I'm not sure whether it's an accumulation of sadness and frustration or whether it's a paralysis emerging out of a fear that there are no viable solutions. I feel somewhat powerless when faced with the shootings in San Bernardino, Donald Trump's call to close the U.S. to all Muslims, the ongoing Chicago police department debacle, the deepening debate around campus climate for students of color, and the continued terrorism happening throughout the world.
Same overwhelming feeling of heaviness this time last year because of the unrest surrounding the injustices of Ferguson and Staten Island. Then those two NYPD officers were shot and killed, and the heaviness just got worse. I just wanted to leave New York City. For good.
Now I find it difficult to fall asleep at night. My mind wanders through the news and experiences of the day, and I imagine disastrous outcomes. Or I think of things I could say. Should say. Or actions I could take that might somehow change what's happening in the world. Then the defeated feeling sets in.
It's all a bit of a delusion of grandeur to be honest. Why would I, one person, be able to do any single thing that potentially changes the course of events in the world? As a person who likes to fix problems, I find it frustrating that I can't solve any of this. Immediately. I hate waiting. And then that frustration leads to anger, often misdirected, and then I resort to wondering why everyone can't just get along. Terribly pollyanna of me and embarrassing to acknowledge that it happens.
I try to be rational about it all. Since I can't fix the problems of the world, I decide that the only action I can take must come from what I do as one individual interacting with another. I cannot single-handedly change Donald Trump's mind or the minds of his supporters, but I can ask questions, lots of them, about why people believe what they believe, and maybe in that process of dialoging find ways to share thoughts that could shift or soften the viewpoints of others. I can continue to work for inclusivity in my classrooms, with the recognition that we all are fallible and I will make mistakes, and hopefully, my students will see that my intentions are to help broaden inclusivity rather than limit it. I can also refuse to vote for legislators or legislation that perpetuate existing systems of power and privilege, including my own.
The last point is easier written than done, as that kind of sacrifice of power and privilege really isn't rewarded in US culture, unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg or someone with massive wealth who gives part of it away. Then you get a lot of publicity.
Our capitalist principles don't encourage it. Rather, it's ascend up the ladder, and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you. That's the American narrative that we can't get rid of. It's like trying to strip genes out of a sequence of DNA so that a disease doesn't occur in the offspring of a carrier. Not possible yet. And it's not possible to strip out the ambition that comes from the pursuit of the American Dream. That pursuit has fostered greatness and created uncomfortable stratifications. Positive and negative. Not always an easy dream to embrace.
So where does that leave me?
With more words than I thought I had on all of this, but not with much comfort. Maybe expressing fear and confusion is the way to acknowledge the vulnerability. Maybe it’s expressing empathy, trying to identify with the plight of the other, rather than celebrating that it’s not me. Maybe it’s just sitting in the discomfort of it all and recognizing that the only way out is through.