The Ways to Stay Strong even Society is Breaking includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feels, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life when Society is Breaking , from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging.
It’s not your imagination — American civil society is in deep trouble. Some days it feels as though it’s falling apart altogether.
- Right-wing parents are threatening school boards and teachers over honest discussions about racism in American history and COVID mask mandates.
- Domestic right-wing terror plots and incidents are on the rise, eclipsing the threat posed by foreign or Islamist violence.
- Eight in ten Republicans tell pollsters, “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”
- According to one recent survey, as many as 21 million Americans believe Donald Trump should be restored to power by force.
- Others openly ask when they “get to use the guns” to kill Democrats and liberals.
This is how a nation dies.
For years, I’ve signed copies of my books with the inscription, “Stay Strong.”
But what does that mean amid deliberate efforts to weaken the foundations of democracy itself?
There are no definitive answers, but nothing to be gained from standing still. And so here are a few ideas, however imperfect.
Staying strong for the fight ahead a 5-point plan
1- Find your people
If we’re going to remain strong in the face of all that confronts us, we can’t go it alone. Only by joining with others of like mind might we stand a chance. And to join with others, you have to find them.
Some already have their people thanks to strong community organizations, progressive faith communities, even groups of like-minded persons at work.
But many don’t have that. Millions of people who fear what’s happening in this country feel alone. COVID has only intensified that isolation.
We’re going to need to start building concentric circles of support.
Even if these begin as you and the person you bump into walking your dog every day, making that connection can help you feel less alone.
If you live in a neighborhood where you’ve noticed neighbors with Black Lives Matter signs, progressive bumper stickers, or campaign signs during the election, but you don’t know them, reach out and start a conversation.
These may have to be from a distance and maybe even virtual in pandemic times. But that’s OK.
Get their email addresses, connect over Zoom, and build up a neighborhood meeting space online where people can check in and support one another.
There is no reason every neighborhood couldn’t start a progressive alternative to Nextdoor — the often reactionary breeding ground where every post seems to be about the “scary homeless guy” or Black kid on a bike whom no one recognizes.
Or, if not an alternative to Nextdoor, make sure you’re getting on the actual one and pushing back against the fear-mongering there, using that space as a place to connect with like-minded folks about real solutions to community problems.
2 – Know the shoulders upon which you stand.
Often when we find ourselves up against the forces of injustice, we feel not only alone at the moment but alone in history. We forget that there have always been those who sought to impose their authoritarian will on others.
Likewise, there have always been those who resisted. And sometimes, those folks won substantial victories against the forces of reaction. We need to know these histories, to take inspiration from the giants upon whose shoulders we stand and in whose tradition we walk. Over the years, nothing has inspired me more than reading the biographies of civil rights activists and histories of social movements from abolitionists to the labor movement to the LGBTQ liberation struggle.
Most of the people who moved this country closer to justice were average folks just like us. They weren’t any smarter or more capable than we, or any less afraid. But they stepped into history and did what had to be done. It’s hard to imagine giving up when you learn their stories.
So learn them.
3 – Take breaks from social media and do literally *anything* else.
While you’re reading those movement biographies, dip out of the chaos of social media for a few days. You won’t miss anything important. Sure, you can check a trusted news source once a day to make sure there hasn’t been another insurrection. But otherwise, spend your free time doing anything else.
- Go for walks
- Listen to music
- Buy canvasses at an art supply store and paint something, even if you’ve never painted before
- Call up an old friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while and catch up
- Volunteer at an assisted living facility or nursing home, once COVID subsides, that is.
I’m serious about this last one. Spending time with seniors will put life in perspective. Not to mention, the folks in such facilities love having people to talk to. Be that person. It will make you feel better.
4 – Find and embrace some form of ritual
One of the things that sometimes hurts progressive folks is that, unlike conservatives who are likely to have “church families,” we are more likely to be secular. As such, we sometimes lack the ritual of communal time that a church service provides. Although secular myself, when I have attended church or synagogue services with friends, family, or to give a speech, I have found a centering calm from the ritual.
Whether it’s the liturgy of the Episcopal or Catholic Church or prayers said in Hebrew (which I never did learn to speak despite eight years at Temple), something about it provides serenity for the people inside. It has for me, even though I believe virtually none of what those in the pews do.
If there’s a progressive faith institution near you, go to a service even if you aren’t a member and don’t believe what the congregants believe theologically. They’ll be glad to have you. Or find other rituals to take part in, from exercise routines to neighborhood meetups to writing poetry to meditation to cooking with your kids — something, anything, to create a sense of consistency to life. When everything around us seems chaotic, the predictability provided by ritual can keep us from feeling overwhelmed.
5 – Accept Your Limitations — and Embrace Mortality
And now for the big one. We have to learn to accept our inadequacies and embrace the reality of death.
I know it sounds defeatist and even morbid, but this is critical.
When we fight for justice in an unjust world, impatience is the currency of the realm. We want to see justice, not just struggle for it. It isn’t an abstraction but a genuine desire for the world to be better, for pain to be lessened.
But impatience will only frustrate you and won’t help the movement.
Better to pace yourself and understand that justice is a long-term quest that may never be fully accomplished and almost certainly not in your lifetime.
Sometimes life is about harm reduction. And harm reduction matters. Life is beautiful, but it’s first and foremost tragic, precisely because that beauty will not last for any of us, and because we often squander it when here. James Baldwin explained this far better than I could, in The Fire Next Time, so I’ll just let him do it:
Life is tragic simply because the Earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.
It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death — ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
Did you get that last bit? Reread it, seriously.
One ought to rejoice in the fact of death?
To decide to earn one’s death by way of the life we lead?
I cry every time I read that line because it answers for me that question we all ask at some point about the meaning of life. Life is about justifying the space we took up, the resources we used, the oxygen we thieved from others who might have used it more productively.
We have to earn the right to leave this place by making use of the time we’ve been given in it. Win or lose.
That is what it means to be human.
And once we are clear on that and can let go of some of the ego that gets in our way, we’ll be healthier and happier and more useful in the struggle to build a better world.