • The first sentence is true, and the evidence is in the earlier comments by Rick. While quoting the bigotry would be more powerful than “constantly portray bigotry,” the examples are nearby in the thread. (No one in the thread has offered a definition or an opinion regarding his understanding of bigotry).
  • The second sentence essentially does the same as the first – simply pointing to, and not characterizing, what Rick has been doing.
  • The third, fourth and fifth sentences acknowledge that Gary and Rick do not know each other, repeat Gary’s statement that Rick’s comments are bigoted, and characterizes the bigotry as uninformed, which is a characterization.
  • Sentence five points to a specific example of this characterization: “This liberal believes in law and order,” in which Gary self-refers as a liberal, and asserts his belief in law and order.
  • Gary then turns again to another example of Rick’s doing the very thing(s) he accuses liberals of doing – not accepting others’ points of view. The “Not exactly…hmmmm?” is a bit antagonistic, albeit at a lower level than personal name-calling and insults. Something like, “You seem to be doing in this exchange the very things you accuse liberals of doing” would be more direct and gentler at the same time.
  • Gary’s final 3 statements make it clear he is about done with the exchange. That Rick has shown us who he is assumes that his (Gary’s) writing is an indication of identity, as opposed to belief. That’s a larger discussion for another time.
  • Gary ends with a peace offering and a bit of a challenge.

Rick: I totally disagree with you but I accept and wish you all the same you wished me.

  • Rick restates his disagreement respectfully and extends Gary’s good wishes back to him.

Sal: Reg, you should include this exchange in the 2nd edition of your book.

Frank (to Rick): I totally agree with your assessment of his response to you – it’s their knee jerk reaction to anything that doesn’t coincide with their thought process – scary!

  • Frank, making his first appearance in the thread, supports Rick. Frank’s comment, first is unclear (attributable to the nature of and timing of comments on social media) regarding 1) which assessment of which response Frank is referring to, and 2) who the “his” refers to, Gary or Gus.
  • The post-hyphen clause, “it’s their knee jerk reaction to anything that doesn’t coincide with their thought process – scary!” is a sweeping generalization (“their” and “anything”), assumption and characterization for which no evidence or support is provided, effectively doing the very thing that Gary earlier pointed out that Rick had been doing throughout the thread.

Gary (to Frank): “Their” implies we are all the same and you are the independent thinkers. While that might make it easier for you to feel superior to some folks. It is a fallacy. We all come to our conclusions and beliefs by our experiences.

  • Gary points out the generalization of “their,” infers a meaning and points to it as a fallacy. He concludes with a sentence that I would guess many of the folks in the thread would agree with, but that’s just a guess.

Frank (to Gary): I won’t debate you for there is no true debate with liberal minds such as yours – that has been my overwhelming experience – liberals have no tolerance for free thinkers who oppose their views – I am no more superior than the next person but people who believe as you are a cancer on our republic.

  • Frank states his position of refusing to debate, and uses a generalized characterization (“liberal minds”), statement of opinion as fact (“there is no true debate with…like you”), and a closing insult/generalization (“liberals have no tolerance…people who believe as you are a cancer on our republic”) as his reason not to debate Gary.
  • While Frank does qualify the characterization, statement of opinion as fact, and insult as “[his] overwhelming experience,” he chooses to characterize, generalize and insult.
  • He points to his own self-awareness with “I am no more superior than the next person” and then betrays that expression with his aforementioned conclusion, “but people who believe as you are a cancer on our republic.”

Gary: Though your post attempts to describe me, it ends up saying a lot more about you and your close minded approach to opposing views.

  • Gary responds here essentially as he had previously to Rick:
    • that what we “say” (i.e. write) and how we say it disclose a lot more about who we are than about the person or thing we’re speaking about, and again points out that Frank is doing the very thing he is characterizing liberals as doing.
  • “Close minded approach” is still a characterization however, and while the evidence for it is in the thread, something like this would make the point and avoid the characterization: “You wrote that ‘liberals have no tolerance for free thinkers who oppose their views,’ and yet you express no tolerance for my views in this thread and refer to me as a ‘cancer.’ You are practicing the very thing you are arguing against.”

Gail: He’s a disgusting smear in our nations history. A total disgrace. Vote him out.

  • Gail makes a debut here, late in the thread, and uses an insult, “disgusting smear,” and then a characterization, “a total disgrace,” both of which, as throughout the rest of the thread, don’t do any real good. The final sentence is a direct expression of her desire/view, expressed as a directive, which is clear, and not in any way a label, insult, generalization or characterization.

Gus:  Apparently, the evil Rick took a pot shot at me and then blocked me.
Apparently, he’s a coward as well as a racist.

  • Here, Gus reappears, characterizes Rick as evil and calls him a coward and a racist – again, characterizations, labels and insults that do no good in conversation.


Some general, closing observations and comments:

  • Almost none of the above comments address the literal content of the initial post, which pointed to Donald Trump’s (lack of) response to a very specific question about the death of John Lewis. The rest of the thread deteriorated into name-calling, labels, insults, generalizations, and in most cases, little or no evidence of self-reflection/self-awareness in the context of the thread (i.e. every one of the participants might or might not be self-reflective or self-aware with their kids, spouse, profession or throughout his or her life; except for two brief moments, this reflection/awareness was not evident in this exchange.
  • Social media are not designed for thoughtful, robust, informed, rational, etc. disagreement or agreement. While they are not the only place in which attempts to communicate regularly deteriorate, they tend to foster such deterioration.
  • Of the primary participants, Gus, Rick and Gary, and the latecomer, Frank, only Gary participated in a way that did, or attempted to do, more good than harm in the context of the exchange, according to the lenses for conversation that can be found in Enough with the…Talking Points.
  • Finally, and again, my intention here is to assess the language, tone, etc. of the comments and in no way to judge the people making the comments. I obviously have views on Donald Trump and John Lewis and made a conscious effort to keep them out of my assessment of the comments. I have been concerned for some years now about the increasing inability (or refusal) of Americans to speak with each other, especially, but not only, when they disagree, in respectful, reflective, compassionate, informed and wise ways. Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation is my current contribution toward such respect, reflection, compassion, information and wisdom.

Introduction, exploration and closing Copyright © 2020 by Reggie Marra

For more about my work, please visit:

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“Enough with the…Talking Points” Chapter 4: Avoiding Labels, Insults and Sweeping Generalizations

Kent and Reggie explore the ineffectiveness of most labels, insults and generalizations in conversation.

“Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation” Chapter 4 – Kent Frazier interviews Reggie Marra from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

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