So now we’re in the final lap, with only two weeks left until election day. And in fact, the election has already begun. Over 31 million voters have had a say so far.
If you’re feeling the stress, you’re not alone. Virtually everyone is feeling it, one way or another. Common causes include family disagreements, worries over loss of healthcare, worries over the increasing angry and insane rhetoric, and even plots of violence against elected officials.
Add to that anger and dismay over bereavements, and losses, and debts, from a pandemic which didn’t have to be this bad.
No need to list more. We know. I know. It’s bad.
And of course everyone’s on a knife’s edge of emotion awaiting the results of an election of such high stakes.
It’s often said that America’s fundamental values won’t survive another 4 years of the Trump administration. I like to think it would. But I don’t want to find out. I want him voted out of office.
Republicans seem equally convinced, from inside the news bubble at Fox, that a Biden administration would equal the second coming of the Soviet Union.
Whatever happens, I don’t want to give up appreciating life. I don’t want to lose daily joys, peace, comfort, including the joy of political battle.
So here are my tips on how to stay sane during these last two weeks before Election Day. And they’ll come in handy over the two weeks after Election Day.
And probably for much longer than that.
The emotions and psychological disturbances that gave rise to the Trump administration, and that have in turn been amplified and multiplied by it, won’t entirely subside any time soon.
Here are some suggestions for living well, and helping others to live well, in spite of it all. And how to help turn the temperature down and get our country back to a more peaceful condition.
1. Create an emotion of compassion toward your political opponents or enemies
Compassion may the last stance you want to take toward political opponents. Especially when they’re so obviously unfair, mean spirited, and downright dangerous.
Say anything bad about them, and let it even be true. You still don’t want it to get to you.
Thinking of your opponents (or enemies) in a way that opens the door to feeling compassion for them will prevent the poison of anger and hatred from eating into you.
Compassion is not a zero sum game. If you feel more compassion for your political opponents, it doesn’t mean you have less for those who “deserve” it.
Attention is a zero sum resource. Feeling compassion for your opponents lessens your anger. And that lessens the amount of attention you give them. Which increases the amount of attention you can give to a more deserving topic, cause, or person.
Your compassion doesn’t make life easier for your enemies. It does make life easier for you. When you feel compassion for the misled, for the gullible, and for the con men at the center who are in fact damaged people, you’ll feel better.
How to do it: Try vividly imagining them as newborn infants. Then vividly imagine likely scenes from their lives which hurt them, and elicited in them the beliefs and behaviors you find so repugnant. You’ll see that, had you been born as that baby, and if you had undergone those same experiences, you would almost certainly have turned out just like them. That opens the door to compassion. (And to gratitude).
2. Feel gratitude
Yeah I know: life could be so much better if some people were not so bad. And they wouldn’t have to do much to become better. They could simply be quiet, and stop lying. Or they could work together to benefit more people, instead of working against others.
So you might think gratitude is letting someone off the hook. “How can we be grateful when _______ is making life hard, dangerous, and difficult for so many people?” I get it.
So of course I’m not suggesting gratitude for something bad. Rather, for something good. There’s always much in life to feel grateful for, if we look.
“Won’t that minimize the political anger we can bring to bear in this contest, and make a loss more likely?”
No, it won’t. It will give you relief. That’s the point. So that you can do the best work you can as you politically fight for what you know is right.
Even actual soldiers in an actual war take time for gratitude. For rest. For relaxing. For pleasure. So don’t take things so hard you don’t choose gratitude sometimes.
How to do it: As you’ve seen in many of the step by step podcasts, the basic step is quite simple. Ask yourself, “What can I be grateful for, right now?” Ask it a few times, and wait for the answer. Your mind works kind of like google. Only, the search results are slower, and fewer. It will give you an answer. Then simply set a 3 minute timer on your phone and make a list of all the reasons you’re grateful for that which your mind reminded you of just now.
3. Allow friends and family the right to be wrong
When your friends or family are on the wrong side, when they believe the propaganda of our opponents (even enemies), it can feel like an excruciating personal tragedy.
And it can create a lot of anger. “How could they?” “Are they crazy?” “Are they stubborn?”
I get it. It’s maddening. It’s deeply disappointing. You’d like them to be different. To take things more seriously. To see what damage they’re doing, to personal relationships and to the country politically, by not only believing that garbage, but propounding it. Defending it.
But that’s reality right now. They are doing that. Are you going to let that ruin your life? Your day?
Those of you who have recovered from a divorce or a breakup, due in part to listening to the first 20 episodes of the podcast, will have a leg up on those who haven’t done that.
You already know: People are who they are. Not who we want them to be. Don’t expect a rock to be a piece of bread. It is what it is. They are what they are for right now.
They have that right. Whether we think they should have that right is irrelevant. They have the right to be wrong. And look with compassion (#1 above) and give them permission, in your mind, to be wrong.
It’s not even permission, in reality. Only in your mind. They don’t need your permission. So you see: what you’re really doing is recognizing reality: they have the right to be mistaken. Badly mistaken. They even have the right to be stupid.
Whether we want to allow them that right or not, they have it.
And we have all been stupid before, about something. Yes — not this bad! Not this consequential. But still.
How to do it: Vividly imagine having made the poor decision to listen only to information and news in a bubble of ideology. For years. Vividly imagine how that would turn you into a mental and emotional midget. And now imagine that from that one mistake, of listening to only ideological news, so many mistakes would follow. It can happen to almost anyone.
4. Expect to win
History’s arc bends toward justice. So far it does. We’ve seen dark days as a civilization. We’ll see more. We face many challenges. Civilizations do end, as well. Nothing is guaranteed.
We can’t know that we’ll win in the contest of ideas and politics for a more free, just world. We can’t know it.
But we can reasonably and emotionally expect it. Why? Because most people, most of the time, and over time, prefer to have good government.
Reason and logic can’t convince us to believe we’ll continue to make progress. It’s an emotional belief.
Here’s how to get that belief: Ask yourself how the world should look. Write down four or five statements. We should have all renewable energy. Write yours, not mine. We should have universal health care insurance, like every other advanced economy. We should have sane leaders who respect science and expertise. Etc. Write these down. Then vividly imagine that they’ll be real. See it in your mind. Imagine holding a U.S. Medicare for All card in your hand, and choosing any clinic, any hospital you want. Just like the Japanese can do. I saw that with my own eyes, in Japan. It’s real. Imagine it here. Or the specific part of a better world that you choose.
That’s all it takes, to believe emotionally that we will win. Intensely imagine it in detail for a few minutes, a few times a week. And it will give you more energy, more hope, more stamina, for continuing the political contests to get what we all should have as country and a world.
5. Don’t try to convince anyone with arguments or logic or reason
It’s well known now, in our polarized political and cultural environment: logic and reason are not going to convince anyone. If they still believe in Trumpism, or in QAnon, etc., then your arguments, at least one on one, are not going to change their minds.
If and when they’re ready, they’ll seek out all the information they require on the Internet. They’re not going to listen to you one on one. 99.9% true.
So do not engage. That’s my opinion, and advice.
You’re better off doing any number of other things. You’re already making a bigger difference doing any number of things. (I’ll list some ideas in the other numbered tips, below.)
Here’s how to avoid engagement with people who can’t be convinced: Imagine, when your family member or acquaintance expresses opinions that you consider (and that are) crazy, offensive, dangerous, or disgusting, that you’re in a news site comments section.
Would any sane, effective person engage anyone in a comments section? No.
We might engage in a comments thread when we feel (making a mistake!) that we just want to argue. Or when we want to make sure that sanity is represented in the comments section of a major news source.
But we don’t pull aside a opposing commenter in the comments section in order to have a conversation together.
Nope. It would be a vituperative, unproductive, stubborn conversation.
So don’t do it with someone you know. Why get into an unproductive, stubborn conversation with a family member or a friend?
Even a family member in your same household.
It’s 99% unlikely to convince them that QAnon is a stupid and dangerous conspiracy cult, or that Donald Trump isn’t fit to be a national leader. You’ll only upset yourself more.
So don’t engage, is my advice.
How to avoid engaging: Don’t fall for it. Don’t take the bait. Just say, Hmm, and change the subject to something you both can agree on — the weather, say. Or suddenly remember an errand. There must be 50 ways to leave a conversation on the table.
But what do you do instead? How do you “make a difference”?
6. Volunteer for a campaign you believe in
It’s easy to find. You can sign up to make phone calls. You can sign up to text. You can sign up to knock on doors, if you’re brave in a time of pandemic.
There’s an informational and political war going on. And you arguing with your uncle about this or that is not going to help at all.
What will help is joining an effort which is organized, focused, and run by professional political operatives.
How to do it: Ok, I know people are shell shocked and overwhelmed. So I’ll just spell it out: You simply Google: “How do I help _______________’s campaign?” Then follow the links to the official campaign website, and volunteer.
What if you hate volunteering, and texting, and talking on the phone to people who are possibly going to curse you?
Totally understand. I’d never make a phone call. I volunteer for texting campaigns, and it gets rough enough in there.
It’s not for everyone.
So yes you do have other options …
7. Do some freelance work and donate the proceeds to a campaign you support
You can do any odd job, skilled or not: virtual assistant, blog post writer, graphic design, furniture assembler, junk hauler, data analysis, whatever, on various freelancing sites such as UpWork. You’ll get paid.
Then you can donate that money to a campaign.
Campaigns need money. It’s gross, but it’s true. We didn’t invent Citizens vs United.
But your favorite politician or campaign has to live in this expensive political world. That’s reality.
Want to have an effect on reality? Then we have to engage with reality.
And it’s good for us. To avoid anxiety, engage with reality.
What causes anxiety, and angst, and pseudo intellectual despair? It’s avoiding reality, and wishing it were different, and analyzing all the ways it should be different, that paralyze.
So, that’s an idea for anyone who needs it: Do some freelance work. Then donate some money.
(Or, if you’re flush with cash, donate some of your excess.)
Every little bit helps.
How to do it: Go this list of freelancing sites at Webflow, and sign up for a couple. They’re free, most or all of them.
8. Disconnect from politics altogether for most of the day
Like you, I know that participation in this moment is important. You can offer support for those who need it. You can receive support. We all travel through history together, and do what little we can to nudge it in a good direction.
But a constant diet of politics is damaging. And sometimes the best support you can give a friend is to change the subject from politics to a more deeply humane and fundamental topic: personal gossip, or beauty, or adventure, nature, politics-free literature, politics-free art, or even the weather if you must.
Politics doesn’t need to define you as a human being. It doesn’t need to dominate your life. You may say, David, isn’t that a statement from a place of privilege? To which I’d answer, No one is privileged at this moment to enjoy freedom from Covid. Or freedom from danger of bankruptcy from a series of random sudden medical bill. Or freedom from the danger of nuclear war (yes, don’t kid yourself: Admiral William Perry is sounding the alarm that we’re in as much danger as ever.)
We are all in this together. And I say we as a polity and as individuals need not let politics dominate our lives.
Are you going to wait until your Utopia arrives to enjoy life? You’ll be waiting until your deathbed. You can enjoy the fight, for sure. And you can also enjoy life, simultaneously, on a more fundamental level. Family. Food. Sex. Hiking. Boating. Fishing. Meditating.
We all take part in these enjoyments anyway. Might as well make them intentional. And instead of measuring out small bits of enjoyment, while we torture ourselves with the latest political news, we can take the opposite approach. We can ration our political information in small amounts. Just enough to keep up with the important news.
How to do it: This is harder than it seems, speaking for myself and others. Physically, it’s easy: just read the political news once a day, at a set time daily, for 30 minutes. Psychologically it’s more difficult. It’s hard to turn away. The trick is to break your behavior pattern when you find yourself clicking over to your news source at a random time. You must close the page in mid-sentence suddenly. You’ll have to break the pattern often, because you’ve spent months or years creating it. Be persistent. And reward yourself by reading about a trail you want to visit. Or a game you want to play. Or a product you want to buy. Anything that is pleasant and not connected to politics.
9. Accept the risks, and the inevitability
This is hard to read, but if you read it and digest it in the way I intend, you’ll feel an immense relief.
There’s a lot of soft talk in self help, and in counseling, and psychology. And that’s fine.
But sometimes hard talk is much more refreshing and relieving.
Here’s some hard talk. … (But is it really hard? Or just realistic, and finally a relief to put it on the table?) …
I, and you, are going to die one day. I, and you, are at risk of death from any number of causes. I, and you, are at risk of bankruptcy from any number of causes: sickness, a terrible economy, divorce or breakup, a car accident, etc.
You can’t erase these risks. Jeff Bezos himself cannot escape these risks. That should put into perspective our anxieties about them.
Why get worked up, if it’s impossible to be perfectly safe? If the richest people in the world cannot escape fatal risks? Do you see that your anxiety is certainly the result of an unrealistic expectation? A damaging expectation that you can let go of?
Welcome to the human condition. It’s actually kind of wonderful, if you learn how to surf the storm. And it’s not that hard to learn.
We can’t escape. But we can live with the risks, and thereby escape the suffering around them. (We can’t escape pain necessarily. But we can escape the suffering, if you see what I mean.)
In 2020, we’re all in much higher danger of sickness, permanent loss of health, death, poverty, and bankruptcy.
Like you, I feel I must do everything I can to mitigate the risks to ourselves and others. We need not belabor those here. We all know them. Wear a mask. Avoid sharing space with others. Wash your hands. Elect officials who can lead us out of this crisis.
And as we do all these things, we can also drop a lot of anxiety by accepting the fact of inevitable death. Stay with me, to feel much better. I’m going to die, one day. So are you. So is everyone. Obviously.
But it’s not something to avoid acknowledging.
It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of your world. Here’s why:
Whatever else we may be, or may believe ourselves to be, one thing is absolutely certain and comforting — each of us is, quite literally, the Universe looking at itself from the point of view of a human being.
Here’s how you know that’s prima facie true:
- The solar system, including the sun and the earth, was formed out of the universe. Plain fact.
- Life evolved out of the materials on the earth. Plain fact.
- Even if you discount 1 and 2 above, you grew from and are sustained by materials on the earth, and by sunlight. Plain facts.
- Since you grew out of the earth, which was formed out of the universe (and in fact is the local manifestation of the universe), then you quite obviously grew out of the universe. And that means you’re a bit of the universe regarding itself from the point of view of a human being.
- And so, to close the circle: even when you die as a human being, it’s not such a tragedy. You’ll be back. Or, to put it another way, you’ve been here all along. You’re one of us. Even if and when human beings all die out, which we should prevent as long as possible, we’ll be back. There’s literally all the time in the world.
Of course we all naturally avoid death, and love life, for as long as possible.
But loving life too much ruins it, like a relationship in which you “need” the other person. Drop your “need,” and the relationship becomes even more delightful. You can enjoy that person without fearing their loss.
Drop your “need” of life, and life becomes more delightful.
How to do it: Identify with something larger than yourself. One way is by vividly imagining the rivers and mountains and oceans before you were conceived by your mother. (It’s easy: those rivers and mountains and oceans were quite similar to what they are today.) Then vividly imagine them in the days after you’re buried, or cremated. (They’ll be quite similar.) Can you feel, yet, your identification shift from your “self” to a larger “Self”?