Because I believe in living authentically, I will be sharing my personal beliefs and ideologies in this post. Some of you may agree with me, and some of you won’t… and all are welcome here.
In order to create meaningful, lasting change, we have to communicate and connect with each other (much more on that in a bit), including and perhaps most importantly with people whose views differ from ours. My intention today is not to convert or convince, but to connect with respect and empathy. In that spirit, I share the following thoughts with you, and welcome respectful, empathic connection in the comments.
Oh, dear readers. It’s been one helluva week, hasn’t it? Our nation (and our world) has seen a great deal of change, and the emotional and social impact is extraordinary. Regardless of political ideology or personal belief system, we are all experiencing the aftershocks of change – and emotions are running high.
Over the last week, I’ve spoken with friends, family members, colleagues, and community members, as well as kept a close eye on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, regarding the changes we’re seeing in our nation. Among those who oppose the recent policy changes by the Trump administration, I’ve noticed two predominant responses: fear and anger. Both of these responses are completely understandable and appropriate given the circumstances, yet have limited sustainability moving forward.
Here’s the thing about fear and anger – they are both rooted in catabolic energy that, if not transformed, threatens to consume its host.
When I talk about catabolic energy, I’m talking about energy that is destructive, draining, and unsustainable. Catabolic energy gives us a terrific energetic boost (courtesy of cortisol and adrenaline) to initially respond to a stressful situation, but over time, the adverse consequences on our physical, mental, and emotional health are profound.
The opposite of catabolic energy is anabolic energy – energy that is constructive, growth-oriented, and healing. Anabolic energy allows us to move forward toward long-term positive results by allowing us to more easily identify opportunities and develop innovative solutions.
(For a more in-depth look at catabolic and anabolic energies and their effect on individuals, relationships, and work environments, I highly recommend Energy Leadership by Bruce Schneider. His book describes the foundation of the Core Energy Coaching process, which I utilize in my coaching practice.)
So for those of us distressed by what we’re seeing this week, it makes sense that we’re scared and/or angry. This is a normal, natural first response to stress, particularly for those of us who feel threatened by these policy changes.
And some of us are translating that anger into action, whether it’s attending a march, organizing a local political task force, donating time or money to nonprofit and advocacy groups, or contacting their elected officials. All of these are incredibly important steps, and perfectly illustrate how anger can catalyze change.
The challenge for those of us who have been angered into action is to find a way to sustain our activism without sacrificing our health and wellbeing. The physical and emotional effects of anger are significant, and basing a social movement solely on anger is a sure-fire way to assure its demise. Instead, our challenge is to transform our anger into opportunity, and call upon the power of anabolic energy to create lasting change. Here’s how.
Mindfully utilize your catabolic ENERGY
Although fear and anger are catabolic, they both have advantages that, when used consciously, can be helpful. When we experience fear, our instinct is to protect ourselves, whereas when we’re angry, our instinct is to fight back. Both of these emotions and their responses have a role to play in activism.
When these emotions trigger automatic responses, we sacrifice our power and our ability to choose. However, when we are mindful about our emotions – when we recognize them before taking action – we regain control. This is an incredibly empowering experience because our actions are no longer subject to our emotions. We can have a feeling or a thought, notice it, and then decide the extent to which it will influence our actions.
So what does this look like in the real world? Okay, let’s say you’re watching the news or reading an article about the impact of newly enacted immigration policies, and you feel angry. Stop. Remind yourself that it’s normal and acceptable to feel angry about this situation. Notice where you feel the anger in your body, and how it makes you feel physically. Notice any thoughts that come up about the situation. Then, ask yourself, “How do I choose to respond?” You may decide to pick up the phone and call a friend, or maybe you’ll call your senator. Maybe you’ll write a blog post, or maybe you’ll turn off the television.
Whatever you choose, the key factor is that you are consciously and mindfully taking action that is in line with your values while acknowledging your anger. You are in control.
Now, an important caveat… when it comes to fear and anger, sometimes an automatic response is not only appropriate, it’s life-saving. When you are experiencing an immediate, direct threat to your physical safety, the fight-or-flight response is there to keep you alive, and for good reason. Mindful reflection is not the appropriate course of action in the face of life-or-death circumstances, and I don’t mean to suggest that it is. However, when our body experiences stress, sometimes it defaults to the fight-or-flight response even if we are not immediately at risk of harm. In these situations, mindfulness can help us de-escalate our emotional response and empower us to take thoughtful, deliberate action.
Find opportunities in challenges
Let’s be honest – if this week is any indication, the next four years are going to be a series of challenges for many of us. There are many ways we can respond to challenge, and here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen over the last week:
- Fear/uncertainty: “I don’t know what to do. I feel paralyzed. This is so big, I can’t do anything about it.”
- Anger: “There’s no excuse for what’s happening. I’m mad as hell and I’m ready to fight.”
- Toleration: “This is a tumultuous time. It makes sense that a lot of people are angry and confused. Let’s just give everyone some time and space to figure this out before we rush into action.”
- Compassion: “There are so many people who will be hurt by these policies. How can I help them? What can I do to make this easier for them.”
All of these are valid responses, but I’d like to suggest an additional option:
- Possibility: “There’s opportunity here. Out of chaos can come a new order. I can help make that happen.”
The energy of possibility and opportunity is powerfully anabolic. From this perspective, we are able to identify new ways to move forward. We expand our thinking and are not limited by convention or old ways of doing things. Here, creativity emerges and innovation thrives.
This is already happening, in our local and virtual communities. People are mobilizing and organizing, and not just in coastal liberal cities, but in rural towns and conservative counties. I’m seeing people who never before called their elected officials picking up the phone, people who never participated in a protest marching toward change.
Perhaps this notion of possibility is best summarized by a sign from the Women’s March: On November 8th, I went to bed a Democrat. On November 9th, I woke up an activist.
Seek out connection
During and since the election, I have been overwhelmed by the perception that we are a nation divided. Man/Woman, White/Minority, Blue/Red… the polarization is palpable. As a result, this growing chasm threatens to continue the separation, forcing us into an “Us vs Them” mentality that will only further the divide.
This is why connection is more important than ever. We cannot create a peaceable nation if we allow the divide to widen. Connecting with others, especially those with whom we disagree, is paramount.
As I alluded to at the beginning of this post, connection does not mean conversion or persuasion. The point is not to change anyone’s mind or win them over. The purpose is to listen and to understand. The goal is to find common ground, some value or belief that unites us, from which we can connect
Now while this may sound very new-age-peace-and-love-and-patchouli, make no mistake – my desire for connection is not wholly altruistic, and may even contain a streak of cynicism. Keeping our country divided strengthens the current administration and maintains the status quo. By promoting an “Us vs. Them” perspective, the administration breeds fear and disconnection, which they will use to maintain power.
So this is where we find opportunity in the challenge. How can we disrupt this system? By refusing to play by their rules. By refusing to fear the other. By genuinely, honestly seeking to connect with and understand those with whom we differ. By building bridges, not walls – literally and metaphorically. By living our values out loud.
And connection is already happening. People on both sides of the aisle are protesting how immigration policy changes are being implemented, and coming together in support of those who are directly affected. I’m witnessing (and yes, participating in) conversations about intersectionality in democracy, so that we (and I) don’t consciously or unconsciously silence other voices.
These are the first steps in creating a revolution built on anabolic energy. Don’t stop. Keep connecting.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
Creating change is hard work. Activism is hard work. It’s easy to feel burned out or overwhelmed, particularly when facing down fear, anger, and catabolic energy on a daily basis. This is why self-care is vital to sustaining change, and why it has never been more important than now.
When I’m working with my coaching clients, I frequently make use of the water pitcher metaphor. Each of us has a pitcher of water, and every day, we pour our water into a myriad of glasses. Our spouse has a glass, our children have a glass, our job has a glass, our friends have a glass, our volunteer work has a glass… you get the idea. Eventually, by pouring out our water to the people and things in our lives, our pitchers will run dry. Self-care is the act of refilling the pitcher.
Figure out what self-care looks and feels like for you, and then create a plan to incorporate that self-care into your routine. It might be going for a run or working out. Maybe it’s attending church services or spending time meditating. Perhaps it’s Netflix and a glass of wine. Whatever it is… do it. Schedule it into your calendar and treat it like you would any other appointment. Do not compromise your self-care – it is a key component of preventive health care (as are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and medical/dental check-ups – don’t neglect those either) and integral to sustaining positive change.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The next four years are going to present a host of challenges for many of us. Rather than allow fear or anger to consume us, we can transform their catabolic energy into an anabolic force for change.
I’m in it for the long haul, my friends, and I plan to heed my own advice by following these four steps. I hope you’ll join me.