Do you remember 2008? So much has happened in the past two years that it can be a challenge to reach back – some of us may not want to look in the rearview mirror, so painful have these past years been. I recall a growing euphoria in the run-up to the ’08 presidential election. I had just returned to the States after fleeing to Europe for more than half of the Bush presidency, and, like Michelle Obama, I felt proud of my country for the first time in my adult life. Young people were turning out in record numbers to get Obama elected, and his New York campaign office was so overrun with volunteers that I was not able to do a voter drive. We had found a candidate who spoke from the heart, who touched us with his message, and it seemed we were a bit less suspicious, angry and resentful for the first time in 8 years. And we made that guy our president!
However, things have taken a sharp turn into very dark territory since the halcyon days of that election. Bad news abounds in every media outlet, ready to rain on your parade in a myriad of ways. Inspiration is running low. Democratic and Republican pundits seem obsessed with the failures of the US system and miss no opportunity to remind us of the guilty parties – whoever they happen to feel is responsible. I don’t really know who killed the American Dream, and I don’t care. The old model of US success has stalled; that much seems to be certain. So what do we do in the face of failure? Do we shrug, open a beer and sit back, waiting for someone to offer a solution that sounds reasonable to our weary souls? Do we expect Obama to sort it all out somehow? Do we give up and plan for the end of the world?
The President made it clear in speech after speech that we the people have the power to affect change, and we exercised that right when we voted him into office. Did we all relinquish our power once the election was done? I might not be the world’s biggest patriot, but acting helpless and defeatist when we are still in a position to enact change is surely un-American. It is a slap in the face to our courageous foremothers and forefathers who fought and died so that we could enjoy civil rights, women’s rights, free education, open travel, accountability in government, environmental protections, gay rights and so many other freedoms.
I do not believe in the end of the world. I believe in having the nerve to push when your back is to the wall. We will need to invent something new, more realistic and better suited to the needs of the citizens, free from the aspirations of politicians and corporations. It is up to us to turn this mess into a better future.
But how can we make a better world when things seem so bleak? We are living in a culture obsessed with negativity. I’ve come up with a few personal tactics for surviving and thriving in such an environment, and I would like to share them with you.
No More Talk of Armageddon
One consistent theme of the last 60 years has been the obliteration of the world. Whether it’s Russia, Iran, North Korea, terrorists, pandemics or natural catastrophes rendered by Hollywood in 3-D computer graphics, everybody wants to sell you a disaster scenario. No foretold doomsday has ever come true, despite the fervency of the claims. So why invest energy in believing in something that makes you feel so terrified?
Shift Your Perspective
Do you feel you're constantly "fighting the problem", mentally battling various and sundry evils - economic woes, pollution, unemployment, military conflicts - until your head aches and you feel so tired that you just want to chuck it all? Develop a new tactic: champion the solution. Identify the things that you believe can carry humanity into a better age and explore those concepts in your everyday life. Start small: volunteering, neighborhood activities, town hall meetings. Do something that makes sense in relation to the scale of your life: Oprah can pay to build schools, and you can run a bake sale at your kid's school to raise money for class supplies.
Find Your Philosophy
Much of what comes at us through the media is scientifically designed to manipulate and, ultimately, to destabilize our personal belief systems. Get solid in what you believe, while remaining open to the life experiences of other people in the world. Be attuned to the human experience while staying highly skeptical of information presented through commercial channels – TV, radio, internet, etc – whose goal is to earn money from advertising.
Look Deeper; Question All Sources
Headlines are not the full story and often play with the facts to get your attention. As you read articles, fact-check them. Behind seemingly innocuous bits of information lie some fascinating stories waiting to be discovered. Note the author’s choice of language, including what is not said but might be implied. I recently came upon an article that initially upset me greatly; upon closer inspection I uncovered many holes in the writer’s logic and debunked the piece on this same site.
Turn It Off
Everybody needs a break from the media onslaught. We are human beings, made to be in contact with nature. Make a pact with yourself to walk away from the machines and do something outdoors with your friends or family. Take a long, long walk. Like Henry David Thoreau long. Leave the troubles alone and use the time to daydream about things you enjoy or experiences you would like to have. Move your body, open your mind.
We live in a passive age in which many of us (myself included) work at jobs where we sit in front of computer monitors until our eyes burn and our brains subconsciously repeat in our dreams what we see on-screen. We have been drawn away from our primary function as humans: to cultivate, to gather, to hunt, to create. Use your free time to make something that didn’t exist before: plant a garden, draw, paint, make music, cook meals with the people you love, find a bit of lumber and build something. The art of using your hands to fashion an item is as old as humanity itself.
These are simply my suggestions to those of you who struggle as I do with depression and existential angst in trying times. I welcome your feedback and additional suggestions for making this experience of transition a positive one, leaving behind fear in favor of something hopeful and productive for us as individuals and as members of a rich and complex society.