So, how are you doing on all those new year's resolutions you made a couple of months ago? Here it is nearly the end of February and, if you're like me, it feels like the year is slipping away in a torrent of distracting and chaotic events, most of which are taking place outside my own personal life. How do we cope with this?
The thing that has helped me resist the tide of sludge that threatens, daily, to sweep away any sense of control I have is my goals chart. I don't make new year's "resolutions" in the traditional sense. These vague statements of resolve to do better in various categories of health, relationships, etc, are not particularly helpful when I ask myself, later in the year, if I'm doing what I said I wanted to do with my life. What is helpful, though, are numerical goals -- and charts that show progress toward these targets.
I have goals in areas I feel I have control over. It is important that any goal-setting I do be focused on things that I, as an individual, can accomplish. I might have a desire for world peace or a better direction for our country, but I need to find things that I, as an individual, can actually do. My own approach has been to stay focused on what I was already doing with my life and to try to help others do the same--hence, a goal to write at least 2-3 blog posts every month to share what I've learned about coping or even thriving in life.
Some of my goals are daily ones (meditate a minimum of ten minutes every day, write three pages of free-writing every morning, etc), some are weekly and some are monthly. Most of my goals are writing goals, since this is what I do, and they are always quantitative. For example, I have a goal to submit my completed short stories 100 times this year, which means I need to send out two stories per week to stay on track. If the weekend is approaching and I still haven't submitted anything for the week, this is a powerful incentive to get my act in gear and send something out. I've already noted those goal numbers on my calendar so I know, at a glance, if I am doing what I told myself I wanted to do this year.
The physical act of writing down my progress each week is extremely satisfying. In the past I've even used things like gold star stickers on my calendar to motivate me to do what I told myself I wanted to do. Try it! It may seem silly, but it actually works quite well.
This technique is ideal for writers since so much of what we do can be quantified: word counts, pages, items finished, even lists of places to submit our items to. The more numbers I have the better able I am to see if I'm doing what I want with my life.
I use this method in areas of my life beyond writing. One goal I've had for the last few years is quite simple: have lunch or coffee with at least one friend each week. This sort of thing is especially important for people, like me, who work at home alone. It's too easy to get isolated and find all my social interactions on Facebook or Twitter--I need to force myself to get out of the house, even when the weather isn't great, and do something that might seem frivolous, but is far from that.
Goals do, of course, have to be adjusted at times. I've recently had to do this with my running goals when I found out the hip pain I was experiencing was due to a tear in a ligament, and treatment is going to require decreasing my mileage for awhile. This is not the first time I've ever had to adjust my running goals, though--in fact, this is something smart runners do all the time. I'm not saying I'm always smart about it, but I have learned to absorb the disappointment when I've found out I don't always have control over things I think I do. Aging and health in general are always a good laboratories for learning this particular lesson about life. My approach? Adjust my goals. Because of this injury, my running goal is now to get better and run again without pain. That may have to be adjusted, too, of course, but it's one day at a time with something like this.
So, I encourage you to take a look at those new year's resolutions you made last month, especially if you're not feeling too good about them. If you haven't been able to do what you said you wanted to this year, consider whether your "resolution" is stated in a way that's too vague. Can you make it more quantitative, put numbers to it in some way? A time frame is critical as well--what can you do this month to reach your goals? How about this week? Today? This thought process can be very empowering, so I encourage you to try it! Oh - and it's a good idea to check in every once in awhile as well, as I'm doing today. Assessing our progress toward goals is another key aspect of regaining control over our lives. And in these chaotic times, it's especially important.
When I was in high school, I embroidered this wall-hanging and gave it to my grandmother, who hung it on the wall above her bed until the day she died. Despite its somewhat mixed grammar, the message still holds: the truth is of utmost importance and without it we will never be free.
This is, of course, a verse from the bible (John 8:31) and that's how I came to know it, but it took on a larger life for me when I learned it as a kid. I lived in a home where the truth about what was happening was covered up, lied about and obfuscated, and all by the authorities in charge. My own knowledge and feelings were denied, but I always held on to what I knew to be true. I gave this piece of needlework to my grandmother so she would know that it was the truth I was clinging to--not the words of the authority figures in my life. I don't know if she ever knew that this was my motivation, but it was.
For months now, I've been wanting to write this post, since our country has become like the home I grew up in--and because of those formative experiences, I developed quite a few survival skills. I know how to keep my focus on the facts and to not be swayed by attempts by the authorities to change the story. I know how to think critically and to remove myself emotionally so that I can keep my wits about me. I've learned that the world is not necessarily safe, and this is largely because of the people in it who will betray you and care nothing about what they do to you in their quest to get what they want. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because we are all living in such a home right now.
I have learned how to not just survive, but thrive. I've learned to seek strength and comfort within myself. I've learned that work, productive activity, is a blessing and is a good way to escape the chaos around me. I've learned, again, that the truth will, indeed, set me free. Early in my life, I discovered Science and realized that here was a way to know the truth, to unequivocally determine what is really going on.
Science has its limits, of course, but it provides a method, a well-honed thought process, for sorting fact from fiction. Long ago, I applied myself to learning its methods so I, too, would be able to sort fact from fiction. Orwell understood that Science and its methods threaten a totalitarian state. In 1984, he wrote: "...Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc."
Today we are coping with the latest in a seemingly never-ending onslaught of news and developments, this one about the resignation of the president's national security advisor. Today is the day I've been moved to write this post, because the narrative is finally focused on what we should all be paying attention to. I have believed since the news broke in the Washington Post in late November that the Russian government sought to influence our election through fake news and propaganda, that THIS is the real story. I continue to believe that the results of the election in November reflect this tampering with our democratic process. I do not believe that this administration is legitimate. This is why I, and many others like me, are so defiantly resistant.
This is why I think we need to stop reacting to everything Donald Trump does or says, since it is all a smokescreen to cover up the very real possibility that he was put into power by Russia. All the turmoil that has happened since the inauguration only three and a half weeks ago--the executive orders including the ill-thought-out immigration ban, the legal proceedings, the endless statements by White House spokespeople who say outrageous things merely to control the news cycle--all these things are distractions from the actual story. This is the real story: a foreign power made attempts to take over our country and they've partially succeeded.
The enemy in our midst is a hostile foreign power. This is the most logical explanation for everything that's happened. I don't have a problem with people marching in the streets and protesting all these actions, since they are, in fact, abhorrent and wrong--but I fear that people are being manipulated and used and whipped into a fervor by a regime that is trying to wear us out and confuse us. Don't fall for their tricks. Stop and think and pay attention. We all need our wits about us in these difficult times.
We are now dealing with a group that used social media to gain access to the White House. Whether or not this access was gained legitimately, it is through social media that they continue to manipulate citizens in this country. It is not yet clear exactly what is going on inside that building, but I highly recommend this thoughtful analysis, which includes a lot of new information than I've yet to see in other sources.
I believe we are at war. This is not a war fought by soldiers and with bombs or tanks, but a war of words and images and data, some of it real, some of it faked. If you are active on social media right now, you are on the battlefield. If you've found yourself here on the battlefield without realizing war has broken out, it's time to wake up and pay attention.
All of us need to understand how the war is being fought. The tools that are being used to oppress us and suppress dissent are at your fingertips and can be used to fight back. It is no longer acceptable to deride Twitter as "silly" or a "waste of time," when our President can change relationships with countries in a single tweet.
In 2009, Iranian citizens demonstrated in the streets of Tehran against their government. This uprising was thought to be facilitated by Twitter and other social media, which was used by the protestors both to get the word out to the world about what was happening in their country and to stay connected to each other. This revolution is sometimes, then, referred to as the first Twitter Revolution as it initiated what has now been years of uprisings around the world, all facilitated by social media.
The uprising in Iran began after elections that year that were widely believed to be "rigged." The Iranian government literally shut down access to the internet during this time in an attempt to control the revolt. Two years later, the people of Egypt rose up against their own president, who they deemed to be corrupt. That revolution was, again, facilitated by social media. I wrote about it here and am struck by the similarities between what is happening in the US this month, in 2017, and what happened in Egypt in 2011.
What lessons, if any, can we draw from this history? In no particular order, here are some thoughts I've had as I've watched, generally through social media feeds, the last week or so of protests across our country.
Don't use your social media feed to vent and rage impotently against the system or people you disagree with. This is not the best use of these platforms and only adds to the already deafening noise level on them. If you need to vent (and we all need to do this) use your own private journal or, better yet, talk to your friends and family in person.
Do use social media to connect with others, share information, or organize action (protests, calling or letter-writing campaigns, meetings, etc). Social media are really just fast and highly-connected communication channels. Their greatest value lies in facilitating and enhancing our ability to communicate with each other.
Stop fighting with each other. We need to unite to better fight our common enemy. There are many things at stake and all are important, but it serves no one to shame or chastise people who happen to be working on an issue different from the one you're passionate about.
Limit your social media time and understand that too much Facebook time (or Twitter or even televised news) can be detrimental to your health. Our bodies are not designed to take in this much alarming information this quickly, so prioritize self-care at this time: maximize time spent in nature, get plenty of sleep and exercise and make time to connect (in person) with other people. Stay focused on your own life and work and use these media sparingly to
stay informed and share useful information with others, not to substitute for a life in the real world.
Understand that in this highly-connected world, things will evolve and change much more quickly than they did in the past. A coup that might have taken weeks or months to pull off can now occur overnight. A revolution that might have taken months or years to succeed might now prevail in a few weeks. This is simply a result of the increased speed of communication and not necessarily due to the fact that we are more nimble. It will make your head spin at times--we all need to get used to living in a new timescale.
Humans are resilient and I firmly believe that these new technologies are largely useful and will help us, as a species, develop societies and institutions that are for the good of us all. I find it interesting that groups among us have been "practicing" for this time for awhile now by forming flashmobs for various singing and dancing displays. Those flashmob skills are now being put to use in mounting demonstrations and in getting packs of lawyers to airports to help free those unfairly detained by the latest edict from the White House.
There will be more opportunities to flex our social media skills, so let's get smart about how best to use these valuable tools. One of my current fears is that our government, like governments in the past, will try to cut off access to social media platforms, in an attempt to squash dissent. It's happened in the past in other countries and it could happen here. We need to be vigilant.