Self-esteem building and fear of freedom

The community organizing process is like a continuing wave of sea that fills up whatever holes there are on the shore. The holes on the shore are like the holes in the psyche of people in poverty. Everyday, the violence of physical, mental and emotional hunger gnaw at the heart and mind of people in a landscape of poverty. Consider this scene: The father who is the only breadwinner in the family is one of the fifty men in a blighted community who gets detained by the police as a matter of routine whenever suspected criminals are at large. Being detained on mere police routine and suspicion causes pain and anger but people in very difficult circumstances have developed a certain callousness to hurt that periodic detention has just become a part of daily life. Apathy becomes a coping attitude. Until the poor’s anger that has been calcified by apathy is translated into an enlightened zeal for justice the hole in their psyche grows deeper and deeper each day. With this hole goes a dream to escape from the hole or to stay.

The problem with a landscape with holes inside the person is that these holes develop a double function – that of a prison and a door to freedom. Studies in the psychology of poverty field reveal that people who have lived with oppression for so long want to be free of the oppression but are afraid to start a new life away from the life that they have known. Coming out from one’s shell of deprivation and discrimination becomes a curse and an aspiration. It’s like walking with two legs in which one leg is in the hole and the other is moving away from the hole. There is not a more scary situation than to meet the unknown field outside the hole. And there is not a more pathetic condition that needs unconditional loving than a situation like this. In a psychological state such as this, self-esteem is held captive and the community organizing process plays a great role in helping people identify their own vascillations and dilemmas so they can slowly own their learning process.

The community organizing process of building people’s self-esteem carries within its framework the concept of faith and trust in people’s capacity to chart their course. A key intervention is the process of helping people decode the meaning of freedom in its inner and outer form. People need to go through an experiential learning of unlearning “unfreedom”. Being able to name the “unfreedoms” that hold back their capacity to dare the unknown outside of their psychological hole is a long process. Being able to take the consequences of what they think, say and do becomes a self-project in the making. Simulated learning situations that lead people to name their defense mechanisms, their fears, their frustrations, their prejudices, their bitterness and whatever inner force there are that give them no inner peace come into the fore throughout the simulated learning situations.

Self-esteem building in community organizing as a process assumes that the facilitator of learning stands on an inner stable platform of love for people. Nothing less. What happens when the facilitator of learning who is the community organizer himself hasn’t resolved some negative judgments on the poor consciously or unconsciously? Let’s look at this situation. A community organizer who has passed all the rigors of the community organizing training process didn’t realize that his deep-seated anger at his alcoholic father would drive him unconsciously to “fits” of impatience at the slowness of the community processes? If the community organizer doesn’t look into his own impatience which is a similar “hole” in his psyche as mentioned above, the attitude of unconditional loving that needs to get into the process of journeying with the poor will be a problem.

The community organizer needs to recognize any expression of a fear of freedom inside himself. The facilitator of the community organizing process is not an outsider who is insulated from the character flaws brought about by the violence of poverty. Once a person embraces the responsibility of taking the long journey with the poor through the community organizing process, this person enters into the assumptions of the process. The learning process that the community organizer facilitates is the same learning process that he takes responsibility for himself. While he recognizes fear of freedom as a factor to be unlearned by the people, he, as a community organizer, also goes through a process inside himself. He too patiently comes to term with his own “unfreedom” and learns to be free.