By David Hegg
For 14 months we’ve been living under the rolling waves of societal despair. You feel it and so do I. The deadly combination of the pandemic and politics, or better the seeming “politicalization” of our national behavior in a time of great political, racial and financial tension, has taken a toll on our mental and emotional health. Despair has brought anxiety and discontent to the surface in us all, and they roll over us, wave after wave, day after day.
We’ve learned firsthand that anxiety breeds fear. All around us we see people whose lives are dictated by panic. We know that rational fear is a good thing. But the pandemic, together with the widespread effect of mixed messages from national and regional health officials, have many afraid to live their lives. These mixed messages make it impossible for us commoners to know the truth about the virus, if protective measures actually work, whether the vaccines will have unknown effects, whether those in charge are actually following the science, and a host of other important things that form the foundation of our daily lives. For too many, it is true that we have met the enemy and it is fear.
And when we add discontent to anxiety, we find it fuels anger with its ugly, divisive and destructive outcomes. We all know anger will bully its way to an outlet, especially where discontent has disabled self-control. Just ask anyone in a position of authority. We’ve become a people whose favorite pastime is finding a target for our anger. And when we do, be it a teacher, boss, politician, government official, pastor, law enforcement officer, or some other person we have labeled as responsible for our circumstances, we hurl all our hurtful words at them to make ourselves feel better. News flash: It never actually makes anything better!
So, what do we do? I have a policy in my organization that no staff person can come to me with a gripe unless they also suggest a thoughtful solution. So, here’s mine.
1) Determine to have the proper perspective: In other words, don’t fall for all the “emotive individualism” that is polluting our national marketplace of ideas. Ranting is almost never the proper packaging for truth. What fuels your emotions almost always has been designed to bypass your brain. Wise up, America! All around you there are people and organizations trying to manipulate your behavior without actually giving you an accurate and fair representation of reality.
What’s the answer? Use your reason, and refuse to be pushed around by conspiracy theories, absurd social justice mantras, dogmatic pronouncements grounded on carefully selected, isolated instances, and any number of manipulative strategies that increase your anxiety while decreasing the actual amount of hard data you have at your fingertips. Do your own research using bona fide scholarly sources. You can start with “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman” (currently on the New York Times Bestsellers List).
2) Demand that you exhibit personal perseverance: OK, it’s time to get off the couch of victimization and remember we’re adults who can face and overcome the challenges of life with courage, grit and even a pinch of joy. For many of you — and I say this with all the good intentions possible — it is time you stop whining and start winning. OK, so things are tough. So are you, remember? Can we stop looking at what hurts and start doing what helps? We’re the nation that won the world wars, right? We’re the people who believe that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Can we all just turn the page, admit we’ve cowered in face of all the complexities that surround us, and set our minds to power through and overcome? The alternative gets us nowhere, as we’ve learned the hard way these past months.
3) Decide to be a purveyor of positivity: I’m not saying we turn a blind eye to our challenges. I am saying that languishing in the slough of negativity won’t help one bit. We all know what’s wrong, so stop complaining. How about we make it a daily goal to be mature, reasonable, courageous and thoughtful adults who really want to make a positive difference in our sphere of influence? Here’s why. Complaints are only helpful if they’re accompanied by thoughtful solutions and positive action.
You and I are either going to be part of the waves of despair that roll over those around us as we continue seeing ourselves as victims, or we’re going to help anchor ourselves and others in the safe harbor of emotional well-being and societal success as those committed to growing rather than grumbling. We know what to do, and may God bless our efforts to do it.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.