“I hate to turn on the news!”
“It’s all bad.”
“I’m off Facebook”
“I can’t watch.”
You’ve heard it all, and regardless of your political stance, you agree. The randomness of the catastrophes, the ugliness of the hate, and the stench of blame are disheartening.
Most of us are offended by dishonesty, meanness, and spite. We are not hateful people, and in our daily lives, we generally avoid conflictual arguments. When we witness name-calling and bullying on the playground (or workplace), we shut it down. To witness to such happenings each day is hard on us. We’ve all had that quick, cynical friend in our early years whose blasphemous quips and jokes were inviting and intoxicating. Initially, we were drawn to it. But in time we saw it for what it was; toxic, and we walked (or ran) away. Unfortunately, we cannot walk away and completely eliminate the news. Sure, we can stop phone notifications and seek less-flashy news sources that avoid the “gotcha” moments and the angry opinion pieces, but the actual content (policies, elections, appointments, mass shootings, climate catastrophes) are still present. Regardless of your political leanings, the feelings are the same: disgust, despair, and exhaustion.
How are you holding up? Most likely you have good days and bad. Sometimes it feels as though we are all under attack, and we are warriors fighting for our beliefs, for our sanity, our children, our country. It is heavy emotional work. In my line of work, we’ve long known that self-care is not optional, but a mandatory practice that enables counselors to witness suffering each day. Self-care is not necessarily self-improvement, it is self-protection. There are many ways to protect us and shield us. What is your secret weapon? Running, cycling, meditation, yoga, church, twitter, walking, conversations, reading, wine, FB, coffee, petting your dog, hugging your children, volunteering your time, marching, canvassing, donating, flower arranging, cooking, painting, praying. This is your warrior in action.
Last week, a woman in my prayer group referred to us as “prayer warriors” as we huddled closely around an altar in tears to pray for a local ten-year-old girl who had undergone 9 hours of brain surgery the day before. That morning we also prayed for the families of the synagogue shooting and the Thousand Oaks/Borderline Bar shooting – both with connections to our town. Yet little did we know that another catastrophe in Paradise CA was just beginning. We meet every Thursday with the intention to pray for our children. So we did that too. The daily bumps and jolts of family life do not cease. We are prayer warriors. We protect our children.
Now it is Thanksgiving again. Two years ago I was worried about the conversations at Thanksgiving. There are many people whom I love that vote in opposition to me. I am committed to keeping these people in my life, and I am committed to continuing to stand for my sincere political beliefs. Back then I was mostly focused on how to convince the “other side” that they had made a serious mistake. Today, I still believe that the other side has made a serious mistake, but I also recognize that they are sincerely worried about our country as well. I realize that my political beliefs can cause confusion and suffering to those around me, just as their political stance baffles and pains me. We are all in this together. I understand that neither of the two political party’s agendas perfectly reflect all of my beliefs, nor do they perfectly reflect the stance of most people in my life.
This morning my lovely yoga instructor referred to our class as “warriors of light.” Once we are grounded, connected to the good within us, we spread the light to those connected to us. She reminded us that our separateness from others, in the end, is an illusion. We are all in this together. Family, neighborhood, community, city, state, country, world. We are all connected.
Don’t fret. This does not mean that we all hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and forget our differences. Instead, it means that this understanding is the starting point, and it is necessary for solutions to surface. I see that most people in my life want similar things. We want to be able to work, to earn enough to raise a family, to love, to live in a safe community and to give our children the ability to do the same. People in my life are willing to work hard for a living to live a life of dignity and decency. Most would gladly contribute taxes to governing bodies that were run efficiently and fairly. To step away from blame toward common humanity takes a different approach. One must pause, strengthen oneself and listen. I am reminded of the yoga pose, “humble warrior.”
We often avoid the tough conversations out of respect for each other. That is a good approach most of the time. On some occasions, the conversation is necessary. At those times, I usually find some point of agreement. Not that it is easy! I’ve struggled dearly and at times have failed to understand and stay connected. However, within those brave conversations, I’ve often found a middle ground. For example, on immigration we agree that the system has been mishandled by both parties for decades, leaving families in legal binds and government agencies with counteracting policies and the misallocation of resources. Still, most folks want everyone to be treated in an ethical, responsible manner by our government officials as these individuals and families navigate our broken immigration system. We would readily welcome real, long-term, effective policy solutions…if only those were being discussed.
Or on gun control, survey after survey reflects that the majority of us support universal background checks, the elimination of gun-show/online loopholes, and we question the wisdom of private citizens having easy access to assault rifles. In regards to the #metoo movement, men and women see harassment and assault in a new light and are sincerely questioning whether or not new standards of behavior for men and boys are necessary – and most are willing to consider solutions. We are evolving.
Speaking of evolving, our understanding of systemic racial discrimination and the importance of protections for the LGBTQ community is always in flux. Difficult, yes, and uncomfortable at times. Too slow for some and changing too rapidly for others. Still, over time, we see that progress continues to march on. Even on the entrenched issue of abortion, there is a middle ground. We easily recognize that life exists in utero and yet to deny any person available medical treatment at a time of crisis goes against our sense of right and wrong. For years we have longed for a stance that focuses on practical solutions to eliminate unwanted pregnancies and therefore the number of abortions.
This is difficult emotional work, which requires protection of oneself, and engagement with other trusted individuals. The alternative, spending each day becoming blindly triggered by anger, sounds pretty miserable too. This is an emotional, intellectual and brave kind of battle. I offer three tips to gear up for possible Thanksgiving conversations and those beyond.
- Protect yourself. Only engage in conversations if you feel there is a chance you will be heard.
2. Discuss issues, not people.
- Refuse to see others only as the extreme/party line. When possible, truly ask questions, seek to understand. Ask how this affects one’s personal life.
- Do not allow yourself to be defined by the extreme/party line. Speak from personal experience. When possible, describe how your stance is different, and look for points of agreement.
To protect yourself, to teach your family, to help our country, and to preserve our planet, engage your prayer warrior, your warrior of light, your humble warrior and your warrior of action. And finally, be thankful for it all. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!