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Discouragement Is Always Old

From a talk by Tim Jackins1 at a workshop for rural people, in Rochester, New York, USA, March 2007

It may seem a little odd—you know how good the world looks to you now—but I want to talk about discouragement. We all grew up in societies similar enough that essentially everyone gets a certain collection of distresses. The particular ways we get them differ from family to family, and by class, and so on, but no matter how we arrived, where we arrived, or what our lives have been like, we end up feeling bad about ourselves. That is part of living in an oppressive society. Another thing that happens is we get discouraged.

Distresses get put in early in our childhoods, before we have the ability to escape. They come down on us when we can’t move ourselves, can’t feed ourselves, can’t do anything for ourselves, and are dependent on the intelligences around us. Those intelligences, of course, have already gone through many years of being hurt. Like us, the people in the previous generation have had passed down to them many generations of distresses. A good portion of the distress we carry isn’t ours. It is  our great, great, great, great, great grandparents’ distress, from the things that they fought through or fought off: the wars, the famines, the confusions, the big fires. They never got a chance to discharge the hurts, so they passed them on down to their children, who passed them on down to their children, who passed them on down to their children, who passed them on down to us. Now they are ours. And many of us have passed on a portion of them (as little as we could) to the next generation. If you don’t get a chance to discharge, that is what you do.

You do your best not to pass it on, and it’s clear that the people of each generation pass on less than they received. That’s why there has been some progress. (Though he was beaten as a child, Daddy went out and beat the horses, trying to figure out some way not to act it all out.) They couldn’t stop it, couldn’t discharge, couldn’t figure it out entirely, but they did what they could, in spite of being hurt, to lessen the impact. Still, the distress got passed on, and we have lots of it.

One collection of distress that everybody carries is discouragement. We get generations’ worth of discouragement acted out at us, and then we acquire our own when we have no way to escape. As babies we need time to learn how to make our muscles work the way we want them to, and coordinate them, and learn about the world. It takes many months before we can flip ourselves over and start crawling out of harm’s way.

The discouragement we carry doesn’t get discharged on very much, especially now that we are RC leaders, because we “know better.” We know that discouragement is a distress, so we set our teeth2 and don’t tell anybody about it. In particular, we don’t tell our class or our Community. We can get a little confused here about functioning in spite of being hurt, and a bit of pretense can creep in. It isn’t the pretense that is most hard on us. It’s that we have to keep our distresses a secret, that we have to do things in spite of them and never get to discharge them. As they accumulate, we lean harder and harder into the wind and trudge along dragging behind us a longer and longer collection of distresses. And because we have tried to figure them out and have made our decisions about them, we can keep trudging almost always. But they do slow us down, and they do change our tone. They can change our tone most markedly.

But, look at what we get to do. Why aren’t we happy all the time? I mean, really? Why aren’t we happy? Look at what we get to do. It is exactly what people have always wanted to do: have the chance to really change things in their minds, offer that opportunity to other people’s minds, and collect the resources needed to have a chance at changing everything that’s wrong. This is exactly what all human beings plan on doing when they’re children, before they are pushed to give up.

If I ask you if you are happy, you might say, “Yes, I am doing great. Yes, I am doing fine,” but every morning most of us have to figure out how to reconstruct our picture of reality so that it makes sense again and so that we can decide to be happy, at least part of the time. Every morning we have to figure out something to get through the confusion from the distress that’s there. Part of that confusion is discouragement, and we need to face this—especially as it applies to our Communities. You’ve been in Co-Counseling for how long? Forever? And how big is your Community? Not so large? And how do you feel about that? Oh.

There are reasons for all of our difficulties. There are things to figure out and things to change to make our lives work the way we want them to. And with all of our challenges, discouragement gets in the way.

Discouragement is always old. It’s always old. Discouragement is not about the present. It’s always a distress recording. It attaches to the present. As with any distress, as we collect more and more of it, it attaches more easily to more things. Almost anything that’s not absolutely perfect can feel discouraging, but the feeling is always old. It’s never about present time. It’s never about us now. It’s always about what happened long ago.

We don’t ever think about many of the things that happened. We may not even remember, and never got a chance to tell anybody about them. After acquiring the distresses, we thought as far as we could and made decisions about how to go on and live the biggest lives we could with the distresses in place. Without discharge, at some point people resign themselves to living with the distresses, living with the limitations the distresses seem to put on them, and they figure out how to live good lives. You’ve done that. You have great lives, but you know they aren’t yet all that you wanted. You know the boundaries and distresses that you still have to contend with, and discouragement is one of them.

We can decide that we have a good enough picture of reality, and enough people to remind us of it, to be able to do more. We can be reference points for each other. When children arrive, they are hoping for a reference point—some other mind out there to bounce their thinking off of and with whom they can learn about the world. We didn’t get that back then, but we can now.

Everybody gets to be someone with whom other people can check reality. We already do this casually, but we can do it explicitly, too. In a group like this, especially, we have enough reference points that we don’t need to worry about getting confused if we look back at what happened to us long ago, if we face how deep the claws of distress got in.

Distresses got in really deep when we were small. They got in really deep in a very sad way. You can watch it happen to children—watch as it closes off their lives to others. It happened to us early, and we haven’t been able to tell anybody about it. We’ve decided to just go on and live the best lives we can, to do good in whatever way we can figure out, but almost secretly we still carry the hurt. This is part of our discouragement: our isolation with the defeats we have suffered.

We have suffered defeats. We are often scared to say that out loud, but we can face those old defeats and discharge them so that we don’t feel defeated forever. (It’s fine that we lose sometimes. I promise that we’ll lose more, as part of learning how to do things better and better.) There are battles we have lost, and unless we discharge the distresses they’ve left us with, they will affect our perspective and leave us discouraged about our next undertaking. There is no reason in the present for you to be discouraged. Let me say that again: There is no reason in the present for you to be discouraged—not a single one.

There are lots of challenges out there in the world. We don’t have to pretend about that. We don’t have to ignore reality to be hopeful. The way progress happens is not the way our fears want it to: everything getting better and better together. Some things get worse in places as progress is being made. But at some point, enough progress is being made, and this becomes clear enough to enough minds, that situations and other minds start to shift. We are in the process of building such a critical mass of intelligence and motion. And while it builds, parts of the world are still winding through destruction and chaos. Feeling bad about that won’t change it. Not being confused by our feelings about it will help, and this includes facing our discouragements.

What do we need to be hopeful? I think there are only two things, and we have both of them. One is we need to be alive, and the second is we need to be thinking. If we’ve got these two things, then we have possibilities. It’s wonderful to have gigantic resources and large numbers of allies. It’s great. But what we actually need in any situation is our minds thinking about what’s going on.3 Then we can figure out what’s possible, and take the steps that are within our reach, and build off of those, on and on. There are always possibilities, and to yield, in restimulation, to feeling bad that parts of the battle aren’t over already is simply getting confused by  our distress. It is understandable that we do this, but we also get to work on the discouragement—on all of the unaware, maybe harsh, maybe vicious things that were done to us when we were too small to have any effect on them.

When we get the discouragement entirely out of our way, it will be wonderful. But if we can simply get to the point where we don’t believe it and it doesn’t confuse us, many things will be different.

You know how little it can take for you to feel discouraged. It can take one unhappy look. That’s it. One unhappy look, even from someone you don’t know. That can be enough. All the decades of hard work you’ve put in seem to disappear into the shadows.

The best example I’ve come up with4 of this sort of confusion has to do with5 our feeling bad about ourselves. I may have already shared it with you, but I like it. It is this: I’ve told the whole world about you—about you, personally. I’ve told all 6.2 billion people, and I’ve told them what a wonderful person you are. They have all agreed, and in two minutes they are all going to stand up and applaud you. Every single person in existence—except one. One person was so hurt and shut down that I couldn’t get through to him. I’m sorry.

In two minutes, who are you going to look at? Almost none of us can resist looking at that one unhappy person. “Well, he must know something!” Six-point-two-billion to one, and we’re still pulled by our distresses to look at the unhappiness. Something’s not quite right here—that we can get restimulated so easily by somebody’s unhappiness. I think the restimulation comes from when we were small ones. That’s when other people’s unhappiness came in and made such a big difference. In reality, what difference does it make now if someone is restimulated and unhappy with us? We know better. Why should it matter? But it crushes us still.

Discouragement is not about now. It’s about back early when we didn’t have certain abilities. We are different now, with different capabilities. We can stop believing the restimulation that has happened every time someone has grimaced in our direction. We often haven’t remembered to go work on it. It’s about time we did.

If we can start moving on the discouragement, we can stay thinking about a lot of different things: about our relationships, about what’s going on in the world, and about the RC Community and why we get discouraged there. Discouragement is what stops the growth of the RC Community. Sometimes there are other factors, but usually not. “I did my best, and they didn’t stay.” So we give up, and retreat, and try to figure it out—or just feel bad.

Let’s do a mini-session. Try working on one of your secret discouragements—maybe with the RC Community, if you haven’t ever dared to do that.

Let me say a bit more here. The early discouragement plays a big role in what we manage to do. It affects not only how we feel but what we are able to do. Why do we stop doing things we want to do, ever? Well, most of us get discouraged, and we pull back and slow down—even on the things we know are important in our lives, including our relationships.

Take relationships. Take your closest relationship. Are you discouraged there? Oh, yeah! “But I come home every day, don’t I?” There are places where you tried things, they didn’t work, you got restimulated, and you pulled back and couldn’t figure out how to think afresh about going on in that important direction. The discouragement made you put your most hopeful thing on the back burner.6 “I will put it away until I can think better there.”

With the challenges in the world, with taking on7 oppression, with thinking and moving at every opportunity to interrupt racism or sexism, what stops us? Well, we get scared, and we can have all kinds of restimulations, but a large part of the time we just get discouraged.

The discouragement is always about the past—always about the past—and almost always about our early childhoods. That’s when the seeds of the distress got planted. I’m sure that if we could manage to get through the first couple of years of our lives without a great collection of distresses forming, we would hardly pick up any other distresses—and so no restimulations.

We are now vulnerable because of the early undischarged distresses. That was when everything took root. What happened to us, the unawareness and mistreatment of us as children, set us up8 to be restimulated and manipulated, and provided fertile ground for the roots of oppression of every sort.

That’s how you make agents of oppression. You get people confused by hurting them enough as children that you can manipulate their distresses and install more. The early hurts are very important, and we need to go back and discharge them so that we can intelligently take on all of the real, big struggles we want to—not just earnestly grit our teeth. It’s wonderful that we human beings can do as much as we do in spite of the distresses we carry. Just think of what we’ll be able to do as we get rid of them more completely and get to where we’re able to think through the whole struggle.

You get to go back and fight for yourself. You’re the one who knows best how you got discouraged. You can imagine your young self back there and go back and rescue that little one. You know where that little person sits huddled in a corner, just trying to hang on and get through what happened. She’s sat back there all these years while you’ve gone on. She’s held her place in the midst of the distress, and now you have to go back and get her. You know where she is. You know what she’s feeling. You know how to call to her. You know how to get her to dare to look out and be hopeful that this time someone will come. Nobody came back then. Nobody was able to think and function and reach and help her with what happened. But now you can.

You can go back and fight for that person. You can learn to fight for yourself against all the recordings of distress. You can go back and battle them and rescue that little one. You can let that little person know that the hurt is over. It’s been over for a long time, but as with all distress recordings, you can’t tell9 that it’s over until you discharge it. You can understand that it’s over, but you can’t quite tell. It’s still confusing. Once the discharge starts, then you can see the difference.

For a lot of people, an interesting way to go back as an ally to themselves is to just call out their name—let the little person know that they’re coming. You can tell the little person that he has to yell back so that you can find him fast, that he doesn’t have to just sit there huddled and helpless any longer, that the hard time is over, and the conditions have changed, and he gets to go on now. “Let’s go.” You can dare your young self to be brave in the ways that you gave up on, so that you can now take on the struggle, the two of you together—so that you can let the little one come out and have the full life you know is possible now.

If you get the idea of challenging helplessness and discouragement, the distresses you’ve felt most helpless about will become accessible to discharge.

Reprinted from Present Time No. 148, July 2007.

1 Tim Jackins is the International Reference Person of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities.
2 Set our teeth means determinedly go forward.
3 Going on means happening.
4 Come up with means thought of.
5 Has to do with means relates to.
6 Put your most hopeful thing on the back burner means make your most hopeful thing a low priority.
7 Taking on means taking responsibility for doing something about.
8 Set us up means predisposed us.
9 In this context, tell means notice.



Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00