So. It's been about a week since the Newtown school shooting. Like everyone else in America, I am totally heartbroken for the people who lost friends + family to such a senseless act of violence.
I'm not sure. And, of course, this isn't about me. It's about those families and parents and school children. It's about mental health services and guns and school safety. But, on some level, it's also about all of us and how we can maintain faith in humanity.
What follows is a blog post I originally published in 2011 in response to a reader's question. I do hope some of you find it helpful.
Dear Sarah Von,
How do you stay so optimistic even though the world around us has so many problems? Everyday I see awful things on the news (war, famine, class inequality, etc), and even my work is slowly taking a toll on me. I work in the environmental jusatice field, and it's just sad to see how unfair the world is. I used to be a much happier person when I was younger and more oblivious to these sorts of things! Is this just a normal part of growing up?
Girl, I hear you. Just like a lot of people, I spent several years feeling certain that bad things only happened to Other People and that what happened in those dirty, war-torn countries didn't particularly apply to me.
Then I started watching the news and paying taxes and paying attention to someone other than myself. And stuff got real preeeetty quickly. Here's how I try to stay positive and optimistic.
1) I pick my battles.
I have three causes that I actively donate to and support: marriage equity, reproductive rights, refugee resettlement. This is not to say that I ignore all the other problems in the world, but these are the issues that speak to me. I find it's a lot easier to feel good about the world and the difference I'm making when I narrow my scope.
2) I choose my news sources carefully.
Fox News melts my brain as does any radio or television show in which people raise their voices or call each other names. Nope, not interested. I read headlines on The Morning News, I read Slate and Salon, I listen to public radio on the weekends. That's it. I also make an effort to read things like People Are Awesome and 1,000 Awesome Things to level things out a bit.
3) I deal with worldly issues in a way that works for me.
Sometimes I donate money. Sometimes I donate my time and skill set. Sometimes I donate products or ad space on this blog. Sometimes I say "that's totally, totally awful" and then I turn off the radio. I donated money to earthquake relief in Japan, but knowing exactly how many died and exactly how much radio active waste is leaking into the ground isn't going to change anything or make me feel better. (Please note: I'm not advocating putting your head in the proverbial sand in regards to current events but I don't think knowing every.last.detail about every.single.catastrophe is productive or beneficial.)
4) I surround myself with positive people.
This isn't to say that my friends and I ignore current events or never complain about anything. But we try not to snipe or to let conversations deteriorate into negative commentary about our jobs/bodies/relationships/the state of the world. Because why talk about that stuff when there operas to go to and fried green tomatoes to eat?
5) I realize that the world has been going to hell in a hand basket since ever.
My grandparents grew up during The Depression and had to drop out of high school to support their families. My mom grew up with neighbors who built bomb shelters in their backyard. My dad and uncle were in the military during the Vietnam war. All of those things are scary and challenging and fairly horrible. But you know what? All of those people now lead happy, healthy, productive lives.
Again, this is not to downplay the scary things that are happening in our world today, but scary things have been happening since time immemorial. Lovely, wonderful, amazing things have been happening for that long as well.
How do you stay positive and optimistic? Leave happy-making links and tips in the comments.
original photo (without text on top) by artnmc, for sale here