The New Year is starting tomorrow and the 2020 Presidential Election is already in full swing. It seems the only thing the candidates can ever seem to agree on is that we’re all screwed!
For the next year, our newsfeeds, break rooms and bars will be a-buzz with everything from the usual semi-polite, semi-tense water cooler chatter to full-on rantings, un-friendings and car-keyings. It’s almost like we’re suddenly living in a different country.
We are! Welcome to Negativity Nation, folks. A world where friends (albeit temporarily) can turn to enemies, families can divide and the fate of the free world seemingly hangs in the balance. To be fair, it’s been increasingly like this for a few years; political polarization has pervaded our world like a virus, and it’s reached a fever pitch that would put the Protestant Reformation to shame. (140 words in and we’ve already ticked two of the ‘conversational taboo topics’ off the list, politics and religion. We’ll come to sex later…)
Can we blame the amplification in angst on social media and the internet? It doesn’t help that it seems to be impossible for political parties to find a candidate who behaves like a grown up. Every intimate detail of candidates’ lives will be exposed and splashed on the nightly news as further proof that they are The Messiah or The Anti-Christ (delete as applicable), to the extent that we collectively forget what the real actual issues are.
Regardless of the current favoured media of the time (evil internet or grubby newsprint), Election Year narratives have always been the same. “The sky is falling, everything is doomed and we’re all screwed unless you vote for me and not them”. However, despite the seeming ‘binarity’ of the options on offer, it’s never really as simple as choosing between ‘the Marxist revolutionary psychopath’ and ‘the Capitalist blood-sucking pig’. Truth is, there’s really not a lot of clear blue water ‘twixt the two.
Talking of which… for my sins, I’m now living in the United Kingdom so I’ll be getting bombarded from both sides of the pond as Britain gears up for its own highly-charged general ‘Brexit election’. And until recently, that would have meant me getting swept along in a double-sized tidal wave of hysteria…
“The lady IS for turning…”
Forgive me misquoting the equally sainted-and-cursed Mrs Thatcher, but I have to admit that over the 37 years that I’ve been around, my politics and outlooks have swung wildly. I remember as a 16 year old going door to door with zealotry and vigor during a summer internship with the Labour Party in London. I also remember standing with Republicans in Santa Monica trying unsuccessfully to convince West Coast liberals of the urgency to vote George W. Bush.
In a fever of alliteration, I ranted and raved at rallies and debated and disagreed with detractors. I exclusively hung out with people who confirmed and validated my views. Damn it, I even ran for political office at one point! And then, one day, I did something that was a bit unusual for me…
I sat down, took a deep breath and I meditated.
And I came to a profound realization. All this frustration and anger that had been building up inside me had nothing to do with what President (your-name-here) was doing to ruin our country. That was just a scapegoat excuse I used to deflect attention from something much deeper. What was getting me so angry was an inherent powerlessness I felt within myself.
I asked myself, “What if the truth doesn’t lie somewhere in the middle? What if it lies completely outside?” and I realised that if I was waiting for some politician to give me inner peace, love and abundance, I would be waiting a long time. And so I’ve spent every day since trying to separate myself from the noise and live somewhere far better. A world not beholden to the 24 hour news cycle.
“No man is an island.”
I disagree with the poet John Donne on this one. Certainly, this woman found it very empowering to come to occupy her own ‘island’ where she could remain a steadfast rocky outpost, despite all the good or bad chaos that occurs around her.
Economist Nicholas Nassim Taleb describes this state of mind as ‘Antifragility’… “a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks or failures.” In other words, hardship and stress make you stronger and more resilient. Or to be more poetic, “No pressure, no diamonds.”
It hasn’t been an easy or comfortable journey, but this decision to fortify myself with a Tao-ist resilience amidst both calm and chaotic waters has helped see me through a lot of life’s ups and downs over the past decade… enduring bad relationships, financial hardships and family deaths; launching my business; meeting my husband; and most profoundly giving birth to my son. And what a good thing that I’d started to hone this skill, because I quickly learnt that raising a child is one hell of a constant exercise in learning to ‘be zen’.
As a first-time mom, I’m fair game for every scare story the web has to offer. Seems like every other article that pops up on my newsfeeds is another terrible and heartbreaking story about infant peril, and it’s hard not to instantly react by trying to make every aspect of my son’s life as safe, secure and ‘SIDs-free’ as possible. But from my position of island resilience, I make a conscious effort not to cause stress and unhappiness – both for myself and him – by basing my entire parenting style on fearmongering and statistics. Instead, I remind myself that every year, millions of 17 year olds seems make it into adulthood just fine.
“Breaking news – sky continues to fall… pictures at eleven!”
There actually IS no ‘new news’. After all, when was the world notending? But still it’s impossible to find anything positive in the mainstream media, with wildfires, floods, volcanoes and looming impeachment just further proof of the impending apocalypse. Let’s face it, from cave paintings to clickbait, scare stories have always been big-sellers, so that’s not going to change anytime soon.
The truth is, since the dawn of time, mankind has been closing its eyes really tight and bracing for the end of days, only to later open them and realize “Wait a minute, we’re still here!” And so we continue to build cathedrals to thank God for not destroying our harvests, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief as we remember Cold War bomb drills and how we somehow survived the Y2K bug.
Enough, people! In fact, there are more than enough ‘glass-half-empty’ people out there making their negative voices heard. What the world really needs is positivity, open-mindedness and a little bit of Bacharachian love, sweet love. I believe that the smart voices who want to find the right answers are the ones who are willing to accept two universal truths:
“We’re either trying…”
Whether it’s through a government social program or the free market system, we’re all just trying to make the world a better place in which we can all thrive and be happy and healthy
“…or we’re dying.”
and if we’re not part of that collective motivation, we’re most likely living in our own private version of hell anyway.
Look for the good news and you’ll most probably find it
I recently read an article in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan on the abortion debate, and it struck me that this was the first article I think I’ve ever, ever read that gives equal empathy and understanding to both sides of the argument. It’s a subject that requires our conversation and learning, rather than our prejudice and mudslinging, and the fact that I found this article so refreshing speaks volumes about the kind of messaging with which we are ordinarily and regularly bombarded, day in, day out.
Fact is, the more I look, the more I find that there is generally more good to experience than bad; more acts of kindness and civility than hostility. Reading Imogen White’s interview in The Economist with Waad-al-Lateab who had a baby whilst living in Aleppo, she recalls, “I would always make sure I had music on my phone. When the planes started swooping above, I’d play something and place it next to my tummy, and I’d try to think my way out of what was happening. Other mothers in particular gave me so much support.”
Maybe the British ‘Whigs’ had it right back in the17th and 18thcentury with their assertion that ‘history follows a path of inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and prosperity’. Indeed, as Harold Macmillan famously asserted in 1957, “Most of our people have never had it so good”. And according to Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna, authors of ‘Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance’ (their capitalization, not mine!) apparently we really areliving in the best time in history...
Life expectancy has risen faster in the past 50 years than in the previous millennium; for the first time in history, poverty is declining amid rapid population growth; when Khrushchev’s Berlin Wall finally fell in 1991, 40% of humanity lived in extreme poverty, but in the era of Trump’s Mexican Wall, that’s down to 12%; and thanks to China and India’s university programs, the number of people alive now with an advanced degree exceeds the total number of degrees ever awarded prior to 1980.
Memorize those stats. You never know when the dinner party conversation may lull…
Visualize it to realize it.
Positive Mental Attitude is right back in vogue, not as a glib platitude but as a scientifically-proven phenomenon. Scientists are increasingly starting to take very seriously the mind-body connection and the impact that our positive (and negative) mindsets have on our lives.
Neuroscientist and author Tara Swart reports, "Brain scans have shown how merely imagining yourself kicking a ball into the net can create and strengthen neural pathways, and even the muscles necessary to perform the action for real." That’s a powerful concept – it’s a bit like by-passing the need for physical practice and rehearsal by pre-empting muscle memory.
By being positive, we attract everything we need to thrive. Positive thinking made the 4 minute mile achievable. It turned a germ of an idea about a boy-wizard into a multi-billion dollar franchise. It also has the oft-proven power to turn the tide on terminal stage 4 cancer. Yeah, can you believe that?
Harvard University and Tufts University have launched a study to analyze the work of New York Times bestselling author Kelly Turner PhD whose Radical Remission Foundation has undertaken over a thousand studies of radical cancer remissions (remissions withoutthe intervention of modern medicine). The problem was that these were simply medical reports, so patients, families and clinicians were variously asked the question “Why do youthink the healing happened?”. Turner identified 9 common factors in all the responses, including ‘following intuition’, ‘releasing suppressed emotions’, ‘increasing positive emotions’, ‘deepening spiritual connection’ and ‘having a strong reason for living’.
Positive thinking is an area in which I’ve trained myself extensively over the last decade. I even went to a ten day retreat in India to master the skill… no talking, no writing, no reading… just meditation, intense discomfort and the bats**t crazy chatterings of my own mind.
It works in real life, I kid you not.
Nowadays, I’m a positive thinking superhero when it comes to ‘mindfulness parking’… say I’m late for a meeting and there are no parking spaces, I don’t panic. Instead, I intone “The Goddess Asphalta will get me a spot!” and over the next couple of passes, a space will open up for me. There is a serious point to this … whereas a few years ago I’d have let the situation wind me up and ruin my day, by taking control of my own positivity, the same space that, ok, may have become free anyway still happens… the difference is, in the meantime I’ve remained calm and focused on the rest of the day and all the far more important stuff that I have to deal with.
And when, on occasion, my current emotional state or circumstances make it impossible to be positive, I find my solace in ‘stoicism’, the ancient philosophy espoused by Greek scholar Marcus Aurelius and made even more popular by bestselling author Ryan Holiday. In a nutshell, the concept is basically to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The world ends, we all die, so what? I accept that and I can deal with it. Now let me start enjoying my life.
I know, it’s easier said than done. In fact, as I write this piece, I have to remind myself to look up from my computer at the trees outside my window with what’s left of the British winter sun shining on them as they glisten in the constant rain. Inside, my son is standing and desperately trying to take his first step. And I remember what matters… that life is good.
Happier New Year, one and all!
So as 2019 comes to a close, the election roller coaster gets ready to start and the shadow of impeachment hovers ever closer into view, instead of getting instantly swept up in the drama and hysteria of it all, let’s all make a New Year resolution. That every day, we’ll find time to close our eyes for a minute and meditate on this statement…“I am master of my own destiny and I am eternally grateful that things always seem to work themselves out regardless of the s**tstorm going on around me”
Feel it, believe it, make it your reality. That way, even if it is the end of the world as we know it, you’ll still feel fine!