In Defense of the Echo Chamber

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a familiar refrain from people professing concern over what they deem my more aggressive posture on events of the day:

Be careful, you don’t want to end up just creating your own echo chamber—do you?”

Well, that all depends.

On the surface it sounds like a sensible question. There is of course, wisdom in the idea of not sequestering yourself away from dissent to the point that you’re only preaching to the adoring choir of those who agree with you. And yes, open, reasonable dialogue with those whose opinions differ from your own is healthy and often redemptive. It’s a worthy aspiration.

The problem is, it’s becoming less and less possible. The President and his spokespeople are making sure of that, and an all-or-nothing media adverse to nuance combined with intellectually lazy citizens are helping him.

These days I’m beginning to believe that maybe the echo chamber is actually not the worst place to be. And in times like this when things have gotten really ugly—it might even save your sanity.

We live in an America where FoxNews has brainwashed a portion of the adult population, rendering them fully immune to reason and deathly allergic to factual information. Add to that, a toxic cocktail of  Nationalism, contempt for Government, and good old-fashioned bigotry, and some folks are simply impossible to engage in any meaningful and productive way. They are impervious to evidence. They are unreachable in the ways were taught to reach people.

Worse than that, many emboldened by the President’s unapologetic cruelty, spend their days trolling strangers online, parroting the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ FoxNews talking points, and reveling in a coarseness that a year ago would have been deemed downright profane. They are making already vulnerable people feel more endangered than ever. It is a form of home-grown, virtual terrorism, and to ask people to expose themselves to that every day in the name of avoiding an echo chamber is manipulation of the worst kind.

One of the truest examples of privilege, is when entitled white people chastise members of  marginalized communities for their inability to get over things and get on with their lives. That’s the problem and the impasse: their lives are terribly altered. They are facing a daily assault on their identities, their families, their futures, and their sense of safety—and I am not comfortable demanding that these folks step into the line of fire in the name of cooperation with the bullies. It feels irresponsible. 

For many, the echo chamber can be a much-needed place of protection and safety; a place where their pain is acknowledged, their opinions are valued, their voices are heard, their inherent worth is recognized. It can be a place where they find solidarity and affinity. Why would I or anyone else demand that they step out of this and be exposed to the poisonous venom of extremists and trolls, who in essence sanctioned their present suffering with their vote? That’s a really big ask.

Like many people, I’ve disconnected with friends, family members, and co-workers in the aftermath of the election—not because I can’t bear disagreement, but because I will not tolerate unrepentant racism, homophobia, bigotry, or misogyny. The “echo chamber” that may be naturally forming isn’t designed to stop conversation, but to eliminate unnecessary exposure to vile things. (If someone comes and defecates on your front porch, you’re going to clean it up and you’re make sure they don’t “darken” your doorway again. We’d never feel the need to apologize for that.)  

For example, when someone is programmed by their preacher and FoxNews to make Muslim refugees all into would-be terrorists and their default response in discussing them is ugly slurs and lazy stereotypes, I often need to step away. It’s very difficult to work with blind hatred that refuses to be informed by the truth, as gently and thoughtfully as it might be delivered. 

And the thing is, in many ways the echo chamber can still be big enough for a majority of us to renovate the country in meaningful ways. With tens of millions of like-hearted people, we can do beautiful, life-saving, planet-altering work together and not have to be exposed to behavior that dehumanizes us or anyone else. We can use our shared influence to push back against all that feels so wrong in the world. We can shape policy and create positive change. So the parameters of the echo chamber can be wide enough for diverse thought, but include nonnegotiables that demand respect for everyone gathered. The invitation to the table is predicated on guests fully acknowledging the value of those seated around it.

Reaching to the vast, rational, level-headed middle and crafting compromise in areas of disagreement is always going to be the noble and best path, but at this moment in time staying in a smaller circle may ultimately be a form of self-preservation, shielding you from abuse and violence and indignity, and allowing you to find encouragement. As a Women’s March attendee said to me, “I came here because needed to know that I’m not crazy.”) 

No, as a rule the echo chamber isn’t a place to spend your life, but as a temporary space to heal and rest and find some hope during really ugly days, as a spot to begin creating something meaningful in response to these disheartening days—it might be just what you need.

 

 

 

Stay Woke, But Get Some Sleep (Self-Care in the Resistance)

Resistance is not futile, but it is exhausting.

In the middle of the night following the election, as the sick reality was starting to set in, I began to get frantic texts, emails, and messages on social media from people who were trying to wrap their minds around the absolute worst-case scenario. They were processing what seemed like inconceivable information and the fear was fierce and rising quickly. 

It was clear that tens of millions of people wouldn’t be getting to sleep that night. For many of us it feels like we still haven’t slept yet.

From almost those very overnight moments, people began pushing back; connecting with like-hearted strangers, organizing in their communities, planning protests, writing stories, calling representatives, doing their own investigative journalism, supporting one another emotionally.

The Resistance was born then, even as something in America was dying.

These already Herculean tasks of activism and civil disobedience have been made exponentially more difficult due to the speed, scale, and breadth of this Presidency’s ineptitude and recklessness. There’s been an endless stream of both real and manufactured crises to attend to; hate crimes in our neighborhoods, abuses of power at the highest levels, unprecedented carelessness with Constitutional law, refugee families stranded at airports, and an unrelenting flood of lies and misdirection—not to mention navigating the daily minefields of families, friends, churches, and co-workers with whom many of our relationships are in full-blown meltdown.

The net result is that we who resist are tired; fatigued not only physically but in the very depths of our souls. The human heart can only sustain so much until it gives out, and the number of people I know and hear from who are close to breaking is alarming. We need to address it.

On our best days, self-care is a dying art for many of us. It’s difficult with so little margin in our daily lives to nurture our own spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical wellness, let alone when adding historic levels of political sewage swirling into our lives by the second through our touch screens. Such neglect is not sustainable.

Friends, this work is critically important. It’s life-affirming and nation-altering and it is working—but it is exhausting too. There is a toll that compassionate activism takes on us; a weariness that begins to accumulate as we work and protest and read and fight—and give a damn. Often we don’t notice that weariness until we have broken down completely; until our bodies or marriages or careers have become casualties. 

Today I wanted to encourage you to stop; to step away from the fray, to let someone else do the world-saving so that you can attend to yourself. Notice how tired you are. See the ways you’ve neglected relationships and sacrificed presence with people around you. Feel the depth of your grief and fatigue. Give your self permission to do nothing loud or important or heroic today. Be intentionally selfish for a few hours. (This doesn’t have to include chocolate, though it probably should.)

Clear a spot on your schedule, make some space to hear yourself breathe—and for God’s sake, disconnect from the buzzing urgency of your Twitter Feed so that you can slow your heart rate and see clearly again.

It’s not an abandonment of the causes dear to you, to withdraw and find rest; to do things that give you joy, to waste a few hours and simply be, to remember why life is worth living and why this planet is worth defending and why people are worth the struggle. These things are all part of sustaining this fight. They are a contribution to the work because they enable us to fight and yet not be consumed by the fight; not to become bitter and angry and resentful.

The battle for your soul is as important as any you wage here. 

Be passionate, but take time to pause and breathe.
Fight, but retreat to find your rest.
Be engaged, but be present to those in front of you.

Stay woke dear friends, but do get some sleep.

Resistance, be encouraged.

 

 

 

If You’re Regretting Your Trump Vote—Now’s the Time to Be Loud


                                                                                                                         Photo: USA Today

A vote is loud.

Whether that vote is cast with trepidation or begrudgingly or without all the information or as protest—it makes the same bold statements:
This is my choice.
I am with this person.
I consent to them.
I bless their conduct.

A vote doesn’t have qualifiers or caveats or escape clauses. It is simple says Yes.

Before Donald Trump had spent one day in the White House, his approval rating had already begun plummeting, showing that many who voted for him were already rightly feeling buyer’s remorse.

Whether it was his nonsensical Twitter rant at the cast of Hamilton, his public attacks on the Intelligence community, his social media criticisms of social rights activist John Lewis, the disturbing collection of White Supremacists and unqualified billionaires beginning to assemble as his inner circle, or the odd decision to use his daughter as a surrogate First Lady/White House staffer—it all showed someone who was ill-equipped to do whatever it was they expected him to do when they voted. Even as they said “Let’s give him a chance”, inside they were thinking, “What have we done?”

In the weeks following the election, one of the refrains I heard as I implored these people to speak, was that those regretting their vote were now embarrassed and being shamed—and for this reason they were silent.

My response was and is: They don’t get that privilege.

Silence is not a luxury anyone gets in days like these. If you voted for Donald Trump and you’re ashamed of that fact of if you feel like you’re being criticized I’m sorry but that isn’t what this is about right now. Your shame doesn’t trump your responsibility. Your regret without a response is useless. No ones interested in shaming you, we’re interested in hearing you.

To be silent now, after voting so loudly is irresponsible and unhelpful.
Your silence doesn’t protect refugees or avoid disastrous Cabinet appointees or pay treatment bills for the soon-to-be uninsured.
It doesn’t shield marginalized communities from hate crimes or uncover the truth about Russia’s role in our democratic process or challenge the President’s flagrant nepotism.
Your silence doesn’t encourage lawmakers to push against their party even if they feel they should and it doesn’t show solidarity with activists in the streets spending themselves to advocate for equality and justice.
It doesn’t discourage the President and his spokespeople from rolling out an unrelenting stream of lies or attacking those doing real, Constitution-guarding journalism.
It doesn’t hold those in the highest levels of power and influence, accountable for disregarding every procedure, rule of law, and safeguard established to ensure that citizens are protected from those governing them.

Your silence doesn’t do anything right now but allow you to divorce yourself from your vote, to avoid any accountability for the man you’ve chosen, and perpetuates the erratic, reckless behavior that is endangering all of us.

What this means, friend, is that if you are indeed regretting your vote—this would be the time to stand up and say so. Millions of us are out here doing the work of pushing back and speaking for the marginalized, and we’re marching and we’re calling our elected officials and we’re busting our butts to keep our Constitution intact.

And all the while the narrative the President is selling is that this is a partisan, Liberal Media-created mirage. He’s attempting to manufacture a political civil war via social media to divert attention from the insidious stuff happening right now that should be horrifying all of us.

And every time you say nothing, our Republic is more and more vulnerable, more and more compromised, more and more in danger of losing the very essence of its freedom and liberty.

All this to say, I’m really sorry for your embarrassment, but even more concerned about your silence. 

Your vote in November, for whatever reason you cast it—was loud.

And if you regret that vote or if you don’t consent to what you are seeing from this man and this Administration, your loudness now is necessary too.

Please join those of us who are resisting together because we love America more than a political party, because this isn’t about any of us, it’s about all of us.

Please speak, and speak up.

 

 

 

 

 

When Grief Comes on Good Days

On really bad days I always miss my father.

Since he died, that reality has never surprised me; the way moments of failure or depression rarely come without grief following close behind. It makes sense that when you feel alone or frustrated or worried, you’d profoundly feel the absence of someone you loved and was loved by. There’s something almost normal and right about it all.

But the thing I’ve realized as I’ve walked this road of grieving, is the sad irony that I often miss him even more on the really good days:

On the days when I have exciting news to share, and he is the one I rush to call—before remembering that I can’t.

On the days when my children do something funny or beautiful or amazing and I want to tell him the story.

On the days when his voice is the one I most want to hear say, “That’s great, I’m proud of you.”

This is quite possibly the worst thing about Grief: its utter rudeness, its complete disregard for your present bliss. It doesn’t care what goodness you are experiencing or how perfect the moment is. It shows up unannounced in the middle of your celebration and victory to remind you that you are still in the red; that no matter what great things you do or feel or receive, that loss remains and will remain.

This means that you are paradoxically the most vulnerable to deep despair when you have the greatest reason to be joyful. In the sweetest of moments, at the peak of jubilation you can often find yourself close to tears as you are sucker punched by how much you want the one you’ve lost to be present. You imagine what it would be to share this moment with them and you find yourself confused, as if your heart doesn’t know whether to soar or break—and it tries to do both simultaneously. The what is, is always assaulted by the what could have been.

Most of the time the joy of the day does win out, because you ultimately remember that your loved one really would be here if they could; that they’d be proud and happy, and so excited to get that call and hear that story and to tell you they were proud of you. They missed out on every moment you are grieving their absence in, and it likely wasn’t something they’d have chosen. And even though remembering that doesn’t fix everything, it is a place of solace. You know in the marrow of your soul that if they could, they’d be here cheering you on and celebrating alongside you and warmly embracing you.

My father lived for his family when he was here. Those calls and stories and updates were his joy too. Our good days were good days for him. This is how love works. I try to remember that, because that remembering is the closest thing to him actually being here. Recalling his love in the past does allow me to claim his love in the present, and it tempers the sadness.

Allow the memory of the one you’ve lost to be your companion in this day. May you who mourn be comforted: not only on the days when life is difficult and expected sorrow comes, but in those days when it is very, very good—and grief shows up unexpectedly. 

Be encouraged.