What It All Comes Down To

I’ve been trying to find my way back to a state of reasoned calm, following the election and the current repetitive rhetoric still filling our airwaves. It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong, no one is listening.

canstockphoto177612Every time I get to a moment where I think, okay I’ve got this, I’ll catch the news that another member is being added to the billionaires’ club of the new administration. I hear that an education predator, one who has made gobs of money off the very system she has lobbied for, is going to impact the education my child will be receiving until she graduates, and it fills me with rage.

But I am beginning to return more quickly to center.

Nobody is listening and my words and rage are like so much flotsam on a vast ocean of noise.

canstockphoto158133What is becoming more clear is that the American public is, as it has always been, subject to the whims of the wealthy. It doesn’t matter who you voted for – you’re nothing but human capital. Liberal or conservative doesn’t matter. If you’re not a gazillionaire or have your own network show, you’re just peasant grist for the mill.

This notion is actually freeing in a way. If nothing I do matters, then I get to do what I want, feel how I want to feel, be who I want to be – all without a politician’s input or political labels. For some people, this means expanding – reaching out to others, committing to service, broadening horizons. To others, it means curling up in a tight ball, hanging with like-minded people, protecting oneself at all cost. We get to decide who we want to be. That’s a damned powerful choice to make.

I’ve read some posts and articles by many articulate and reasoned people. They argue opposite points and I think, well, that is something to think about. It made me realize that we can talk ourselves into anything. We can look past all kinds of flaws in reasoning and become so enamored of our own talking points as to sound like reflexive robots. We seek out confirmation bias for the pure pleasure of feeling self-righteous, comforted, and above all, right.

I’ve walked for miles this week. My knee injury is slow in healing and each step is focused on not slipping or stepping down too hard. But I’m moving forward with quiet concentration. Yesterday, I mapped out a four mile walk that included a stop at the library. The sun was out and the sidewalks were melted off, a lovely November surprise. I gingerly walked uneven pavement, stepping with a wince off curbs. Each step a measured choice.

Over the last year, I read a lot of comment sections on news sites and I realized that they actually made me more stupid. Comments are often not measured choices. I wondered how this affected my worldview – to constantly read angry, denigrating insults, regardless of political affiliation.

canstockphoto9209863Every article, no matter the topic, triggered a cavalcade of repetitive and childish squabbling. This article made me laugh, because the comment section was reflective of nearly every news comment section I’d ever read.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been bypassing comment sections and trying to stick with the news. It’s a challenge. Vitriol is addictive and even if it’s not you writing it, reading it is a hard habit to break. It feeds the little part of your brain that likes to feel amped – that burst of rage that lights you up and gets the adrenaline going. The primitive urges of modern life.

As I stripped away the filthy layers of this election season, I remembered that the same things that mattered most to me before, mattered most now. My family, learning, contributing positively to society, writing, friends, etc. While I was thinking about what matters, I tripped over a great new resource, the Action for Happiness website. Check out Action #30. I’m still digging in, but I like the positive vibes from the site – and lots of reminders that politics is only a fraction of life.

duffyprintHumor is also a much-needed palliative. I have a fondness for political cartoonists. When I was 16 and editor of the school paper, I went to the Iowa High School Press Association conference. I fangirled Brian Duffy, a political cartoonist from the Des Moines Register. Pigs featured prominently his cartoons, since much of Iowa life is focused on farm culture, so I had a very specific request in mind. He drew me a huge pig which hangs on the wall behind me and makes me smile to this day.

Here’s some cartoonists that have made me laugh lately:

  • Claytoonz     Syndicated Cartoonist Clay Jones. He’s a liberal after my own heart, so it might not be your jam. I enjoy learning about his thought process that goes into the work.
  • Tabula Candida  A historian who likes to doodle. I always feel just a little bit smarter if I get the joke.
  • Wrong Hands Cartoonist John Atkinson does a fantastic job combining history and literature with the idiosyncracies of modern life.

So what does this all come down to? It comes down to getting in touch with our own humanity and inner lives before pretending we’re ready to understand that of others. Casey Fleming at non(seculargirl) wrote a great post “Sermon for Self-Purification” that covers this exact point.

womaninnerlifeThe election results triggered a heavy duty depression in me, but it made me realize that the whole year has been a bit of a bust. There have been few highlights and brief glimpses of enthusiasm were easily squashed. It wasn’t only the election, it was that I had allowed my inner life to be eclipsed by things out of my control. No matter which wealthy bastard is in charge, nurturing our inner lives and deciding who we want to be, are really all we have.

37 Comments on “What It All Comes Down To

    • This is true. I think I realized that coping was not the issue for me. It was that I had failed to continue nurturing the things in my life that were important. And those are, of course, different for each person.

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  1. I totally agree. I, like you, have stopped reading the comment sections – people are so insulting to one another, and really what we say as the “common” people doesn’t really make any difference, other than to annoy one another. I have even taken it a step further, and just really stopped reading the news altogether. I am happier because of that. I know it isn’t a very grown up thing to do, but it sure does make me feel better.

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    • I tried to eschew reading the news, but I wasn’t able to do it, so I just have to limit it. The other thing I wonder about comment sections is if it’s just another trivial distraction from things we really should be paying attention to.

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      • Maybe – when I read the comments section all I can think is the crowd scenes in “Southpark” where all the gathered people are saying is “rabble, rabble, rabble”. I think that is probably all the people in power hear the rest of us saying, just a low, indecipherable murmuring, and nothing more.

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        • Exactly. I also think when we share our opinions, it lends us a sense of self-importance, as if we actually did something or have power. I feel it a little bit when I write here and I have to make sure I link what I say with a concrete action. Most of it does just sound like noise to the people on high.

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  2. I like how you brought this down to your final point, that’s nice. Do you write a post deliberately as a “Sunday read,” like a longer, more meditative piece? Not that this is either more than normal, just curious if you do that. I liked the scene of you walking up to the library, and the sun coming out — that’s good. Cool to work through this together, publicly, kind of strange and nice. Bill

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    • I think of this as a transitional post. I’m trying to steer the blog back to a wider range of topics than politics. It’s dominated my thinking so much this year that I kept hitting single note posts for the last month.
      Walking and meditation has slowed me down – enough to remember what brings me joy and peace. And to get some perspective.

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  3. There are a lot of mainstream publications that have eliminated comment sections because they have become so viscious. I very rarely read them, other than on my own blogs because I do want tobrespond to those who take the time to comment — which is a shame because I am interested in what others are thinking and feeling. I know I am probably dreaming, but I hope we start to settle down and get back to a place where we can disagree, but be civil.

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    • I am starting to appreciate “No comment” news sites. I rationalized reading (but never participating in) comments, because like you, I felt I should be interested in what other people think.
      The problem is that comments are often not moderated and valid, interesting points are lost in a sea of repetitive talking points or insults. It’s not a font of originality. There are enough people writing opinion pieces that provide more reasoning and depth than people who randomly spout off opinions. That’s my new rationale for not bothering with reading comments, anyway. Plus, I like people in general more if I don’t think they’re at home calling people idiots online for fun.

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      • Agreed. And I don’t think we’re missing anything — other than aggravation which there’s already too much of, even if you don’t go looking for it.

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  4. I think you got it in the final sentence Michelle. And the cake comments are exactly why I *never* read the comments. I guess I just don’t care that much what other people have to say, and they’re usually detrimental to nurturing my inner life.
    Alison

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    • I usually try to get there in the end, but I go off on a lot of tangents, Alison! It really hit me how much reading those comments changed how I viewed others – completely toxic. Happy to be where I’m at now – recovering my senses and my peace.

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      • Oh I get pulled off on tangents too. The mind loves drama! But I’m getting much quicker at catching it and coming back to your #30 – what’s really important to me.
        A.

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  5. Hi Michelle. Thanks for th is great post. I too fell into a depression after this election. Can’t rememember the time I cried so much at an outcome. Must leave the toxicity behind and move forward. Thanks for this post.

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    • I think often of the whole oxygen-mask-on-a-plane scenario, where we are supposed to pull our own first. I was afraid, at first, to come out of rage phase, as if I’d be letting down people who will be most vulnerable to whackadoodle policies. Then I realized I’d be no good to anyone if I’m constantly off-balance, sleep-deprived and depressed. So it’s a self-care twofer – feel better and be ready to fight the good fight.

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  6. I’m glad you wrote this. I was feeling somewhat guilty for not doing enough to facilitate change. I try to stay informed and listen to all sides. I vote. I volunteer. I donate. But that’s all. I like your comment, “nurturing our inner lives and deciding who we want to be are really all we have,” because that’s what I tend to focus on.

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    • I was feeling some guilt as well. The need for activism has come at a point in my life where I was backing away from obligation and that is something I’ve had to think about. When we see protesters getting knocked down by water cannons, it makes our little efforts seem small, but it’s not nothing. It’s something. And if it grows organically out of self-care and self-awareness, it has the chance to be a long term effort.

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  7. Michelle so many of us have been dealing with the same emotions. I love how you delve into the deeper waters behind our behaviors–the need for confirmation bias, the self importance. You don’t pull punches and I appreciate that in your posts. I find myself in the curl up into a ball stance. I gave up Facebook before the election. I felt physically sick most of the time I was on it. I watch PBS news and avoid the high drama news media outlets. I hate the comments section of everything online. Even Youtube music comments can degrade into ugly insult flinging shit storms. Absolutely pointless.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts as honestly as you do. Hope your knee heals soon.

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    • I think that is why I found the cake article about comments so funny. It doesn’t matter what site you’re on, eventually the conversation devolves. I’ve started contacting websites directly to say, if you’re not going to moderate, please do away with your comment sections. It feels like a small step, but if more people do it, who knows? I’m fed up with free range trolling.

      Thanks for your kind words about these posts. I feel like the election was a trigger for a whole host of emotions and I’m taking my sweet time untangling them all. Hopefully, I’ll get back to a wider range of topics. My knee, like the election, has forced me to slow down and reassess what I’m doing. That’s my lemons-to-lemonade spin. Everything is a lesson.

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      • “…We get to decide who we want to be. That’s a damned powerful choice to make…”. Michelle I absolutely adore your mind, your voice, and your logic. Politics aside, I think I am likely to be a forever fan of yours. Honestly.

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        • That’s very kind of you to say. I think the fervor of any subject, no matter how controversial, is hard to maintain. And as I mentioned to an above commenter, we are positioned better to fight for what’s important if we take care of ourselves.

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  8. At this point, I agree with you and think that eschewing most comments sections has become necessary to maintain sanity. It started long before this election season but seemed to reach some kind of nadir during it. Yet, without at least the possibility of being able to comment, I feel like I’m being talked at yet again. I feel that way much of the time: as if people are talking at me, and I’m always having to listen to them. I have some kind of mental processing delay that makes it very hard for me to engage in productive back and forth in person, using speech. Whereas writing slows down the process enough for me that I can follow the train of thought and formulate coherent responses. I also used to like comments sections because they seemed more comprehensible, more on my level, more like they were written by “regular people.” I’m still mourning the loss of civil comments sections. So I’m glad they’re still around on blogs like yours!

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    • I process things somewhat differently. I often need a lot of time (days even) to think something through before responding, if I do at all. To me it feels empowering to access ideas or information without feeling compelled to interact with them. My introverted self appreciates that. I’ve also found that comment sections are loaded with false information and uneducated guesses, which really muddies the discussion.

      Free range commenting seems to be sprouting up in the most inappropriate places. I just emailed The Washington Post this morning for allowing a comment section for crime reporting. I also contacted another site, concerned that comments following a mental health article were unmoderated, allowing random people to offer unhelpful advice to those with mental health issues. Maybe this is going to be one of my actions for happiness.

      Fortunately, the people who read this blog have been generous and respectful commenters. I haven’t had to moderate much over the last 5 years and I feel very glad about that.

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  9. I like blogging because of the give-and-take nature of comments. Other on-line comments sections are hit-or-miss. I figure comments sections are in a state of flux, too, and will mature in time.

    Rather than repetitively re-hashing the past, I would like to see us look pro-actively toward the future. Repealing the ethanol mandate is high on my list. This mandate is corporate welfare at its worst and neither Dims nor Pubs has the courage or desire to get rid of it.

    Reviving passenger rail. Also doable and ecologically sound.

    Get rid of Daylight Savings Time.

    I could go on.

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    • I like all those suggestions 🙂 I also think that factories reopening as worker-and community-owned co-ops seems like an idea worth trying. This was a real eye-opening article for me, something beyond the usual hand-wringing about how “coastal elites” supposedly need to “listen” to the midwestern working class. It has some practical ideas that I hadn’t thought of before. https://www.thenation.com/article/why-do-white-working-class-people-vote-against-their-interests-they-dont/

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      • I read the Nation article but take a slightly different stance. I believe the industrial age has peaked. Witness the acres of rusting cars at the wharves. The import-export industry is suffering. Middle America got complacent with the industrial jobs, and now they have forgotten how to be self-sufficient. I wonder if we are all working too hard, with more money and toys than time to enjoy them. Maybe we should all just learn to relax more and enjoy the free things in life. It’s easier to do if you have no debt.

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    • I like blogging as well, as it tends to be a more civil environment. I’m not as confident as you are about comment sections maturing, but I do see some movement towards more moderation or no comment section at all. We all talk too much as it is.

      I have my wish list, too, that I would like to see enacted, but in the political swamp being refilled with billionaires and ideologists, I see little chance of those wishes being fulfilled. Right now, my focus is going to be on the local and state level.

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      • Washington is the last to know. Local and state levels are best. One of my long-term causes is to address public safety hazards on public land. “Jobs for Jackhammers.” Our streets and sidewalks are disgraceful. Wheel and pedestrian-friendly streets help everyone equally. Bicycles, wheelchairs, baby strollers, delivery carts, shopping carts, walkers, roller blades, roller skates, skateboards, pedestrians. Not just cars.

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        • This is one of my causes as well. I’m in the middle of lobbying city council to put in warning lights on a cross walk that links a shopping area to blocks of apartment buildings. Not only have I almost gotten hit, but watching mothers struggle with strollers and children to cross is a nail-biter. Fortunately my city is on a better track, adding in more sidewalks and trails.

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