Monday, December 18, 2017

2018: Working Toward a Better Tomorrow

Thomas E. Ricks wrote in a brief post on the Foreign Policy website on December 6:

"People stuck inside tragedies often make the mistake of thinking they are nearing the end when they are only in Act 1. And that is where I think we stand, still at the beginning of this long ride. All around us, the selfish and malevolent are thriving, flatterers are rising, and good people feel simply powerless.

What especially bothers me is this: For about a year now, I've feared for the future of our country, for the first time in my life. But lately, on top of that, I've begun to suspect that I won't live to see the final act."

Mr. Ricks accurately describes my feelings about the past year. I have become increasingly concerned that we are being led down a rabbit hole from which we will never dig out. Regressive and harmful policies are being championed, the truth is being obscured and denied, compassion is lacking, and political polarization is widening. I am filled with despair. 

I was filled with a different kind of despair fourteen years ago today when I was diagnosed with leukemia. December 18, 2003, was a terrifying day, but as scary as that experience was, I maneuvered through chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant over the next six plus months with much optimism because I've always been an optimistic person—it's who I am, or was, anyway. It saddens me that my optimism is being overshadowed by pessimism. I have become jaded and have engaged in behaviors detrimental to my well-being, trying to anesthetize myself from the ugliness and ignorance so prevalent nowadays—or so it seems. 

Yet, the world has always been afflicted with conflict, illness, and inequality. We are just more intensely aware of it because of the 24/7 news-media cycle. It's not only traditional media, but social media has made us all journalists and opinion writers. False information is easily spread and when it is proven to be a lie, retractions are rarely made, so the lie remains and becomes truth to many, which is toxic and destructive to a democratic society.

I am hardly alone, I know, as 2017 is coming to a close. I refuse to go through 2018 consumed with the anxiety and rage I've experienced this year. It is unhealthy and does nothing to help right the wrongs I see occurring in the world. Therefore, I have printed off Mr. Ricks' short post and will keep it with me as a reminder to not fall into the trap of despair, thinking nothing can be done and that our country is stuck heading in a direction I, and many others, find reprehensible.

Anger and anxiety will fuel my desire to fight harder to create a world in which I want to live: One that respects everyone's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; a world where more people vote and engage in their communities; a country where people have enough food, adequate healthcare, decent housing, and effective public schools that help all children thrive, especially in our rapidly changing world where automation and artificial intelligence will continue to replace the human workforce, presenting ever increasing challenges to people's financial well-being and thus, their quality of life; a world that cares about preserving wildlife, protecting the environment—land, air, and water—and yes, mitigating the negative impacts of climate change; a world that works together to tackle problems, not scapegoat others or narrow the field of opportunity to only the wealthy and well-connected.

That's a tall order. There will never be true equality; that is impossible. There must be incentives to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. I believe in capitalism, just not crony capitalism. I believe we must have robust competition. Competition is a quaint concept anymore as mega-mergers and consolidations in the fields of media, healthcare, air travel, and communication (to name a few) have squelched it, giving consumers less choice, not more. 

This is a lot to digest, and so much more could be written. However, I leave it here for now: There are solutions out there, and they are where my focus is going to be in 2018. As for my anxiety and anger, it's time to start meditating again. I found this practice to be effective during my cancer treatment period. In fact, I did it so regularly that even amid the fear and uncertainty of that time, it was the most calm and centered I've ever been—before or since. Maybe it's time to reread Rebirth and remind myself of all the strategies I used to heal myself, especially emotionally, which is what I most need now.

So, I will breathe slowly, in and out, focusing on my breath, calming down, and appreciating all I have this holiday season. I am grateful for my friends and family, especially having watched my nieces and nephews grow from babies to the amazing young people they are today. Both my parents are alive, which is another blessing. Their presence in my life is never taken for granted. This cancerversary, I commit to making changes that will contribute to better health, physically and emotionally. I leave you with this from Rebirth (2nd edition):

"Perspective is the most important lesson learned during my cancer experience. I may still lose control from time to time, but I manage to eventually put it into the right context. For example, a few years post-transplant when I was back in the work world, while walking up Park Avenue to the office, sheets of rain flooded the streets and sidewalks. I was gritting my teeth and growling under my breath because a frigid temperature and harrowing winds were compounding my misery. Overwhelmed by these external and internal dramas, my irritation intensifying, I forced myself to stop—literally stopped in the middle of the sidewalk (a major faux pas in New York City, by the way)—take a deep breath and ask myself: Would you rather be out in this crappy weather or in a hospital bed receiving chemotherapy? (Yes, I actually used the word "crappy.")

The answer was a no-brainer. My mind-set swiftly shifted and a smile formed on my face as I unsuccessfully leapt over an expansive, ankle-deep puddle, soaking my feet in the process. I was out in the world living my life. It was exhilarating and wonderful, despite my cold, wet feet." 

Have a wonderful holiday season.


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