By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
I’ve been reading a good deal about the direction our current administration appears to be headed and major concerns folks have regarding its anticipated impact on the environment, immigrants, women, families in poverty, and people of color…basically every vulnerable human and carbon on the planet. The response to all of this unknown worry varies from productive to preposterous. People have mentioned stockpiling gasoline and bullets ala The Walking Dead.
It’s easy to get caught up in dire predictions. The generalized and pervasive feelings of fear, powerlessness and anger so many of us feel create a breathless anticipation of disaster. Many are now living in a shared cultural trauma, similar to the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks when people around the country were terrified that they would be the next target of terrorist attacks. Friends of mine who work and hang out with immigrants and refugees report that men who used to play soccer are no longer showing up at the park, that families who used to use the library are too frightened to check out books. There is cause for concern. Agreements to slow the pace of environmental destruction are being overturned. Meals on Wheels, a program which allows low income seniors to age in place is at risk of losing all federal funding. PBS, long considered free preschool for the public, is also on the chopping block. (Check out this cheeky call for funding: http://whatstrending.com/video/23876-elmo-gets-fired)
It’s an uncertain time. And yet, we become less effective as humans: less empathic, less articulate, less focused when we fall into fear and hysteria. The human race is a story of struggle and survival. We impressive humans have harnessed fire, created agricultural surplus, made music and art, discovered penicillin, built machines that fly and drive, invented solar power grids and the internet. We are AMAZING creatures. And by many measures—current political administration aside—things are getting easier: we mostly no longer starve to death in developed countries. The national homicide rate has fallen 51% since 1991, per the Bookings Institute. According to the Guttmacher institute, 90% of sexually active women in the United States at risk of unintended pregnancy are using birth control. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports that nearly 4.6 million African Americans now hold college degrees, as compared with just ten thousand in the 1920’s.
Staying calm and reminding our freaked out brains that the world is not about to come to a crashing halt allows us to maintain perspective and make contingency and response plans. And that makes us more effective humans. There is cause for celebration and unity. Even across the political/economic/gender/educational divide we have more in common than separate: we are all trying to make sense of the world around us—even if we come to different conclusions about what it all means and how to respond, we all spring from families who pass along good and bad ideas in the process of raising us, we all love our children and want them to grow up healthy, smart and capable. We all thrill to the sight of spring flowers bursting out of the ground. Almost everyone wants to do the right thing, to be proud of ourselves. None of us have all the answers and none of us are done growing into our best selves.
Working towards change while remaining grounded in connection allows us to better deal with this world we live in. It allows us to be at peace with (or at least grudging acceptance of) the time/energy/money we have available to contribute. Maintaining our sense of calm and connectedness makes better individuals while we try to make the world better for all.