You’re busier than ever yet, not as active as you once were. The daily logistics that seemed to happen automatically before COVID-19 are now cumbersome and don’t work as smoothly.
Working from home. Co-teaching kids. Bored at times. You might feel guilty for not doing more and stressing about the economy, the stability of your current job, or finding more income if you don’t have enough. Safeguarding your family’s health and that of your aging parents is paramount. Finding affordable and effective health insurance and paying taxes weigh heavily on your mind as the open enrollment season begins. You’re hoping the car will last longer than the pandemic, and then damn, you turn on the news and whomp! There’s more to confuse you.
When times are hard, and you don’t know what else to do, it’s helpful to look for what you can control. That’s not a naïve suggestion. Sometimes it’s a lifeline to sanity and optimism. It’s a step up and out of feeling completely overwhelmed.
Focus on the things you can control.
I have two suggestions that take will a little bit of effort but will move you a degree away from feeling out of control and more than a few degrees toward feeling better. (Ok, there are four, but I don’t want to scare you off.)
Let’s begin with one for this month and one for the next two months. It’s not enough to take away all your worries, but it’s a start. Read on to tackle the remaining two challenges.
First, take a few minutes to verify you are registered to vote: https://www.usa.gov/confirm-voter-registration (Go on, click on the link. I’ll wait. It’ll open in a new tab and you can come back here when you’re finished.)
Please DO NOT rely on your memory, say that you’re too busy, or think eligible because you voted in the last election. Many states are purging voter lists, and the deletions are not 100% accurate. Data entry is never foolproof, and you may have been removed without realizing it. Do it now because it can take more time than you think to sort out an error. If your registration is accurate, you can feel good knowing that’s settled and cross it off your list.
The second suggestion takes more time but is just as important. Promise me you’ll commit to yourself and your integrity, not only as a thinking adult but because of your vital importance to this country’s function and your fellow citizens, to diversify your news consumption.
I am asking you to stop relying on a single news outlet to predigest and then regurgitate to you as truth their version of what a candidate said or did. Sure, it’s fast and easy to watch 30 minutes of broadcast news that 'covers' ten subjects.
But when we accept another’s version without question, we become parrots. Maybe your experience is different, but the last parrots I heard didn’t have a well thought out case for their opinion. (In fact, they were focused only on landing someplace comfortable. Don't let that describe you!)
Deliberately choose to listen and read viewpoints you find incomprehensible or repulsive and question yourself why you feel like you do. Question your opinions. Ask someone to explain to you why their ideas are so different from your own. Listen without responding with your viewpoint, unless they invite you to take a turn.
I’m not asking you to change your opinion. I am asking you to explore your motivations, your history, and, most importantly, your fears.
Regardless of which ‘side’ you lean toward, understand that, like you, all news outlets have a bias, some more than others. Their slant shows in the words they choose. For example, did she sing or did she bellow?
They skew truth and context in where they start and end video clips, and which experts they choose to interpret current events to you. While they are indebted to you because you drive their ratings, they are also just as beholden to their sponsors or their owners, if not more so.
You may feel better if you don’t explore other opinions because it’s less stress (and that has value, too).
Still, if we don’t at least try to unpack the agendas, the wildly moving pendulum of oppositional attitudes will continue to swing wider and wider until it knocks out the walls that hold up the roof of this democracy.
Use your innate gifts of doubt and caution. They’re there to protect you from poison plants, stepping off a cliff, and the dangers that come from not seeing the long term consequences of short-sighted decisions. Doubt keeps your mind open to broader ideas; it’s the first step to an investigation.
If you’re 100% one-sided, allied with everything one party espouses, then I challenge you to the third step toward mature self-mastery and find value in at least one issue the ‘other side’ advocates. I’m not asking you to agree or change your mind. I am asking you to think for yourself, to avoid knee jerk support for issues you haven’t taken the time to consider both deeply and broadly.
We all need to admit there may be room for discussion about a different viewpoint. But don’t stop there. Admittance, like doubt, opens the door to introspection and education.
And finally, a fourth mastery challenge, if you’re brave enough.
Try to see the person behind the opinion. What are their hopes and fears? Their history is equally as influential in shaping their views as yours is in molding your positions. You cannot know what they have experienced.
Work to avoid character assassination. In the broadest sense, it's making someone's opinion a substitute for their entire character. It may be clever for the moment, but it’s often mean spirited. Think hard about if that’s who you want to be. Do you want your family and friends to think that’s what you might do to them at the inevitable times you disagree?
As we go into this year’s season change, focus on what you can do to cope with these crazy times:
Verify you are accurately registered to vote
Have a plan on how to do vote (your polling place may have changed)
Compare and contrast the facts and the opinions of others so you can learn more about the issues. Research multiple outlets to be sure your facts are accurate.
See and value the person behind the opinion and hope they accept your invitation to see you too.
Above all, remember that in due course, these things will pass, and you will have done your masterful best.