Regardless of political leanings, it’s safe to say that most of us feel the effects of the increased negativity in the political atmosphere. The tone of our public discourse continues to spiral downward. It seems our country is in the midst of an existential crisis, and it ain’t pretty. Frustration, defensiveness, and anger abound. In today’s climate, trying to avoid politics is like trying to navigate a minefield. Disputed polls, fierce accusations, and
fake news lie in wait around every corner, ready to spring at the unsuspecting
consumer of online headlines. It’s overwhelming. It also takes its toll on our
mood, energy level, and nervous system.
So how do we maintain our sanity in this post-election world? We set limits regarding our exposure to media (even when the media validates our point of view). We monitor the impact of what happens around us on our state of mind. We take breaks from all things political. We pace ourselves. We seek positive interactions with others on a daily basis. We share love and kindness as often as possible. We seek out beauty and joy and let it sink in when we find it. We protect our mental and emotional well-being as we would a vulnerable, precious newborn baby. And in case you had any doubt, your mental and emotional well-being is as tender and precious as a newborn
Limiting the intake of news and social media presents quite a challenge for many of us, myself included. I was a daily NPR junkie long before Al Gore invented the interwebz. I’ve been known to sit in the car for quite a while just to catch the end of a segment. These days I can easily lose an hour or more wandering from one news site to the next, becoming increasingly incensed as I go. I find myself debating social and political issues with friends, or friends of friends, on social media. Thankfully I have yet to succumb to arguing with complete strangers. I tell myself that I’m just
providing a different point of view, or information they may not have considered or know about. And sometimes that’s true. Other times, well, not so much. Sometimes, mid-squabble, I realize that somewhere along the line it became quite important to me to convince the other person that I’m right. What a monumental waste of time! Such debates also increase my level of frustration and disrupt any zen-like vibe I might have achieved over the course of my day. At that point, or probably somewhere before that point, I need to put down my phone or laptop and take a breath.
During my 50 years on this earth I’ve managed to develop friendships with folks from a broad range of perspectives and belief systems. I value that and work to maintain those relationships. I could choose not to engage in political discussions with friends with whom I disagree. However, to do so would further insulate my existent echo-chamber and would not contribute much to my growth as an individual. As I choose to participate in an ongoing exchange of ideas with friends I need to check my barometer periodically to see if I’ve stepped over the line into argument, or tying to be right. I need to seek to understand the perspective of others rather than assume that
disagreement with my views equals stupidity or bigotry, listen for areas of agreement, and create opportunities for positive connection. About a bagillion years ago in my training as a community mediator I learned to start from a place of common ground between two disputants. Common ground may seem quite distant in political debates these days, but we’ll only find it when we look for it.
Over the past few weeks I’ve made sure to check in with myself as I peruse the news or talk with someone else about the most recent political controversy. I’m learning to hit the pause button on the discussion if my reaction is one of hopelessness, overwhelm, or despair. I can stay a politically active and informed citizen without allowing the world of politics pull me into its bitter vortex. At the beginning of the year I started a project of noticing and sharing moments of “awesomeness” each day. As I let myself be drawn further and further into my political news obsession I stopped making my posts about awesomeness. I hadn’t been checking my zen-barometer and had moved over to the dark side of the force. I’ve recommitted to my
awesomeness posts and have started looking for other ways to create and maintain balance in my life. Please comment and share some your ideas for sanity maintenance.