On Reflexive Impotence

I’m really enjoying Martyn Wendell Jones’ newsletter on fatherhood. Volume 7, in particular, struck a chord, though not how I expected.

Here’s a bit that shows Martyn’s personality and sets up what I want to talk about:

At a yard sale for a Korean evangelical church raising money to support a missions trip to Zimbabwe, I found between warped paperbacks of the sci-fi YA novel Divergent and some devotional books a perfectly clean copy of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? My belief in providence has never been stronger. I paid a Canadian dollar for it.

Fisher helped me realize what I took to be a deeply personal problem rooted in childhood sadnesses is also a much larger problem—a sort of generational malaise. He calls the phenomenon “reflexive impotence,” and describes the mindset (most clearly visible in his millennial students circa 2009) in this way: “They know things are bad, but more than that, they know they can’t do anything about it.”

This outlook correlates with “widespread pathologies” such as learning difficulties, depression, dyslexia, and other mental health issues—each of these, he notes, privatized, treated “as if they were caused only by chemical imbalances … and/or by family background.” He continues: “Any question of social systemic causation is ruled out.”

Martyn went on to describe how he identifies with this assessment, even if he doesn’t like it.

I feel a similar way. I really like Fisher’s term “reflexive impotence,” and hadn’t heard it before. It seems right on the nose.

In my case, I find that my desire to retreat inside my mind is the source of much of my anxieties about public interactions. I’m happy to read, write, and think about what I’d do in any situation, but I’d rather not have to, you know, actually do it.

On my worst days, it feels like the world asks something of me I cannot give. But on better days, I see that for the lie it is, swallow my nerves, and start talking or doing.

I say all of this knowing that the only real way to move past such feelings is to drop all my anxieties off at the feet of Jesus and tell him they’re now his to carry because they’re too heavy for me.

In return, he promises to give me a much lighter load (Matthew 11:28-30).

Published by Grayson Pope

Hey, there. My name is Grayson. I’m a husband and father of four. I serve as a writer and editor with Prison Fellowship and as the Managing Web Editor of Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

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