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I think I’ve come by my anxiety honestly—my mother both smoked when I was in utero, and created a home environment filled with it herself. It used to be a frequent physical experience—a tightening of my chest that I couldn’t relieve. I finally decided, given my family history, to treat it both with talk therapy and medication. And it is the medication that took away the physical experience and the therapy that helped me understand it. Periodically, I test myself, to see if the therapy and spiritual work I do on myself has rendered the medication unnecessary. It hasn’t. I’ve had to accept that this is a chemical imbalance that no amount of spiritual work or therapy is going to extinguish. Better living through chemistry.
I bring this up because I want to say something about the anxiety the election and new administration have engendered in me (and clearly my friends and their friends, if Facebook is any indication) and what I’ve been trying to do to address it. Because if I and we are going to resist for the length of time we have ahead of us, we have to bring down our anxiety and focus on what we can do. Or at least I do.
One of my teachers, R. Mordecai Finley, gave a talk (actually a few) at his congregation Ohr HaTorah in Venice, CA, that is available on Facebook Live, in which he tackled this topic. His main thrust is, as we know, unresolved anxiety–anxiety that does not lead to action–is not good for our health, longevity or ability to do the work we need to do. We know this. So he offers some tools, and I’m going to add to them.
His first idea is that we keep ourselves informed with reliable news sources. I subscribe to and read the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker and the Atlantic (as well as local papers). I’ve given up on HuffPo, and anything that has a whiff of too slanted. I regularly refer to snopes.com and Politifact. I pay attention to the dates on articles. For example, yesterday, a beloved Facebook friend posted a piece about Rick Santorum saying one of his outrageous statements about women and rape—from July 2015. Do we really have to trigger ourselves with old stuff? Yes, remember he says outrageous things, but there is way too much current information that triggers me to worry about almost two year old information. I also try to watch and listen only to NPR (although Sam sometimes insists on Rachel Maddow, whom I trust but think is over the top in hyperbole—and therefore anxiety provocation).
Once we read this material, think about what it’s likely to mean—not what I fear it will mean, but realistically what will happen. (For example, the Muslim ban was horrible (and I do worry about its rewriting), but the courts got involved. Bless the ACLU and other organizations.)
Then, what actions will I take? Me personally? Will I rally, will I make my phone calls, will I donate to the ACLU? What else can I do that will have a positive effect?
Also important to me—along the lines of being informed and realistic—is to recognize when good things have happened. Off the top of my head, I can think of several: the courts intervening in the Muslim ban; the help people in the Muslim community are offering to the Jewish community; the decrease in suicides among teens in states that passed same sex marriage laws (most LGBT teens); the increased involvement of progressives in the political system.
I would even mention 45’s statement against antisemitism. While the Anne Frank Center denounced it as “too little, too late”, I demur: how can it be too late? Do we offer no room for change? If we demand something—as we did here, and then we get it—as we did here, is this really how we respond? I hope not. For example, if Bannon is prevented from joining the NSC, will that be too little, too late, or will we feel the victory? I think, as we say at Passover, each step along with way—Dayenu, it’s enough. Then we can take the next step and demand action to back up his words. As the ADL suggests, yes: if 45 denounces it, what plan will his administration implement to counter it?
I know there are so many fronts where values I care about are under attack—and not “just” values, but people, families, communities. I have to keep doing what I can do.
Finley also reminded us of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Speech: with malice toward none and charity for all… I know I feel malice toward some and I am trying to see their humanity. (Okay, it’s unlikely I’ll achieve that with 45, or his chief strategist, but I have a few others I have to work on.) Yes, we have the very important First Amendment. But we also have, both in Jewish and in American expectations—a civil covenant. We can say whatever we want, but we also need to consider the effect our words have. Words change reality. What reality do we want to live in? I have said things that have damaged, words I wish I could take back, but they will be out there forever. I want to live in a world, a country, a community, a home, where we care about how we are with each other, and that we do not do to others what is hateful to ourselves.
Anyone with me?
Thanks to Adele Pickar for informing me that most people (not those of us with chemical imbalances) can use their anxiety for the good–to move forward.