It’s something we’re supposed to learn in kindergarten, but the ADHD kid (like me) doesn’t have a mind for it then, so it passed me by. (I doubt Robert Fulghum had ADHD, since he learned these lessons in kindergarten.)
Americans in general are bad with oppression, yet oppression is a necessary evil. It’s part of life. Organization oppresses the disorganized. The kindergarten classroom must be organized. The teacher has to be in charge, even when she’s wrong. You’re supposed to sit down, shut up and obey instruction. That’s the whole purpose of the class.
This personal reality is also political. The main reason Democrats seem so wimpy (to those in the Netroots) is they have learned the hard lesson of dealing with oppression. Whether by fair means or foul they’ve been losing, on the whole, for 40 years, and they’re used to living in the nooks and crannies of a Republican world.
That’s what triangulation is all about. You assume that your own side, no matter how well-intentioned, is too extreme, and you try to fit modest reform between what you want and what you know the other side is going to do. Hillary Clinton continues sailing into the wind that doesn’t blow and it drives people crazy. That’s her real problem right now. Barack Obama doesn’t assume the wind exists, John Edwards insists the wind can be resisted.
Polls show Obama is right — in our guts we know the Republicans are nuts. Every one of them. Even that nice Governor Huckabee. Yet Congressional leaders keep leaning forward into the wind, as though afraid reform is going to be knocked over. Media pundits keep leaning forward, into the wind that doesn’t blow. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes feel to the whole thing. Washington truly seems like a Potemkin Village at times like this.
But back to me.
We must all deal with little oppressions, every day. Most of us aren’t aware of them. At school. At work. At home. Teachers, bosses and parents have to lead, everyone else has to follow, and in the end it doesn’t matter if you’re right, if you can’t swallow your pride you’re wrong.
This has always been my problem. It was my problem growing up, it caused me to fail at every job I ever had, it caused all the trouble I ever had in my marriage.
I can rationalize it all I want. The problem is what happens at what football people like to call "the point of attack."
My son John and I both fly off the handle in the same way. We have the same kind of ADHD. Last week I was watching the Republican YouTube debate and arguing with the set. He was trying to do homework in his room. He came out, very angry, and yelled at me to keep it down. This got my rage boiling and I yelled back. He finally slammed his door in frustration, and took off the door jams on the top and side at a blow — just knocked the wood flying. It took us a half-hour to get his door back open.
Next morning we both apologized to one another. But it was too late for the door.
It happens all the time. I know it happens to me. I know the solution is to take a time out, to mentally or physically step aside, but in those few moments it’s impossible. There’s a rational being who is supposed to control the irrational, but when the feeling of oppression hits that rational man disappears. There is only the anger, maybe for a few moments, maybe for several minutes.
Some might call me a rageaholic, but I get no pleasure from this anger. I don’t seek it out. I don’t feel it to be empowering when it happens. I find it frightening. I find I’m frightened. I find I’m a very small child, even though I’m now a middle-aged man. As my son feels when he feels oppressed. He doesn’t know he’s now 6 foot 220 — in his mind he’s still the small child he was not that long ago.
Learning to deal with oppression, to put things aside, is not easy, after the rest of the class has moved on, after you’ve grown, even if the part of your brain which can learn this lesson has finally grown to accommodate the lesson. Learning the lesson is like fitting your adult body into a kindergartner’s chair — awkward, uncomfortable, faintly humiliating.
The technical term for this is "oppositional disorder." It’s a short-term refusal to comply that can be dealt with. But it takes time, it takes hard work, and the intellect has to learn to inform the emotions. You have to learn what others have come to intuit.
It’s like dyslexia in that way.
On a larger scale there is a lot of this building up among Republicans right now, which is why, as a crisis approaches, followers of the outgoing thesis seem to grow crazier-and-crazier to those of us on the outside looking in. There is enormous danger here. This is the rage from which Civil Wars are made. This is the rage from which terrorism springs. This is what brought down the Murrah Building, and ruined the Atlanta Olympics.
The point is this is something we all need to work on, whether or not we have ADHD, regardless of our party. My son has a way he tries to deal with it, and he has been making progress so let me offer it to you.
It’s a blue rubber bracelet, like the yellow Armstrong "Livestrong" bracelets or the jokey orange "Wriststrong" things Stephen Colbert was pushing before the writer’s strike ended his campaign. John’s reads WWGD. Stands for What Would Gandhi Do. (I like this picture of Gandhi for our purpose. It was taken at age 21 when he was starting out as a lawyer.)
Gandhi would find a way to deal. He would know that the little losses taken together lead to the big triumph. Oppression cannot stand so long as man has a conscience. But a conscience can’t operate from a position of blind rage.
That way lies madness.