A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, August 12, 2017

It's Possible

Recently I re-read this classic devotional by Bruce Hafen about dealing with ambiguity, and this quote stood out:

Experiences...can produce confusion and uncertainty—in a word, ambiguity—and one may yearn with nostalgia for simpler, easier times when things seemed not only more clear but more under our control. Such experiences may bring about the beginnings of skepticism, of criticism, of unwillingness to respond to authority or to invitations to reach for ideals that now truly seem beyond one’s grasp. Not everybody will encounter what I have been describing, and I do not mean to suggest that everyone must encounter such experiences. 

Ambiguity has the potential to make our lives a lot harder. It forces us to acknowledge the limits of our certainty. It destroys the carefully crafted fortress of our own prejudices and preconceptions. I think ambiguity also gives us sympathy for those who disagree with us. It also gives us the ability to criticize those causes and people close to our heart.

Lately I've been thinking about how a lot of what I read or watch is devoid of ambiguity. People seem pretty certain they are right, and those who disagree with them are wrong (and in some cases, sub-human). A dose of ambiguity can help us sense what is possible. For example:

It's possible to acknowledge that not all Trump voters are motivated by racial animus, yet still be concerned about the racial subtext of some political speech by and surrounding Trump.

It's possible to look at the 2016 campaign and see many blatant examples of sexism's double standard, yet acknowledge that Hillary had flaws as a candidate and politician.

It's possible to be annoyed by James Comey's handling of the Clinton emails, yet also be appalled that he was fired for investigating the Trump team's ties to Russia.

It's possible to be upset by Trump's rhetoric on the press, yet acknowledge that there are errors and biases present in all media (indeed, in all endeavors created by humans).

It's possible to be a big fan of President Obama, yet see that he did not do the best job of reaching out and compromising with Republicans.

It's possible to see the flaws in Obamacare and the process that created it, yet wholeheartedly condemn the mockery that seeks to replace it by cutting funds for healthcare of the poor while giving the rich a huge tax cut (all the while not holding a single public hearing).

It's possible to be staunchly pro-choice, yet acknowledge that other Democrats have valid reasons for being pro-life.

It's possible to see the importance of national government involvement in education and social policy, yet accept that regional needs may require involvement at the state and local level.

It's possible to recognize the need for a strong national defense, but think that we spend far too much money on weapons of war.

It's possible to disagree strongly with someone, yet note that their life experiences and outlook are different than yours, and they come by their opinions honestly and without intent to do harm.

What other ambiguities do you see in today's world? We should talk about this more - I feel like if we did, we would have more space for common ground. With this acknowledgement of ambiguity can come space for criticism and growth.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Despairing, Despondent, and Distraught

Okay, I just posted about hope, so naturally, this post is about despair. A few years ago, after a bad breakup, a friend of mine expressed, through tears, that she just didn't have any hope - no hope that the future would be something she wanted. Her pain was real and excruciating. At the time, I didn't know what to do, other than hug her and tell her she was amazing (spoiler: she was and is one of the kindest and loveliest people I've ever met, and luckily, she was married a year or two after this conversation to the love of her life).

While I do have a default Pollyanna optimism setting, I also struggle with bouts of the blues* - times where I just feel like I ain't no good. Like life doesn't hold the promise that I thought it did. I think it's okay to feel that, and sit with that feeling for a while, trying to understand it. Happiness is a long term proposition to me, and that means it's okay (and normal!) to not be happy sometimes.

I've been an adult long enough now to know that I'm not very confident about myself and my abilities. I don't really have a lot of faith in my ability to do things right, or change things about myself that I don't like. Please don't misunderstand that as a lack of ego - I can be as selfish and blind to my faults as the next person, but with the added bonus of also dealing myself short on my (few) good qualities. Couple that with natural introversion, and it's very easy for me to get in a spiral of "people don't want to hang out with me, so I'm just going to stay home."

For me, this despair or despondency is something I actively have to fight against to get it to go away. It's important for me in those times to remember the people and things and food and jokes that bring light to my life, and make life so, so good. That's why I've really liked the song below by Amos Lee, ever since I heard it a week ago. There are storms, and times where I feel defeated, but there is also a light - sometimes it's in the distance and hard to see, but it's there. I have to hold on, keep moving, and fight through the waves.

"One Lonely Light," Amos Lee

*I'm distinguishing here between the blues and Depression. It's one thing to have times where you feel despair, but if it becomes a debilitating cloud of ever-present despondency, that is Depression, and I firmly believe in seeking professional help in such times. I've struggled with depression too, but that's for another post.

Hope and Politics

Sigh. I really don't want to begin every blog post for the next three and a half years bemoaning the current state of politics, but right now it seems like that is a real possibility. My consolation (if you can call it that) is that right now President Trump's ineptitude is trumping his malevolence (see what I did there?). He hasn't really been able to accomplish a whole lot, but that doesn't mean that he won't accomplish some bad things in the next few years. He certainly wants to limit immigration, give tax cuts to the rich, and capitulate to Russia, but...maybe he won't be able to figure out how.

That's not to say there aren't bad things happening: re-igniting the war on drugs (which hasn't worked), rolling back environmental protections that ensure our air & water are clean, continuing efforts to roll back health care progress, etc. All of that is taking place in an environment of toxic partisanship that seems to suck the oxygen out of any healthy debate based on facts.

So it seems strange to be composing a blog post about Hope in light of the fact that our politics are pretty terrible right now. But I see signs that our system is fighting back against the worst excesses of Trumpism.* Murkowski, Collins, and McCain were able to stop a truly heinous health care bill, hopefully giving us an opportunity to reflect, consider, and fix the very real problems with Obamacare. Congress passed (and the President reluctantly signed) sanctions on Russia that send a signal we won't roll over when our democracy is attacked. The courts are a mixed bag, but they did strike down the first Muslim ban, and I'm hopeful the Supreme Court will ultimately strike down the second, more limited ban. Even the Defense Department has pushed back against the President's ban on transgender service members. Robert Mueller seems to be conducting a thorough investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Journalists are working hard to ferret out truth, despite an administration determined to fame flames of falsehood.

It's probably just some default setting of my personality, but I feel like there are reasons for hope. Even if it's just hope that Trump's ignorance and ineptitude will continue to triumph over bad intentions, it's still hope. There are still good people in both parties, and currently only about a third of Americans approve of Trump's job performance, giving me hope that people are starting to see through the sham of Donald Trump. A weak and ineffective President can still do damage, but I'm hoping that the continued and sustained pressure of Americans will constrain the damage as much as possible.

The history of America is filled with terrible things happening, but I'm hopeful that it's an arc that bends towards justice and goodness, as long as WE bend it that way. HOPEfully, progress is still possible. I recently saw the Groundhog Day musical, and I liked one of the choruses, which is about how the sun will eventually come up, and spring will arrive:

* I refuse to conflate Trumpism with the Republican party. I may disagree with conservatives, but some principled conservatives spoke out and are speaking out about Trumpism. See Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol, and so many others. I strongly disagree with conservatives on many points, but it's sad that the Republican party has been taken over by spineless hacks of Trumpism. I hope their reign may be brief, and the right regains its sanity.