Updated: Mar 31
Content note: This post discusses our climate crisis, colonialism and the COVID-19 pandemic. They're discussed briefly in generalities--if this isn't the right thing for you to read right now, honour yourself.
These are times of great inflammation and fear. They are chaotic and reactive times. To help mediate some of that reactivity and inflammation, I offer some insights and a strategy for staying grounded and focused during chaos. This offering is imperfect and incomplete, but I choose to believe that some measure of kindness and clarity is better than none at all.
Before I begin, I want to outline some of the key values I hold. I believe deeply in the abolition of prisons, police and violent, colonial nation states and the restoration of land to Indigenous peoples. I believe that each person deserves to live a life of peace, joy and safety with their survival needs met, including a living wage, meaningful work (paid or volunteer) and access to free or affordable healthcare. I believe that respecting and protecting our other than human kin and natural resources and working together to build community, practicing mutual aid is the wisest and most loving path forward for human survival.
I believe that love is a verb, and sometimes the action we take in the name of love looks like naming abusive behaviours (on personal, professional and national levels), working to remove ourselves and others from experiencing abuse (wherever possible), understanding the root causes and unmet needs that contribute to harm, uplifting the wisdom and leadership of marginalized people and distributing resources in such a way that everyone has what they need. Love is not passivity or being permissive. Love is not allowing ourselves or our kin to be trampled.
Outrage: What Started the Fire
From the recent outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine to the continuing discovery of graves at residential schools and the ongoing colonial violence around the world, fear and anger and confusion are being stoked. Let me be absolutely clear that I think all of these feelings and more are valid.
What I've been thinking about is how effective it is to continue sharing information about these realities (when they are already known about and being reported on regularly through a number of free news sources) on an individual level on social media. There is a difference between staying informed and aware and doomscrolling and frightening ourselves.
I am seeing a great deal of outrage, and I share that outrage. And I am also seeing the way in which the constant echoing of this information is leading to experiences of burnout, depression, apathy and resentment. These are the warning signs of overwhelm, where the enormity of what we are faced with surpasses our ability to take action to care for ourselves and our loved ones, to be kind human beings and to show up for movements for social and climate justice. Why does that matter? Because I believe that vibrant, loving, inclusive movements for justice are the only way that we will meet the world we are longing for.
Doing Things Differently
Outrage is not an organizing strategy,however it is a very popular communication style on social media. One of the things I've noticed is what seems to be the erosion of a general sense of goodwill toward each other, at least in online spaces like Instagram and Facebook. It seems as though you're perceived to be in support of all manner of harm and injustice unless you are frequently and publicly denouncing them, and this denunciation is part of proving to others that you are a good person.
Do we need to prove to friends/peers/ family that we are against injustice? Don’t they know that already, if they know us well? Is denouncing harm on social media a form of useful action, and if so, what is being accomplished with that action? It's also worth considering that much of our lives happens offline and what we choose to share online is only a fraction of who we are and what our life is like.
People can quietly share resources, sign petitions, crowdfund and show up at protests, but if they choose not to share it on social media, did it still happen? For me, the answer is yes, and if we are sharing things on social media to prove we're a good person, we've missed the point. The path of seeking external validation of our inherent sense of worth and dignity is a slippery slope and it leads nowhere good.
Is This Thing On?
How useful is it to signal our outrage on a regular basis?
Outrage is not an action. Outrage needs a safe space to be felt, but when our actions are routinely guided primarily by rage, they are often short-sighted and bombastic. We need places to feel our feelings, share our experiences, to connect and remember that we are not alone.
Over time, outrage burns out our sense of care and compassion, stripping away a crucial tool and a sacred gift. We need to be able to feel into other power sources like hope and joy, and feeling into those does not have to come at the cost of being ignorant of the state of the world.
It can be very affirming and healing to know that when we stand against injustice, we are not alone in taking that stance and that other people see what we see. Representation matters and it's true that there are important issues which mainstream media sources are either unaware of or decide are not worth their time and energy, and in instances such as that, it's so valuable to help raise awareness and signal boost.
The Price We Pay
Everyone handles stress differently. Some people temporarily get a surge of energy and focus, while others may become exhausted, anxious, lethargic and despondent. We are not equipped to handle this volume of a steady stream of suffering made available to us by social media and 24 hour access to news.
We are not wired to handle high levels of stress on a regular basis. When we are overwhelmed, we can collapse and feel unable to do anything more than the bare minimum. This is a normal response to completely abnormal circumstances.
We have been living at the intersection of multiple crises: a global pandemic, an ongoing climate crisis, legacies of colonial violence, rising costs for food and housing and lack of healthcare resources. It is completely understandable to feel tired, bored, hostile, exasperated, anxious or however else you might feel.
What to Do Instead
There is a difference between being in touch with our outrage or other strong emotions and being led by them. When we are led by them, our ability to think clearly, problem solve, predict the results of our actions or stay rooted in our values can be compromised. I've noticed this when I'm in highly emotionally charged situations-- very quickly, attention to detail falls away, from attentiveness to my own body language, the body language of other people and the details of the physical environment. Less detail equals less information, and when we need to take action, we want as much of the essential information as possible.
With a threat as huge as nuclear war hanging over us, it can be difficult to feel empowered. The possibility of being held hostage to the consequences of the dangerous and shortsighted actions of other people can feel terrifying. We can help ease our sense of fear by noticing what is within our power to do, recognizing that the impact of a single person is not the same as that of a nation state.
So, what can we do instead?
Definition of triage
1a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors
b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care
We can do triage. We cannot stay informed and take action toward all of this world's injustices and trying to do so will inevitably lead to the inability to contribute to anything in a meaningful way. We can focus on helping in one way and doing that consistently.
For example, maybe you decide that for the next year, you'll donate money and volunteer your time for an organization which supports Indigenous water protectors. If you have more time, money or energy, you can give those to other causes which come up during the year, but you can stick with your single, original commitment.
Doing one thing keeps us in the movement for social and environmental justice and it helps us to have a meaningful impact. Committing to one thing keeps us protecting what it is in our power to change and helps us experience our personal and collective power. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do more later, but it’s impossible to focus on everything and doing one thing consistently meets your capacity and helps sustain hope.
If we love ourselves and each other, I believe we must surrender the tired and harmful concept of martyrdom. There is no prize for being able to endure the most pain, be the most outraged, overworked or the most well-informed. We are not abandoning our kin or our movements when we step away to return to conscious connection with our bodies, our spirits and the earth. Half of creating change and enacting loving justice is showing up willing to do what we are able to, knowing our ability changes one day to the next.
The theme of a tapestry comes up a lot in my writing. I believe in it very strongly. If we all do what we can, our one little thing, and we connect with others doing their one thing, what we build will be sturdy and beautiful. The connection needed to build that tapestry can help fight the epidemic of loneliness that is so alive in these times, and the beauty of what we build together offers each of us a small part of the tapestry where we can see our genius and where we can marvel at the genius and skill of others.
I love us. I believe in us and I know the action of our love will change this world. The pain we feel is real, and also, there is more to our weird and wild lives than our pain. As much as you are able to, feel all the feelings that are alive within you. Then decide what, if anything, you want to do about them.
If you enjoyed this post, consider sharing it with loved ones.
You can even support my work through my tip jar.