George Michael may have been on to something.
This is a hard time to be human.
Well, technically, it has always been kinda hard to be human (see: Black Plague, WWII, the Crusades, etc.).
But right now is a uniquely challenging time to be human.
We’ve never been so connected and yet so isolated – from each other, from communities that can support us, and, probably most importantly, from ourselves.
In the wake of horrible events like Las Vegas or Charlottesville or countless others, our common practice has become to quickly put a stake in the ground about what we are against.
We pick a side or a viewpoint, choose the enemy, and begin railing against the other.
Facebook and other social media platforms have become ground zero for this kind of behavior.
This is not to say that taking action around policy issues isn’t important. It is to say, though, that the level of animosity we evoke as we do so may, in fact, be far more destructive than what politicians are or are not doing in Washington.
Hating one another is neither taking action nor social justice. And it is imperative that we become clear about this.
The image that comes to mind for me so often these days is a burning building in which the inhabitants stand around hurling insults instead of figuring out how to save themselves and each other.
If this image doesn’t make sense to you, note the irony of decrying the deaths of 50+ people who were likely of various political persuasions by screaming at/hating someone of a different political persuasion than yourself.
At some point, we have to ask the question about how we, as individuals, are valuing human life.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to realize that a life spent mostly opposing things is not sustainable. The costs of such “against-ness” to a human system—and to each other—are simply too high.
In my work as a life coach, I often talk to people who are clear that this way of being is not cutting it for them anymore.
The challenge, though, is that they haven’t the slightest idea of what to replace it with.
So many of us know that this can’t go on.
But the reason it continues to is that we have lost our faith in just about everything.
We have so little faith in each other as human beings.
Little to no trust in our politicians or system of government.
Greatly diminishing faith in the planet to sustain us anymore.
Declining faith in our places of worship.
And, perhaps worst of all, so very little faith in our own selves.
One of the practices in which I’ve been engaging lately when I feel despair is to examine my own lack of faith.
Turning to some form of grace when the world is hard can be the difference between sinking into a deep depression and being able to carry on. For some of us, this comes from religion or spirituality.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to.
Even for the atheists among us, a belief in community or nature or making the most of our time here can be enough to pull us through. But it’s a question of where we focus our time and energy.
My practice on the darkest of days begins with making a list of where I find faith in life and in the human spirit.
Places, both big and small, where I can glimpse hope in humanity: the clerk at a grocery store who greets me warmly, the friend who offers to help with our impending move; pieces of stories from Las Vegas and Charlottesville about people jumping in to help strangers, no questions asked.
These are the pieces upon which I choose to focus. Sometimes just making this list and deciding to cultivate it can bring hope to a horrible week.
On days when this does not seem to be enough and I find myself pushing away the impulse to find the nearest “other” and begin an argument about X, Y, or Z, I engage in a more radical practice: I turn inward and ask the biggest question of all: “How much faith do I have in myself?”
Because I continue to believe that one of the most important ways to heal the painful and destructive divide we see all around us is to first heal the painful and destructive divide within.
The dynamics are simple:
When an inner divide exists, we look for places outside us to validate the divide and keep us from exploring painful inner territory.
Similarly, when wholeness and peace among all parts of ourselves exists inside, we cannot help but cultivate that externally.
For me, there is not—and will never be—a greater form of activism.
Here’s how it works:
On days when I am itching to pick a fight, if I stop and turn inward instead, I will always find that I am divided against myself: I’m angry about having told myself I’ll go to the gym and then once again going back on that promise. Or I’m calling myself names for not having done more work on my business. Or upset for yelling at my kids (again).
Or, as is the case most often, I simply cannot bear to let myself feel fear or grief and let it move through me.
In these moments, I am lacking faith in myself that I can handle being human. I am unable to get quiet and hear myself speak or know that I can handle deep and difficult emotions. I become my own worst enemy.
And when this happens, I immediately begin looking for an “other.”
Most of the time, this process happens on autopilot.
We log on to Facebook and not two minutes later, become convinced that the devil does exist, his name is Phil from Grand Rapids, MI, and he just commented on our former co-worker’s post about gun control.
Mind you, if Phil had died in Las Vegas, we would be decrying the fact that a really good person had lost his right to live out his days on the planet and go about his business.
Given this, maybe the problem isn’t Phil after all.
Maybe the problem is us and our lack of faith that we – and our fellow human beings – can figure this out.
I remain the eternal optimist. As long as the vast majority of people continue to spring into action and reach across the divide when tragedy strikes, I will believe that we belong to each other.
And I have faith that we will eventually remember to extend this grace to our everyday lives.
Wishing you all peace and at least a few moments this week to step back and explore your own contribution to ending the divide.
And when you do, I’d love to hear about it.
Until next time,
Gail Cowan Coaching
To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on how to end the divide and reestablish faith in yourself and the world, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.