My best friend and I have had many long talks since last fall. When the anxiety about the State of Affairs in our country becomes too much to bear, we pick up the phone.
Last week, we talked about how exhausting perpetual outrage is. Nearly every day, there seems to be something to be appalled by. There are calls to action to resist and impede and impeach.
It’s unsustainable, but anything less seems like weakness.
In one of our recent conversations, I struggled to articulate the fallacy at the core of this position. I told her a story I’d heard from a NPR reporter covering the inauguration. She spoke to one woman, of Muslim descent and American by birth, who relayed that for the first time she was afraid in her own country. The reporter then walked a few feet further and interviewed another woman who said that finally, after eight years of a Democratic president, she wasn’t afraid.
Is this what we’ve come to? Are terror or celebration our only two choices?
Our politics have become so polarized that any success for you is a loss for me. Any compromise seen as betrayal. Both parties feeling justified in running roughshod over the other because of some amorphous “mandate.”
(Although how anyone can claim a mandate in a country where only 59.7% of the country votes is beyond me.)
As a nation, we’ve stopped using our words.
Oh, we’re talking all right, but we’re only using the binary language of opposition. And we’re doing it in ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME.
When did we start assuming we know what other people think, and that all of our 324 million people fit neatly into one of two “parties?”
When did we lose the ability to discuss and disagree in the spirit of learning and persuading rather than misleading and blaming?
With an infinite amount of information available to us, why are we satisfied with one news outlet?
* * *
When I was a teenager, my mom gave me a sign that said “The problem with perpetually using profanity is that it seems completely inadequate in a real emergency.”
It didn’t curb my potty mouth (sorry Mom) but I do think about it often.
As a country, as consumers of media, we have fallen into the habits of oversimple explanations, entrenched positions and pointing fingers. The result? We’re either terrified or gloating. And neither position has a basis in reality.
Our limited, crude vocabulary and narrow ideas have left us woefully unprepared for a real emergency – or real life it would seem.
We need to start using our words – all of our words. We need to make room for “concern” and “dismay” and simple “neutrality” to give ourselves a breather from outrage and disgust. There is a place for “curiosity” and “caution” and “candor.” (Not to mention “courage” and “compassion.”)
And perhaps even more importantly, we need to start listening – not to our TVs and not to social media, but to each other.
What’s it like for you?
How would you solve that problem?
What’s working? Where are things going right?
What does prosperity look like to you? Freedom? Security? What do those things feel like? Is there enough for you and other people to have these same things too?
Using our words isn’t enough, but it is a necessary part of creating something better. Not just surviving until the next election. Not just kicking the can to the next session of Congress. Not just bemoaning things but actually working together to improve them.
I wrote this post when I found myself unable to sleep on a redeye flight from Portland to Atlanta. As I stared out the window at the lights forming towns and cities and homesteads below me, I thought of all that potential. All these families and elders and young people, some sleeping peacefully, others maybe awake as I was, worried and wondering.
Looking down at those lights, I felt an enormous love and hope for all of us. If we unleashed even a bit of that potential, everything could change. What now seems intractable could become innovative. Our differences could be recognized as a source of strength and not a problem to be solved.
We have more choices than those we make at the election box. We choose every day how we will speak, act and think. And all of that starts with our words.
Let’s choose wisely.