Though we have always held to some regional differences in the USA, and at the risk of sounding like one of those stick-in-the-mud old-ladies, it seems to me that we once behaved more respectfully, at least within our communities. Of course, last minute holiday shoppers got pushy and neighbors always tried to outdo one another (or at least keep up), and our foundation, built upon racism and social Darwinism, has always needed replacement, but it appears the hint of civility that kept us moving forward with hope evaporated somewhere along the line. Welcome to venting season, what I think the world needs, and what’s inspiring.
It feels as if the stress of going after one another and living in social-media hideaways during the tainted election season of 2016 accentuated a downhill slide. The upheaval within the taken-for-granted internal-goings-on of a nation turned us toward what some point out as strengthening the 1%/oligarchs while others insist average-folks now fare better (even if we sacrificed in areas like environment, health, and income)[i]. All this, followed by the pandemic and wrapped up by the contentious election of 2020, drained us. Here’s hoping we get our act together, have the courage to examine our feelings, and make time to work through them in order to find peace in government, in business, and in our communities. Now is the time for some grassroots organizing of a little widespread self-care so we can initiate healing.
Once my great aunt Jeannie and my dad had a falling-out. She talked, more than once, over the announcer during a world-series game. Dad asked her, a couple of times, to take the chatter elsewhere. Finally, he shouted, stood, and threw curses her direction. The woman who had gotten my dad through the loss of his mother vowed to never speak to him again. He threatened to call the police or shoot her for trespassing if she put one foot on his property. They both overstepped their bounds and trampled feelings. The insults lasted a few minutes. The feud lasted a few months, until an intervention by a gaggle of great aunties broke the chill between them. Dad grudgingly apologized and Jeannie promised to take any conversations to another room during televised sporting events. Things did not go back to the way they had been, though. The two spoke but became more guarded and less spontaneous. The harsh words they exchanged remained a sheer barrier, and that lesson hit home for me. For better or worse, relationships change, adapt, move forward. They don’t go backward. Even the relationship with self. Make time for that.
Industries are hurting. People are hurting. Our medical system is stretched thin. Tourism, a business that supports workers around the world, limps along these days, scanning the horizon for signs of fuller flights. My quarterly road trips to a nearby state to visit my son who has some physical and mental challenges flew off the table. In my many previous travels, via air and ground, I noticed most of us manage to behave like quiet and respectful tourists while visiting other communities and countries, though among the quiet, there seem to congregate pairs (and, face it, families) shepherded by big-mouthed ignoramuses who will continue to give us happy travelers a bad name. Like it or not, they are part of us, the glaring exceptions among the rule followers. The bright sides, though? We have learned to live with one another – the respectful and the obnoxious – on tour buses and in tourist traps, so we can figure out how to do that in other contexts. And while tourism-based businesses surely suffer from the loss of income, I know many people who celebrate having their glorious scenery relatively tourist-free. What a great opportunity for community care: to enjoy nearby attractions and support local merchants and take some comfort in knowing we’re all in this together.
Religion, here, seemed to play a sad role in this move away from graciousness and kindness. Take the self-proclaimed “religious” groups that insist (with the apparent blessing of the all-new Supreme Court) they have a right to spread the ‘Rona plague in order to host joyous celebrations of their interpretation of the guidance of a Rabbi/Carpenter who stated all the rules boiled down to loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself. A reasonable person might consider spreading a potentially deadly virus with abandon as a contradiction to those guidelines, but there’s a Biblical passage about gathering in God’s name and somehow that – and, I suspect, a loss of income tied to empty seats – seems enough to demand the “right” to host close indoor gatherings in spite of the known health consequences. Tangling capitalism and church complicates theology, particularly among people who feel downtrodden. Yet, there are lessons to be learned; find a spiritual discipline that supports you, helps you grow, and expands your mind and circle of friends.
Growing up in a Catholic household, mom insisted on weekly trips to “Confession” where we admitted our sins and asked forgiveness, then did penance. The significance of taking time to try to make things right – usually by a brief period of prayer and contemplation, but sometimes in more physical ways — didn’t descend upon me until a new evangelical church congregation became my temporary faith home. Those evangelicals, it turned out, were not as different from the Catholics as they believed, including enthusiasm when discussing persecution of Christians (though others sometimes feel the Christians more guilty of persecution). However, one preacher felt neither he nor his flock had a need to seek forgiveness or make amends. He explained, “I’m washed in the blood of Christ, so no matter what I do I’m forgiven.” I get it, but I believe we should expect more of ourselves. Though I remain grateful to both faith groups for what I learned through them, I appreciate the evangelicals for their music and the Catholics for their idea of redemption. For me, seeking or offering forgiveness[ii], taking time to consider errors, and making corrections turned out to serve as excellent acts of self-care.
According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of the world population identify as something other than Christian, with most Christians living in Africa (631 million), 601 million in Latin America, 571 million in Europe, and 205 million in the US. About 70% of us living in the US claim some affiliation with Christianity (though far fewer profess to be church members and less of those regularly attend church services). Other faith categories are Islam, no religious affiliation, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a long list of others. The fasted growing group appears to be no-religious-affiliation.
Yet the notion has arisen more than once during my lifetime that the USA springs from the loins of God and is, somehow, therefore a Christian nation. As a child I noticed, even though I entered the world years post-WWII, folks like my parents realized that war exacted a heavy toll. Growing up, though, it wasn’t military might that inspired my grandparents, my parents, or my generation. For my dad, the American way, headquartered in Detroit, remained my dad’s hope for the USA. He loved to talk about Motor City. American exceptionalism during my parents’ prime revolved around those hard-hat factory workers churning out internal-combustion engines in vehicles that were engineered like works of art. That working-class ideal lacked the polish of later years when the athlete or the ruthless Wall Street junk-bond millionaire, driving sleek Euro imports, sped into our heroic imagination. How we moved from respecting hard work to idolizing those who appeared uber-wealthy says a lot about our shift in priorities. The value of knowing our 3 to 5 priority areas becomes evident when life requires hard decisions and helps when day-to-day priorities conflict. Give time to those. There’s freedom in both recognizing those and being open to shift values over time. Make a list. Note yours. Career. Education. Health. Family. Connection. Story-telling. Learning. Travel. Exploration. Friends.
When I attended elementary school, during a period after the Dark Ages and around the time the Beatles invaded, we celebrated that we welcomed all people from all countries and all religious faiths. We understood our forefathers whose ancestors fled religious tyranny refused to name a national religion. We learned those early patriots fought for freedom for all-religions (including no-religious-affiliation) and freedom from the oppressive taxation system of the crown. From 1776 until around 1950, during the McCarthy Era, “In God we trust” (an anti-communist catch phrase) does not appear on money, and the Pledge of Allegiance, with it’s anti-immigrant roots in the 1890s, didn’t include the words “under God” until 1954.[iii] Still, we have been known, in our zeal and with open hearts, to accept notions like ‘Christian nation’ and legislation like the ‘Patriot Act,’ even when they only represent some of us or make us less free. We may need to question things more and reserve unbridled support for people and pets we know personally.
As a nation and a world community of human beings, I have high hopes we find our higher selves. I still believe the journey will require a grassroots movement and bodacious self-care skills, so here’s a quick tip.
This helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed and start catastrophizing (I’m fabulous at that but rarely go there since I began practicing this!) or lost in a negative thought.
Briefly become aware of the negative thought or flight into catastrophe. Just notice where your mind is headed. Question the situation that exists only in your mind and do it as often as necessary (this may take some repetition).
If Catastrophizing: Say to yourself, either aloud or in your head, [Your-Name], this is not real. OR [Your-Name], this is not happening. (Repeat, if needed.) Remind yourself: Obsessing about it now will not make it easier if this ever happens.[iv]
If you have identified Negative thoughts that haunt you: Challenge your thinking. Ask yourself: [Your-Name], is this thought helping or hurting? If the thought is hurting, make a decision to question and reframe the thought. For example, restate thoughts away from shame-inducing while acknowledging guilt: “I’m so stupid” becomes “Touching that hot pan was a stupid thing to do.”
Using your name may feel awkward. It did for me, at first. I’d read a study that showed this technique really helps most people, so I tried. For me, it’s two thumbs up!
May your expectations of yourself be kind. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them.
May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.
Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[v] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[vi] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.
Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020
[i] According to world-recognized economist Mariana Mazzucato, from 1975 to 2016 the US GDP tripled when adjusted for inflation, from $5.49 trillion to $17.29 trillion. During that period, productivity increased by 60%. During the same period real hourly wages have stagnated or fallen, pointing to 4 decades of economic gains that all went to a tiny elite uber-wealthy group. This uneven growth accelerated the last few years, leaving a handful (~60 people) holding the equivalent wealth of 3.5 billion world citizens.
[ii] To be clear, forgiveness can be offered from afar and I believe nobody has a responsibility to forgive another or to request forgiveness in person, in writing, or by any particular means.
[iii] See this article for more info: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/11/03/the-ugly-history-of-the-pledge-of-allegiance-and-why-it-matters/
[iv] If you live near a tsunami zone, in a flood-prone area, live in an area where tornados or earthquakes are possible, packing a bag and creating a safety plan makes good sense, is excellent self-care, and is not obsessive (even if your happy-go-lucky friends say it is).
[v] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .
[vi] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. And if you check references, kudos and thanks. May you prosper beyond your wildest imagination.