Passivity is as American as Apple Pie

In a perverse sort of way, passivity is very powerful. It’s the 800-pound gorilla that’s blocking our destiny. It accounts for our failure to respond appropriately to the corporatism, militarism, narcissism, and absurdism of American life.

What exactly is this passivity? Many writers and thinkers on the Left claim it’s a condition or mentality that’s being forced upon us. They believe we’re victims who are being disempowered, manipulated, and controlled by a corporate state.

Many individuals feel dominated, oppressed, and even devoured by villains in the corporate world. Some believe we'll become more powerful if power can be shifted to us, away from the corporations and the oligarchy.

However, this trickle-down empowerment doesn’t appeal to me. Those corporations possess self-aggrandizing worldly power that’s sustained by marketplace mythology, the sanctity of profits, and an illusion of earth’s invincibility. If we acquired that kind of power, we’d probably be corrupted by it.

It’s also futile to blame corporations and the oligarchy because we feel powerless. In their compulsion to grow wealthier, they take advantage of any weakness. Their ruthlessness identifies our worst weakness, which is our inherent passivity, an aspect of human nature.

Passivity is an old feeling that’s familiar to us from childhood. As children we spend many years in a state of passivity, helplessly dependent on our parents. Most of us do not shake off all of that passivity as we grow and mature, mainly because we don’t see it clearly enough in ourselves.

We end up experiencing the ruling class the way we did our parents. We don’t hold these leaders accountable, just as we were quite naturally unable as children to hold our parents accountable. Now we can’t find the words to represent ourselves effectively in the face of authority. We think we have political power because we can vote, but many of us identify emotionally and mentally with the weaker candidates and elect them to office.

Even stronger federal regulations and laws won’t necessarily protect us from our passivity. New administrations frequently undermine or discard tough regulations. It’s also questionable whether we can truly reform our fundamentally unstable economic system and take appropriate steps to stop global warming without reforming ourselves.

Instead of tilting at the windmills of corporate power, we’re better off to expose the dynamics of our own passivity. All the psychological tools of empowerment lay at our feet. This personal power is acquired in a process that eliminates the gremlins and demons in our psyche. As day follows night, the collective effect of this personal empowerment scatters the enemies of democracy.

For example, the most powerful, intimidating individuals working for corporations are often the most dysfunctional. Sometimes they’re psychopaths or have a narcissistic personality disorder, and they rise to the top because they easily push passive people aside. Healthier, more conscious people who have cleared out their passivity are needed to block the ascent of such individuals and to replace them in the corporate hierarchy.

Inner passivity is a problem across racial, gender, class, and political lines. Conservatives match our distrust of the private sector by being quick to feel oppressed by government. Even the wisest government initiatives are experienced by many of them as an infringement on their freedoms.

Power and integrity go hand-in-hand when we break new ground on an inner level. At this level, we find greater freedom from inner conflict, negative emotions, and self-doubt. This reformation on the “home front” establishes a deeper connection with our self. The will to prevail replaces any feeling of oppression.

We become infused with the thrill and passion of fighting the good fight as we practice this engaged citizenship. There are hundreds if not thousands of ways we can champion our values. What matters is not so much the goal or the means but the quality of our humanity as we plunge into the fray. We enjoy the exercise of freedom and the fulfillment of doing our personal best. No longer are we banging our head against a wall.

We take great pleasure in the quality of our integrity, the truth of our insight, and the expression of our voice. This replaces the disappointment and frustration that arise when progress is slow. We can feel our goodness and value more deeply as we understand the dynamics within us that have limited our sense of freedom.

Some of us have needed anger, rage, or righteousness in order to feel power. Now we feel power through our sincerity, integrity, and connection to self. We don’t have to shout; we just have to show up.

Instead of being fixated on idealistic goals (and setting ourselves up for disappointment), we operate in the “here and now,” enjoying the process of engagement and the challenges of our everyday life.

We do what we can, going with the flow, avoiding impatience, staying clear of negative preoccupations, feeling liberated while helping others become liberated, and tapping into our passions so that others can be inspired or energized by them.

What can be freer than this? How can anyone sensibly say that corporations are disempowering us? They are mere petty tyrants, positioned on our path to help us evolve.

The greatest tyranny exists on an inner level. This negative rule of the inner critic or superego harasses us, mocks us, undermines our decisions, and assumes to know what is best for us. Meanwhile, our inner passivity (called the subordinate ego in psychoanalysis) is an enabler, a hidden codependent, which allows the harsh inner critic to punish and limit us. With insight we’re able to resolve the conflict between inner aggression and inner passivity and claim our authentic self.

(All images from