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Donna Fish L.C.S.W-R

Vulnerability on the Ballot

Hubris and humility: A tale of two traits on the campaign trail.

The last eight months have been exhausting, overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, and depressing. If anyone reading this has lost a loved one to Covid, my deepest sympathies. Countless of us have lost many things, at the very least a freedom to see the people we love without thinking twice, and options that are limited not by a lack of time and money but rather a fear of infection and possibly terrible illness and death.

Each time I have tried to sit down to write a post here, I have felt overwhelmed that there would be nothing that I could say that is important or meaningful in the face of what people are facing right now. The usual routines and issues that we struggle with are still there but have been superseded by our vulnerability and lack of immunity to a virus that has killed many.

Yet this morning I watched coverage of rallies with maskless folk, huddled together, heeding the call to be “unafraid of the virus.” “I am immune!” the leader proclaims. Without saying it outright, he is saying, “I am Invulnerable.” (It has been reported that he wished to wear a Superman T-shirt that he would reveal walking off the helicopter from the hospital.)

Who does not want to feel like Superman? Or Superwoman? The powerful surge of well being and ability, competence (omnipotence, possibly) that must accompany those feelings. Who doesn’t want to Dare to Hope that we could be strong, beat an illness that for many has befallen; killed. Taken limbs. Left breathless, long-hauling it, and also, with damages that are still to be revealed as the longitudinal outcomes are only understood as we actually encounter them. Years of evidence. Years.

Watching the rallies one sees the intense power that is being projected to the supporters and the emotion via the messaging being sold: "Stick with me kid, and you too, can be Superman. You too can be Invulnerable." The tonic being sold is hubris. The opposite of humility, the understanding that none of us is immune from misfortune. From bad things happening to us. No matter how strong, how rich, and how infallible you might appear.

The current campaign can be seen as a Tale of Two Traits, a tale of two radically opposing traits that, when calcified and exaggerated or politicized, attracts folk drawn to each of the opposing traits. Hubris and humility. If voting for candidates is rooted more in emotion than the intellect, it cannot be more true than the current campaign, where humility and hubris, both of which we as humans are completely capable of, are not more fully polarized and on display.

As mental health professionals, we endeavor to build resilience and coping capability. Acknowledging vulnerability is reframed as strength because it actually builds closeness, connection, and it is a reality that as human beings we are imperfect.

Denying vulnerability to a virus over which we have yet no immunity is dangerous and does not build coping or resilience or strength—despite the temptation to believe that one is invulnerable. (Unless, possibly, your doctor says you are, due to your current antibody status!)

We can see clearly one emotional underpinning of the passionate support for a man who displays only hubris and runs from and resists vulnerability: The message is: Stick with me kid, and you too, will be Superman/Superwoman.


About the Author

Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker, a reimbursable psychotherapist (LCSW-R). The specialties of her NYC private practice include eating disorders, anxiety, depression, trauma, family and couples work.