This post is a cross-post from my weekly newsletter (no, not that one… The other one) that deals with recovery from hardship, offering life advice that doesn’t suck. I don’t cross-post often, but this one was important. If you like it, I hope you’ll sign up (and sign up for the other one, too, if you want – it’s at the bottom of this page).
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“It’s not about how you want THINGS to be. It’s about how YOU want to be.”
#131: So What Now?
Sooooooo, how are you? Anything new since the last newsletter?
I mean, of course, besides the screeching ball of white hot fury this nation has become since last Tuesday, of course. No? Nothing besides that? Well, that’s good I guess.
Except it’s not, is it?
I know you feel it. I feel it with every cell in my body. Things, by and large, are just plain not okay. Not at all. We in the United States are divided amongst one another, and the entire world is paying attention. No matter who you are, no matter where you go, no matter who you voted for, you feel it in the core of your being that you are being judged at all times, by everyone around you.
“Who did you vote for?”
“Who did you WANT to vote for?”
“Why did you want to vote for that person?”
“Why didn’t you vote?”
And it doesn’t matter the answer to any of those questions, because to at least half the nation, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT.
Of course, that’s not true. Not one of us is singularly to blame for the state of things, and it’s silly to attempt to bring it down to that. That’s the good news: you can walk around with your head high knowing that none of this is actually your fault. Yay for that, right?
But that doesn’t explain why there’s been more hate, vitriol, anger, and aggravation amongst lifelong friends, co-workers, family members, and strangers the past week than there has been in our lifetimes. We are still blocking people on Facebook (or being blocked). We are still sharing articles from our chosen news sources that explain why WE picked the right thing and anyone who didn’t must be at best misguided, and at worst completely malevolent, hell bent on ending the world as we know it forever. And this is true for BOTH sides.
And there’s the problem: sides. The truth is, the anger and mistrust and despair you are feeling isn’t about who you voted for. Not really.
It’s about the signal other people pick up that tells them who they believe you to be. And as we have gone along in this most current iteration of innovation, those signals have become less and less nuanced; they’re coalesced and aggregated and collated into simpler and simpler categories. As we become more reliant on sources such as Facebook and Twitter to tell us everything there is to know about “Today in your life” we apply more and more filters to keep the noise down and get to the pure stuff.
The stuff WE like. The stuff WE want to see.
And even more, the stuff we LIKE. The stuff we WANT to see.
So it is inevitable that these vastly nuanced, finely detailed super complex organisms known as human beings become less and less identifiable without signaling and signs and commonality. And worse, our ability as humans to have the patience to deal with stuff that isn’t exactly what we LIKE and what we WANT to see diminishes.
What happens is a sort of social shorthand that, time and time again throughout history, boils down to “us” and “them.”
For us in the United States, it started with a pretty severe one: British vs. American. Then things were kinda quiet, until it became North vs. South. Then quiet again, until it became Allies vs Central Powers, then Allies vs. Axis.
And then, a few bombs fell which shook the entire planet, and everyone shut up for a little while for fear of being fully annihilated. Our wars were Cold Wars. Bad things happened elsewhere, in jungles and deserts. For a good 70 years, we had a pretty easy go of it (except that whole Civil Rights movement, but hey, we worked it out. It hurt and people died, but it led to THE EIGHTIES! And that’s when our sides settled and got pretty silly:
Ford vs. Chevy.
Coke vs. Pepsi.
Sega vs. Nintendo.
Xbox vs. Playstation.
Apple vs Microsoft.
Britney vs Christina (I was 100% Team Britney, btw).
But there was a little kink in things sometime around September 11, 2001, and a couple of planes slammed into a couple of towers and the world shook again.
We woke up a little. We realized that the world wasn’t quite as wonderful as we thought it was. Our differences weren’t as superficial. People began realizing there were some pretty severe differences among us. Our natural inclination to retreat to “Us vs. Them” took over and we got really scared. Our reaction as a society was to glue ourselves to 24 hours of news 7 days a week, because everyone who had a working brain cell knew that it was way better to see the next big shake-up coming.
And boy, did the news guys love that.
Glossing over the next decade is relatively easy: we got addicted to information. People fled to the internet. We got super connected with the advent of MySpace and Facebook and Digg and Reddit. People with more time (or money) than sense (or empathy) preyed on this reaction. Those with money built “news” empires and began feeding you information that was tailored to your personal tastes. Those with time griefed and trolled anyone who had opposing viewpoints, for their own entertainment.
And at some point, those things began to merge. And suddenly, we couldn’t really distinguish between what was being done to stoke the fires of fear and rage and anger in us to get us to pay attention (for fear of ever being caught unaware again), and what was actually news.
It became less and less a chess game, and more and more pure checkers. Anytime anyone who wasn’t one of “us” advanced (Gays get to marry, a black man becomes president, Trump wins the Republican Primary, Fox News gets the highest ratings of all cable news networks), the other side doubled-down on their way of thinking. The cycle continued. One side advances, the other side doubles-down.
No one was thinking about accord. No one was thinking about unification or even basic conversation. It’s “Us vs. Them” 24-7 across all of our social networks, at all times, every day. And the volume just kept going up.
That’s not what made Trump win the Electoral College, and that’s not what made Hillary win the popular vote. Those are just the latest horses in the race.
No, the real battle is only exemplified by the Presidential race. The real battle is between us. All of us.
There’s something I learn, and then forget, and then learn again — and every single time I learn it, it sinks in just a little deeper. It’s a secret that, should you or I ever actually take it to heart and learn it and live it, would mean severe drops in ratings on news channels, and severe drops in traffic on Facebook, and severe dips in advertising revenue:
There’s no such thing as “Them.” And there never has been. “Them” is an illusion.
It’s just us, folks. Differences and similarities in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation… All still us.
And here we are, in pain and angry and shocked and sad, mad at “them” for not seeing what should be so clear. Both sides, so convinced they’re right, that they never stopped to realize that the only ones who can lose this battle is all of us.
We’re supposed to take it all into consideration, vote our conscious, and then work our hardest to improve. And we can still do that. We don’t have to LIKE what happened. We don’t have to LIKE who we voted against, and we don’t even have to LIKE who we actually voted for.
We have to like ourselves. It’s not about how you want THINGS to be. It’s about how YOU want to be.
So what now?
I don’t have an answer for you. But you do have your answer. You already know what it is.
Be that. Despite the hate, despite the arguing, despite the fear and anguish… You have to be the person you know is the best you.
How you go about that is your call. I’ve chosen my path. It’s this. It’s turning off the noise. It’s listening to the arguments against what I understand and believe, so that I can know what is motivating people who don’t see things the way I do. It’s holding my ground where it matters, morally and socially. It’s standing up against hate and bullying, both idealistically and, if I must, physically.
I’m not okay. I am angry and afraid and in pain. But I’ve been angry and afraid and in pain before, and I made it through with love, understanding, education and openness. I also made it through with guts, determination, steadfastness and a reliance on the core of who I am.
It hurt. Change always does. But that’s the path.
So I ask you: So what now?
— Love, Joe
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