The day after the Inauguration, I had a long conversation with someone who was fighting despair. He was obviously a smart guy, educated, well-spoken, reasonable. He was trying to make sense of what was happening on the national political stage and come up with a plan to fix it, and he was failing. His failure, to which I imagine he is at least somewhat unaccustomed, was causing him a lot of distress.
I told him, “This is an unprecedented and chaotic time, and there isn’t a simple easy fix. No one knows what is this is going to lead to in the future.”
I want you to pause and let that sink in: No one knows what is going to happen.
Seriously. I don’t care how smart any one individual is. They do not know what is going to happen. Most of them do not even have all the facts. Unless X-men mutant powers have suddenly manifested around the globe, nobody knows what the future will bring. They can guess. They can analyze. They can plan. They can string together a line of facts with speculation. But they cannot know.
Why does this matter?
Fear has two sides. On the one hand, it can be an effective weapon. It can galvanize us into action, overcoming the impulses of laziness, denial, and apathy. It can help us develop courage and integrity. It can act as a loud warning siren that something has gone wrong in the world around us.
But if left unchecked, fear can spiral out of control. It can deepen into despair and defeatist thinking. It can overwhelm and paralyze. It can lead a person into believing there is nothing they can do.
And spending too much time dwelling on and being terrified by an unknown future can lead to this spiral of despair all too easily.
How do we combat this? By aggressive self care, by acknowledging that we do not know what the future will bring, and by empowering ourselves by focusing on concrete actions we can take.
But Amy, I hear someone say, what good are my actions? They won’t make any difference.
And to that person I say, I understand how you feel. We are, each of us, tiny specks of sand being blown by the winds of history in the making. It is an uncomfortable feeling.
But you are wrong. Over and over again in this blog, I have written about the importance of the individual’s choices, about how we impact the world around us, about how living a mindful and examined life matters. And that has never been more true than at this moment.
What you believe matters. How you choose to conduct yourself matters. Acting with integrity matters. Reaching out and supporting your friends, your communities, your families, that all matters. Staying engaged and informed matters. Donating matters. Becoming engaged in the political process matters. Organizing matters. Protesting matters. What you create as an artist matters.
You do not have to conduct a very deep dive into history to find concrete examples of how these things have impact: various independence movements; women’s suffrage; the Civil Rights Movement; the LGBTQ rights movement; the Tea Party. And that’s just off the top of my head. These sorts of things are usually messy and often deeply imperfect, because we as individuals make mistakes and are deeply imperfect. But over time they can change the status quo. Our actions do matter.
And if the fear is strong in you right now, know you don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it alone. That is why organizing is so important, because when it works well, you become more than the sum of your parts. You support each other. You don’t have to be an expert on every single issue. You can take breaks. You can focus on your strengths and not beat yourself up so hard over your weaknesses. You can raise up your voices together, and a million voices are a hell of a lot louder than one single voice.
As Dylan Thomas so famously wrote:
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Fight against despair because it will lie to you. It will tell you your integrity and your principles no longer matter. And that is simply not true.
Who you are will always matter.