The “panic now, it’s all melting down” tribe and “lol nothing’s happening, chill” tribes are in a mutual gaslighting equilibrium. Me, I’m above these simplistic either/or things, I’m in a complex superposition of chilling and panicking.
— Venkatesh Rao
What do I think about the pink trickle (previously known as “the red wave”), the climate crisis, the Twitter drama? Defeat, despair, doom, and premature surrender? Prediction addiction and perseverance? This:
We’ve all felt it. Background anxiety at best, a sense of doom at worst. Simmering dread a familiar psychic compromise; denial as a temporary escape. Climate catastrophe, economic and ecological collapse, polycrisis, mess of messes…I could go on. And the US election.
We’ve been trained into prediction addiction by the relentless onslaught of pundits, mediators, and churnalists obliged to fill every minute and every post with opinion and prognostication, delivered with certainty, rarely seasoned with any sense of humility or uncertainty, and never an acknowledgement of error. (As Brian Schatz observed on Twitter, “political punditry is more broken than polling, because people who write opinion pieces literally are never held accountable for being consistently wrong, over decades.”
For our own part, we bring our own cognitive biases to the table, filtering out selective attention to the information, from social media, traditional media, and, what, anti-social media? (I’m thinking of one dear friend who drives me nuts by always filtering the news for the worst news, even as, I confess, probably drive them crazy by tending to filter for the best.)
But if anything, this week has been a reminder that we don’t know the future (or even the past…be here now). So, what to do? How can we, each and together, face uncertain futures, and even a sense of “inevitable” doom, with equanimity, focus, effectiveness…and even joy?
- Accept that we don’t know, and release, again and again, the temptation to think we know what will come. We’e not billiard balls, being knocked around in a deterministic universe; we’re complex adaptive beings, dancing with the unfolding.
- Be clear about what we care about, what we stand for, what we can offer to others and to the world, and the possibilities — and worlds — we bring forth in the promises and requests we exchange with each other.
- Don’t surrender before defeat. I marvel at the friends who’ve jumped ship from Twitter out of musk-resentment or musk-apprehension. I’m not prepared to abandon the zone — that strikes me as premature surrender — though I have opened a presence on Mastodon. And I find that my feed hasn’t changed much, and still feeds me as usefully at it has these last 15 years.
(How many progressives do you know who were convinced that we were about to be swamped by a red wave — that turned out to be a pink trickle? That happened not because of the luck of the draw, but because of the countless invisible people who worked hard on the unglamorous ground game of democracy — less satisfying than sitting back and pontificating, but what it takes.)
- Don’t surrender after defeat either. In the long game of history and historic transformation, there will always be both advances and setbacks, victory and defeats. Read yourself some John Lewis for a reminder of how determination meets adversity and despair. And check your baseball states for reminder that someone who strikes out three times out of four is good enough for the Majors, and who strikes out two times out of three is a giant! As Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields put it, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.”
Since I’m quoting pop songs, I’m reminded of Bobby McFerrin’s cheery “Don’t worry. Be happy.” It’s lifted from a famous saying of Meher Baba, but it’s worth remembering the entire teaching: ”Don’t worry. Do your best. Be happy.” The missing phrase makes a difference.
For my part, these days, doing my best means listening to many voices, even (especially?) those I disagree with or don’t like; maintaining an open mind and heart to what I and those I dance with care about, and what might be possible; cultivating a mood of serenity (and sometimes even wonder) as I face the unknown futures we all face. And it means being in generative conversation with those I love, and with the leaders and emerging leaders I work with, whether as strategic advisor and thought partner, board member, private equity investor, keynote speaker, coach…or a partner in dancing on the edge of now.
And I take comfort in the gorgeous words of Arundhati Roy:
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
How about you? What does doing your best look like in these times?
PS: There’s lots to be said about COP27, but for the moment I’ll leave that to Al Gore.