Canary in the Coalmine
Are you a canary in our collective coal mine?
Emotions are messengers from our inner world—which includes our mind, body and spirit.
Perhaps your joy is communicating that a need has been met: “Yay, tacos!”
Or your anger is indicating that a boundary has been crossed: “Boo, misogyny!”
While both the head and heart are certainly impacted by external sources, emotions, themselves, are our internal alarm system.
This alarm goes off to indicate something important.
And some of your emotional alarms have pretty potent messages that require attention--not just to personal matters, but to the world around us.
These emotional alarms extend beyond your individual experience into the collective experience. Often these deep feelings are calling your attention to global injustice and suffering.
Some of us are particularly attuned to feeling. These folks are often called overly sensitive—some are pathologized.
But, like the canary in the coal mine whose death foretells danger, sensitive humans are highly attuned to the metaphoric societal gas.
These people and their feelings are the world’s canaries—if ignored, they become our harbingers of doom.
If we were to listen to them and value their feelings, society would change, because we would become more aware of current or potential issues and insist upon rightful action.
But there are powers that benefit from our collective inaction.
So, those powers have led people to perceive that our emotions are bad—something to avoid and destroy. We shame and dismiss those that have such strong feelings. We are taught to squelch those feelings in ourselves.
We medicate any remaining feelings into neutrality, rather than collectively address the systemic issues that create the feelings.
All the above is a great way to turn off the societal alarm system. Instead of acknowledging that there is something wrong with the system at large, we are taught to perceive that the issue is at the personal level.
I’ve been learning that this “person centered approach versus a system centered approach” in this context is rooted in colonialism, as it gets people to adapt to an established system. And anyone who doesn’t adapt to and adopt the system becomes pathologized.
An example of this that comes to mind is Drapetomania, which was established as a mental illness to explain why enslaved Africans would flee captivity. Rather than accept that enslaving humans is the illness, the person fleeing becomes pathologized. Doing so signals to society to ignore the actual issue.
Americans tend to be comfortable with this approach, because it piggybacks on our “rugged individualism.” And this approach isn’t inherently bad, but it can be very out of balance.
Some people are additionally vulnerable to personalization due to childhood.
When a parent is abusive, we struggle to recognize them as the source of the issue, due to our dependence on them. Therefore we will internalize the disharmony and perceive that it must be us, not them. It’s a way to try to maintain power in a powerless situation by making us feel that if we change our behavior then our parent/s will stop being abusive.
Society—especially those in power—mirrors the parental relationship. We internalize the disharmony to reclaim power in a powerless world.
If you have big feelings, your feelings are not the issue.
I invite you to stop buying into this mentality. You are often having a reasonable response to the world around you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need support, in whatever form, to help you navigate in this world and regulate your responses. But pathologizing and numbing the feelings is focusing on the effects of disharmony rather than the cause.
What could happen if we turned our attention more towards the systems that harm us rather than silencing the canaries?