Fight, Freeze, or Flight

23 Mar

It is exhausting to view the entire world as a threat.” The quote is talking about PTSD, but I’m gonna take this out of context, and apply it to the world around us. How do we tackle that which we can’t control?

The answer is simple; we react the same way we do with any dangerous situation, “fight, freeze, or flight.” Now maybe you haven’t heard that phrase quite that way before, but it is an option that many people do. Scary thing happens and you freeze–paralyzed by your own decision making–because you’re not really sure what to do.

Some are frozen because your body can’t process the new information that doesn’t fit into your worldview. In education, there’s actually a theory called “transformative pedagogy,” which actually tries to force the student to reexamine their beliefs by presenting data outside the student’s mindset and having them address it. It can be very effective.

Now imagine if every class were designed that way. If you take four to five courses a day, and every single one of them was trying to transform the way you look at the work, you’d be exhausted. There’s only so much shock one can take to your worldview before you either fight it (reject the contradiction completely), freeze (accept the contradiction and either struggle with it or ignore it), or flight (accept the contradiction and change your worldview).

Let me give an example of this… and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. 180 years ago, a preacher by the name of William Miller revealed to his followers (anywhere from 50 to 500 thousand of them) that Jesus would come back to Earth on October 22, 1844. As you might guess, Bill was wrong. After what became known as “The Great Disappointment,” there were four reactions:

  • The prophecy was invalid, Miller was a fraud: Some of these went back to their old churches, a lot of them just became agnostic.
  • The prophecy was valid, the date was invalid: These became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • The date and the prophecy were valid: These joined the Holy Flesh Movement, which eventually collapsed, and then they joined the Shakers.
  • The date was valid, the interpretation was invalid: These became the Seventh-Day Adventists.

Since I have a lot of love for SDA’s (they’re like Jews for Jesus, but nicer), let me put my conclusion this way. In a classroom, when faced with contradicting data, you aren’t going to come to the same conclusion that your teacher wants you to. The J-Dubs and the SDA’s had the same teacher, different result.

My wife sees this a lot in her classes. I don’t think she’s deliberately using a transformative model, but she’s often confused by students who reject (or “fight”) the contradictory information. Say you have your students read Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors by Taiawake Alfred; it’s his doctoral thesis before he went all activist-y. He’s talking about the Mohawk reserve just outside of Montreal. Some arrive at the same result that my wife has: “Aren’t (white) Canadians just bastards? Free the native peoples!” Her university has a large number of conservative students who might fire back with “The Mohawk people are dealing with an unrealistic model that doesn’t conform with modern life.” And some (like myself) might freeze and say “both views are valid. Why can’t we give more sovereignty to the reserve, but still have it subservient to the Canadian (but not provincial) government?”

As the teacher, she has her own transformative moment. Do you accept that your conservative students have a valid but opposite worldview? Or do you just shake your head and say “I just don’t get it.” Or do you reject them and say, “Oh, they’re white supremacists and/or conspiracy theorists.” Having read many of their papers, some are conspiracy theorists, but in my opinion, conspiracies are just another way of dealing with the contradictory information. I think I need to write my belief on conspiracy theory tomorrow.

But I could be way off… what do you think? How do you react when faced with contradictory information? Does it depend on the information… or how much you care about the subject being questioned? Let me know in the comments below!

Once you’ve done that, check out one of my books! But if you think that $1.99 is too much for an author you barely know, download some of my stories for free, and then tell me what you think. Maybe then you might buy a book of mine! 🙂

One Response to “Fight, Freeze, or Flight”

  1. Silk Cords March 23, 2021 at 9:10 pm #

    Contradictory information… That’s ALL we see anymore. I could go through 5 different major news sites and get 5 varying takes on what should be the FACTS of an event. The best advice *I* got here (and I didn’t appreciate it until years later) was from my 11th grade history teacher. Brilliant guy, even if a bit cynical. He said; always assume somebody is lying and then look for the reasons for them to lie and you’ll find the the truth.

    Combine that with cross checking facts via multiple sources, and that’s how I try to draw my own conclusions.

    Most of the time though, I just walk away disgusted and think as you seem to that issues could be resolved so easily if both sides would look for a win-win middle solution; like that Native Canadians situation you mentioned.

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