This past Friday I did something I have never done before, I attended a protest meeting. Now, it was an organizational meeting and we didn’t actually get out on the street, but I stepped outside my comfort zone, and connected with a group of people I didn’t know for a cause from which I have nothing to gain. You see this is not the first time I have participated in a protest, or stood with someone in the midst of a struggle, but in all those previous situations I had a vested interest. This time I am getting involved because I feel compelled to act on behalf of those who have little or no voice in our society.
This group is gathering twice a day in the center of our community’s downtown to call attention to matters of injustice and inequality. I will not be able to participate in every gathering because of job and family responsibilities, but I will join them regularly. When I cannot be there in person I will drop off water and snacks for those who are present. I am using my Facebook page and personal conversations to inform others about this group and their protest; as well as encouraging people to get involved.
This hasn’t been an easy step. First, I am a strong introvert and going into groups of people where I don’t know anyone is a fate worse than death. Second, in the past I have made what other people might think of me a primary concern. While I privately agreed with the sentiments, beliefs, values, or cause of a movement or group, I allowed my projected image to become more important than being who I truly am. Third, I have often rationalized inactivity because of my work load, my class load, family responsibilities, and so on. This time I have decided to be different.
However, the most significant factor in my decision to become active is the training I have received as an existential-humanistic psychologist. Being a part of or apart from is basic to our therapeutic process with our clients. We spend a significant amount of time assisting our clients in identifying how they want to engage in the events, activities, and relationships of their lives. In this process, we encourage our clients to take risks, step outside of their comfort zone, to explore the possibilities and options before making any decisions. It has occurred to me (my insight often comes slowly), that if I am challenging my clients to do these things, how am I doing this in my own life? The growing economic, political, and employment unrest in this country has touched me in a deeply profound manner, and I feel compelled to act.
One of the criticisms of existential-humanistic psychology is that its disciples do not engage frequently enough with the larger culture and climate of the society in which E-H adherents live and work. We may write or present about the ills and problems of various subcultures or groups or issues which the culture must face, but our involvement too often stops there. We remain disconnected or appear above what is taking place. In other words, we don’t rub elbows with the larger groups impacted by that which we so skillfully discuss. I have been guilty of that for the better part of my life; but today I want it to be different.
Paul Tillich is frequently cited as having said he had come to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Many of Tillich’s sermons and public presentations demonstrate his willingness to publicly offer compassion and care to the hurting and struggling in his audience, while at the same time calling to account those who participated in the oppression and destruction of groups or individuals in our society. Tillich cared not whether the oppressor was conscious of his or her participation in the subjugation, he cared that they experience the discomfort of their actions or inactions.
I never have been, nor will I ever be a person of Paul Tillich’s stature; but I am choosing to step on to that path and to participate in a public demonstration of that which Tillich embraced. To stand with the oppressed and afflicted, and to challenge those institutions, organizations, and individuals who continue to hold them down. I will not do it perfectly, and I will probably not do it in a way that is memorable . . . but I will do it! I will do it because it grows out of the belief system I have developed as an existential-humanistic psychologist. I will do it because it is a part of who I am, and what I am becoming. It is the next step in living out the purpose and meaning of my life as an individual and a professional.
— Steve Fehl