Social Dilemma Strategy

Viktor Frankl

Most of us identify with one or more human rights issues. These troubling conditions and events exchange focus on social media with fair regularity: human trafficking, refugees, children in cages, poverty, prejudice. Some cause political attention momentarily, but progress remains unsatisfactory.

Increased social isolation in the last year has had mixed effects, raising awareness but also causing greater polarization and unrest. When we fight for social justice, ironically, effects entirely opposite of our intent are bound to occur. Education helps, yet our educational system is in a desperate state due to closed schools and imposed isolation. Distance education means for some a relegation to an ineffective personal learning method, and for others an inability to escape unhealthy or abusive home situations. I could go on and on about very depressing and upsetting issues. Will we ever achieve peace and equity?

I was raised in a post Viet Nam era in which we looked forward to a great future. We seemed smart enough to avoid wars, avoid unhealthy habits that we learned about in school, like smoking and drug use, and we were taught to treat each other as equals. Have we moved backwards?

I have touched on “the human condition,” and perhaps this is reality, that we will always have social battles to “fight” for. Unfortunately, actual fighting or violence may break out when human beings cannot reason and compromise.

Positive thoughts repeated and reinforced, as well as rumination of negative ones both give rise to actions. What we think about shapes our actions and our lives. A positive thought life could be likened to a healthy diet. “Healthy in, healthy out.” A poor diet will wreak havoc on the body and physical health. In a similar way, negative visual images and consistent influx of upsetting headlines, tragedies, and human injustices wreak havoc on the mind, intensifying or causing mental health issues. Perhaps our first social responsibility lies in our daily thought life.

Positive thinking is more than a “Polyanna” philosophy; trying to completely ignore the wrongs in the world would be irresponsible.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

We should not stop doing what is in our power, ability and circumstance to improve conditions, but we cannot do everything — nor can we address every issue. So why do we allow our minds to be exposed to an overload of them?

If the first responsibility we have is to our physical and mental health, and then that of our friends and family, what can we do to counteract the barrage of negativity? I touched on this in previous posts, how and why we need to stay positive. How we need to set personal limits on social media or on negative relationships. We become unhealthy and ineffective to the world around us if we remain depressed, hopeless, angry or hateful.

What have we learned from those of the past who persevered in incredibly difficult times? People like Abraham Lincoln, Milton Hershey, Viktor Frankel and George Washington Carver point toward a mindset of positivity, hope, and faith. These people had rich prayer lives.

Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.

Abraham Lincoln

I find it fascinating that science supports prayer. Research in quantum entanglement suggests strongly that effects of subatomic particles defy time and space. We are scratching the surface at what may indeed one day prove the power of prayer. Some of my friends like to say that they are “sending good vibes” or “positive energy.” Go for it.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Viktor Frankl

Whatever issue you are most passionate about, how do you view others who are opposed or ignorant of your stance? I think this is a key question. We certainly saw the hateful mudslinging in this last American political election. If you feel hatred, if you have used a negative or ugly word about another, no matter how much you post on social media, no matter what you do, you will be ultimately ineffective. So why continue? Your own health suffers, your mental health suffers, your friends and family suffer whether you realize it or not.

Consider a diet of positivity.

Time for Change

We frequently hear promises of change during elections. We hope that whomever we vote for or support will align with what we would like to see happen. We count on it. And then promises are not all fulfilled. We become disappointed, some become depressed or despondent. Perhaps the person we wanted in the office didn’t get elected. Avoiding partisanship is easy for someone who is a peacemaker at heart. Whomever is in office will be bound to do some good things and some bad things. Tragically, some will suffer. The suffering is not to be dismissed and one should not turn a blind eye to it. I’ve written about my worldview on this and how to cope and try to make a difference.

When disappointed with aspects of the world and our culture think what can I do to protect myself and my family, how to educate them and help them to be resilient? What can I do to try to improve my community and the planet? Regarding the latter, there was news that some of our recycling may not end up where it is supposed to, instead, dumped in a landfill. It could be true. Though my attempts might be meager compared to those of others, I will still try to recycle what I can, and investigate the veracity of the claim.

Regarding community, the other day we passed a bedraggled man begging on the side of the road at an intersection. His sign announced that he was 65 years old and homeless. I only had a 5 dollar bill but pulled over. There was no traffic. I asked the man his name. He looked surprised as he revealed a huge, sad smile, “Rodney, Ma’am. Thank you so much!” As we pulled away I called out, “Bye, Rodney, we’ll keep you in our prayers!” Later the same morning, as we headed back to the highway we saw him again and waved out through the window, “Bye, Rodney!” In my rearview mirror he enthusiastically waved back until we were out of sight.

I am not telling this story to toot my own horn; honestly, I could have been totally taken. One might say that was an act of stupidity and gullibility. Could he use it on a cheap bottle of alcohol? Could he secretly have a home? Maybe. But that is between Rodney and God. My kids saw an example that I would prefer them to see over complaining or calling someone like Rodney a name. God has the big picture and somehow an act of good, even if seemingly redundant or ineffective, puts good energy into the world.

What saps our energy? Toxic people, you may have discovered, drain your energy and may even hurt you. Memes on social media encourage us to jettison these types. We should indeed protect ourselves, not set ourselves up in yet another situation with people who we know will take advantage of us or demean us mercilessly. But rather than hate them or vilify them, try to pray for them. The energy when we protect ourselves is even greater when we avoid hatred or resentment of the other.

This morning I was putting my feet up just for a few minutes before getting my son from school. I put on the end of an old episode of Downton Abbey. As Amazon transitioned to the next episode, it inserted a preview of another show it “thought” I might like. Well I didn’t. The sudden image of a bloody murder with a woman screaming. Oh, nice — thanks, Amazon. Now, I don’t mind a mystery, but I do not go for overt violence and gore. How many children see this trailer and others like it? No wonder our children are so full of anxiety about the world, and are depressed in record numbers.

It is simple to change a channel or look away from the television, and we have always needed to be careful with what our children watch. We should warn and educate them according to their age. We can note our opinions in feedback polls. Recently I reduced my time on Facebook, finding that Instagram, properly managed, will show me pictures of beautiful gardens, amazing geodes and sublime interior decorating. It could probably become as irritating as Facebook was during the US Presidential elections, but it seems easier to control what is displayed and it is peaceful, educational and relaxing.

You may have discovered other ways to make your world more peaceful. Do protect yourself. Hope and pray for others in the meantime. There are too many who suffer and we need to be at our personal best in order to help them. The end is thus the reason for the means. Change begins within ourselves however incrementally, but it does not stay there. Like concentric ripples in a pond, even tiny changes for the good move outward, until they affect the wider surface of the pond.


Moms know about knots. We are usually the go-to person to untangle shoelaces, necklaces, and little girls’ hair. Knots are worked out with patience and care.

Entanglement theories in Quantum Physics describe relationships between subatomic photons acting in concert with or reaction to each other, defying space and time. There are proposed entanglements between root systems of forests, a communication of sorts, possibly via a fungal network.

Is there entanglement within humanity? Are we somehow deeply, invisibly connected? Ira Progoff, a 20th Century social scientist described human connectedness like deep underground water. Invisible, a life force, a Living Water that grounds us as individuals, and in essence connects every person. It is ironic that in this modern world our electronic connectedness and multi-tasking create negative entanglements, and though these connections are instantaneous and exponential in number of contacts, we can still feel desperately alone.

A psychologist friend told me that the number of calls in regard to completed suicides have increased dramatically, family members and friends searching for help in order to cope. The political and social state of our country is fragile and fractious: Covid 19, brutal killings, fomenting anger. Crime and violence begin with a small ripple that gains momentum. If only we could remember the innocence with which we were born. If only we could remember that each of us holds a dignity in being human. If only it were as easy as Rapunzel singing “I’ve Got a Dream” in the Disney movie Tangled. The state of the world is arguably depressing–unless we remember that goodness also begins with one small act.

What is the human default-mode? Is it essentially bad or is it good? Recent scientific research on the brain suggests levels of complexity and adaption thought impossible in years past. Neuroscientists contend that unhealthy thoughts, fears and uncontrolled anger literally form toxic entanglements in our brains. As best as I can explain, thoughts are faster-than-lightning electrical impulses which form the building blocks of stored memory out of proteins. A part of the brain called the amygdala stores many of these memories. How we think about what we think (metacognition) determines our world view, which in turn lends interpretation to future thought.

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. Whether Eastern Meditation in which one empties the mind of conscious thought, or Lectio Divino where one reads and then listens for what God says, or meditative prayer where one quietly listens for inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our blood pressure is reduced, anxiety calmed and thinking re-ordered. Rational thinking is less likely to result in what has been coined an “Amygdala Hijack,” an uncontrolled outburst usually followed with great regret. The fight or flight response of the adrenal glands readies us to protect ourselves, but it can be mistakenly triggered even when there is in reality no actual danger. A wrongly perceived threat (from an event interpreted with negative-bias) floods the body with hormones to ready one to fight or to flee. Triggered too often, this causes ill effects in the body and the mind.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, an audiologist and neuroscientist, discusses something called optimism bias, believing it to be the default human state. Focusing on gratitude for what is good in the world helps one to see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels. The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. We can strive to replace fear with wisdom from meditation, and with love.

In the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a southern lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a grievously wronged man who is good and innocent. The accuser is an uneducated, prejudiced racist who spreads evil lies. It is clear that Atticus is right in his defense of Tom. Atticus faces the man who has done so much harm. That man is symbolic of Satan, “The Accuser.” He speaks vilely to Atticus and spits in his face. Many would have been tempted to strike out as John Wayne did in McClintock, yet chaos is more likely to erupt after any violence. Atticus coolly wipes his face, returns to his car and leaves. He knows that nothing he could say or do would change that man, and violence would solve nothing. His response was not to lower himself to that level, making things worse. Reasoning and wise action at times involve sacrifice. It could be said that Atticus’ peaceful response was weak. I believe it was sacrificial. It showed greater strength than any act of retribution or revenge.

Augustine of Hippo lived in the Fourth Century. In a commentary on Psalm 17 he wrote:

“Lord, You perfected my love, that I might surmount the troublesome entanglements of the world. Direct my desire toward the heavenly home so that I may be enriched with every good thing.”

A millennium and a half after Augustine, the children’s television host Fred Rogers said in an interview that his mother taught him he should not be afraid when the world was chaotic; rather, he should “always look for the helpers,” the ones who act for good. Their work holds greater effect because it is accomplished in spite of evil. These helpers prove that there is hope in the world.

We are connected, whether we see it or not. We are not alone. In difficult moments, pause. Meditate or pray whenever possible and if you can only breathe, then breathe in the spirit that gave you your first breath–consciously breathe in God who is Love. If you cannot call on God then start with love. The next moment holds possibility and hope. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray for others. Like the molecules and energy of Quantum Entanglement, perhaps prayer moves quietly beyond time and space. United with the source of all love, prayer is powerful.

Fred Rogers’ Mom knew best. I’ll bet she untangled his shoestrings deftly, and peacefully tied them into neat bows when he was young. Look for good and you will find it.

There is always hope.