President’s Column

Art Blume

President

Art Blume

Hello, everyone, my hope is that you and your families remain well.

I confess to a great deal of personal trepidation in writing this column, at a time when circumstances seem overwhelming and words are failing me. As I have struggled to write this column, my thoughts have returned time and again to one overarching question: When rationality fails, what is next?

Psychology is a discipline that places a great deal of emphasis on data supported by rationality, which makes it especially challenging for our professional activities when others ignore appeals to evidence or reason. We have been socialized to let our data speak for itself, appealing to reasonableness we assume is inherent in human beings. But what happens when evidence and reason are dismissed or ignored? What power do we have to persuade when some people distrust data, or could care less about data or logically constructed interpretations of those data? It certainly is uncomfortable to confront those circumstances when they occur, and they seem to have been occurring more regularly (or at least more openly). 

Many of us are struggling to cope with events that have defied evidence and reason. The numerous acts of cruelty that have been perpetrated upon our peoples defy rationality. Destructive divisiveness with the capacity to harm defies rationality. The callousness of an economic system that continues to build wealth for a very privileged few during a time when others face significant economic hardship and health risks defies rationality. A democracy where leaders actively dissuade participation defies rationality. A willingness to place the most vulnerable among us in harm’s way during a pandemic to benefit those at lesser risk defies rationality. Our rationality suggests to us that irrationality is not sustainable and yet irrationality persists.

In the US, we have a major election ahead that offers a great deal of uncertainty. There are great concerns that the irrationality that is driving the uncertainty may worsen. To embrace voting is a step toward ensuring that voting is not taken away from us. Many of our ancestors did not have the right to vote, so we vote to honor them and the generations that are to come. In this way, voting may be considered a spiritual act because of how it simultaneously honors our ancestors and future generations across time and space who will not be able to cast their votes. Voting is an excellent way to advocate for psychological well-being and health in the context of irrationality.

Many Indigenous people view time as cyclical rather than linear—that time cycles in such a way that the past, present, and future share a kinship with one another. Time recycles into familiar patterns with novel expressions. Today is new, yet old and familiar at the same time. Seasons are good examples of the familiar patterns. We just transitioned from summer into autumn, and autumn 2020 will likely have the familiar patterns akin to the autumns of other years—past and future–but expressed with the distinctiveness of 2020. Even though autumn 2020 presents unique challenges, especially those resulting from the irrational activities of human beings, we have seen these patterns before and can draw upon the strength and wisdom of those who came before us.

Many Indigenous people also believe that processes in the natural world, including the cycles of time, tend toward restoration of balance. The tendency toward balance is present in all things, including human animals. In understanding balance in humans, if we assume rationality is a hallmark of human beings, then we must assume that irrationality is a hallmark as well. And we can find hope that time is an ally that is working to restore balance in these irrational times. 

These have certainly been very challenging times in our life cycles, yet we recognize the challenges are not new or unique. Many of our ancestors faced challenges that I think most of us would agree greatly exceeded the challenges of 2020. This statement is not meant to invalidate our own challenges, but rather to contextualize them. And although much of the irrationality we face today have themes that resemble the challenges that our ancestors faced, because of their sacrifices and suffering, we are much more empowered to face those challenges today. Our ancestors have transmitted to us lessons about the cultural strengths they used to transform hardship into growth and resilience. Personally, I give thanks for the ancestors who brought us to this point and stand with us today in solidarity against the forces of irrationality. When rationality fails to protect us, our collective cultural connectivity, along with its inherent strengths, will not.

Our ancestors found ways to collectively celebrate who they were as a people through their respective cultures despite irrational events. And the celebration of cultural connectivity strengthened their resolve against irrationality. Our ancestors did not surrender to despair amidst times of imbalances, even though they had plenty of reasons to doubt there was much point to standing tall in the face of overwhelming irrationality. They stood tall when it was tough to stand at all, honoring their ancestors and honoring us with the connectivity of hope amidst cruelty, divisiveness, callousness, exclusion, and rejection of rationality. Our collective cultural strengths were born in those moments of perseverance when they stood tall. The lessons today remain the same as they were then and will be tomorrow—our collective cultural strengths provide opportunities for growth, resilience, and hope even when rationality fails. 

Focus Fall 2020

©2020 Division 45 - A Division of the American Psychological Association (APA)

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