10 Apr Finding Agency in a Chaotic World
“Dear Dr. Hanson,
My question is about resilience and how to find agency in a world where we seem to be failing in so many ways (environmentally, politically). Deep in my heart I am aware that I must be the change I want to see in the world. Sometimes this gets intense and I feel my devotion slowly transform into attachment and I feel all this fear and desperation and hopelessness rise up inside. And then I hear the truth that the cause I have been fighting for has failed again. Should I just bag it? Do I just stop responding with my opinion, my signature, my protest? Do I just meditate and pray, eat organic, hike in the hills around town and pull knapweed? Honestly, I am stumped about what to do here and how to be. I would dearly love to know the approach a sane and healthy person would take and how this all relates to agency. I would love a description ‘where the rubber meets the road’ because I am not grasping how to be truly effective in my own life.”
The issue you raise is at the white-hot center of socially engaged life these days and always. I sure don’t have the answer, though I do have some personal answers. I try to explore some of them in my book, Resilient, including in the sections on “Agency, Make Your Offering”, and “Aspire Without Attachment”.
As to the essence of the matter, my personal approach is to sustain wise action with as little “friction” as possible: the damage to oneself and others of getting stressed, anxious, and angry. The art of course is to tap into healthy outrage, fieriness, fierce compassion, moral disgust, etc. without getting sucked into the “poisons” (Buddhist reference) of ill will, hatred, contempt, us-against-them tribalism, etc.
It can be helpful to bring to mind admired models of this sweet spot – badass but not pissed off, alarmed but not immobilized, compassionate toward them but also toward oneself – and then imagine “channeling” them or tuning into some aspect of how in the world they stay in that sweet spot.
Meanwhile, we fight the good fight and do what we can. And stay happy meanwhile; they may have our White House, but they never need to have our minds.
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