The Path to the Dark Side

I like Yoda. He talks funny, kicks ass when he needs to, leads a minimalist life-style, and is wise beyond belief. To be honest, I like Darth Vader too. He is an excellent bad guy, with a hint of redemption at the end of his arc. Yesterday Steve Bannon, the strategic adviser to the current administration, compared himself to Darth Vader. This is not a good thing, people. But that is the subject of next week’s rant.

Today instead I want to focus on Yoda. I want to focus on the little guy. I have friends out there who are pulling out their hair, weeping with despair, and wondering how in the hell we can go on living in this world without going crazy. And no, they aren’t doing this because their side lost. This isn’t a sporting match, it is the reality of day to day life. They are doing this because everything they feared looks like it is coming true and they don’t know what to do. People are afraid, and they are fighting back with everything they have got.

But you can’t stay in fight mode forever. You can’t stay angry or fearful every moment of the day. You can’t resist if you are sabotaging your own well being. So what can you do?

1. Don’t forget to breathe.

In high school, this was my cross country coach’s favorite phrase. His second favorite was “Look at those cows. They are outstanding in their field.” But the breathing one is arguably more important. We used to laugh at the coach, as if any of us could forget to breathe… but as I have grown older, I have realized how easy it is to do just that. Go ahead and hold your breath for a moment and see what happens. You tense up. Your cells start to panic. Your capacity to reason plummets. Your vision blurs. You might even pass out. But if you close your eyes and just focus on breathing, the exact opposite happens. Your body relaxes, your fears fall away, and you can think about the things that really matter.

I hold my breath when I am writing sometimes. I don’t mean to do it, but I know that I do. Especially if it is a tense scene. I hold my breath till I get to the end of it (or at least slow my breathing way down) and then am ready to pass out. It isn’t terribly productive. I hold my breath when I read a hateful, ignorant, or ill-informed post on my facebook feed. I absolutely hold my breath when I flash of a snarky reply. I think maybe a lot of us do. And that is a problem. Your body and your brain don’t work right if you aren’t breathing.

So don’t forget to breathe. If you find yourself so angry that you are holding your breath, stop what you are doing, close your eyes, and breathe.

2. Have Faith in the Future Generation

Young people have the fire, the passion, and the energy to enact true change. They live in a head space free of our biases, even though they inherit all of our mistakes. The generation growing up right now is the most inclusive ever. They understand their inherent human connection in ways most of us can’t even begin to fathom. The hateful old racists… those are dying out. It is up to us to support the younger generations, guide them from our experiences, and get the heck out of their way when they are ready to fly.

I remember being young, and fiery, and at times, very stupid. But I also remember truly believing that I could change the world. There is such a small space of time where that belief can flourish. Before we get saddled down with mortgages, and car payments, and family obligations. Encourage them to take that time and run with it. Encourage them to protest, to get informed, to make their voices heard.

And remember when you were that way too. You can still change the world, you just can’t do it solo. It’s not to late to join them. You might be older, slower, and a bit more broken. You might have a job you can’t skip for a march through the capitol. But you can still stand up and say “I support you.”

3. Stay Informed, but not overwhelmed

Read the news every day. I say read it, instead of watch it, because what matters most is the information. Not the sound bites, not the dramatic mood swaying music, not the polished smile of the newscaster – the facts are what matter. Pick two or three sources that you read reliably, and then have a set of others you can turn to for confirmation. Every day I scan Yahoo headlines and read the articles that matter to me. It isn’t the most comprehensive source, but it is an easy one, and they seem to gather up a collection of viewpoints. I follow that up with the Washington Post, which is much more in depth, and then I check the BBC. Yes, the BBC. It is good to have an idea about what is going on in the entire world, and the BBC has a great way of putting stuff in the US in perspective.

If I see something that fires me up, I try to check for other sources to confirm it first. CNN, NPR, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, see what they have to say on the issue. Actually, I highly recommend picking at least one source that isn’t aligned strongly with your world view and reading that too. I do check Fox News for written articles, because I want to see their take on the news. I want to see what people who don’t agree with me are saying and thinking. And when all of the sources line up together, which is happening here of late on some key things, then you know it is getting serious.

And then stop. Don’t sit glued to the TV all day watching the news scroll. Don’t scour facebook for as much outrage as you can muster (also note, facebook is a TERRIBLE place to use as your primary news source.) Turn off NPR when they start to repeat themselves. There is nothing in the news day that requires immediate action… scratch that, reaction, on your part. Give the news time to confirm itself, to correct itself, and to develop the story. Don’t get swept up in the hype, don’t let the nonstop drone of horror stories eat away at your sanity.

4. Get Out and Do Something Normal

Some folks disagree with the world normal here, as if normal were something to aspire to be. But my point is, stick with doing the things you did BEFORE you started to panic. Keep going to the grocery store, keep exercising, keep fishing, go to your favorite restaurant, read a good book, go to the movies, or watch Dr. Who. Keep doing the things you like to do! The world is a huge place, with lots and lots of people. You aren’t in charge of all of it. Yes, if you are paying attention, then times are stressful and a little bit scary. But you have to keep on living as normal an existence as you can manage.

5. Get Out and Do Something Different

Seriously, break out of your comfort zone. If you have never been to the ballet, give it a try. (Personally, I hate it. But you might like it.) Go to a restaurant you have never been to. Take your kids to a park on the other side of town. Volunteer for something. Visit a sick friend in the hospital. Stop and introduce yourself to a neighbor you don’t know. Heck, grab a sign and go protest something. Shake up your routine and you will start to realize that you don’t live in a bubble. Do something different and you can start to break out of the rut you feel trapped in.

6. Cultivate Friendships with People Who Disagree with You

It is easy to be friends with people like us. When someone thinks the same, looks the same, and has the same values, friendship is a piece of cake. And you need those people. But you also need the ones who don’t look like you, who don’t think like you, and who are willing to challenge and disagree with you. Now I am not saying to go out and find a Nazi to eat lunch with. I am not saying that you should try to understand and normalize extremist beliefs. I am not saying that you need to drop everything and go stand with standing rock, though you totally can if you want to. I am saying that it is a wonderful thing when you realize that the person across the street is not your enemy.

I volunteer at my kids school. I know I have differing political views than several of the other volunteers, I also know they read this blog or follow me on face book and probably shake their heads at some of the stuff I say. The feeling is absolutely mutual. But from working together for a common cause, our kids, we start to see that different views don’t make us bad people. We actually have a lot in common. We all have to put food on our table, we all have to get our kids up in the morning, we all have to make tough decisions on discipline, and we all want what is best for our community, we just sometimes disagree how to get there. But the important thing is that we keep working together. Sure, it may just be to put on a book fair, or a movie night, but that is where it starts. People are better when they work together.

You don’t have to have a project though to bring folks together. Every week I go to play games with five guy friends from different backgrounds. One is a cop, one is in a wheelchair, one owns his own business, one works for the MAN, and one has an elderly father he has to take care of. We absolutely don’t see eye to eye on politics, and we have learned how to challenge each other’s thoughts on things, but also when to just bite our tongues and drop the discussion. The police officer has brought to light truths about drugs and homelessness in my town that I never would have believed on my own. The one in a wheelchair has brought up the dangers of government regulation and oversight into his hobby of flying drones. I have hopefully helped them to see that liberal doesn’t equal idiot. We can respect each other’s differences but still have fun together. Everyone needs friends like this. They challenge you to be a better and more inclusive person.

7. Accept That Some Things Are Beyond Your Control

Yoda couldn’t save the Jedi. You can’t rush to Washington, storm in the oval office and give the administration a piece of your mind. You can’t stop the drunk driver barreling towards you in the wrong lane. You can’t scream away the nuclear weapons. At some point, you will die. You can’t stop that. Game over.

That doesn’t mean you should stop fighting for a better world for all of humanity. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference. That doesn’t mean you should just give up. Each of us has a limited amount of time here on Earth. Make the best of it. Don’t waste time freaking out about things beyond your control.

8. Do Your Part to Make the World Better

No matter what your beliefs are, make those who represent you hear them. Call your representatives, write to them, tell them how you want them to govern. Remember that public officials work for us! We pay their salaries, and those of their staffs. Don’t be complacent and wait for things to change, get out there and work to change them. Make your points, get involved, and punch a Nazi. Volunteer. Protest. Vote! Create art. Write a story. Mentor a child. Pay it forward in the drive thru. Pick up litter, even if you didn’t drop it. Hug your kids. Hug someone else’s kids. Heck, hug someone. Whomever they are, they need it. (Unless they have a restraining order on you, Zack. Then stay the heck away from them.) Sing at the top of your lungs, even if you don’t know the words. Remember the wonder and hope of being a child. And then get out there and channel it into a force for goodness.

And never, ever let yourself be a stormtrooper. Don’t follow any person or any cause blindly.

Be like Yoda. Be the little guy. Critical, wise, a bit wrinkly, but be ready to kick some ass.

And May the Force Be With You,

-Robert

And if none of that works for you… Try this:

3 comments for “The Path to the Dark Side

  1. 01/27/2017 at 3:23 pm

    With these words of advice for Americans in the midst of post-Inauguration tumult, Robert Turk shows again why someone whose frequent role is that of a goblin packs more wisdom in his writing than most elected official on either side of the aisle.

  2. Molly Hensel
    01/28/2017 at 1:04 pm

    Two different words. One is a noun – “breath”; one is a verb – “breathe”. Otherwise the content is excellent. I just hate to see good content marred by incorrect usage of the English language.

    • 01/28/2017 at 2:03 pm

      Doh! My editor doesn’t proof my blog posts, so that one is all on me! Thanks for pointing it out. I think I fixed it now 🙂

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