People who work in the helping professions often experience a state described as “compassion fatigue” or burnout. They deal with so much that their capacity to feel can become dulled. The current situation following the campaign and election of Donald Trump has brought about a similar experience for many. That is “outrage fatigue”, the result of the almost daily news that is beyond belief, outrageous in words and actions. Since there seems to be no end in sight, how do we process this? Can we sustain this level of upset without harm to our health?
I see some people so worn out, that to protect their mental health they have started to view the craziness and cruelty as the norm. Out of self defense, they are no longer outraged. Others have quit paying attention entirely, putting their energy elsewhere. Some have settled into the Kubler Ross stage of acceptance in the grief process. I have come to a stage of acceptance too, but it’s not the acceptance of this political situation; it’s an acceptance of the new role that I and others must now play as citizens of this wonderful country.
Psychological research indicates that those who are active in the face of a tragedy do better mentally in the long run. I and others are developing active strategies to respond to each new outrage that comes from the president-elect, his people and family. My menu of coping strategies includes a list of organizations that I send small donations to and a group of friends to call and rant with for a moment. But we don’t get stuck in a mutual hand wringing. Instead, after a little venting, we talk about what we are doing in response. And for comic relief, old episodes of SNL to watch again.
Among my friends are ones with a specific cause or concern. Many are promoting more climate awareness and action. Some support initiatives in science and education. Others, civil rights organizations and issues. A few will work to protect Social Security, health care and other threads in the safety net. People are joining groups and starting groups.
I write letters to law makers on both sides. I wrote one to a Republican who has shown some evidence of a moral compass, concern for the country above party (I believe more will surface). I write to journalists and thank them for their work. I exchange emails with friends, sharing links on projects and organizations.
My small donations don’t amount to a lot. But each one soothes my spirit and keeps me from falling into a sense of powerlessness. Feeling powerless breeds lethargy -- why bother if you can’t do anything? Well, we can! It might be baby steps but there are millions of us taking those steps. We must not just be the “resistance”, but must be the PERSISTENCE—persevering toward specific positive goals. Among these are supporting journalists who find and tell the truth, schools that make our children smarter and kinder, institutions that create a more level playing field --where a true meritocracy exists.
Our power is in the truth and the faith that it will eventually prevail. Our power is in the kindness and compassion we will show to those who believed in Mr. Trump and eventually find themselves to have just been the most recent victims in his compulsion to self aggrandizement. Our power is in our restraint, when we want to say, “I told you so”, knowing that this phrase can often make people cling to a flawed path. We have to be careful not to fall into the efforts of some to emphasize the division. Ours is already the bigger tent and we can make room for more.
We also need to be mindful of how this situation and our reaction to it impacts our children. We have to modulate our own fears to protect them. While we might hold very strong views about Mr. Trump and his plans, it’s important that we provide some child-friendly reasons for why we hold these beliefs -- his disrespect for women, his tendency to lie, his arrogance, and his bullying behavior. Equally important is having children see us do positive things to cope with and improve the situation.
I’m deeply troubled by the circumstance that brought us to this point, but I am heartened by the many actions that I see being taken. There are reports of a significant increase in newspaper subscriptions and growing numbers of people involved in individual and group efforts. There is a ground swell, a bubbling up of energy.
The sleeping giant is awake. We may be a little stiff from our long nap of trust and comfort, but we are moving and speaking out. Since there are more of us, our voices together will drown out the ignorant prejudice voices, not with angry shouts, but with a hopeful chorus.
I’m angry, but I’m excited by the energy I see around me. At one recent holiday party we concluded that many of the young people are so busy working to afford their rent that they can’t lead the “persistence”; it’s up to us, retired and semi-retired, to take up the cause. Even if our knees don’t make marching the preferred action, we have other methods.
The path ahead, given the mercurial personality in charge, is unpredictable, but we are not. We know that we have to focus and not get distracted by the “shiny object” that is frequently dangled to distract us from real issues. Soon the press and everyone else will be wise to that, and when he starts tweeting about locking up flag burners or about the nonexistent war on Christmas -- we will all respond, “Oh, shiny object again, now what is the real issue we are being pulled away from?" We will be smart, kind and united. Through many paths, we will move in a direction that considers the well-being of all – including the ones that once believed him.
*You can also find this article on The Huffington Post. Click here.