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Sitting in the Uncertainty

The world is chaotic right now and it can be uncomfortable to be with the daily uncertainty of what will happen next. We are bombarded constantly with division, conflict, fear, anger and hatred – much of it fueled by misunderstanding. If you have had a conversation (debate? argument?) with someone you love and marveled at their perception of a concept, candidate, group or news event you understand this dynamic all too well. In the past we have faced deep division and differences of opinion, sure, but never in the history of the world have we been exposed so completely through so many different mediums to every nuance of those differences as we are now.

Immersing ourselves in the conflict hourly through podcasts, social media, all the various forms of news and content keeps our nervous systems on high alert, and knowing that people we care about, perhaps even live with, may see a situation completely opposite to us can be disconcerting at best and deeply troubling at worst. This means that not only are we already feeling internal conflict, worry and uncertainty, but we are likely experiencing the stress of disagreeing with loved ones about what is happening and what is the right way to solve it. We have become so polarized in our thinking that civil discourse, cooperation and working toward the common good seem obsolete. And we are literally letting go loving relationships because of a point of view! At a time when social distancing is already keeping us apart, this is the last thing we need.

Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips and so little trust in its veracity. Not knowing what is true in the midst of a global pandemic and an important election can completely throw us off center, which in turn literally weakens our immune systems – not what you want when a potentially deadly virus is afoot. We literally don’t trust what we’re being told right now, or rather some of us may trust some sources while others trust different ones and each is telling a different story. This is a recipe for disaster.

I used to be certain about a number of issues and sources of information. I used to feel a strong need to be right about my beliefs. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get others to see my point of view in an effort to get them to share my beliefs. Like many others, I have found it so unhealthy to continue having these kinds of conversations that for a long time I surrounded myself mostly with those who agreed with me. I listened to news sources that didn’t challenge my assumptions. If not actually canceling people from my orbit I hid them or ignored them or discounted them as unenlightened.

More recently I have taken what has felt like a healthier approach by simply consuming as little news as possible and agreeing not to discuss politics with those I love. I have not engaged politically on social media, and I have been on the platforms as little as possible. As a result of the former, my nervous system has calmed down considerably. I am able to see the beauty in the world when I am not so focused on all the ugliness and division. As a result of the latter, my relationships with those I love are not infected with the vitriol of things that don’t matter.

I am not suggesting that issues and societal problems and politics don’t matter. Of course they do, and I still voted and stood up for what I believe in through the polling place. However, I also believe that we are so divided, so polarized, so focused on our own narrow points of view that we are rarely even open to a new way of seeing things and a well-researched and reasoned opinion piece is unlikely to sway us, much less a social media post. I know this because I have observed it in myself. I have felt the visceral reaction, the racing heartbeat, the tension that comes when faced with something that questions my point of view, and I have actively chosen not to engage for my own well-being and that of my relationships.

Our insides reflect our outsides. And we control what we allow in. We do. No one and nothing can make us mad or make us upset or make us sad unless we let it in. The virus infecting us is not just literal, it is also figurative, and in both cases it can feel almost impossible to know how to keep it at bay. And like the virus, the level of our immunity and the amount of the viral load we are exposed to can affect how vulnerable we are and what the impact will be. I know that my tolerance levels for “news” have been decreasing over several years to the point that now they are almost none. You have to decide what levels work for you.

Some of the questions I ask myself when deciding: Does it make me feel good or bad? Does my heart rate increase when I listen, read, watch? From excitement or anxiety? Does it make me feel optimistic or pessimistic? Does it offer solutions or only highlight how bad things are? Does it inspire or is it full of despair? Does it seem balanced or one-sided? Does it offer information that I need to make a decision, or live my daily life, or is it a dangerous distraction that serves no purpose in the grand scheme? Does it unite or does it divide?

Our egos want us to be on the “winning” side and to be “right.” I used to regularly facilitate a game with student leaders called Win as Much as You Can that beautifully illustrated this dynamic. They were divided into groups and instructed that when they all voted the same, they could all win a little bit each round. And each round, a different group got to choose first. All of the groups got to talk to each other before each round of voting, and always agreed to vote in a way that had them all win. Inevitably, the group that voted last frequently voted differently, in which case their team won more and other teams got nothing. No matter how much they agreed to vote the same, a few rounds of the last team voting differently was all it took for everyone to begin voting that way.

The irony is that the YOU in the title of the game referred to the collective rather than the individual small groups, so voting the way they did insured that they didn’t actually win as much as they could. Our obsession with winning, being right, being in power is doing the same thing to our society right now. Our point of view is causing us to vote against our own self-interests in many cases. It has diminished compromise and actually getting things done in favor of keeping the issue to campaign on. It has forced us into such polar positions that there is not willingness to seek middle ground. It has divided us to the point that family members no longer speak to each other.

It is extremely difficult to sit in uncertainty, and it is the order of the day right now. The future is uncertain, but our families aren’t. The world is chaotic, but our minds and hearts don’t have to be. The news is scary, but we can turn it off. We can choose to regulate our internal thoughts and feelings which in turn inform our external actions – how we show up and treat others. This is truly the ONLY thing we can control right now, but choosing to do so impacts everything else from our homes and families, to our friendships and our interactions with the community. It continues to ripple out to the level of state, country, continent, planet. You have the power to do that if you have the courage to start with yourself. That’s ALL it takes.


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