Coping with the painful news of the world
As a 65-year-old, I’m no stranger to the distressing world and national news. Goodness knows I’ve lived through a great deal of volcanic change in my lifetime, sad as well as terrifying moments, and several periods of uncertainty. Many of these stick in my head—the day Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King’s murder, the Cuban missile crisis, the years of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and numerous new presidents coming into office. I have also witnessed amazing upheaval too—the end of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Soviet Union, the tumbling down of the Berlin wall, and the election of an African-American president. While my parents, born in the early part of the 20th century, lived through a World war, those of us born after the war have seen our share of earth-shaking change too.
But somehow, these days, I find myself more upset over reading the newspaper than in previous decades of my life. At home, there seems to be greater polarization that I can remember. Republicans and Democrats can barely talk to each other. Family members, with opposing political views, can’t sit at the same dining room table. Our government is gridlocked—unable to accomplish very much at all. In my memory, I can’t think of a time where confidence in our country has been so low.
Greater conflict in the Middle East, the rise of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, terrorism, and fear seems to have reached epic proportions. The United States seems mired in conflicts that we don’t know how to end or step away from. In Syria, in six years of civil war, over 400,000 men, women, and children have died. That number is hard to grasp. Tears come to my eyes when I see pictures of these losses.
The intense emotions about immigration, a complex subject where no consensus can be found, is also disturbing. Reading about families separated, children ripped from their parent’s arms, and refugees streaming from war-torn countries, with no place to go, deeply distresses me.
I can’t remember shedding so many tears.
So what can we do? How can we cope?
Don’t shut down.
When we stop reacting, stop feeling with our human hearts, we lose our capacity for compassion. Yes, it’s painful and who wants to feel pain? But our ability to react to tragedy with sadness and anger also enables us to feel joy too. When we become numb, we lose our ability to feel. Our hearts become hardened, which can only lead to more suffering.
Don’t descend into cynicism.
I know, this can be hard. It’s easy to lose faith in the world around us. When we become cynical we lose hope and we give up asking ourselves and others the hard questions—how do we contribute to making our corner of the world a better place? What is truly important in our lives? Are we living our values? Are we the adults that we want to be?
Don’t mourn, organize.
Get involved, participate, write letters, contribute to causes you believe in, stay informed, help others, volunteer in your community, pray, perform good deeds, and extend goodness wherever you can.
Nurture faith in each other.
As a child, I could never have imagined the fall of the Berlin wall or the peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa. Yet, they happened. We are all far more capable of goodness than we can imagine.
Spread love and compassion, especially to those that have different views than you.
Seek to understand your neighbor with opposing ideas. If we are to make a better world, we have to find common ground with each other—even if all that we share is a desire for happiness