I wrote this for myself to handle post-election anxiety—and it ended up being a guide to staying sane when the “big stuff” happens.
(For those who are reading this after the end of the world, Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States. Please build a time machine and come back to warn us.)
I thought I’d share my personal prescription for sanity at the moment.
Of course I hope this list can be useful to others, but if it takes a preachy tone it’s because I’m preaching to myself.
Stay curious and carry on.
- Stay curious, investigate possible scenarios, choose your response based on evidence.
- Emotions are a guide to self-knowledge: what’s important to you, why, when. But emotions aren’t evidence, nor are they universal truths.
- Have a plan for the worst case, but entertain more likely scenarios too.
- Train your mind and body. Be ready to act effectively and decisively as needed.
- Know what you want. Define what it means to get there—and STOP when you do. Incessant action is not productivity.
- Regularly break bread with friends, neighbors and family who want the same basic things, but have different ideas about how to get there.
- Keep a very close eye on those who refuse to break bread, but be very sure that you’ve done everything you can to make it safe for them to do so.
- Remember this: some people are so wounded they can’t even sit at the table.
- Approach “opponents” to your ideas as potential resources. Remember: our project is large, and none of us—no matter how much we paid for our education—can see the whole picture.
- Assume that your opponents are not completely insane. Remember that most of us are desperate and afraid—but unwilling (or unable) to feel it and deal with it.
- Feel it. Deal with it.
- Seek to understand and speak to the general truth in your opponent’s take on an issue. If you can’t do that, try to understand that, given their life experience and background, their view makes sense.
- If you want other people to be open to revising their ideas and approaches, get really, really, really good at doing it yourself.
- Ask: what would a solution look like that solved both your and your opponents basic concerns? Make damn sure you’ve figured that out before confronting the BIGGER questions like, “What is a human life worth?” “Why do humans kill each other?” “What is love?” “Does God exist?”
- Take a long-term view: democracy and the larger project of human cultural evolution take time. Don’t let your anxiety about things not being exactly the way you want them right this moment get in the way of effective action and clear thinking.
- Ask: what kind of a world would this be if only the group that agreed with you lived in it? Would it be the one you wanted? What would it mean for your group?
- Breathe. (Seriously, it works.)
- The internet is not reality, and the things stressed and overworked people fire off in the early hours of the morning on Facebook are not necessarily representative of their highest aspirations.
- Find ways to connect and discuss ideas offline, even if it’s scary.