I’ll admit it. There are still people who I look at to this day and have a flashback to the 2016 election cycle and have to talk myself through not thinking of them as an idiot. Maybe you can relate: the choice seemed quite clear to me and I was repeatedly flummoxed by my friends and family not being able to see it. And here we are and it’s thanks to these idiots. Alright, they’re not idiots, but I have to talk myself through it.
I’ve shared in these pages how I cautiously approached this election, because the tender in my column’s name is no joke. I’m a fighter, don’t get me wrong, but my heart usually wins in the postmortem: Was that worth it? I truly am not sure. I tried last time around to engage and share and discuss. I worked harder to promote my candidate than ever before; I believed strongly. My behavior wasn’t always the best, I remember one inglorious exchange that ended with me telling the person to go fuck themselves. I’m not sure if they actually took my advice because they don’t talk to me anymore. As my marketing and public relations colleagues would say: It wasn’t a good look.
Here are some things that I think have helped me to maintain some sanity. I think of myself as a decent teacher and leader, but I know I’m flawed. In fact, fixating on my flaws is among my flaws. Drink that in, friend. That is to say, I share these ideas with the caveat that I acknowledge I am a work in progress and these things are what work for me right now.
Choose your battles. Thomas Paine once said, “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Let’s say, by way of example, there’s a vain, vile, sexist, homophobic, dictatorial charlatan in the White House. Before you start trying to reason with that guy who still loves him, ask yourself if the person is interested in discussing or just pontificating. Physical warning signs will include bulging eyes, increase volume, forgetting to breathe while delivering a rant and a bit of frothing at the mouth. The breathing technique in the next section will help and, above all, remember he’s your dad and you love him despite his renunciation of reason.
Breath. I encourage you to meditate. First, strip away your preconceived, likely colored by theophobia notions and find a way to still your mind each day. There are lots of ways to do this. Explore. You’ll be surprised how even 5-10 minutes will help you throughout your day.
When it comes to interacting with humans, I’ve found this simple meditation technique very helpful. I start by making the decision whether or not opening my mouth will add to the conversation. If I’m in a meeting, for example, and disagree with someone. If I’d decided what is on the tip of tongue isn’t going to be helpful, I stay quiet and consciously think of my breathing. I notice the cool as it comes through my nose and the warmth of the exhale on my nose. You can add counting the breaths. If you need to imagine you’re somewhere else for a moment, do it; it’s far better than speaking dumb words that will haunt you.
Read. Specifically, I mean read books. I’ve been working for a library system for over a year and a half and I’ve lost count of the people who have confessed they do not have their library card. To me there is a trifecta of credentials one must have as an American citizen: your driver license, voter registration and your library card. I wouldn’t feel whole, honestly.
A similar confession, coupled with the same disbelief from me, comes from people who don’t read books much or at all. I gifted a book to someone last year and he thanked me for the book, said it had been a long time since he’s read one and he would try to read it.
Reading books helps in multiple ways. It improves your concentration and comprehension. Even the fluffiest Debbie Macomber book helps to sharpen your ability to decipher fact from fiction. Then there is of course the obvious benefit of knowledge between the covers and it’s amazing how those ideas get into your head without you even realizing it. Later something will come out of your mouth and you’ll realize a book birthed that idea baby into being.
The best tip I’ve heard is to try to read 20 pages a day. Setting a goal on GoodReads helps keep you focused. Avoid pitfalls like thinking a book is too short to count or isn’t “real” reading because it’s called “Her Naughty Holiday.” There are some who don’t consider audiobooks reading, but they are incorrect. Reading a book while doing chores makes the work more enjoyable and productive. Plus there are worse things than having Taron Egerton in your ear telling the story of Elton John’s “life less ordinary.” Audiobooks are available through your library, by the way; some folks don’t realize that.
Limit your social media. The worldwide intrawebs have been both a blessing and a curse. We know this so well, it’s become cliché to even mention. Thanks a lot, Al Gore, amirite? Social media then injected steroids into the situation and we have become less thoughtful in our interactions as a result. The first thing I did when I became aware of my weakness to get sucked in was to limit the platforms I use. I find Facebook and Twitter to be more prone to misinformation than Instagram for some reason. Although, to this a day, a singer beloved to my heart has a picture posted of the Amazon rainforest fires, even though more than one fan has pointed out to her that it’s a screenshot from “Stranger Things.”
There are apps to help you become aware of your usage. Use them. Facebook even has a timer. Fifteen minutes on Facebook is plenty. Take advantage of features that limit your privacy so people can’t post things. See something objectionable? Hide it quickly. Unfollowing tends to be a bit more diplomatic than unfriending.
Lastly, question everything. Don’t be quick to tear down heroes and mentors because of a clickbait headline. Pause even before sharing things you think you agree with. Things are not as black and white as they seem, the color of truth is gray.