Struggling with paradox: Holiday musings

Struggling with paradox: Holiday musings

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

In this season of gratitude and celebration, I’m finding myself grateful and confused. Horrified and hopeful. I am heartbroken and numb from the recurring violence that is happening domestically and globally. At the same time, I’m inspired by the activists, artists, and regular folks—locally and around the world—who are committed to equity, healing, and a vision of a more just and humane future.

I am inspired by programs like Youth Speaks Seattle, where young people gather to “think critically, write honestly, and reclaim their creativity so that the next generation of revolutionaries can emerge.” I’m inspired by organizations like Clowns without Borders, performing for refugees in Greece and “offering laughter to relieve the suffering of all persons, especially children, who live in areas of crisis including refugee camps, conflict zones and other situations of adversity.” And I am inspired by all the regular folks holding “Black Lives Matter” signs in protests across US cities, and all those who are greeting refugees with flowers, snacks, and friendly smiles in train stations and airports around the world.

Like many people, I am struggling to reconcile the paradox of the human experience: unimaginable cruelty and courageous acts of faith. The fact that these seemingly contradictory things coexist without cancelling each other out is exhausting. From the comfort of my cozy existence, it’s tempting to check out. It’s tempting to give up. (And I totally get that it’s a privilege that I can even consider these options.)

Yet, if I believe in the power of courage and kindness, this is no time to be passive. If I believe that each of us has the opportunity to exert an influence in our own corner of the world, this is no time to ignore human suffering. I can’t just stand by and tolerate violence, injustice, and the incendiary rhetoric that stokes misunderstanding and hatred.

So, when the state of the world renders me speechless, challenges my faith in humanity, and makes me question the point of it all (including, in all honesty, my own work), what are the options?
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have answers. But here’s the trail of breadcrumbs I’ve been following, to shore myself up and restore my faith and commitment:

  • Connect with your community. Open up about your grief and find shared inspiration. Share snacks, laughter and tears. Above all else, I think that we restore our commitment to a better world—and find our willingness to act—through our connection with others.
  • Turn to the wisdom and faith of others. I’ve found myself leaning on ideas from the following teachers. Perhaps these thoughts will help you, too:
    • It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. ~ Audre Lorde
    • I think of a gesture of love as anything we do that helps others discover their humanity. Any act where we turn to one another. Open our hearts. Extend ourselves. Listen. Any time we’re patient. Curious. Quiet. Engaged… Conversation does this—it requires that we extend ourselves, that we open our minds and hearts a bit more, that we turn to someone, curious about how they live their life. ~ Margaret Wheatley
    • The planet does not need more “successful people.” The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane. ~ The Dalai Lama
  • Go inward, and reconnect with your own strength. However you get there, allow it to be a worthy pursuit. Allow yourself to experience the grief you’re feeling. Allow yourself to savor and be grateful for the everyday delights you get to experience—a frolicsome puppy, the beauty of a full moon, a delicious meal with friends. Whatever you’re feeling, look it in the eye, and resist the temptation to engage in numbing behaviors. (We all have ’em, and you probably know what yours are.) Reflect. Meditate. Be gentle with your heart, spirit, and body.
  • Take some form of action. Educate yourself. Share resources. Speak out. Ask questions. Give money. Interrupt hate-mongering. Take an interest in the people around you. Look for and delight in signs of our common humanity. Stretch your comfort zone. Above all, don’t be paralyzed by the magnitude of the problems we face. Do SOMETHING. Learn from it, and then do the next thing.

It’s not a magic formula, but it’s a start.

YOUR TURN: I’m genuinely open to suggestions. What helps you reconnect with your faith in humanity?

NEXT TIME: Leadership and lust (for books)

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