The Summer Sport Of Unlearning Helplessness

Jul 31, 2018

I’m taking solace on my front porch these long summer days. Basking in the semi-outdoors as I view the parade of neighbors led by their canine friends.

The problem though is most of my porch time is consumed by reading the New York Times – usually while listening to NPR (on WNIJ of course).

Digesting the news, I go from feeling aghast, irate, fed up and fearful into a numbing sense of helplessness. And then I get mad all over again when I realize I may be falling prey to “learned helplessness.”

This is the condition that psychologist Martin Seligman induced in captive dogs he electrically shocked. By the time he provided an escape route, the dogs had accepted their helpless state, stayed put and whined.

This was deplorable animal abuse in the 1960’s, and since then at least some ethical guidelines have been established. Further experiments challenged Seligman’s conclusions, but that image of passively accepting uncontrollable shocks has stayed with me -- especially if I find myself starting to whine about the latest Trump attack on our democracy and decency.

And I know I’m not alone -- and that we do have the wherewithal to rise to this escalating turmoil. That we’ll continue to be informed by news sources we can trust and not succumb to the madness.

We’ll cast our votes and support candidates of integrity -- and also make time to sit on the porch and just listen to the crickets and cicadas.

I’m Paula Garrett and that’s my perspective.