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Protests: Potent or Impotent?

Protests can feel good.  What do they accomplish?In politics, and in relationships, can protests make us feel good?

“You have to fight to feel good.”  In my twenties, when I was living in New York with a group of post-college friends, Bob was a tall handsome young man in our cadre who took this slogan about protests as his raison d’etre.  Bob was sure that investing your time and energy in a cause invigorated your life.

The current Occupy Wall Street protests reminded me recently of Bob’s words, which, four decades later, I still vividly recall. I still wonder, as I did then, what kind of fight does make us feel good.  Can protests leave us feeling impotent? Can fighting even wreck a life?

I am sure that it is good for our own well-being and also for the well-being of our world to fight for something, to be moving forward and upward, heading for a goal.

The Occupy Wall Street protests intrigue me in this regard.  For me, though, their protests feel impotent rather than strong.  Why?  I think it’s because they mostly seem to be fighting against.  Their statement of goals is against greed and corporations.  Clarification of what one is fighting for by contrast feels to me far more potent.

My own current battle that I fight for is the institution of marriage.  As a therapist I fight against dissention and divorce by helping couples to build positive and loving relationships.  On a societal level I fight to protect and upgrade the institution of marriage by writing blog posts, articles, books, audios, and videos, and a website with games that teach the skills people need for marriage success.

I’ve learned from my work that couples can benefit from taking a good look at their fighting. Are they fighting against, or for?  Do they complain and criticize, which are signs of fighting against, or do they talk collaboratively to explore their concerns and create new options?  Are they fighting against each other, or for solutions to their difficulties?

Protests have their place.  Standing up against something can feel good.  Righteous anger is invigorating. Yet both in politics and in personal relationships, protests that are against risk becoming impotent expressions of rage, “signifying nothing” and leading downhill to demoralization and divisiveness.

By contrast, fighting for specific goals generates productive problem-solving.  Clear objectives give a “fight” potency and well-being.  Working to accomplish goals not only feels good; it also does good.  Making specific things better—that’s the kind of battle that leads to change.

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For the longer version of this article, please see my blog post on

For a fun video on couples who talk together and solve their differences in impotent versus potent ways, see

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