Nihilism Is No Place To Live

“Always look on the bright side of life.” ~Monty Python

The news is bad. The United States continues to be deeply ideologically divided, but it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on because the news from any angle these days is depressing. The Delta variant is exploding in unvaccinated communities, and now the CDC is saying that it is as contagious as chicken pox and even vaccinated individuals are capable of passing it along to others. The fires in the west are consuming towns, and people on the east coast are seeing and breathing their toxic smoke. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at dangerous and historic lows as most of the western United States is experiencing an extreme drought. I could go on and on describing the news I see in my feed each day, but I am trying to keep myself off antidepressants and away from the brink of alcoholism, and you probably are trying to shake off all the bad news anyway.

This morning I was discussing these things with my 18 year old son. I told him that right now the United States is a shitshow and I need to stop reading the news altogether and crawl into a mental cave to save what little sanity I have left. He surprised me by responding this way.

I prefer not to think of the US as a shitshow I prefer to think of it as a fixer upper. Shitshow implies it is a pointless endeavor to try to fix anything. Yeah. Things are hard. But there are things that can be done to fix it. It won’t be easy, but we can’t give up. If we decide things are hopeless, we become nihilists, and that is no way to live.

Man, that kid is something else. But he’s right. As part of Gen Z, these problems are his future inheritance. What kind of parent am I if I am living in a place of doom and gloom and talking to him about them without any sort of optimism or vision? Messaging matters. We adults need to revise our talking points because we are telling our children, “Sorry about the huge mess. Good luck with that.” That’s just not right at all.

I have the utmost faith in Gen Z. My sons and the young people they are friends with are engaged, informed, tolerant, realistic, and passionate. They know they have a lot facing them, but they have a sense they will be able to succeed where others have failed. What’s more is that they know they have no choice. They are going to have to be creative, to step up and solve problems because their future depends on it. I sense this group is up to the task. They have the tools. They just need for us old folks to get out of their way and let them lead.

As for my part, I am going to work on changing my focus. Yeah. The news is bad. But the news was bad during the plague too, and yet we humans got through it. We are adaptable. We dream, we invent, we persevere. Like the Energizer Bunny, we keep going. We need to open our minds to the possibilities and stop being so damn fatalistic. And if we adults can’t step up and do that, maybe we should shut up so we don’t poison the minds of those whose vision could change everything.

No Matter Who Is President We’re Still Damn Lucky

“The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries.” ~ John Adams

This morning as I was perusing my friends’ status updates on Facebook, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. The election is over. The persistent, negative, and mostly misleading ads will cease. I won’t be getting a half-dozen extra phone calls a day asking me to vote for someone or against someone else. No more flyers on my door. All of this is welcome news. Despite the end of the election, given the postings I saw as I sipped my latte, this country is still a hot mess. And, it’s hard to celebrate anything with that in mind.

Half the citizens of this country are disappointed this morning. Disappointed might be an understatement. Words like disgusted, sick, embarrassed, angryconfused, and bitter are being bandied about by those whose preferred candidate did not win. I’ve seen prayers for help for our misguided nation and entreaties for the second coming to happen now to save us from the next four years. I understand the chagrin. Indeed it was the same sense I had in 2000 and again in 2004 when my preferred election result was denied. I get it. It’s rough.

As my kids were going to school today, we were discussing the outcome of the election. I told them that they need to understand that many people are upset and angry and worried today because of the last night’s election results. I told them that they need to be compassionate and understanding and patient if they hear things said in disappointment that seem not fair or right. We all have had occasion to feel that same way and we should be able to understand where others are coming from.

Last night, after the results had largely come in, we had the chance to talk to our boys and to tell them about the struggles ahead for this country when we are not a nation indivisible but rather a nation split 50/50. We need to find a way to bridge the gap, but I have no idea what that is. People have become so entrenched in their own views that they’ve stopped listening to others. Everything that someone from the other 50% says is immediately negated. People don’t take the time to view the news from different, disparate sources. We like hearing what we want to hear, and this is why we are in trouble. There is no room for disagreement, discord, or discussion. We’re all acting like petulant, stubborn, snotty children. If we get our way, we gloat like we’ve won King of the Mountain. And, if we don’t get what we want, we whine, complain, point fingers, and call names. It works both ways. I’ve seen it now from both sides during two similar elections. It’s not good. The fear mongering, the partisanship, the intractability…it’s unbearable and downright childish.

We try to teach our children to play fair, to be gracious winners, and good losers. We tell them to take turns and share. We remind them not to jump to conclusions or place blame. And, we ask them to be the bigger person, to be respectful, and to be kind. Yet, we’re not setting that example for them. We’re out there making disparaging remarks about the other candidate and calling our president an incompetent boob. Our children see this. What they’re learning from us is that it’s okay to be mean-spirited and that when you don’t get what you want you should cross your arms and pout. They’re learning compromise is failure.

Most of the things I voted on went the way I hoped they would last night (and, no, I did not vote in favor of the legalization of marijuana as I’m sure some of you suspect I would being the liberal I am). I’ve not, however, felt good about any of the victories because it’s hard to be positive when I know so many people who are feeling lost, hurt, and disenfranchised by the very same things that let me sleep easily last night. I’ve been digging around looking for something, anything, that would offer me a reason to feel optimistic. Then, in the midst of the tempest of animosity, I saw a post this morning from someone I know whose candidate did not prevail. He simply wrote: Tomorrow is another day. This is still the greatest country in the world. This man is a Marine. He’s a Christian and a loving and devoted family man. I am deeply touched by his sentiment and by his positive attitude when so many people are seeing the election result as the end of freedom and of life as we know it. This is the type of positive example we should share with future generations. At the end of the day, no matter whose candidate wins, we’re still incredibly lucky to live in this country and we’re still all in this together. We held free elections yesterday and millions upon millions of people voted. That’s an amazing thing. It might be good for us to focus on that as we embrace the next four years and whatever they may bring.