Friday, October 31, 2008
The Inner Sanctuary, Part 3: Decide to Beat the Curve
Learned helplessness means that people die unnecessarily. "Learned helplessness" is a well-established psychological principle offered as a model to explain depression and apathy. Basically, it's when people conclude that they are powerless, and that their life choices have no bearing on the outcomes in their lives. This leads to people choosing to submit to apathy and external circumstances.
This attitude leads to having a stunted, diminished life. It also leads to death.
In his book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber describes a lab experiment on rats that demonstrates the way helplessness can influence the course of cancer:
. . . rats were grafted with the exact quantity of cancer cells known to induce a fatal tumor in 50% of them. In this experiment, the rats were divided into three groups. In the first group, the control group, the animals received the graft but were not manipulated in any other way. In the second group, the rats were given small electric shocks, which they could learn to evade by pushing on a lever in their cage. The animals in the third group were also given electric shocks but were not provided with an escape mechanism.
The results, published in Science, were very clear: One month after the graft, 63% of the rats that had received shocks but had learned to avoid some of them by pressing a lever had rejected the tumor. The rejection rate in this group was higher than in the control group (which had not undergone shocks), in which only 54% of the animals had rejected the cancerous cells. On the other hand, only 23% of those animals subjected to the electric shock with no means of escape managed to overcome their cancer. . . The lesson of this study is crucial: It isn't stress itself---the 'electric shocks' life inevitably gives---that promotes cancer development; it is the persistent perception of helplessness the individual has that affects the body's reaction to the disease." Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pgs. 136-137.
If we are honest, we must admit that there is a LOT of learned helplessness among Black people. If we are honest, we must admit that much of what passes for Black political thought encourages learned helplessness. If we are honest, we must admit that much of our "common wisdom" reflects learned helplessness.
How many times have you heard Black women say things like, "all men cheat"? Or, "ain't no use in getting upset about it"? Or, "it's never going to change"? Or, "there's nothing I can do about it"? So many Black women have openly resigned themselves to defeat. In so many ways. No matter what particular topic is the "it" that is being discussed.
Some of you in the silent audience are resisting opening your hearts and minds to new possibilities because you don't want to expend the necessary effort to change your lives. That's fine. God respects free will; and so do I.
However, some of you are resisting opening your hearts and minds to new possibilities because you don't believe that there ARE any other possibilities for your lives. I respectfully submit to you that this belief is the result of learned helplessness. Helplessness that is not required or binding, unless you submit to it. Helplessness that can be unlearned. I believe that it's worthwhile to unlearn helplessness. In addition to diminishing one's quality of life, helplessness kills. Learned helplessness kills people unnecessarily. Survival curves often reflect this reality.
In medicine, a survival curve is a statistical picture of the survival experience of some group of patients in the form of a graph. The graph shows the percentage of patients surviving over time. Medical literature often refers to survival curves. Doctors also use survival curves to estimate a patient's prognosis; by comparing the experiences of other patients in a similar situation who received similar treatments.
There is an example of a survival curve at the beginning of this post. All survival curves have the same asymmetrical shape. Half of the patients' cases are concentrated on the left-hand side of the median. The other half of the patients are on the right side. The median survival time in the above survival curve is 2 years. That means that half the patients lived less than 2 years. The other half lived more than 2 years. Notice that some of the patients on the right side survived SIGNIFICANTLY LONGER than 2 years. Some of the patients were still going strong 12 years later. This is an extremely important life lesson! Especially when thinking about your own chances for victory in life when confronted with negative statistics, negative advice, and negative examples.
In the book, Dr. Servan-Schreiber makes a very important point about these survival curves:
"[These curves] don't distinguish between people who are satisfied with passively accepting the medical verdict and those who mobilize their own natural defenses. In the same 'median' are found those who go on smoking, who continue to expose themselves to other carcinogenic substances. . . who continue to sabotage their immune defenses with too much stress and poor management of their emotions, or who abandon their bodies by depriving them of physical activity. And within this 'median' are those who LIVE MUCH LONGER. This is most likely because, along with the benefits of the conventional treatments they receive, they have somehow galvanized their natural defenses." Anticancer: A New Way of Life, pg. 15 (emphasis added).
In other words, the people who live much longer tend to be those who decide to actively resist having the "average" and "median" outcome. People who decide to do whatever they can to BEAT THE CURVE.
Have you decided to beat the curve? Whatever the "curve" happens to be?
When you hear negative statistics (for example, such as 70% of Black women being unmarried), do you resign yourself to being among the "average" or the "median"? Have you learned to be helpless in the face of negative statistics? And negative advice? And negative examples?
Or do you decide that there's NO good reason why YOU can't be on the victorious side of the curve, too?
Are you willing to find out what the people on the winning side of the curve have in common?
Are you willing to find out what the people on the winning side of the curve did?
Wishful thinking will NOT enable you to beat the curve. You're going to have to work at it. Are you willing to work to beat the curve?