Finding Peace in the Age of Anxiety | Magazine Features
If there’s one word that captures the emotional mood of our day, it’s anxiety. This atmosphere is thickened by the news, which presents us with a constant stream of worrying trends, unprecedented events and cascading crises. We absorb this terrifying torrent of information via our digital devices; nodes connected to the Internet in a sort of global electronic nervous system. A feedback loop that feeds on anger, conflict and outrage.
And this online culture is seeping into the real world. To live in such a time is to tiptoe through a minefield, perpetually worried about unleashing bursts of anxious and furious repression.
In such an atmosphere – where everyone seems tense and ready to go wild – how do we fulfill our biblical mandate to be salt and light, ambassadors of the kingdom, bearers of good news? First, we need to fully understand workplace dysfunction and its causes.
OUR DIGITAL NETWORK ACTS AS A SUPER DISSEMINATOR OF ANXIETY
Any system – be it a nation, a family or a workplace – overwhelmed by chronic anxiety will be marked by reactivity. Those inside the system no longer act rationally; instead, strong emotion becomes the dominant form of interaction.
The focus is on the most emotionally immature and reactive members. Those who are more mature and healthy begin to adapt their behavior to appease them.
This creates a scenario in which the most emotionally unhealthy and immature members of the system become de facto leaders, shaping the emotional landscape, emphasizing their negative behavior and what they perceive to be the negative behavior. others.
Conflict and retreat become the dominant modes of engagement. It becomes almost impossible to walk away from a problem; reaction, pain and strong emotions replace contemplation and reflection. Reflection is replaced by responsiveness. Nuance replaces insults.
We see this mood everywhere today – social media interactions, political discourse, even within churches. It seems that the tools for gaining space and alleviating a problem – humor, irony and satire – have been lost. For the emotionally immature, everything becomes an affront at best, direct aggression at worst.
In this environment, it becomes nearly impossible for the healthiest members of a system to see the big picture and address systemic issues, as attention is always drawn back to the latest crisis and feverish emotional responses. that overwhelm the network. Life-saving surgery can never take place because the focus is on immediate pain management.
The system quickly goes through continual crises. The absence of personal boundaries and the lack of respect for individual, institutional and socially accepted norms are a marker of poor emotional health. This allows chronic dysfunction and emotional toxicity to spread virally throughout the system.
The online world has created an even bigger platform for this behavior to spread widely. Our digital network acts as a super-spreader of anxiety within relational and social networks.
A non-anxious presence
In light of similar challenges, the late rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman offered a new and radical solution. Traditionally, we understand that we leverage influence and inspire others through unique attributes. We imagine that someone is influential because of their charisma, drive, intelligence, education, or accomplishments.
Instead, Friedman argued that the most vital attribute, especially in anxious human environments and systems, was a non-anxious presence. So if we want to influence the places where we live, work and worship, our main tool is our presence.
Think of it this way: you’re in a room with a large group, listening to a lecture. In the middle of the presentation, smoke begins to fill the space. Someone shouts: “Fire!” and panic begins to seize the crowd. The exit seems blocked. All eyes are on the officials up front, but they too are so panicked they are crying, screaming and shaking.
But then, a woman emerges from the crowd and steps onto the podium. In a calm, firm voice, she tells everyone that there is another exit at the back of the room, assures everyone that everything will be fine, and asks people to exit through the back door in an orderly fashion. In this scenario, who is the leader? Before the smoke appeared, most people would have seen the officials on the podium as the most influential people in the room.
However, once the crisis hit and anxiety swept through the group, the quiet, non-anxious woman became the most influential. Lesson? In an anxious and crisis-oriented environment, influence and influence come from a non-anxious presence.
According to Friedman, in an emotionally unhealthy social system, a person displaying a non-anxious presence performs a role similar to that of white blood cells in the human body, fighting infection and bringing health.
Just as anxiety can multiply in a system, Friedman argued that non-anxiety can reset it. To do this, however, a person must understand a fundamental principle, a Friedman called “the keys to the kingdom”.
Friedman discovered that staying present in an unhealthy environment often means experiencing sabotage and negative feedback. As the leader faces this, the great danger is that anxiety builds up inside him, envelops him and makes him part of the problem rather than the solution.
The chef would then have what Friedman called a “nerve failure.” Those who wish to be a non-anxious presence must overcome betrayal, criticism, and emotional pain to continue to progress toward higher vision in a non-anxious way.
Reading Friedman, I resonate with much of his analysis and solution. However, it has always disturbed me that it might seem like some sort of superhuman resilience is needed to counter the emotional repression that leaders face.
Friedman proposes that we must influence from a non-anxious posture, but adopting and maintaining this posture requires tremendous endurance, pain tolerance, and emotional discipline. How do you find such resilience? What source of power do we plug into to adopt non-anxious presence?
IN A CRISIS ENVIRONMENT, INFLUENCE AND LEVERAGE COMES FROM AN UNANXIETATED PRESENCE
the good shepherd
Turning to the scriptures, we find an example and an answer in the life of King David. David faced betrayal, emotional sabotage and rebellion from his loved ones. He led in an anxious environment undergoing tremendous cultural change.
He faced a revolt from his relatives. Yet David is recognized in Scripture as one of the most outstanding leaders the world has ever seen. David was not king because he possessed deep natural reserves of courage and determination. David was a non-anxious presence because he had the presence of God.
When we first meet David, he seems like an afterthought. Seeking to anoint a new king, Samuel approaches Jesse. Jesse’s son Eliab seems like perfect leadership material. Yet, God reminds the prophet not to look at the outward attributes but rather at the heart (1 Samuel 16).
As Samuel assesses Jesse’s sons, now viewing them with a spiritual lens rather than an earthly one, none turn out to be appropriate. Finally, Jesse remembers that he has another son, who takes care of the sheep. This seemingly innocuous statement is, in fact, profoundly profound.
David was a shepherd. In the shepherd we find a biblical model of leadership, of a non-anxious presence, which does not depend on reserves of personal power but on the presence of God – encountered in the isolation of the desert. David the shepherd – the man after God’s own heart – was formed in this remote environment.
His duties demonstrated his place in his family and gave insight into how he must have felt about his position in the world. It has been neglected and forgotten. David endured not only physical isolation, but also emotional and relational isolation. When Samuel arrived to anoint one of Jesse’s sons for kingship, Jesse didn’t believe there was potential for greatness in his youngest son. He was the runt of the family; nothing more than an afterthought.
WE CAN ONLY BE A NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE WHEN FILLED WITH THE PEACEFUL PRESENCE OF GOD
Yet there was something special about David that earthly eyes could not see. Before the moment of his anointing, which was played out in front of his family who esteemed him so little, David encountered God. The where, when and how remain sealed in the precious hidden moments between God and David; what matters is the evidence we see of a life that had encountered God’s presence in the wilderness. His isolation, which distanced him from others and no doubt painful, also brought him closer to God.
Without the presence of God, the desert offers only isolation. With his presence, however, he can offer us insulation against the deception of the crowd. Separated from the noise and alone in the desert, David found – and was shaped by – the voice of God.
David’s psalms are filled with images of this desert and the closeness to God he found there. In particular, Psalm 23 reflects the life of a shepherd, isolated from human bonds and community, vulnerable, but walking closely with God, depending on him for everything.
When David declares that the Lord is his shepherd, he expresses his total dependence on God. David declares that God, the shepherd, “made [him] lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). It is important to note that sheep are anxious creatures and a flock of sheep is an anxious system. Predator anxiety can cause them to panic.
When there is an imbalance in their social hierarchy, as battles take place over who is the best sheep, the anxiety also carries over to a herd. Yet the presence of the shepherd soothes this, allowing the sheep to lie down in green pastures.
This illuminates a vital truth: the only presence that can calm our anxiety is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and comes from giving our whole life to Christ, for we depend on him for everything. .
We can only be a non-anxious presence when they are filled with the peaceful presence of God. Those who persist in this truth, who live and press into the presence of God, will find themselves transformed into agents of healing in our streets, workplaces, families and churches.