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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Feeling Squeezed

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

Two very bad things happened recently. On January 12 of this year, there was an earthquake in Haiti, where as many as a couple of hundred thousand people may have died because of uncontrollable forces of nature. Then, on January 19, the Democrats lost control of the Senate seat previously held by Sen. Kennedy of Massachusetts; this loss, by implication, was a wounding of the symbol of hope that President Obama wore as his mantle.

These two events—one caused by the forces of nature and the other by human error, happening within the span of a week—occurred while most of us were already feeling pressed by the recession and fatigued by our involvement in foreign wars. They linked in my mind into one thought that went something like this: our powerful symbol of hope is losing ground to even more powerful destructive forces beyond anyone’s control.

What happened in Haiti was heart-wrenching natural disaster. Yet what can we do when the impersonal forces of nature shift the earth beneath our feet except try to recover as best we can? In hindsight, this tragedy could have been lessened if Haiti had possessed the resources and foresight to prepare, but Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. What’s more, there hasn’t been an earthquake in that area for over 240 years, so no one saw this one coming.

In contrast to my sadness about the unavoidable natural disaster in Haiti, I was angry at the Democrats for their most certainly avoidable self-inflicted political disaster in Massachusetts. Obama should have seen this one coming. The American people were very clear when they elected him as president. We wanted a change from the usual special-interest-driven Beltway politics. I believe the people of the very blue state of Massachusetts have sent our president a clear message: focus your attention on the economy and use the power of your office to offer some relief to the vast U.S. middle class, which is reeling from all the economic stresses imposed by corporate greed and government ineptitude.

Psychologists tell us that the feeling of loss of control over our lives is one of the single most powerful causes of feeling “stressed out.” The medical community informs us that stress can negatively affect every aspect of our lives, from our health to the way we interact with other people. Everyone has some degree of natural resiliency that serves as a buffer against the unavoidable vicissitudes of life. However, no matter how stable or secure someone may be, there’s always something unexpected that can have the power to unnerve them. Knowing this, I want to address the universal problem of what to do when negative things happen that are beyond our control.

For answers, we need to wade into deeper waters so we can deepen our insights. On the surface there’s a lot of turbulence, but if we tap into resources that lie deeper within ourselves we can always discover something that we can do to improve our circumstances. Imagine a balloon full of water. Squeeze any part of it and another part of the balloon expands. In the same way, when any aspect of our lives becomes diminished there’s always an opportunity for expansion in another part. First we must recognize that we have the power to direct where we will expand. Then we can use the power that arises from being “squeezed” as a stimulus for positive growth. The key to unlocking the secret to this inner alchemy depends on how we envision what’s happening to us. We begin by understanding that our ability to discover positive solutions in the face of negative circumstances is inhibited if we choose to see ourselves as victims. More often than not, a victim mentality leads to some form of depression, which then not only makes us susceptible to a diminishment of our health and feeling of well-being, but also reduces our ability to function at the level that will enable us to respond appropriately to our more difficult circumstances. So the foundation of this inner alchemy rests upon seeing yourself as a problem solver, not a victim.

Then, in spite of how lousy you may feel about what’s going on, try your best to identify something you can do that is constructive. What happened in Haiti was truly horrible, and while we can’t alter the fact that there was an earthquake that caused unimaginable death and suffering, the good people of the world, like balloons that were squeezed by this horror, offered their prayers and expanded their capacity for love and compassion for total strangers. As a result, in our country alone tens of thousands of people are dedicating themselves to helping the survivors in Port-au-Prince rebuild their lives. These good people are living expressions of their hope.

And while I’m disappointed, I am not giving up hope on President Obama, our country’s symbol of hope. For I believe he is just as dependent on our goodwill and support as we are on his wise leadership. So I’m chalking up his political missteps to the difficult learning curve of his first year as president. Feeling squeezed, I know that I need to expand my abilities by recalibrating myself to work smarter and harder, in community with others, to bring about a better world for everyone.

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