These past few months have been tumultuous for our nation. If I could transport myself back to the first day of this year and explain to my friends what the state of the world would be six months later, they never would believe me. The COVID-19 pandemic, protests, riots, outrage everywhere. Unfortunately, here we are, for now.
As I caught up with a community leadership group over Zoom last night, I talked about my son finishing high school but losing the opportunity to attend prom, enjoy the last semester of his senior year or visit all of the colleges that accepted him. During his transition, I was stoic and matter-of-fact with him, but while recounting his experience (or lack thereof), I found myself choking up. I had not taken the time to pause and acknowledge that things have played out differently than anticipated.
During this period, I’ve intentionally focused on being grateful for the positives: more time with our children (the second-year college student moved home in March), more family dinners, a new job at a startup that has made the time fly by. While this process of being grateful has helped me manage my anxiety about the rapid changes, it has also pushed back my processing of the dramatic changes in our lives.
Those dramatic changes have been amplified by social media. The result: The one thing we seem to have in common is outrage. If you’re outraged, you’re not alone. It feels as if the entire nation is outraged about something or someone.
Last fall, before this never-ending year began, I published my book, “Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening.” The message is needed even more today, in a world in which we have moved from ranting to screaming.
What we seem to miss is that it’s OK to be broken, to be wounded, to be hurt, to need healing. It’s that knowledge and understanding that we need to move on from the brokenness into acceptance, healing and growth. Failure, brokenness and tragedy are parts of life. But we have to pick ourselves up, gather up our faith and see hope in the world that could be. This hope allows us to get up, work hard every day and make progress. It’s OK for us to be unsettled. We just need to be settled about being unsettled.
As Kate Julian wrote for The Atlantic magazine in an April 17 article titled “What Happened to the American Childhood”: “Anxiety itself is not something to be warded off. It is a universal and necessary response to stress and uncertainty ... anxiety is uncomfortable but, as with most discomfort, we can learn to tolerate it.”
Well, we are having a master class in experiencing anxiety, but I am not sure we have learned en masse how to tolerate it. The challenge is that outrage expands as it is expended; the very act of being outraged leads to more outrage. This is why we are caught in a never-ending outrage machine.
When the outrage gets out of hand, violence can ensue.
While the media continually pits one side against the other, reality is more complex. Police can be both good in general and needed, and individual members of police forces around the nation can abuse their power. There is racism, but not everything is racist. It’s the nuanced views that are not easily accepted or even explained. The conflict is not only external, with other groups, but also internal, within ourselves. Our real challenge is not how to calm the other person but how to calm ourselves.
How do you handle this conflict when you feel it inside yourself or with another person? Is your default reaction that of outrage at someone else? Does this outrage leave you feeling better about yourself as a person? If so, maybe you want to take pause and reconsider the outrage. What exactly are you outraged about, and with whom?
This unsettled time has deepened my faith and helped me to seek better understanding of God’s will and listen to his voice. What I have discerned, so far, is that it’s one thing to step back and allow God to work through you; it’s another thing to step back, let God work on you and work on others to bring about the changes that are needed. It’s much harder but more important in the long run.