Choose Your Fuel Wisely

Written Sunday, May 31, 2020

I'm not going to link the news. If you aren't already seeing it, I want it to be your choice how much to engage with it.


But regardless of your views on what is going on right now - especially in the U.S. - and regardless of your choices in how you react and respond, I think there are some things I want everyone to hear.


What we do, in the next days, weeks, and years, will define the course of history. And that means what every single one of us does, or does not do.


We are seeing unprecedented awareness of the broken, unjust, and corrupt nature of the world we live in. It is not new, and it is not a secret. If the past week has felt like a surprising discovery to you, please take a moment to understand that many people in the world have never had the illusion that things were OK.


People have known about the injustice, the corruption, the bigotry, the hatred, the greed, the bias - and, for the most part, primarily those directly affected have been paying attention. Because they have never had a choice to ignore it.


Many of us have been able - either through deliberate turning away, or simply the "privilege" of busy lives - to not see the totality of the problems the world faces before. This opportunity will be increasingly rare in the time ahead. We no longer can ignore what the world is doing to other people who are "not us." And we must not ignore it.


But before we act, before we choose our responses, I believe it is vital that each and every one of us take time to choose our fuel wisely.

"You Get Out What You Put In"

There are aphorisms, wise sayings, quips, quotes, legends, stories - any myriad number of ways in which this wisdom has followed all of human history. The basic idea is simple to say, but perhaps immensely difficult to fully appreciate: when we act in violence, aggression, hatred, or fear, we create a space for things to continue to be violent, to continue to spark aggression, to continue to breed hatred - and more people will, as a result, live in fear.


Make no mistake, some things must change in this world. The process of change might be difficult and unpleasant - but we must, at every opportunity, strive to undergo that change wisely. Carefully. Calmly.


We know that certain intense emotions - anger, fear, being threatened, and so on - actually starve the brain's ability to think clearly and wisely. "Take deep breaths and count to 10" is good advice for a reason. "Step away, cool off, and come back to the discussion later" is good advice for a reason.


I will not ask anyone - especially if you are affected by the utter horror the world inflicts on people every day - to not be angry. I will not ask you to not be afraid. I will not ask you to turn away from demanding that things be made better.


I will, however, ask you to carefully consider the larger picture at work in these sorts of changes.



Power Vacuum

Suppose, for a moment, that the institutions, behaviors, and maybe even specific individuals responsible for "all this" (whatever your choice of "all this" might be) were removed from the equation.


What if it all just went away? What if the problems were forced to stop?


Something else will take their place. There will be a vacuum to fill, and make no mistake, it will be filled.


The history of every single human conflict, be it an argument or a war, can attest to the reality that the aftermath will only be as good as the "something" that steps into the void.


You can have a yelling match with a friend, and make up, and a few weeks later all is well; why is this? Because the good aspects of that friendship are already strong enough to grow over the gap created by the conflict.


Personal feuds, even national or cultural wars have perpetuated for generations or even centuries in human history, because there was insufficient goodness to grow new peace around.


Conflict, unfortunately, may not be avoidable. I'm not asking anyone to be conflict-averse. But all of us - no matter where we stand - can choose to strengthen the goodness that we all wish to see fill the void that we're starting to see opening up before us as a species.


Many awful things need to go away from our world. That removal may be ugly and unpleasant; I certainly hope it will not be, but I am not foolish enough to believe that it will be a smooth road. These things must be excised. But what will replace them?



Change, But Change Carefully

What we practice gets stronger.


What grows always grows outwards from that which is already alive.


We all have different roles to play in our lives; it is not for me to tell you what to do. But I will implore you to be careful what you allow to grow, in whatever areas of life that you can access.


If we sit only in anger, fear, or despair, those will be the things we practice. Those will color everything we feel, and ultimately, what we do (or choose not to do). The more people who allow those things to grow, the more we feed the very problems we want to fix.


Practice other responses - caring, compassion, support, encouragement, solidarity.


If you are angry, good. The world is full of awful, cruel things.


If you are fearful for the future, good. Turmoil is here, whether we like it or not, and the future is absolutely uncertain.


If you want to act, good. Action will be needed, desperately, and lots of it.


But please, do not stop there.


Refine the anger into focus - what really needs to be changed? What needs to be different? What is working that we can trust and rely on, so that we can be effective in that process of change?


Allow the uncertainty to give way to caution without paralysis - we must be wary of the temptation to let things "go back to normal" or to "blow over." Normalcy is the polite name of game over, we lost. If it "blows over," maybe some of us are "ok again", but the actual victims of the world's illnesses will only pay the price more dearly.


If your need to act feels uncontainable, there is one act of radical rebellion that is needed more than all others right now:


Reach out and love someone. Especially if they do not look like the kind of person you would normally reach for.