Looking out over the homeless encampments in his city, Leo Tolstoy exclaimed, “What then must we do?” His words keep echoing in my mind these turbulent days. Homelessness is only one of many tragic realities playing out in our nation and our world.
It feels heavy wherever I turn, and yet, in pure self-defense, I have kept a diary of the wisdom of those around me, as well as the wise voices in my own head.
Aligned with “What then must we do?” is its opposite, “What is it wise Not to do?”
In the agony of looking for answers, some people are given to take on more than they can or should, and I don’t mean obvious choices like recycling, calling your local and national representatives, donating to good causes, or marching in rallies. I’m speaking of the tendency to engage in “us” versus “them” thinking to the point of demonizing the “other.”
This sometimes inserts itself into family life. As Thanksgiving approaches, I know some people who are choosing not to attend Thanksgiving dinner with those with whom they disagree. Others are rehearsing speeches to confront family members who they judge as “blind” or “stupid”.
If we seek choices that contribute to healing the split between ourselves and others, angry confrontations don’t seem a wise path. It is also very important to remember to address the splits within ourselves. This is ongoing work, throughout our life cycle. Poet May Sarton wrote of the courage, “to see the dark with open eyes.” Our challenging times call on us to see the dark within ourselves, tend it, know it, ask what it is wanting to teach us.
I propose that in 2019 and beyond, activism is bi-directional: activism in the world following the integrity of your own path, and activism within your own psyche, facing your own limitations, your strengths, having the courage to examine parts of yourself you would rather keep in the dark.
Listen to your dreams, and to the “off stage” voice of your waking mind. I call this my “off stage voice” because I never see who’s talking. It is a whisper, or a shout from my unconscious, and never fails to get my attention. Honoring these communications from your psyche is an invaluable tool in making ethical choices.
And for my money, as you engage in the first two forms of activism, it will lead you to spend more time nurturing and creating relationships, friendships, and family connections.
Love, joy, humor, adventure—hiking in nature or going to the opera, serve to counterbalance the stream of uncertainty, and divisiveness we are pummeled with. So is limiting your consumption of mass media, social media, and long texts from friends on the state of our political world.
And now as never before, it is mandatory to follow your passions, create what you love.
During the war in Bosnia, Leonard Bernstein wrote, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more passionately, more intensely, more devotedly than ever.”
Playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, wrote, “(in violent times) we should engage in activities that are of interest to us, our friends, our families. These need not be expressly political. An example is the brewing of very good beer.”
Play your music. Make your art. Feel the fire of your own patriotism coming to life. Get out in the streets, call your representative, work political campaigns, run for office —if you are called to. And as you cook your pies for Thanksgiving dinner, love your enemy: that pill of an Auntie across the dinner table whose values are opposite of yours. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with her, but it does mean you can endeavor to see the complexity of her humanity, her shadow, her warmth, her light, as you can see your own.