Engaged but not Enraged

January 6, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

It is five days into the new year, and I am glad of that – 2007 was a particularly trying time for me, full of a lot of personal and professional changes and challenges. It is good to have a fresh chapter to write, a blank page upon which to scribble. I am, as usual, filled with my own familiar mix of optimism and cynicism, which is often how the winter holidays leave me. The new year will most likely be much like the old year, and since it is an election year we will be treated to a panoply of events from all sides showing the problems inherent in our our political machine. Still, as we like to tell ourselves, our system is the best thing going, but it is certainly not as good as it could be.

Once again I am frustrated because stupid human tricks (with an emphasis on uneducated and opinionated humans) are as usual playing more of a role instead of less. Really, who would have thought that in 2007- 2008 there would be so much discussion about evolution from presidential candidates. Who would have thought that the Republican winner in the Iowa caucuses would be a candidate who has stated he doesn’t believe in evolution. For me a lack of belief in evolution betrays a fundamental illiteracy in and hostility toward science. I find that behavior problematic when coming from an average citizen, but when it is embraced by a presidential candidate who has gained some traction, I am annoyed and frightened. Holy Cow, Pope John Paul II said that God isn’t afraid of Science over 10 years ago – one wonders why we as a country are still struggling with this issue today. It isn’t a question of atheism vs. religion, because even from my undeniable skepticism I see it is possible to be a religious person committed to rigorous intellectual inquiry. I think that thinking (along with fact checking) is going out of style, and that scares me more than any bogeyman I can imagine.

Our system of government is based on an educated populace capable of self-determination, and I think that dream is as far away as it has ever been, perhaps further. We have a “marketplace of ideas” where “truth” is often based on popular vote by the uneducated rather than actual evidence, and it isn’t working. It would work if people were interested in actively seeking the merits of theories and ideas, but that is not the case. Otherwise, why would I have heard so many people, who seemed otherwise reasonable, saying that Barack Obama is a Muslim and was sworn in on a Koran instead of a Bible. I would think it just an example of the lunatic fringe, but it came up too often for comfort this week. In fact the checkout lady at my grocery thought he could be linked with the “terrorists”. Good Grief! Some say we used to respect science and knowledge in this country, and now truth is defined by whichever group yells loudest. I am not sure we ever really respected science and knowledge as much as we like to think, but one thing I do agree with – Americans are losing sight of what it means to be rational.

It is enough to make for a nasty mix of rage and despair worse than any New Year’s Day hangover. I think of that saying/bumpersticker/slogan “If you are not outraged you aren’t paying attention” and I cringe. I want to pay attention, but I do not want to spend my time being outraged, enraged, or any variation of raging at all. So I am faced with a bit of a dilemma as I ponder how to be engaged and not enraged in 2008 and beyond.

I do think that a great deal of our problems with embracing or at least tolerating new ideas, or difference as a whole come from fear, and fear driving policy on education, science or anything else is a very dangerous thing for us as a nation.

I can only start with myself, of course. I believe that in order to work for a better world I need to work to create mindfulness in my own life, and in order to work to create better critical thinking and debate, I need to work to understand those perspectives so different from my own in a compassionate way, instead of dismissing them outright. I need to train myself to listen and understand where folks are coming from instead of immediately judging and reacting.

It doesn’t immediately solve my rather dismal view of the reality of science, education and politics in America 2008, but I am reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh describing our planet as a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam, and caught in a vicious storm. He says that often people panic, and boats sink. But one person staying calm and lucid on the boat can help the boat survive. He or she can remain present and communicate with others on the boat what to do and thus save the lives of many people. I am learning that I can choose a different response than despair and/or anger when I look at what is happening to my country, and it can help me have the energy to actually try to make change happen. Staying calmly present and rooted in the moment, as I try to foster real, engaged discussion with even those who disagree with me is certainly better than being pissed off at all the stupid all the time.

I guess working toward that personal reality is a reasonable resolution for the new year. But from my reaction to Mike Huckabee, I sure have a long way to go.

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Category: Culture, Current Events, Politics

About the Author ()

Lisa lives and works in the city of St. Louis, and is striving to develop the right mix of both while asking herself what it means to live a good life. You can follow her on twitter http://www.twitter.com/lisarokusek

Comments (2)

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  1. Ben says:

    When I feel insulted, wronged, or put-upon (whether the person means it or not), my typical response is to go on the offensive. While this feels like a perfectly natural response, it may not always provide the desired result. There are situations (such as in an office setting or at a party) in which it is better to just "laugh it off".

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Lisa: You put it so well: "Staying calmly present and rooted in the moment, as I try to foster real, engaged discussion with even those who disagree with me."

    Really, truly. There is no real alternative for those who seek peace and understanding. To lose that calmness and to get heated about an argument will cause an equal and opposite reaction to develop in the mind of those with whom one is talking. Then the two of you will have an argument rather than a discussion. Then you'll have suspicions flaring up then calcifying into extreme positions; both sides will start insisting on the certainty of things they don't really know.

    In my experience, once we let things get out of hand like this, it takes a long time for the thaw to have another opportunity to do what should have been done the first time.

    How do we avoid untoward results when discussion emotion-laden topics with people who are aggressive and willfully ignorant? Yes, it is important to stay calm and lucid. It also requires bucketloads of patience. More than I sometimes have.

    Welcome to the blog. Great job.

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