People who know me would likely describe me as a “no drama” person. Relatively cool-headed, thoughtful, inclined to turn the dial down on conflict and confrontation and find “some other way.” In a tug-of-war, I sometimes just drop my end of the rope and wait to see what happens.
But Roger Cohen got to me yesterday. I did manage to sleep on it overnight, but I couldn’t get away from it. He wrote that his fifth grandchild had just been born on February 1, and he didn’t know what kind of world these children would find when they come of age.
Our twelfth grandchild was born on February 2, and I have tears in my eyes when I think of the world that may be awaiting these dozen precious beings.
It could be a beautiful world – one where the natural environment is moving in a healthful direction, blossoming with possibility. One where nations have abjured war, and where their representatives share their desires and interests with an intent to find a win-win instead of zero-sum outcomes. One where people of diverse backgrounds gather in creative endeavors to brighten all our lives, where those who have more resources find helpful ways to share with and encourage those who have less.
But our world now is agitated by emotions that are unhelpful – fear, anxiety, and anger, energized by a desire to blame others. When a country like the United States, a beacon of light for so many, starts to nurture that hateful, constricted morphic field of emotion, the effects are far more damaging than they might be from other places. When they come from the elected leader of this country, and are supported by many in a major party – not just an extremist group – the effect is like standing behind a jet plane as it takes off.
When I let it in, I feel as though I can barely stand on my feet. That’s how I felt after reading Cohen’s op-ed.
It’s true: this administration is slowly “getting people to shrug.” After so much hot air, so much emotional coercion, I’ve developed an avoidance reaction, turning my shoulder to the onslaught, a “shrug” that combines disdain, self-protection, and helplessness. It isn’t a shrug of not-caring, or it-doesn’t-matter. I know it matters and I care – but how can I stand up to it? I don’t see a way.
It does not escape me that there is resonance with some aspects of the #MeToo movement. As Uma Thurman said, one can become more compliant or less compliant. Partly it depends on how much pain one can stand, whether one can persuade oneself to redefine cruelty as misguided attachment, and whether to decide to fight or to spend one’s limited energy on other things that seem much more beneficial and creative.
Here too: How much pain are we experiencing? Some people more than others – some not at all right now. How much do we empathize? How bad does it have to get?
Are we persuading ourselves that cruelty, contempt, and grandiosity are merely misguided patriotism, pride, and insecurity?
If we are we choosing to invest time in our own private, creative and beneficial endeavors in the belief that our energy is best spent that way, we had better investigate our beliefs.
If we hesitate because we “just don’t have the energy for it,” chalk that up to false belief. When we truly commit to the good, the true, the beautiful, the transcendent, the cosmos opens for us an unbelievable reservoir of energy.
The Greatest Generation had to face some choice like that in their Darkest Hour. I don’t know if we’re there, but we – I – should face reality instead of turning away with a shrug.
I’m looking at my grandchildren’s pictures. I wonder if my dad, when he flew thirty missions over Germany, was thinking of his adored nieces and nephews, and his own yet-unborn children – one of which was me.