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Dealing With General Discontent

Question:

I would like to consult a professional with this question, although it may seem silly in light of true mental health issues. But it’s important to me to the extent that it affects my lifestyle. So: I hate someone (a group actually) who is currently in a position to influence political events and national policy. I like being aware of what’s going on in the news, but for a while now whenever I read or hear national news I get these feelings of hatred. Strong feelings considering I don’t know these people. The obvious solution is to become active to change things, but I tried to that before the last national election and was sorely disappointed. It was basically crushing. I understand that these feelings are different than what I feel for people I know, who have wronged me, but in those cases I feel I can sort it out (talk to them, stop talking to them, etc.). But with this hatred of what I feel is wrong and who is causing it, I don’t know what to do. Surely, it can’t be healthy to feel this. Should I stop listening to the news? Should I become more radical in my efforts to change things? Neither of these things fit in with the way I want to live my life. But the everyday ways of trying to change things (writing letters, signing petitions, volunteering with a political organization) are so frustrating because they don’t work. What should I do?

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Answer:

Your question is not silly at all. It is actually quite deep. I suspect it is on the minds of many, many people living in our polarized and quite ill society today. Your question is far larger than partisan politics. It doesn’t actually matter what side of the fence you are on at all. It speaks to the difficult and existential issue of how to be fully engaged in the world, but at the same time, to not let the world own you. On this question, whole religions have been founded (e.g., Buddhism, particularly the Zen school). Zen Buddhism promotes meditation with the goal being satori or enlightenment, a goal-less state wherein the hard-driving sense of self dissolves away and what is left is the perfect present. This is an approach with tremendous merit, but not one that will ever be practical for the average American who is brought up expecting a right to “the pursuit of happiness”. The Zen solution works to defeat desire, but I’m not convinced that desire is the enemy. After all, ideals are what keep people motivated and striving; they are one path towards answering the question of the meaning of life.

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p> What is necessary is to find a balance between idealism and engagement on the one hand, and detachment and respite on the other. You are perhaps overly engaged, and need to find a way to work disengagement opportunities into your life. In a phrase, you need to learn how to “chill out”. This might be as simple as a regular appointment for massage, or a dip in the hot tub, sex with a loved partner, yoga, meditation, a game of basketball with old friends, working out, jogging, a game of basketball with old friends, etc. Its not so important how you relax, so much as it is that you find a way to relax that grabs your mind away from your worries for a while. And you need to practice relaxation regularly.

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p> Another thing to consider doing is to work on an ethic of forgiveness in your life. In order to do this with a straight face, you have to get clear on your personal theory of evil and goodness. Are the leaders you hate so much truly 100% evil, or are they complex people who, while doing evil things, have a host of complex reasons for acting in that way. Can you say for sure that if you were in their shoes, having endured their life experiences rather than your own that you would not act in a similar way as they do? Can you find your way to a “hate the sin but love (or at least tolerate) the sinner” point of view? I do not pose these questions thinking they have any particular definitive answer, religious or otherwise. They are for you to decide your own personal answers. However, how you answer these questions will determine whether or not you can have any sympathy for the human frailty that is currently influencing “political events and national policy”.

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p> If you can get a grip on the periodic relaxation/disengagement thing, and (even more fundamentally) the forgiveness thing, you may find your way towards become a very powerful sort of activist, a la Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Ghandi. No need to rule any of that out, and God knows we need activism these days. But your activism has to be grounded in something more profound than your desire to scratch an anxious itch before it will be the right path for you to tread.

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    Is our soceity really more ill today than it has been in the past? I feel that it is, but I would like some evidence to support this idea. I know we are taking anxiety and depression medications at record levels, but is that because we are more ill or better treated? Are we more apt to lose our focus on why we are here these days? Or has it always been like this?

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