Friday, November 18, 2016

Now what?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s been a hellish couple of weeks. To be honest, with the awful environmental news lately (global warming appears to be accelerating, Greenland is melting), I was struggling to hang on to hope and optimism before the US election. Trump’s victory was the last straw. I’ve spent the 10 days since trying to get my head around what it means and how I might want to respond.

There’s no shortage of pundits telling us how the US got to this place and, to some degree, they’re all right. My own view is that Trump and his cronies won by exploiting people’s (understandable) anger with an oppressive economic, political and social system, then fanning flames of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia and misleading the electorate regarding the causes of and cures for their suffering. It didn’t hurt that a large number of holier-than-thou Democrats was prepared to condemn the world to a Trump presidency because they didn’t like the way Sanders was treated by the DNC. (Cynically, I suspect the majority of them were white men of a certain age and class who knew they'd never pay a price for that decision.)

Whatever. The US is where it is and it’s not pretty. Some argue we shouldn’t care what the US does – particularly, if it makes them less likely to interfere in the affairs of other nations – but I don’t buy it. So far as I can tell, Trump is just another in a string of right-wing and nationalist leaders taking the helm around the world – and it terrifies me to think how much more difficult it will be to coordinate positive international action - particularly around environmental protection and human rights. Seeing the hate that's been unleashed in the US and elsewhere has me especially worried.

So, now what? I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if the answer is to become a survivalist. I’ve a dark enough view of human nature to think it might be the only solution that has any chance of even limited success. But when the environmental shit hits the fan, having a two year stock of food and water isn’t going to do anyone much good.

Fortunately, I've plenty of reasons to stay engaged and try to contribute to positive change in the world - not least, these two cuties, my sister's daughters.

Husband and I got to spend a little time with them last weekend, which helped raise my spirits enormously because they reminded me we human beings aren't born nasty, selfish pieces of you-know-what. On the contrary, we enter the world loving, trusting, and accepting of others. We owe it to our young people to make some effort to clean up the godawful mess we've made.

The challenge is to figure out what to do. Personally, I believe there's a time and place for righteous anger but we also need to act positively to protect the progress that's been made. It occurred to me last weekend that part of the difficulty is structural. Humans have an intense instinct to preserve our own skins that makes it relatively easy for men like Trump to manipulate our fear and anxieties to the point our reptilian brains take over and we don't think clearly anymore. What's worse our fear is often generalized. We may not be afraid of individual Muslim/gay/black/communist/Evangelical Christian neighbours, but can still be fearful of Muslims/gays/blacks/communists/Christians in general.

By contrast, our love and compassion tend to be more focused on individuals and small groups to which we're closely connected. Rationally, we may know we should care about people on the other side of the planet, but we're often not as emotionally engaged with them as with members of our own families and communities.

So what the answer? It seems to me there are a few things we can and should do.

First, we can get out and connect with people who are unfamiliar to us - people of different faiths, cultures, political views and socio-economic groups - with the goal of finding some common ground upon which to build compassion, empathy and trust amongst individuals and communities. 

Second, we can commit ourselves to being more generous and walking more lightly on the planet. The truth is none of us is "entitled" to the lives we have. The manner in which each of experiences the world has far  more to do with where, when and how we were born than our individual efforts. As George Monboit has observed, If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Third, we can recognize that our individual actions matter. A child who sees us bullying learns to bully. When we consume more than we need, we waste opportunities to model responsible behaviour, support local producers and protect the environment. When we fail to confront misogyny, racism and others forms of injustice in our daily lives, we condone and encourage them. When we spend all our free time indulging ourselves, we have no time left to build better relationships and communities. Even if we can't change the whole world, we can make some piece of it a little better. 

Fourth, we can be courageous in words and in deeds, however uncomfortable or fearful we are. Evil won't be stopped by silence or inaction. I came across this video the other day that talks about how to disrupt racism when we witness it. It seems to me the same strategies could be useful in disrupting misogyny, homophobia and other forms of hate. I must say I've been pleased to see so many Canadian politicians (including Conservative MPs in the House of Commons) speaking out strongly against the racism that's erupted north of the border since the US election. 

Finally, we can work on staying optimistic, which is hard - really hard - at the moment. But we have to try because we'll never succeed in creating a better world if we don't first believe it's possible. Personally, I find it helpful to remember how much what we do now matters to future generations and to read stories of people who have demonstrated courage, strength, determination and resilience in overcoming great challenges. Seeking advice from elders can be helpful too. Often, they remind us - as Dr. Martin Luther King once did - that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We just need to keep believing and working for positive change - however grim the situation seems at the moment. 

Of course, running helps too - as it nearly always does. On that note, you might want to read this blog from one of my favourite bloggers.

Take care, friends. And remember to hang on to love, hope, empathy, compassion and optimism wherever you find them. 


  1. I'm still working my way through this, so it was a great read! Especially since we have our own mini-Trump wanna-be here in Alberta.

    1. Thanks, Keith. I thought about mentioning Ms. Loathsome but I refuse to give the woman any additional publicity. It horrifies me that anyone supports her.