Hey there, Sugar.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had so many conversations lately around the humanity climate here in the United States. When I first typed that sentence, I referred to it as the political climate. But that just didn’t begin to encompass the state and scope of affairs we’re all living out right now.
Even if you’ve stumbled upon this piece at random, you likely already have a clue of where I stand on the recent US election. I want to be clear that that is mostly irrelevant to this post (as much as it can be irrelevant to anything right now.) This is about how to relate, replenish, and retain your sense of inner peace as you engage with others on all sides of the issues, as you seek to make sense of this stew of highly-charged, conflicting and conflicted feelings around and reactions to the issues, and as you examine, discover, solidify and perhaps even change your beliefs around the issues.
Now just because I’m not naming the issues doesn’t mean I intend to belittle them. The issues are both far-reaching and at the very root of who we are and who we want to be. The issues today touch people – actual people – more directly, more deeply, and on a more universal level than anything I’ve ever lived. These issues today beg one to take a stand for what they believe is fundamentally, humanely right, to pick a side and defend it, support it, rally and fight for it.
But even when the issues are this critical and integral to the foundations of our society, perhaps even more so when they are, I believe that we need to take care with how we interact with each other around them and how we interact with ourselves too, to ensure that in every moment possible we are walking our walk and talking our talk, that we are treating each other the way we want to be treated, that we are acting instead of reacting, listening instead of just waiting our turn to speak, acting from love instead of hate.
So I’d like to talk about how to care for yourself in the middle of this climate. And I do mean in the middle, not at either extreme. How to allow yourself to be in it without being consumed by it. Free from the impulse to retreat as well as that to lash out. With head squarely out of sand AND nose extracted from business that isn’t yours, by which I mean letting go of the need to police every single other person and opinion out there. No one hears each other at the extremes, so little understanding happens there, as does little change.
I certainly don’t propose that this is easy to do, this staying in the thick of it. As I was talking the other night with my dear sis-miss Hilary, she shared two words she’s been using as a guide lately: Vigilance and compassion. Both have been resonating with me lately as well, and both are of the utmost importance when it comes to staying firmly aware and present in this complex social space. This is where we ensure not just our own well-being, but help establish a way of being that honors everyone else’s well-being, too.
The topic of boundaries is critical here – setting and maintaining your own boundaries and respecting those of the people with whom you interact.
When passions are ignited, it can feel like every interaction is a win-or-lose invitation to convince, an all-or-nothing responsibility to disprove and dismantle, an oppositional battle on behalf of what’s right. And I get the drive to be responsible, the need to speak up for what you see as the greater good. I’m doing it right now, and I take it seriously.
But sometimes people just want to be heard, need to be heard, without being condemned. I know I need that at times. At other times I need to debate, to peaceably argue, to listen and to hear. I’m rarely convinced by bullying and browbeating and if anything, will dig in my heels in instinctive response to such treatment. If someone argues their points by insulting me or disregarding my feelings or beliefs, I tend to write him or her off and not value very much what’s been said, regardless of its merits. I mean, when I’ve got my super-evolved pants on, I can detangle those unfavorable behaviors from the beliefs themselves, but when those pants have been ripped off or misplaced, that’s just not going to happen.
I don’t think that I’m very unique in these things. So why should we expect those on the other side of our beliefs to be any different?
Setting and identifying boundaries can help us all check ourselves before, well, we wreck ourselves (Thanks, Ice Cube.)
Much in what I’m about to share may read as contradictory to you. That’s because what’s right for each of us is different from what’s right for anyone else. There is no single right or wrong response here. It’s for every one of us to examine our own life, surroundings, feelings and truths and make the choices that honor that special blend every day, in every instant. And as we learn to do that for ourselves, we must learn also to allow others to do the same for themselves.
From what I’ve heard around the block, the most plentiful and triggering instances of discord most of you are experiencing is occurring on social media. It’s led some of you already to unfollow, block and unfriend people. This may be exactly the kind of boundary you need to best care for yourself, to allow yourself a space where you don’t feel overwhelmed, on the offensive or on the defensive. If so, by all means block at will. I would ask you though to pause first, to make sure that this is indeed what you actually want to do.
The deep divide we face as a country right now will not heal if everyone tunes the other voices out. It’s so so tempting to create a false sense of sweet peace, but just like fake news and alternative facts, that doesn’t actually change anything for the better.
This is a dance, Friend. We can set boundaries by choosing our dance partners, spaces, styles and frequency. With whom we engage, where we engage, how we do it and when. But the dance itself is non-negotiable. If we want to to be a part of the solution and not a silent reinforcer of the problem, we need to find some way to dance.
The boundaries we set by opting out of a particular dance clear the floor for the voices that feel compelled to opt in. So if you really don’t feel strongly one way or the other, then by all means opt out and keep the floor from getting muddied and overcrowded. Do a different dance. But if you DO feel strongly, if this IS your dance, I urge you to dance it, to add your moves to the collective and be counted for what you believe.
There are two elements to the dance that I’d like to consider today: Speaking and listening. Both are crucial, both must be done for intention and action to marry and result in tangible change and increased unity. But each of us will have our own blend of both, and setting targeted boundaries that respect these differences can be helpful.
YOU get to decide where you speak up and how. You don’t have to engage where you don’t feel safe, respected, or comfortable. You don’t have to respond to every challenge or perceived misperception. When you pressure yourself to go all in, you will likely end up tapped out. So setting and honoring this boundary is vital to staying in the mix for the long haul.
You also get to decide where and how you educate yourself, who you listen to and why. This is where it may be beneficial to stay connected on social media to some of the people from whom you’re eager to disconnect. Educating ourselves requires that we get knowledgeable around the facts that matter to our issues, and ALSO that we learn about the opinions, both for and, perhaps more importantly, against. Shouting facts changes few minds when beliefs are deeply entrenched. We’ve GOT to hear what the other side is saying, and endeavor to understand WHY they are saying it. Sometimes the answer to change is in the thing that hasn’t been heard because both sides are too busy fighting each other. Sometimes it might be YOU who changes heart. But we’ve got to keep aware of what’s being said. Not only so we can better understand each other, but also so that we don’t miss important occurrences that change the game entirely.
With the threatened, accused, and actual suppression of news and facts today, if we turn away from what IS being shared for a moment, we could be too late to make a difference. Rather than following the crowd on cries of fake news and declaration of lies versus alternative facts, read the releases and the statements yourself, watch the footage and decide for yourself what actually rings true as opposed to what others are telling you should. THAT’S some priceless education right now.
Here are some practical tips and suggestions that may help ease the navigation of this time and space:
Buddy up, Bud Set some boundaries around your relationships. Intentionally choose with whom you share certain things; select special people who can support you the way you need (and for whom you can do the same.) Some examples: a like-minded political buddy with whom you share ideas, struggles and successes; an objective and well-read buddy who you can ask questions when you’re having difficulty weeding through the media; a buddy who doesn’t share your beliefs but with whom you can discuss tough topics and questions; different buddies by different topics or boundary needs; a social media accountability buddy who will talk you off the ledge when it’s time to take a break, etc. Call on the rich human resources you have in your life! One way to FEEL less alone is to BE less alone! And choosing the right person for the job lessens encounters that make you feel bad.
Focus is Your Friend, Friend Instead of trying to keep up with every single aspect of every single issue, determine your top deal breakers. Pick one, two, or at most three things to keep most up-to-date on, and know that it doesn’t make you a bad person to limit your pursuits here. It makes you primed to be effective. Better to know a few key issues well than a bunch poorly, or none at all because you felt too guilty to even get in the game. I know that all the issues are important, but you are human, with a rich and full life that insists you get off social media, news channels, and activist emails at some point to participate in it. So if you don’t get purposeful and focused, your energy will dissipate, your knowledge (or your life) will be broad but choppy, hole-filled, and incomplete, and you’ll feel horrible about it. Which will serve no one.
Filter filter filter! (said à la Jan Brady about Marcia) Make some decisions about what really matters, what you want to let in, and be vigilant about filtering out the rest. Once you choose your non-negotiable issues or areas, be vigilant in filtering out the rest. Once you identify which voices you can stomach in the name of broadening your understanding, be vigilant about filtering out the rest. My sister-friend Hilary referred to this filtering action as passing things through a screen door, and to quote her again, she pointed out that “social media is probably a hot bottle rocket for your screen door right now.” Which means you may want to filter or put some boundaries around your social media time, too. Better to protect the screen door than constantly needing to patch it.
Practice Compassion (Toward Others) Try assuming that everyone is doing the best they can, that everyone is acting from a place of positive intention, and that even what you see as the most horrendous of beliefs is coming from misunderstanding or misguidedness and not evil intention. Let it defuse potential powder kegs and clear the way for new understanding.
If you’re having a hard time connecting with this one, feel free to skip ahead to the next one.
Here are a few simple mantras I use to calm myself and get back to breath: Breathe and Believe. / Breathe in peace, breathe out release. / Just breathe, Crecia. (this usually leads to hearing the song of the same name by Anna Nalick, and then the chorus from Hold On by Wilson Phillips. Whatever works, right?
When I read or hear an opinion – especially from a loved one – that drops my jaw or boils my blood, these invitations to breathe help interrupt my automatic What the f***? response so I don’t get stuck in those extreme places, so I’m able to return to a place where I feel more effective, more able to listen and to speak in ways that get somewhere.
Feel Your Feels Much though I believe in the importance of compassionate action right now, many of us are connected to and consumed by feelings of deep deep outrage that make compassion feel inaccessible, pointless, and inappropriate. I get it. I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone just put those feelings aside, ignore them, stuff them, or deny them. Please please please no one do that! Let’s own it the way we need to own it. This may include seeking safe outlets where we can let it all out so we can be purposeful about what and how we share at large (phone calls or text chains with aforementioned buddies, online or in-person support or supportive communities, journaling, etc.), joining and participating in activist groups and events, engaging in creative self-expression through the arts, some physical practice (running, martial arts, boxing, dance, stretching, wild soul movement, strength-training.) You may feel called to choose something extra active that lets the outrage move through your body, or something slow and soothing that nurtures your body when you feel spent from feeling it all, or something that builds strength, endurance, or skill so you feel ready for anything.
I believe we’re each here for our own reasons, and we each have our own role to play. My hope is that we can each embrace what comes naturally, channel it for the greater good, and act in line with the treatment we want to see, the treatment we value, to effect change.
Practice Compassion (Toward Yourself) You’ve got to go easy on yourself. Celebrate and honor the actions you’re taking now that you weren’t taking before. Let yourself feel good about them. Love yourself for asking questions rather than shaming yourself for not knowing answers. Don’t get so caught up in feeling like you can’t hang that you just hang back instead.
Set Boundaries around Social Media Posts Decide what you want out of your social media posts and ask for it. If you’re looking for particular feedback or insight, ask specifically for that. If you want suggestions, invite them. If you want comments to stay respectful, let that be known. You’re allowed to ask for the type of engagement you prefer, and you’re allowed to insist on decency. You’re allowed to set and maintain parameters for the experiences you invite into your home, to tend to your online homespace just as you would your physical one, to state house rules at the door and ask folks to leave who don’t honor your values.
Cece + Schmidt from The New Girl thought they wanted to have the cool house with no rules, but by the end of “The Hike,” they were singing a different tune. I humbly propose a middle road….
Well, if you made it this far, you’re a rock star. I know this was a lot, but I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t not share, I couldn’t cut it back any more than this. Which is another guideline that may prove helpful right now as you decide what to say, what to share, and how to engage around these heated topics. Say the things you just can’t not say. Let those deep truths and core beliefs rise up from the muck of all the things, and act on what you can’t possibly stand by and let go unmet.