Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why I Choose to Remain an Optimist in the Era of Trump

Before I get into the heart of this post, I want to just acknowledge that I always try to be conscious of not only my perspective but my privilege when I write.   In this piece, I'm going to show you why and how I am staying positive at this very difficult time in our country.  My deepest hope is that you find some grain of inspiration from my words and it resonates with you. That it uplifts and provides hope.

Of course, I can only write from my own experience of life.  I want to be clear that my intention  here is not to suggest that being optimistic is easy right now, and I know without a doubt that because of my privilege, it is  easier for me to be optimistic than it may be for many people.  The cost for me of what is happening in the era of Trump is not as great or as painful as for others and I want to put that out there honestly.  

I am white, an American citizen.  My ancestors immigrated here many generations ago.I have many advantages, including financial and social safety nets.  Here are some more examples of what I'm talking about:

1.  Refugees, Immigrants, and Muslims

I listened to the episode called "Things are working out very nicely"  on This American Life last week.  The show covered Trump's executive order and travel ban from multiple perspectives- an exploration of  the chaos and heartbreak that occurred.  Things are working out very nicely

The first story was told from a transit station in Kenya, the last stop for refugees before they board planes for America.   There was a group of about 40 Somalis there, the majority who had been refugees for at least two decades.

After the news of the executive order was delivered to them, and the reality started to sink in that they would be returning to the refugee camp, the people started to go back to their rooms.  Next was a chilling despair that settled in.  People didn't talk.  They got into bed and pulled the covers over their faces.  Many refused to take their medication or eat.  Extra security was brought in because the officials were very concerned about people hurting or killing themselves......

I cried when I listened to this and I'm crying now as I write this.  What happened to these human beings is horrific and cruel.

But as heartbroken as I am for these refugees, I cannot begin to understand the depths of their hopelessness in that moment.  I just can't.

2.  Being Muslim in America today

I have Muslim friends and colleagues.  I've learned a lot from them over the years, especially the women- fiercely strong, independent, intelligent women.  I am sickened  when I hear anti-Muslim comments.  I am furious when I hear that someone is threatened and insulted in front of her children. I am heartbroken that people are judging others in this way.

I am outraged by these injustices, and I can go to a rally and stand in solidarity with my Muslim neighbors, yet I will never really know how it is to operate as a Muslim in this country. 

3.  Immigrants without documentation

I understand why people cross the border without papers. Maybe some will find that controversial, but I actually think it makes perfect sense.  If you love your family, want your children to live, to survive,  and have a better future,  and your present circumstances are hopelessly bleak, you'd come too.

So, I feel a real anxiety for these families right now.

But, I will never know the depths of anxiety that a child has sitting in a classroom wondering if today is the day their mother might be picked up and deported. Not even close.


So, here is my perspective..........  I

Why I am choosing optimism:

1.  I have children.

If you have children, you really can't afford to give up on this world, eloquently expressed in this cartoon:

Also, ALSO,  I listen to my two teenagers and observe them.  I look at their friends.  And, I feel real hope.  This is an intelligent, savvy, compassionate, and tolerant generation and I am truly excited to see how they're going to shape our world.  Even if Trump and others mess it up royally, I think they're going to be leading the charge to put it back together-- and maybe in an even better, stronger way than we could ever imagine.

2.  My students need me.

And, they need me to be strong, and they need me to be relentlessly optimistic.  So many of them have already faced hardships I have never known and survived.  So many have shown incredible resilience and strength in their young lives.

But, they're still kids, and they need guidance, support, compassion, and lots of love.  All of them. Especially the ones who have been traumatized.

They need the best version of me, the strong teacher.  Someone who they can lean on for a while. Someone who will hold them up while they process, cry, rage, recover, and heal.

Consistently one of the things my students most frequently tell me that they like about me is my smile and my happy attitude.  If they value that, then I need to continue showing up for them every day so that they can one day become the best version of themselves.

3.  So many role models and heroes

Anne Frank,  Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel....  The list could go on and on.

The people above were persecuted, imprisoned, abused, almost killed, and in some cases, tragically murdered,  and yet what do they have in common?  They continued their work with a spirit of hope and joy, even in the face of danger and persecution.

And, this is just a list of some famous people.  There are people out there every day, being brave, not giving up, continuing to fight the good fight in spite of enormous obstacles and often at great personal risk.

If they can do it, how can I even consider not remaining hopeful and doing my small part??

What steps am I taking to hold on to my optimism?  Things I'm doing to keep the glass half-full.

1.  I'm doing my work.

I feel a renewed commitment and purpose in teaching my newcomer refugee and immigrant students. The more ugly lies and insults made about refugees and immigrants, the more determined I am in every way to help them succeed and be even better than they already are.

2.  I'm communicating with my elected officials.

I've sent more e-mails to my legislators since Trump was inaugurated than I have in a few years. Your voice does make a difference.  While you may just get an automated reply, your concern is still noted and tallied and it counts.  And, once in a while you may just get a real and personal response like I recently did from a thoughtful Republican representative.

3.  I'm sticking close to my community, and in that, also finding peace and strength.  

While I do think it is important right now to listen to all reasonable perspectives even if they are not my own, I also know there is tremendous value and comfort in spending time with people that have the same values and convictions as I do.

I was feeling really low the week the executive order travel ban was announced.  That Sunday I went to a rally in my town to stand in solidarity with our Muslim, refugee, and immigrant neighbors. There were similar rallies going on all over the country that weekend.

When I got in that crowd with my friend and my husband and saw all the people there, my spirit and energy lifted for the first time in days.  Yes, I can make a difference and collectively we can make an even bigger difference.

4.  I'm finding solace in words.

I turn to beautiful words when I need comfort a lot.  Books, articles, podcasts, blog posts.

The last book I read in 2016 was The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  My mind was blown by the way these two men can still work joyfully for their people and the world even after enduring so much pain and suffering.  I highly recommend reading this right now.  It's the perfect time.

I could go on and on with other books and writings,  but the important thing is to find what resonates with you, what challenges you to go deeper, what awakens your joy and purpose.

5.  I am taking time for rest and renewal.

I'm spending time with people I love.  Reading, meditating, running, getting outside.....

Even the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu have days of rest and time every day for meditation, prayer, contemplation, and renewal.

We all deserve all need that.

6.  I am laughing and crying.

I'm watching SNL clips.  I'm laughing with my family, friends, colleagues, and students.  Sometimes it is still the best medicine.

Crying feels good too, and it's healthy.  I'm sensitive, and I've always cried easily.  I don't try to hold the tears back when I hear a heartbreaking story.  I let them flow and I let myself experience the emotion.

7.  I am trying to strike a healthy balance of engagement and escapism.

I'm a bit of a political and news junkie.  Yet, I see no value in listening to the same news story over and over.  Deep analysis of an issue from different perspectives?  Yes.  The same video clips of insanity and outrage?  No.

So, I stay engaged and knowledgeable without falling into a deep abyss.

And, when I need to escape, I put myself into what my son likes to call "my alternate reality".  I am re-watching one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The West Wing and living in the world of a Josiah Bartlett presidency for a while with all of its wit, nuance, intelligent dialogue, complexity, and heart.

8.  And, of course, I am focusing on the positive.

I suppose that's what this whole piece comes down to.  There are real problems in our country right now.  Things feel fragile, even dangerous, and the stakes are really high.  As long as Mr. Trump is in office, it's going to be a challenging time.

But, for every outrageous tweet, harsh word, lie, and hurtful decision, there are amazing deeds going on.  People speaking up, examples of kindness, and goodness.  People who are hurting coming together to build community and to organize for the world we want to live in.

If I am continually angry and terrified,  I can't do my work.  I need a balance of being informed and then acting on my convictions from a place of calm, understanding, compassion, and even joy.

Arianna Huffington wrote  a recent article called, " How to get out of the cycle of outrage in a Trump world:  If we live in a perpetual state of outrage, Trump wins"   link to article

Here is an excerpt:

The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength.

It’s the centered place Archimedes described when he said “give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.” It’s the place from which I imagine Judge James Robart issued his historic order to reverse Trump’s executive order on refugees. And it’s the place from which Viktor Frankl, who lost his pregnant wife, parents and brother in the Holocaust and spent 3 years in concentration camps, could write, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom."

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