I haven’t written much about politics lately, because inevitably any post ends in a stream of invectives. So, so blue.
It’s become quite clear that horrible people get more attention than decent people. Liars get more press than truth-tellers. Diatribes and conspiracy-laden memes get more likes than reasoned arguments. It’s clear that short blurts and bumper sticker sentiments resonate more with people than logical and balanced discussions.
And I’m no better. I can’t read the news without feeling the hostility rising. I’ve found myself streaming too much television for escape from the fears and anxieties and the desolation of feeling out of step and place. It’s made me less intelligent, less rational, less active, less thoughtful.
I hadn’t been writing much lately, because everything was coming out raw and angry and emotional. This is not the person I wish to move towards. If all the world is dying, I still get to make some choices about who I am. It’s really the only power we have. With or without money, under duress or at the height of luxury, it’s the only real power we have – to choose what kind of person we are going to be.
There are some humans who are dirty bombs. Dirty bombs are weapons of mass disruption. While many people think the reality television celebrity who is our president has done a good deed in disrupting the political routine, disruption in and of itself is not a positive or negative thing. It’s just disruption. Only the fallout matters. And thus far, the fallout has not been positive, regardless of your political ideology.
Dirty bombs are valuable in that the effects are not immediately known. Long term health issues and cleanup of the affected area have great economic consequences, but the immediate result of a dirty bomb is the fear it inspires. Psychologically, it can keep a population in the thrall of fear and anxiety, leading them to support measures that are politically expedient, but which also carry long term and ill-predicted outcomes.
How does one counter a dirty bomb? For starters, detection of materials needed to make the bomb – conspiracy theories, false statistics and statements, emotional appeals, simplified memes from complex issues, repeating information without verification, choosing partisanship over rationalism, and not verifying sources. It means improving critical thinking skills and using a bullshit detector.
The next step is to maintain protective gear. Protective gear involves learning about issues in-depth, filtering out misinformation, listening more than talking, learning how to parse and construct rational arguments, and weighing the source of information. Protective gear must also have a palliative affect – it must provide comfort. It means taking a break from the news, finding the beauty in art, music, and literature. It means being quiet to keep the inner life rich and productive.
Lastly, and the step I often forget to do, actively recognize those humans around you who are not dirty bombs – who leave the world, wherever they are, a better place. Raise their profile, send thank you notes, shake their hands, call out their good deeds. Look for people who set examples worth following and emulate the hell out of them. It puts attention where it should be and reminds you that love and kindness are truly radioactive and a little goes a long, long way.
I am finding my way back in writing this and have decided that my action to follow is that I will take back my time from some distractions. I’m giving up any television, streaming, videos, etc. for the next 30 days. Breaking the habit of distraction is a tough one, but this might be a good first step.
If you would like to join me in this experiment, send me a note via my contact page. We can check in with each other periodically and at the end of the thirty days, you’ll be invited to write a guest post about your experience and what you learned (or didn’t).
What I’ve Been Reading Lately:
Proof: A Play by David Auburn
Reading play scripts is a fantastic way to help with writing dialogue.
Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work that Reconnects by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown
Not always on board with New Age-y concepts, but there are a lot of useful approaches to dealing with the feeling of powerlessness that I’ve been experiencing lately.
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
Still struggling to get through this work of fiction. The writing is so wondrously dense and well-done that I have to keep taking breaks just to take it in.
Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
After following George Lakoff’s blog and enjoying his linguistic take on issues, I bought this book. Admittedly, it’s a little above my pay grade in terms of intellect, but I’d rather read up, than down.
What are you reading?
19 thoughts on “Dirty Bombs and Distractions”
It’s been a few months since I took a break from the news and I cannot tell how much better I feel. That anxious, angry, frustrated feeling I was getting used to is gone. I have learned that you can still be an involved, caring human without having CNN constantly stoking your fear and your emotions. And you are so right — it’s amazing how many kind, compassionate, generous, wise, good, well-intentioned people you become aware of when their voices and deeds are not drowned out by the dirty bombs. Thanks for this post Michelle.
I still haven’t found the balance between staying informed and staying rational. One thing I recognize though, is that the more out of touch with myself and less centered that I am, the less able I am to manage my emotions. I’m hoping disconnecting from the box and using that time differently will bring a stronger sense of resolve.
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Finding balance is not easy. For me it is ongoing.
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I was listening to NPR today and was struck once again by how calm and clear their approach is in contrast to other news sources. They are just as they were a year or two ago, and just as they were during the election and its aftermath. At that time, they made me furious precisely because they were maintaining their calm and clear approach instead of joining me in my outrage and fury, which made me even more outrageous and furious. But in hindsight, I see that it has to be that way. Or at least it should. Because we need that calm and clear approach, and we get far too little of it these days. In the aftermath, my consumption of news media went off the charts and just about ruined me. But I’ve pulled back and am doing much better now. I lost interest in tv years ago, and since I recently quit drinking I’ve started reading heavily again, mostly about spirituality and personal growth, and I’m feeling much better about, well, pretty much everything.
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NPR is definitely my go-to, but like you, I started to get irritated with their even-handedness. How dare they? I’ve pulled back on my media consumption, mostly by changing my sources (and changing from online to print publications), but it’s not good enough to pull me out of outrage mode.
I stopped watched television many years ago, because of the advertising and the pundits. Still can’t stay in a room with a TV for more than a few minutes before getting irritated. But internet streaming is eating up more and more of my time. Pure escapism and I have to come to terms with what I’m trying to escape from – as Pema Chodron would say – I need to lean into the sharp edges.
I am definitely reading more as well and re-teaching myself focus and concentration, which I think are cornerstones to good mental health.
Glad to hear that you are feeling better and finding a healthier path. I keep going off-road and I have to find my way back – over and over, but I think that’s the way it goes.
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Are you familiar with Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana? I just finished it and found it very helpful. Another good read recently was Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I hadn’t heard of the first book, but Peace in Every Step is a book I return to often. I’ll check out the Gunaratana book, because I enjoy reading in that genre – I never read a book where I don’t find something to ponder. Thanks!
Never have I been more aware of the importance of managing polarities, and of my need to secure a place of integrity where I can remain true to my values. It is exactly as you say, Michelle: “If all the world is dying, I still get to make some choices about who I am.” There is the big question of how to condemn prejudice, injustice, lies, and, yes, stupidity, while not further entrenching those who are not entirely lost to reason. I have deliberately avoided certain friends and acquaintances because I doubt my ability to converse without condemning and further cementing them in their biases. An excellent article I read recently described the need to give people a “save-face” way to change their minds by directing them to what they didn’t know before (e.g., when they voted last November), but do know now. https://heleo.com/facts-dont-change-peoples-minds-heres/16242/
Sadly, I fear there are still a great many people who have no desire to improve (or even possess) critical thinking skills, and would only use a bullshit detector to amass more bullshit.
As always, thanks for giving me plenty to think about.
I find it exhausting trying to learn about the many ways I need to help people who don’t succumb to reason to save face. We have to work so hard when it’s apparent someone who is engaging in misinformation (lies) is not trying at all. The managing of polarities (a very nice way to put it) is driving me a bit nuts. I really want to be an engaging, calm person in the face of irrational belief systems, but I just don’t think I’m capable of it. And maybe this is the question we should be asking of ourselves: what are we, as an individual, capable of doing?
For me, I think of the old misquote “Just the facts, ma’am”. I value learning and go through life understanding that I know only a scintilla of the knowledge that is out there. I do not understand people who don’t have that same value, who willingly cede whatever power they have to deliberate ignorance. I admire your persistence, but I’ve finally reached the point where I’m going to stop apologizing for being well-informed, using my critical thinking skills, trusting science, and not engaging in the pointless back-and-forths with people who have no desire to learn and who are too frightened and belligerent to admit they might make mistakes.
Huh. This is the first time I’ve written that out loud. I sound like a jerk. I can only hope that I will continue to evolve and temper all this with more compassion, but I’m a little angry these days.
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I have been in a perpetual state of anger since November 8. Mostly, all it has done is create a new habit of gritting my teeth, and subsequent jaw pain. Now, I have new dental bills to thank the trump administration for, too. We must never apologize for using our ability to think and reason, or for holding those who don’t accountable. It saddens me that the litmus test for who I will and will not engage with is often how they voted last November. That also seems to be a litmus test for general civility these days. After 8 months of this idiot sociopath as president I can find no way to offer a “pass” to anyone who still supports him. They are a lot of things (deplorable things), but at heart they are racists, whether they know it or not. I suppose saying that makes me a jerk in my own way. So be it. I’m in good company.
Yes, indeed. I’m sure that political events and dialogue have contributed mightily to my insomnia. I’ve come to see Trump as the Ringmaster of an unwieldy circus. Most of the real action is happening nowhere near his mouth and antics. Laser focus must be on those individuals in the cabinet who are implementing policy will-nilly. But really that is neither here nor there when it comes to us as individuals.
I’ve started to become a little more steely and thick-skinned about the news. It’s either true information or it is not. People are either informed or they are not. It is more important for me to maintain ethical and personal integrity than it is to appear to be agreeable. In person, I will try to be as kind and gentle as I can manage, but I no longer have a problem saying “what you said is not true and here is why.” But also asking “what is it about this that concerns you?” Often people recognize how irrational they are when they have to say out loud what their fears are. Sometimes, too, they surprise you with their humanity.
Rinse and repeat. I’ve been practicing rational and fact-based monologues in my head. I’m trying very hard to remove emotional language from discussions of politics. So my practice has been to study, learn, and re-train myself. I am going to have to write a whole new post if I keep rambling here.
I think it’s also important to speak up anywhere we can–not to leave the conversation because it’s gotten too ugly. Tempting as that is, it leaves the field open to the most toxic people. I’m glad you’re back and writing about it all.
Sometimes I feel like I’m walking a fine line when it comes to not being toxic myself. I’m fed up with people proudly proclaiming their ignorance, with no regard for the truth or even an interest in discovering it for themselves. It’s just laziness of thinking. I’m in fine angry form this morning after reading a George Will column (why oh why do I do that to myself?). Not sure reading opposing viewpoints is all that helpful, but supposedly we’re all idiots for giving in to confirmation bias.
A few posts ago I cited “Petticoat Junction” as comforting respite from all the political BS and garbage. I wasn’t being sardonic. Another great one is “The Lawrence Welk Show,” which is re-broadcast on PBS. It’s cornball, but loaded with smiles and good feelings. Ironically, my book right now is “Vietnam: A History” by Stanley Karnow. It follows on the heels of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” Both books remind me that ugliness and lies are nothing new and that the Hitlers and General Westmorelands are dirty bombs that explode and cause damage, but after explosion, vegetation always takes over.
Since I’m giving up television watching for the next month, I’m doing it in favor of enjoyable reading. I’ve read both the books you’ve mentioned and look forward to eventually seeing the Burns/Novick documentary on Vietnam. These days, I’m letting my tastes wander and have ridiculously high stacks of books to get through. As winter will be moving in, I also tend to get a little more intense about working out – great for the brain chemicals and fending off depression.
I do not exercise step three enough either. Right now, in my personal life, there seems to be an awful lot of dirty bombs. Yes, I do turn towards the TV to escape, watching mostly movies. What I should be doing in building up my protection.
I think it is very challenging, especially if you have a lot of fallout going on in your personal life, to reach for healthier choices. And I wouldn’t say that TV, in and of itself, is a bad thing. We all need down time, a pause button from the constant pressure. Still, I always wonder if I took the time from TV to actually alleviate that pressure, would it be better in the long run? Maybe it would be, maybe it wouldn’t. I feel like it’s important to test that out, though!
I couldn’t agree more to every single word in this piece. Trust me, I tried.
These days I find the dirty bomb a more apt analogy than ever. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.