If a soothsayer last year told me that 2020 would consist of a mutating and elusive virus, resulting in the necessity of the world to self-quarantine, along with being the year of the greatest civil unrest ever experience in my lifetime, due to another brutal police murder of an unarmed black man, well, I’m pretty positive I would’ve had a panic attack. However, we have arrived, and surprisingly I only really had one panic attack this year, the catalyst being the final democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in mid-March. That debate was so surreal… It was so satisfying for Bernie to speak undeniable truth to power in the face of a bewildered Biden, and to speak so passionately, but to a silent, empty audience. It was cinematically bizarre, cathartic, and so very disturbing. But alas, I digress.
I’ve been thinking about all this unrest that has been 2020 so far (as we all have been): all the anger I believe we are all collectively feeling, the role of mass communication and fast information, and the necessity of compromising one’s psychological safety in order to achieve a degree of clarity concerning the state of America. I also have been reflecting on how I used to write so much, and how privileged I was to go to graduate school for social(ist) work 2015-2017, and what changed for me personally- why I have hardly written anything in the past two years. The answer to my lack is that I’ve been overwhelmed and then recovering from all of these political and cultural shocks to my system, my psyche.
Shock therapy for the US has been full throttle for the American public over the past five years, the most visible origin being Trump’s campaign announcement. I believe that this is when our current new chapter of America’s book began, and I find it as perturbing as other stories in our dark past. Shock therapy has been used for as long as there’s been power and corruption, and I highly recommend everyone who hasn’t read the primer on this, “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein, to pick up as soon as possible. This is the text that really woke me up personally in 2015, and wiped away any rose hue left on my glasses. Shock therapy centers on the idea that neoliberal free trade markets exploit national crises (disasters, upheavals, global pandemics, etc.) to establish controversial and questionable policies, where citizens are excessively distracted that they cannot engage and develop an adequate response, resist effectively, or even process the information at hand. When you recover from a shock, you have to take time to rest, recover, and try to make sense of the new reality. After a shock, we naturally find a new homeostasis, which more times than not, requires normalizing our environment, regardless of how abnormal it is.
I haven’t written seriously in a while because I’ve been recovering from all of these shocks, all these horrific acts of violence we’ve experienced as a nation over the past four years, all the things I’ve previously written about from 2015-2018. I’ve been tired, atrophied, and apathetic. I’ve allowed myself to stay quiet, because really trying to process and learn about our current environment is so taxing and can feel so hopeless. I’m doing my best to break out of that now, but it is hard and I am still weary. However, I am grateful that I feel this spark of motivation growing brighter inside of me, and I’m trying to fan this flame. For myself, the best way to grow and harness this energy comes from illuminating hope and consciously choosing love over fear.
I subscribe to the theory that there are only two emotions- love and fear- and all other emotions stem from these two primary emotions. It wasn’t until I had a recent conversation with a close friend that I recognized just how much I have been fearful in the past two weeks since George Floyd’s murder. I have been so angry, so overwhelmed, so stressed, so nervous, and dare I say even hateful, that I almost lost sight of love. I had not been feeling much compassion, only horror and outrage.
I was not super productive during this quarantine, and although I’ve enjoyed having more downtime, my personal mental health hasn’t been great. I’ve been worried, lonely, and sad. I regressed into old routines, like not having a routine, and even stopped meditating daily, which I’m terribly ashamed to admit. I share this personal accountability in order to give insight into where my head and heart had been lately; they’ve been pretty fear-based and loveless.
Quarantine did allow me to finally read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, an account of a Viennan psychiatrist who survived three Nazi concentration camps. He was survived by no one, his entire family was murdered in the camps, including his young wife. After liberation, he went on to create the theoretical basis for logotherapy, a therapeutic modality that is based on the premise that humans are driven to find meaning and purpose in their life. I’d been familiar with logotherapy, but never read this seminal work until a month ago. One of the most important points I took from “Man’s Search from Meaning” was Frankl’s observation that the first people to perish in the concentration camps were those who lost hope. Hope is necessary for survival, it is a requirement for resilience.
When I reflect on this myself, it becomes crystal clear how fearful and hopeless I’ve been the past months, especially these recent two and a half weeks since George Floyd’s murder. I’ve been consumed by the constant shocks to my system and instead of trying to hold on to hope, I’ve been drowning in dread. Now that I am aware of this, that I’ve gained this clarity, I have the power to change it. I must don an old perspective I have not worn much this year, where hope acts as my lens.
I’ve always been an advocate for dreaming big and consider myself a radical idealist. People across the US are finally being confronted with the truth that is police brutality and the militarization of the police. There’s no hiding these horrific displays of unmitigated violence and cruelty by the police during the major protests. It’s shocking (yet extremely gratifying) in itself that finally, the mainstream media cannot avoid showing this systematic reality because of the digital age!!! And with this greater realization, that police brutality is a systematic injustice ingrained into the foundation of the police FORCE, there is meaning to be made, there is hope. I am hopeful that those who believed it was “only one bad apple” now begin to recognize the truth about police brutality and learn that the institution of policing was created on the foundation of oppression. The more people are confronted with this truth, the more we can imagine a new way of policing (or dare I say abolishing). The more people learn the truth, the greater the chances for real, true change.
I’m hopeful that all of this civic unrest spurred by racism will bring light to the structural forces embedded within the heart of America that continue to perpetuate unjust treatment of black, indigenous, and other persons of color. I hope that this conversation of racism grows into a conversation about class. I hope poor white folks are able to see how they are so much more similar to poor black folks than they are to Donald Trump. I hope more middle-class white folks see how they are much more similar to poor black folks than they are to Donald Trump. I am hopeful about this awakening.
I am hopeful about the positive evolution of culture, spurred by greater access to education via the internet. I am hopeful that as a culture we begin to question polarized thinking and instead start to see how everything is gray. At risk of sounding like a kumbaya drum circle leader, I am hopeful about evolving morally. I am hopeful that we evolve together spiritually. I am hopeful for peace.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying hope replaces outrage. That would be impossible, and outrage has an incredibly important motivating purpose. However, I know for myself, being in a constant state of outrage is exhausting, and that all of these continuous shocks inevitably wears you down to an indolent state of apathy if you’re not careful. What I am saying is that we harness hope in order to recover quicker, and less scathed, from these shocks. The world is not rainbow and unicorns, I am aware of this, and the current state of America is dire. But let us not be fearful. I am advocating that our outrage begets hope, not fear, and that hope catalysts a meaningful change, and welcomes a new reality that us dreamers have been tirelessly waiting for.