It’s been seven weeks since the American election and I, like so many people I know, am still in shock. I find myself going through the motions of my life, living into the moments as they appear while at the same time there is a niggling little curiosity that tugs at the corners of my mind. Is this what it was like in pre-war (pick any time period) Germany, France, Austria and so many other countries? Were there people who wondered at the inanity of it all, who feared for the future, who could see disaster lurking around the corner and felt powerless to stop it? Did they think the things my mind turns to as I wonder what the future will hold? As on a daily basis there are choices made that seem incredulous? Like all the cabinet picks who couldn’t be more opposite than the intent of the portfolios they’ve been assigned to or the focus of the President elect’s tweets as he seems intent on not actually running the country he is not qualified to run in the first place. Glibly uncaring about the impact of his actions, behaviours and words.
On the one hand it seems laughable. Until I pause and think about the possible ramifications of it all. Which then has me, in the back of my mind, wondering with each normal activity, with each dinner, with each celebration I am part of, how close to the brink of disaster, or even planet wide annihilation, are we? And do I even want to know? The whole idea is not that far-fetched. Not as far-fetched as it may have seemed six months ago.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, said Frodo.
‘So do I’, said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look bleak. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance…”
This is how I feel. Like I am about to witness an age I did not imagine possible in my lifetime. And I wonder what my role in this time will be, what the role of my children will be, what the role of all brave hobbits will be, as events unfold.
I struggle to know what well-informed means these days given the propensity of fake news, my knowledge of how our worldviews influence the information we pay attention to and how social media creates bubbles of like minded, like values people. I am drawn to read articles in my desire to understand and to look for any rays of hope. Some days I just want to shut it all off – like two decades ago when I stopped watching the news with any regularity and stopped subscribing to the newspaper. Those days you could watch a news story or read an article and maybe you chatted to the people you lived with or were next to and that was mostly the end of the story.
With social media, our “news” and our social connection are entwined. A news story gets shared with all our social media friends, it doesn’t stop at the breakfast table. Turning off the news now also means, for many of us, disconnecting from social networks that are also life affirming for me and for many of us. And we have the opportunity to connect dots thanks to social media – an opportunity not available in the same way in previous eras. I am haunted by the thought, will we just notice what is happening or will we find ways to stand up to our own values, our own personal integrity? Will we keep finding the moments to be courageous and keep shining the light – we need this now as much or more as in any previous moment.
So much of what I read only fuels the uncertainty and anxiety I feel about the future. Looking for those stories that give me hope can almost seem like such a small drop in the bucket, to be almost futile. Almost. And yet, since I do not have influence in the political systems of power, what can I do and what can I influence? What can you do? What can you influence?
Look close to home. Hold loved ones close. Keep doing the work you are here to do. Look for opportunities to take a stand. Do not hide. Be a person who champions, supports and advocates for those who are more at risk. Learn about how other people see the world, especially those with very different worldviews than your own. Otherwise the danger of increasing fragmentation and polarization grows and it becomes increasingly difficult to find our way. Look for inspiration in all the places you can find it and surround yourself with people who encourage you. Look for and create new systems of influence.
I wish it need not have happened in my time, in this time. But, since it is happening in my time, in our time, we still have choice. Let’s exercise it as often as we can. Let’s keep our eyes open. Let’s stay woke. So in the times to come, we can say, “not on my watch. I did everything in my power to do the right thing, even when it was hard, even when I was challenged, even when I felt powerless, even when I did not know what to do.”