Memory Loss and the Fear of Negative Authority
If history teaches us anything, it is that over the span of time authoritarian rule is gradually giving way to relationships built on equality. Equality is as a huge tidal wave that is sweeping over the world. One by one old regimes are giving way to ones based upon every person having a voice with greater respect for human rights.
Obviously we are nowhere near to where equality desires to go. But one thing we all know for sure. Authoritarian rule is dying out at the same time that the tidal wave of equality is growing. Authoritarian rule is based upon the ability for someone to dominate others so that they can control space and rule over it so that things flow to them in an unequal manner. The one thing that authoritarian rule does not want is equal access to opportunity or resources or decision making. I wasn’t raised in a family that had authoritarian rule so learning about it came as a shock to me more than it probably would to others. My mother and father have always had a relationship based upon equality. When I moved to Asia and started doing dream meetings in the various countries, I found that equality in a family between a husband and wife is a rarity.
Since authoritarian rule is about dominance, it requires power and fear for the maintenance of its position of privilege. It goes something like this. The authoritarian ruler is at the top with systems in place to insure the flow of recognition, resources and privileges. It is as if the authoritarian person believes that they are a god. This gives them the right to use fear of punishment, particularly exclusion of something to control the dominance. People under the authoritarian ruler often believe that if they just work a little harder or are a little bit more obedient, then the authoritarian ruler will look kindly on them, give them recognition and better access to resources.
When you begin to see authoritarian rulers for who they are and take steps toward creating a life that does not meet the approval of the authoritarian ruler, then you are automatically seen as a rebel who either needs to be put back in line or be ousted. A really valued person in an authoritarian-ruled place is a person who works themselves to the bone for the leader’s end. There is nothing sweeter to an authoritarian leader than a person who works themselves to death.
If you are a workaholic, like being a lawyer in a large firm that requires 80-90 hour work weeks, then you know that the leadership is authoritarian and out for its own control of resources. Sooner or later when you are in that situation, you will start to experience memory loss even when you have an excellent memory. Here is why.
I first started losing my memory at work in an international boarding school at a time when the leadership in the school changed to being authoritarian. I had already been working long hours, but the new leadership started accusing our department of not working hard enough. Having had loyalty as a strong value in my personality I was very slow to recognize what was happening. Then one day I started forgetting a few people’s names. It was weird. It was like the name vanished. I can almost tell you exactly when it began. Here is how I see what happened.
My work, as I saw it was to transform young people’s lives so that they could act out of their true selves and live from their inner positive energy. However, when the authoritarian elements came into power, the priority of the school became much more traditional including trying to copy other conservative schools around us. So my true self wanted to continue the work because that is my passion, but my ego was under threat even though I didn’t see it right away by being so naive. My ego was fearful of exclusion so it started protecting me by forgetting people’s names.
Now if you are a lawyer or a doctor who works ungodly hours, then you have already lost a lot of your memory. My fear, which was already internally recognized, actually came true. I was fired. So in my next job I thought I should be pleasing to the authority, listen to them, and do what they asked. My memory loss continued only instead of just forgetting the names of students, which continued, I started forgetting to do the things that transform other’s lives. It wasn’t that I completely gave it up, but as long as I was fearful of the exclusionary power of authority, the memory of helping others to change would disappear. It was like my true self, my passion, would go on leave. It would disappear and leave me. I had had a lot of writing projects that I wanted to do, but when I was under threat of exclusion, I forgot them and had no desire to do them in the same way that most executives and professionals forget their families. It is like you know that your family is important and that you should want to spend time with them, but the fear of being excluded is so much more powerful that you just put them out of your mind and ignore them. You lose your memory of your family.
In most of my dream meetings in Asia I have found for most people that the authority figure is in the home and is usually the father or the husband. Almost from the time children begin breathing they start losing their memory of who they truly are because the family is organized around the desires of the god of the home, the man. Instead of supporting children with their unique gifts and talents, the pressure on a child is to do as the family commands, to become a workaholic by the age of 5 or 6 and to give up on any of their own dreams. Children in Asia lose their memories at a very young age. The only memory they have is what someone else would have them do.
Of course as I stated earlier this is all changing. Things are become more equal. Its force is huge, but the old ways are also tenacious. The other night a woman told me about a dream that recurs for her where she is flying and feeling really positive and then she loses her balance and goes to the ground, starts flying again, loses her balance, and falls to the ground. This repeats on and on. This is the struggle. Her true self wants to fly, to explore new territory, to do new things, to initiate, but she looks down the ground, feels the pressure of the old ways, and loses her balance and then her memory of who she is. You know the world is getting stronger or more equal when you hear a dream like that because she keeps flying despite the conditions of the world. She hasn’t yet lost her memory the way many people have.
Authoritarian rule does not want flyers. It wants people who will stay grounded from flying by doing all of the things that keep the old older in place. To be a flyer you have to find a way to hold onto the memory of who you are. This is the difficult part. Most people usually give into the pressure and forget themselves.
I used to believe that the answer to dealing with authoritarian leaders was to get into conflict with them. And then when I got fired, I went back and forth between fighting and capitulating. Either way I lost because in the process of fighting or capitulating I lost my memory of what my true self really wanted to do which was to help people change their lives, the thing that I am really good at. I can tell you that until recently my memory was so bad that after a three week break from my students I forgot about 10% of the student’s names. A lot of people call this a senior moment, but I call it fear. Fear leads to memory loss. If you do it long enough, the brain just might not have the resiliency to remember well anymore.
So how do you maintain the memory of yourself, your great capacities and gifts, in the face of authoritarian rule. This is the big question. Fighting or capitulation do not work. The answer is quite simple even though it has taken me about 15 years to discover. I am stubborn. The key is that the open door for your true self to be truly functional is the place where the culture gives out the least recognition. If you are an executive a big oil company making truckloads of money, then you can ask yourself where am I least likely to get recognized. It is simple for most professional people. The open door is always in their families. They don’t want to go and be with their families because their families are where their true self was excluded. It has a lot of pain in it.
When I first started really getting some skills in the personal transformation work with others, I was an administrator in a school. At that point I wanted to be able to have a lot more practice and then really be of service to a lot of young people. The open door was working in a dormitory with teenage girls. For the world I was stepping down in my career, but for my true self it was I was a young child who got a season’s pass to Disneyland. The struggle, of course, when you make a move like this is with the ego. The ego craves recognition that comes from an important position and rebels and fights when it doesn’t get it. To the true self the activity is the joy and it is all that is needed.
So, as it turns out, authoritarian leaders are not that difficult to deal with. You just go to where the culture is least likely to give you recognition, and that is where the true self will find its playground in complete joy. The authoritarian ruler does not want to go there because it is where all of their pain is. They will stay away so it is free for you.
In my most recent history of firings I was moved from an administrative position where I was public all the time organizing a lot of events to teaching physical education with very young children and having an office way off in the corner of the school. Although I was hurt in the beginning, now I can see that it is the perfect work for me right now. I can let go of the negative feelings I had for those who moved me because in the end it was really where I needed to go. But the big work is always recognition-seeking.
What we won’t do for a little attention! It is the big addiction. No question. Who cares about physical education with young children? Barely anyone except the children and myself. And a 5 year old’s biggest issue bar none, attention. “Look at me, I am so funny.” It is an issue that most people never get over. It takes me one entire year of working constantly to switch the attention of the 5 year olds from ego getting attention seeking to being attracted to new abilities and going for positive things. So here it is. The authoritarian rulers forget who they are at age 5 right at the time they enter school just like most of the rest of us. I guess I am in the right place. Working with an authoritarian leader is just like working with a 5 year who has a lot of power. Yikes!!! I prefer them when they are 5.
There seems to be a great deal of things that people do that are protection so that they do not have to deal with the most difficult challenges they face. My watchband suddenly broke before flying to the US a few days ago. When I arrived in the US, I remembered that this is the place where everyone has to get things finished rapidly, that the culture is based upon speed and working quickly. It reminded me to slow down my internal clock because that is where I am more likely to find intimacy with others. When I go at breakneck speed like the culture, I end up having a lot of shallowness all the time and doing someone else’s agenda. I forget what I was put on the planet to do.
this made me wonder about memory overload. where memory is a service that is imposed on some by others. i’m thinking of the situation where one person in a family acts as the memory sherpa: carrying details of daily schedules, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries on both sides of the family, shopping lists, plans for daily meals, medications, mending and repairs, children’s current clothing sizes, down to where people left their own keys.
keeping track of minutia takes mental energy that a person who has to be explicitly asked to participate, and then supplied with background information- doesn’t expend. and in that case memory loss (or memory refusal?) can seem like a power play.