This is tricky.
I want to stay informed, and I want to retain my humanity.
As the flood gates of global dystopian visions have opened over the past year, gazing into their maw becomes a macabre exercise. How to remain a responsible citizen, available activist, and stay sane all at once? The David Sipress cartoon has never seemed more relevant. Judging from my FB feed and the number of how-to’s and survival tips online, I am far from alone.
Here’s my wisdom, for what it’s worth.
Now more than ever we need to remember that band-aids, distractions, numbing strategies will not work. How do we know the difference between these and much needed mental health breaks? If our “distractions” do not provide at least some of the following, it will likely not be helpful toward our long-term emotional survival:
- renewed connection with our loved ones and friends,
- reconnection with at least a few of the following: our vulnerability, tenderness, humor, spontaneity, creativity and generosity
- Physical exercise, rest, recuperation
- Spiritual solace, wherever we find that in our lives. Now might be a time to renew our quest for that if it has not been a priority in the past.
- Resisting normalization.
The latter has gotten a lot of air time lately, but the how-to’s need to be specific. There is an external component to this which is manifesting in the “resistance” movement. There’s lots of tips on how to do that. But there’s also the mundane task of filtering the toxicity of the world internally so that we don’t lose our grip. I call this poison control.
Step 1: Recognize it as poison. We are not making up the toxicity of the rhetoric and behaviors that we are seeing. It is real. To experience them as so prolific, relentless, and legitimized is an assault on our senses. If we get used to this in any way we succumb. Remind yourself on a daily basis what the definitions of cynicism, narcissism, and adolescence are. Don’t be deceived into legitimizing any of these as viable approaches to humane leadership, or remotely tolerable to our humanity.
Step 2: Recognize the poison in ourselves. In what ways is this external poison reflected in us? In what ways do we mimic the behavior we are condemning? Yeah, that. Dystopia is not created in a vacuum. We are part of the problem, and the more we deny this the more we will not only contribute to the toxicity around us, but succumb to it as well.
Step 3: Purge. Think of it as taking spiritual syrup of ipecac if you will, but hopefully more gentle. What form does this take for you? Whether it’s therapy, body work, self-reflection, up your dosage. This is not a time to coast. If we’re going to be part of the solution, we need to cultivate the place inside ourselves where that solution can emerge. We’re in for the long haul here.
As Albert Einstein allegedly claimed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I would add that we cannot provide a viable alternative to the toxicity outside of us if we are toxic ourselves.