Breathe, then respond

Recently, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat tweeted something that struck a chord for me:

Over the past year or two I’ve been feeling more and more like just disengaging altogether from politics beyond the city or county level. I watch friends be deeply motivated by the two-party horse race and feel like they’re being played. After all, in the last election the President who locked Afghan chauffeurs up without trial in Cuba was replaced by the one who dispatches robots to execute people without any opportunity for judicial oversight. In the coming one, we have a choice between the challenger who publicly doubts that global warming is even happening, and the incumbent who pays the idea lip service while his administration pushes through Keystone XL and oil drilling in the Arctic. So I retweeted Rabbi Rachel’s suggestion, and threw in an endorsement:

I knew I’d have to adapt the pledge as I’m not exactly the praying type, and whereas Rabbi Rachel is a published poet, there’s a good reason I haven’t attempted anything more ambitious than silly haikus since high school. I want to keep the general principle of stepping away from futile anger and instead giving to a community, doing something contemplative, or making something beautiful. I guess what I had in mind was to meditate or edit photos; these feel like the equivalents in my life. Meanwhile, the beauty of Twitter is that other people can step in; in the case my friend Natarajan:

Having grumbled about Twitter as a medium just recently, it’s nice to be able to share an example of it working really well. With just a few words, Natarajan diverted me in a better direction. Better because disengaging completely is futile: I wouldn’t be angry about these things in the first place if they didn’t matter, and my liberal messiah not existing doesn’t render all politics hopeless. As small a difference as me saying “this is not OK” makes, the aggregate of many people saying so moves the Overton Window and does change how the world unfolds, in however slow and tiny a way. But it brings much more light into the world if it can be done without rage-tweeting, and I still like the idea of using that instant anger reaction to make me do something positive each time.

So here’s my pledge: Every time I want to pass on some news because it made me angry, or to react to something political from a place of anger, I will first derail myself and do something positive. What I have in mind is meditation, tai chi practice, donating time or money to a good cause, taking photos or editing and publishing photos from my queue, but other things in the same spirit will do as well. After that, if I still feel that the trigger was worth passing on or reacting to, I’ll go ahead and do so. It may still sometimes be full of anger, because anger is the only appropriate way to react some of the news, but this way I can save the emotion for where it really fits and know that I’ve balanced it with something constructive.

I’m blogging this commitment for two reasons. The first is that I’d like you to hold me accountable. If it looks like I’m raging thoughtlessly about something (you’re most likely to see this on Twitter), please call me on it. The second, of course, is that I’d like you to join me. If this idea appeals to you, please let me know and pass it on further.

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