In his 2015 book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, public policy professor Robert Putnam goes on a Listening Tour of his own, including his own home town of Port Clinton, Ohio. His book presents an alarming portrait of a widening opportunity gap among young people. His final chapter prescribes a familiar litany of education funding, child care, mentoring, and changes to the tax code that don’t at all resemble the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Happy New Year. “But how do I feel happy when the news is so terrible?” you ask. Fair question. Even our faith congregations have withdrawn into silos based on socioeconomic class. “What can we do?” you ask. Good question. You do so much already. “I read books, sign petitions, attend rallies, call Congress, and walk precincts. Why do I feel so numb inside? Excellent question. So, do you have a couple of beers or a hot fudge sundae? Many people do.
We’re all human, and strong medicine isn’t appealing when you’re down. Strong medicine is counter-intuitive. When I’m depressed, my first inclination is to pull the covers over my head and disappear. Yet, I know there’s no future in that strategy. When people assault me with judgment, invalidation, and unfairness, my first inclination is to rail against them. But in my heart, I know that the only part I have control over is what I say and do. When confronted with my vulnerability to grief, fear, shame, rejection, and disappointment, I don’t want to feel those things. Yet, as Brené Brown explains so well, when we numb these things—we also numb joy.
Accompaniment of people whose lives are different than yours is strong medicine. Like diet and exercise, living a life of service is strong medicine. Like all strong medicine, it looks more like disappointment at first. Much of this lifestyle is about learning to like feeling better more than, say, instant gratification and the inevitable crash. Self-talk plays a major role.
To set on the path requires but a single step. You meet a lot of people along the way with a lot to teach you. It begins to grow on you, and as you walk together you begin to inhabit a lightness of being in which laughter and joy play as big a role as sadness and despair. You cry when it’s sad, and laugh when it’s happy. This is a spiritual practice that goes beyond self-improvement and reaches for the ecstasy of an eternal Now. Visit us at foolsmission.org