Thriving On Chaos

By Liz Massey, March 2018 Issue

Does anyone remember life before the 2016 presidential election? I’m not sure I do any more. Events for me can be pigeonholed into “before the election” and “after the election.” In the world of “after,” social media firefights continue to get uglier, even on relatively innocuous posts; LGBTQ equality in America no longer seems inevitable; and for the first time in my adult life, I am truly fearful about our collective future.

It was awesome to see hundreds of thousands of people take part in the Women’s March in January 2017, as well as in other “resistance actions” since that time. Dozens of groups have organized here in the Valley and are poised to paint Arizona blue in 2018 – or at least a legislative shade that is closer to purple. However, this influx of newbie activist energy hasn’t come without a cost.

There have been some organizational missteps and some unpleasant infighting, which I believe is the inevitable outcome of having a lot of fired-up folks running around who carry little or no historical context of previous reform movements. However, the downside to the “everyone is an activist” trend that worries me the most is the hopelessness that I see flare up occasionally when our opponents “win” the battle of the day, or when we realize how swiftly our current strategies to counter the actions of the Trump Administration could get wiped off the map.

Because this is a conflict that has placed our entire nation’s wellbeing at stake, it’s critical that we don’t let our opponents wear us down and wait us out. Cultivating a sense of hope is one of our key survival strategies. Simply put, we have to be able to commit to this struggle and be ready to do whatever it takes to win, for as long as it takes to win.

Veteran LGBTQ activists are well prepared for our current struggle, but this fight is dramatically different in certain ways from anything we’ve ever faced as a movement:

  1. This administration is demonstrating unparalleled levels of corruption and greed.
  2. The assault on marginalized persons (including those in our community) is completely pervasive and continuous.
  3. Everyone on the other side is acting to please an “audience of one.”

Many times in the past year, I’ve compared our current political circumstances with being in a knife-fight in an elevator with a madman. There is no time for strategy, no time to ponder what we’re doing. All we can do is react, react, react ... or risk losing everything.

I spent a lot of 2017 pondering how to constructively cope with this ongoing chaos. I found some answers in an unexpected place – the book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields. The author, who gave up his law practice to open a yoga studio in New York on the day before 9/11, doesn’t just address economic or vocational uncertainty in his writings. He also provides readers with hints that can be useful when participating in a long-term political struggle:

  • Uncertainty is unavoidable, yet we are hard-wired to avoid it.

So it’s OK to feel uncomfortable.

  • Everyone else impacted by uncertainty is scared too.

But many are taking action in spite of the uncertainty.

  • Ground yourself with routine and ritual.

Staying grounded is especially important in the current environment, with so many conflicting versions of “the truth” being presented.

  • Lean on the hive mind.

Drop the rugged individualism at the door – our efforts are multiplied when we act together in a focused way.

  • Control your attention.

This is the complement to grounding with routine. Fields calls it “attentional training” and suggests it could be active (trail running) or more reflective (mindfulness meditation). The benefits of being able to shift your attention at will are obvious in a struggle laden with so much emotional conflict.

I want to believe that during 2018, the resistance will gain the upper hand in our struggle to restore democratic norms to our country. But, however things go, the LGBTQ community must keep fighting, for ourselves as well as for all of the marginalized groups with whom we have a natural solidarity. Failure – or worse, giving up – is not an option. The certainty I can carry forward into this election year is that I believe in the civic foundations that make America a democracy, and that I will embrace the chaos I see today as an adventurous prelude to a restored nation in the future.

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