As I’m writing this, the United States of America is five days away from what many consider to be the most contentious, divisive, and crucial election in its history. Though every election I’ve participated in has been a continuation of the turd sandwich vs. giant douche paradigm South Park so eloquently coined, this one feels orders of magnitude worse. Additionally, we are suspended in a hysteria of pandemic fear and economic strife we so politely refer to as “uncertainty”. With all of this weight on the country, it’s hard not to feel the grinding pressure.
Open up Facebook, and you’ll see that guy you sort of knew in college has shared some incendiary article followed by vicious commentary below. Go for a walk down the street and see neighbors’ political leanings and virtue signals sprouted up as yard signs. The ambient vibe of life just seems off. It seems very, very hard to escape the atmosphere this year has consumed us in. It can be so thick that it’s suffocating. You try to shut it out. You try to tell yourself you won’t check social media. You try to focus your thoughts on more productive things. Even if you find the strength to abstain or channel your focus elsewhere, something never fails to pop up right in front of you to say: “Ha! You can’t escape this shit storm so easily!”
For me, I recognize the damage to my psyche that this turmoil is doing. At times, I’m filled with anxiety, anger, and frustration that is difficult not to display in my demeanor at work, interacting with the guy at the cash register, and even my own family. I imagine you’re probably in the same spot. You probably try desperately not to let your thoughts drift to what’s going on, but you then rationalize to yourself the importance of what is. I mean, we’re talking about the federal government. We’re talking about the future of a polarized country. We’re talking about the mental health of us all. With these rationalizations, it’s too easy to drift right back into the raging torrent that is the national conversation.
Its pull can be so strong that trying to hold any remnant of Stoic thought is a daunting task. Stoicism, of course, empowers us to choose our response to stimulus. As Nassim Taleb puts it: “Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.” We can’t escape feeling the weight of this year, but we can aim to shift it. One of the best ways to do that is to not worry about what we can’t control. Easier said than done, though. Our recursive, self-sabotaging thought processes lead us often to negative outcomes, but it’s always important to remember what is happening right now and for us to try to carve out space for reflection. Right now, at this moment, does getting angry at the latest news development really benefit me? Is being 56 comments into this Reddit thread a good use of my time? Even holding a second of stillness to check in is alleviating. That stillness is like an electromagnet pushing the weight off our minds. It gives us the ability to accept. We can’t control the election. We can’t put out tens of thousands of acres of fire. We can’t fast forward through this year. Rather than allowing such information to consume us with FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), we must search for the spaces to find solace. Those spaces are where we want our minds to be.
As I sit here writing this, I look out the window to see doves flying around the branches of a giant oak basking in golden hour light. I’m jealous of them. Their lives haven’t been affected at all by the pandemic and the election. They merely flutter from branch to branch doing what doves do until the night comes consumes them in darkness. Though they’re gone from my view, they an important lesson remains. They show us that something is at least still thriving. They show us to concern ourselves in keeping to what we can control.
At the end of the day, it’s really hard not to let negative emotions in. It even feels good to indulge them at times. Especially in a year where so much feels wrong. We’re almost through.
However, we should remind ourselves of the dove in the oak. Concern yourself more with what you can control, and peace will follow.