And here’s why
It’s not that I’ve stopped caring. Quite the opposite. The last five years in American politics have been especially brutal, but I’m not pulling, turtle-like, into my shell — as tempting as that can be. And boy howdy, is it tempting, especially now that my husband and I have moved from the overwhelmingly liberal bubble of NorCal to the overwhelmingly conservative bastion of Idaho.
While I refuse to disengage, I intend to be strategic. Doing something that helps fix a situation — from communicating with my representatives to supporting just causes to showing up for other people (even those I don’t agree with) — is one thing. Spouting my opinions and proclaiming my position is another.
I don’t want to contribute to the noise. So I’ve pulled back from writing about politics, for three basic reasons.
One: I’m either preaching to the choir or inviting in trolls
I wish this weren’t true. I wish that as a society, we could engage in civil discourse and actually learn something about others’ points of view. It’s never been easy, but it used to be possible. But social media — and increasingly it seems most media — is determined to divide us into fervidly separate camps. Far too many leaders and public figures are eager to whip us up because it suits their own ends, and distracts us from what’s truly important. In this climate, it’s become too easy to lock down our perspectives and default to defense mode.
Two: The last thing I want to spread is more anger
Because anger is about the last thing we need. As an emotion, its uses are extremely limited, and it has a way of masquerading as rightness. Properly employed, anger is meant to help us recognize a wrong and then diffuse its energy into taking positive, helpful action — as in, doing something that makes whatever we’re angry about better. Sadly, anger is far more often misdirected — into pointless arguments, ruined family gatherings, toxic helplessness, or hate. Which is the exact opposite of either positive or helpful.
Three: other people do it better than I
And you should read them. Those who can navigate the political and historical currents without being dragged under have the depth of knowledge, informed perspective, and focus that I lack, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Now more than ever, it’s important to guard what we take in from the media. Not so we can avoid discomfort, but so we nourish our perspectives with what is worthwhile and valuable. Yes, there’s a lot of yammering heads out there, but there is also good, thoughtful stuff that promotes authentic awareness.
As an example, I offer the excellent, clear-eyed newsletter from historian Heather Cox Richardson. The comments she gets are worthwhile too — no foaming at the mouth there.
So I’m not advocating hiding from politics
As bewildering, exhausting, and downright nasty as our current political brew is, it’s a mistake to think we can ignore it. None of us have the luxury of living our lives unaffected by the decisions and policies our leaders make, and we’re in peril if we don’t pay attention. Leon Trotsky made a chilling comment about war, and the same is true of politics. I paraphrase him here:
You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
I suggest we try to keep our media intake as uncontaminated as we do our food. Neither is easy to do, given all the junk that’s out there, but a lot is riding on our effort.
And now I’m shutting up.
I love this advice, Jan! “I suggest we try to keep our media intake as uncontaminated as we do our food.”
Thanks, Nancy — I’m happy to hear my advice might be helpful! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
As always Jan, a thoughtful, sane inspiring piece. I am with you trying to navigate these uncharted territories.
Thank you, Susan — I often channel you in my quest for sanity 🙂
Love, love, love this, Jan. Yes, I had to say it 3 times. It captures my sentiments exactly. I also sometimes feel like a very lonely blue dot in a vast red space. It is sad, but by writing about politics, we either bring more hate and anger into the world or we are writing to others who already feel the same way we do. Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out. I would love to read some adult political discourse.
I’m confident you’ll be impressed with Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter — she doesn’t pull any punches, but she’s always worthwhile and extremely knowledgeable.
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