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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

To Stand or to Sit, That is the Question


For many years, I’ve admired Malcolm X (later known as el-Hall Malik el-Shabazz). Though I could provide in-depth analysis as to why this is, the current post isn’t the place in which I intend on fully defending my appreciation for the civil rights leader.


Instead, I want to focus on a portion of his speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in order to highlight one of el-Shabazz’s lessons which once resonated with me—in which he stated:


It’s not so good to refer to what you’re going to do as a sit-in. That right there castrates you. Right there it brings you down. What goes with it? What? Think of the image of someone sitting. An old woman can sit. An old man can sit. A chump can sit, a coward can sit; anything can sit. Well, you and I been sitting long enough and it’s time for us today to start doing some standing and some fighting to back that up.


No proponent of the peaceful sit-in protest tactics of Martin Luther King Jr., el-Shabazz advocated equal treatment for those who oppressed black people. To the oppressor, one who fights in retaliation to violence may look like an aggressor, rabble-rouser, or terrorist.


However, to the oppressed, standing up against prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control may be called for in some instances. As el-Shabazz wasn’t one to shy from a call to action through the perpetuation of actual equal treatment if necessary, I appreciate his stance.


Though not something I would prescribe for others—because I don’t concern myself with advising what people should, must, or ought to do with their lives—I consider el-Shabazz’s words when witnessing and experiencing oppression. There is a time to stand and a time to sit.


Regarding this assertion, I think of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) and the concept of low frustration tolerance (LFT)—one’s perceived inability to cope with frustration, discomfort, inconvenience, or offense. If LFT had a mantra, it would be, “I can’t stand it!”


Throughout my life, prior to learning of REBT, I’d convinced myself of an inability to tolerate and accept distress. For instance, when I was kicked out of the Marine Corps, I told myself something like, “I can’t stand this, because I’m nothing if not a Marine!”


The problem with my LFT narrative wasn’t that I needed to do “some standing and some fighting,” per el-Shabazz’s proclamation. Actually, I’d fought with my military command entirely too much.


Instead, my self-disturbing LFT account was built upon an irrational belief. I convinced myself that I couldn’t stand discomfort—that somehow I would buckle over and crumble into the earth through loss of my identity as a Marine.


When my mind was self-deluded by this message, I felt fear in reference to the future, sorrow related to the past, and anger in the moment. As well, I experienced shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, tightness in my back, pain in my chest, and heaviness throughout my body.


From an REBT perspective, the Belief-Consequence connection explains what occurred within my mind and body. Because of my unhelpful belief in the form of an LFT narrative, I experienced unpleasant consequences manifested as feelings (emotions and sensations).


Who was it that was oppressing me in that moment? Was my military command responsible for my feelings? No, because there was no Action-Consequence connection at play.


The ABC Model of REBT maintains that it isn’t the Action, though our Beliefs about this occurrence which causes a Consequence. Because I am personally responsible for and accountable to my beliefs, I was my own oppressor.


Could I have actually stood the situation? Yes. Still, a more meaningful question arises when reflecting upon that moment in my history. Could I have sat with the discomfort of the experience?


To stand, or to sit, that is the question worth examining.


I won’t pretend as though I have some mystical cure and use of this method will completely resolve any unfavorable event a person experiences. There is no perfect solution of which I’m aware that would have resulted in joy or pleasure when I was stripped of my affiliation with the Corps.


It wasn’t a pleasant action. Nevertheless, I suspect that had I known of REBT and practiced this technique in 2003, I wouldn’t have experienced the consequence of fear, sorrow, anger, and bodily discomfort to the decree I encountered.


Given the undesirable action of a sudden and unfavorable discharge from the military, I could have sat with the discomfort without unhelpful beliefs about my circumstance. How might that have impacted my feelings?


I likely would have been mildly disappointed, slightly annoyed, or understandably frustrated. As well, I probably would have felt slight bodily discomfort, though nothing akin to the panic episode described above.


Arguably, standing against tyranny is at times necessary. Far be it for me to say who or when this applies to. Time will tell.


Still, for those instances during which the oppression occurs from unhealthy mental narratives which impact emotive and behavioral elements of our lives, maybe some sitting with discomfort is in order. Dear reader, what do you think about standing versus sitting?


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



References:


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Npatou. (2017, June 7). Malcolm X’s legendary speech: “The Ballot or the Bullet” (annotations and subtitles)—starting at minute 16:26 [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/8zLQLUpNGsc?si=mLGxL1TPnghJ9ICm

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