A Road Not Traveled: Blindspots, Fear and the 'The Emperor's New Clothes'

By Lawrence H. Climo, M.D.

I’ve been frustrated and angry for some time now – it’s July 2021 – over the crushing and inescapable toxicity of our political discourse, and feel certain that my helplessness in this climate isn’t mine alone.

I know much has been written about the origins of this toxicity and not enough about a way out, an operational and viable way out. I haven’t come upon any, anyway. Recently I convinced myself I’ve been overlooking something in my efforts to find a realistic path to becoming unstuck. I’d overlooked a part of me, a part I wasn’t supposed to look at, that hiding place we call our blindspot. I’d searched enough into hopes, wishes, and dreams and came up with zip. I’d looked into my experiences with healing. Again, zip. This time I decided it was time to look into that place where things couldn’t be seen.

By blindspot I don’t mean a place we tune out. I mean the place where stuff gets blocked out of our awareness because it’s unbearable. Their downside is that they’re not under our control. (“Denial” is its other name but denial, unfortunately, has a bad reputation even though it buys time for continuing normal functioning until we feel ready to face…whatever.) Anyway, I’d come to think of blindspots as the place for temporary healing, as a sort of pre-programed field-dressing or healing place instinctively applied when we’re blindsided with the unbearable. I should add that those dressings have a half-life. Over time they can seep into our awareness, in disguise of course. The disguise wasn’t a problem for me. I knew immediately the strategy to detect it.

I lay in wait and then grabbed hold of the first subtle and sneaky nervous symptom that entered my awareness. (I knew it would take that form. It had happened before.) Now relaxed and confident, I let myself play with that symptom. It wasn’t difficult to trace its roots.

Its roots weren’t any physical or mental traumatic event. They were nothing more than a vague sensation of discomfort that I’d routinely tuned out and that, over time, evolved into anxiety whereupon it became permanently blocked out. That anxiety had become FEAR.

Fear, of course, has no words. We give them words or names to enable us to grab and get a hold of that feeling and feel in control. This realization reminded me how difficult and misleading those sanity-saving words can be; and how difficult it can be to use them properly, let alone wisely. (Here, my story becomes more dicey.) The ways we articulate that “feeling” involves blending facts with fantasy. The upside is that our blend brings us peace of mind. The downside: it brings peace of mind to us but, inasmuch as it’s including non-facts, the other guy becomes even more frightened.

The solution to my problem became clear. I’ll try to spell it out by beginning with this familiar toxic promoter, Congress. Republican leaders in Congress make the most of what they have, and do what it takes to pursue a political agenda promoting a diminished government presence. This is what politics is about and Democrats in Congress and their supporters know this. They know Republican leaders in Congress are not corrupt, in denial, or deranged but simply playing the cards they’ve been dealt. That’s what parties do. But, to listen to Democrats and their supporters, you’d think they were unaware of any value to what Republicans in Congress seek. The flip side, it seems, is equally true. Republicans in Congress and their supporters know that Democratic leaders in Congress are prioritizing their political agenda which features a more hands-on government. But, to listen to Republicans in Congress and their supporters you’d think Republicans were unaware of any value for America to what Democrats seek.

It’s as if supporters of both parties are simultaneously ignoring the fact that our progress as a democratic nation rests on compromise, that fine-tuning process that creates a balance between differing visions of equal value. Unfortunately, pursuing and maintaining that balance has for some time now been unnecessarily and dramatically replaced by our persistent win-lose strategy.

From this perspective, I see no fault lying with the politicians, parties, supporters, the press, voters, or even foreign meddlers or imagined conspirators. The fault, as I’ve come to see it, lies with our singular common denominator, our national common denominator, our familiar and addictive American metaphor. I refer to our hierarchy-heavy metaphor that declares: we are Number One. We are the Greatest Country Ever. Think of it. This is the metaphor whose dramatic fight-to-win directive and right-wrong/winner-loser orientation, not to mention its stand-your-ground and stay-the-course endorsements, are as addictive as they are inspiring. That is the box we’re in. It’s a place of reassurance and empowerment, to be sure, and still a box, but the catch is that we don’t even know we’re in it, let alone stuck there. That, I believe, is because it feels too much like a noble mountaintop, a heroic place where we’re supposed to be. But, truth be told, it’s also the place we’re afraid to leave. Our toxic discourse is rooted in that fear.

As a result, instead of striving to recover a balance, we persist in losing our balance and tilting too far to one side. And, while we maintain the strength to resist being pushed all the way down, we’ve lost the strength to stand-up straight.

I’m beginning to consider now that the good news is we might be just one step from recovery. In the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson, it took only one onlooker, a small child, a voice of a future generation, to make that happen. He simply said the obvious, “the Emperor is wearing no clothes” and instantly, everyone was able to not only see this but to say so. And, they did.

What if we, the majority of Americans, are like the crowd at that parade, reluctant to see inside our blindspots, but ready to? Unable to admit we’re no-longer Number One, but ready to? Unwilling to confess we’re not the greatest country ever, but ready to. (Unwilling to say we’ve done bad things but ready to?) What if all that’s needed is for that majority of us to own up to all this, and what’s keeping us from doing that is fear of finding ourselves alone? What if that’s the big delay, the reason the toxicity persists, that we’re waiting for the other fellow to say it first. Let “Mikey” at the breakfast table, that innocent child in the TV Ad, be the one to go viral. I’m thinking, that’s what it will take.

1 comment on A Road Not Traveled: Blindspots, Fear and the ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’

  • sandy wiener

    Larry, this is a really interesting analysis, lots of thought I am sure going into it. Thank you!

    That being said, where do I, or anyone else actually, try to make a start in replying? Well, a few observations.

    May that it be so, that what it will take is someone (or a lot of someone’s, like you) saying, echoing, what you have pointed out the emperor has no clothes. My fear is that way too many people are so entrenched in their blind spots, that pointing this out is not going to penetrate enough to begin to make a difference.

    My own approach is this (and wouldn’t it be interesting to hear others’ approaches, but this is very unlikely on our site, for various reasons).

    I have a decided non-Scientism approach to what/who we are. And this takes into perspective the vastness of our universe, outward and inward. We know so little about our life/lives. There is so much we do not know. For instance, how can precognition actually exist, but it does.

    Summing up in this very brief reply, I revel in the mystery, Sandy

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