Fear, Power Dynamics, and Recognition
This morning, as I was driving, I passed two little baby deer on my neighbor’s lawn. There were the size of a goat and as adorable as you’d guess. When the saw my car, they crossed the street, fleeing as an automatic response to what seem (to them) a large, mechanic monster. Instinct told them to run, darting into the woods. Except instead of disappearing completely out of view, on of the babies stayed at the edge on the tree line. It made eye contact with me, tail flicking ever so slightly. The other one was nowhere to be found.
It struck me that people are a lot like that. Sometimes, we flee, disappearing in a panic, leaving no trace behind. We extract ourselves, quickly and thoroughly, from a situation that makes us uncomfortable – turning a blind eye to the consequences of the action. Other times, we might get scared and run, but only to a safer distance, standing on the edge – almost defiantly waiting to see what happens next. That is a kind of middle ground (between holding your original ground and vanishing). It is, perhaps, the product of fear, but not the all-consuming kind. The kind of fear that hope matches blow for blow, note for note. It is why we put ourselves through the pain of breakups, through the battles of friendship (all friendships have disagreements – it is how you handle those that define the relationship), and through the uncertain moments that plague any kind of relationship.
It made me think about power dynamics, too. A long time ago, a psychology professor of mine said that all relationships are a struggle for power. Often times, the one who cares the most has the least power. When we love, we bend. We compromise. That’s love, after all – putting the other person before yourself, putting that person’s wants and needs ahead of your own. It is, I think, important to keep that balance as close to even as possible. Otherwise, it isn’t a level playing field and someone always ends up winning. No relationship, from friendship to work to love, should ever be about winning. That’s what bullies and tyrants are after. It’s unhealthy and non-functioning on the most basic levels.
Anyone who uses your fears against you is a special kind of asshole. Anyone who manipulates you to gain the upper hand, to make you feel small, really has personal issues themselves. When words are constantly used as weapons, and you become afraid to open your mouth and communicate – a basic and essential tenet of any relationship – you have to question not only the relationship, but the motivation of the other person.
There are times where we are made to feel as if our feelings are not valid. As if we are behaving improperly. If this is a consistent thing, we become the deer that disappears in order to protect ourselves. The pattern has been established that there is something to fear. We become unable, or too consumed by circumstance, to be the one that waits, the one that (despite the concerns of the past) can judge the situation from a short distance. We become conditioned to remove ourselves from the situation – either physically or emotionally – for our own safety. Running, of course, doesn’t necessarily eradicate the problem. It’s only a temporary reprieve. And yet, sometimes we are conditioned so well or hurting so much, that it seems like the only solution.
I’ve never been the kind who flees. I may retreat a little and look at things from a small distance. I think, despite what happens to us in life – despite the fears, risks, and unknowables – that it is important to know how to stand your ground, patiently. Just when you think you know, you don’t. There’s always a surprise around the corner, a change on the wind, a bright star pulling itself from the darkness.
Sometimes, you have to cross the road to make a change. It is always a risk, hurling yourself into the unknown. But if you are seen, and you see, miracles can happen, darlings. There is nothing more beautiful in life that to be seen and understood.