When Feeling Bad Leads To Doing Good
I get angry and a little depressed, probably just like most of you, at the increasing social inequities, at the actions of many of the richest individuals to undermine public schools and the public commons (our air, water, even the parks and common spaces), the lawlessness and intractability of our political system, at the instability of the weather, etc. It’s a crime that, in the richest nation in the world, one million school children are homeless, one quarter of all children live in poverty. Last week there was a report of drones getting in the way of aircraft fighting fires out west. Such shortsightedness and delusion.
Many people tell themselves things like: “There’s nothing I can do. Politics is a waste of time. The system is rigged. I’d rather just go about my life.” Such an inner dialogue is probably responsible for the fact that, in most U. S. elections, fewer than 50% of Americans vote or protest or, possibly, even educate themselves on the state of the world and the campaign issues. (In 2012, 58.6% of registered citizens voted; in 2014, 36.6%.) In a democracy, this is your life. Politics is personal. To have a say in politics, you must speak.
The fact that you feel discomfort, outrage, depression is an indicator that you care, not that you shouldn’t. It means that you want to take action, not that no action can be taken. Maybe you grew up feeling there is no way to face discomfort or you must get rid of, medicate away or let the emotion take you over. Instead of attacking, hiding, or letting the feeling take you over, you can feel the feeling, rest in it, and understand it. Only by knowing your feelings can you know what they have to tell you, act on them appropriately or let them go.
Schools need to educate young people about how to participate in democracy, and how to understand and be mindfully aware of their own emotions. To do that, they need to teach mindfulness and become democratic communities where students can grow up familiar with taking responsibility for their lives, communities, and nation. Students need to be given the space to verbalize, analyze, and discuss what they feel and think about the state of the world today. In my school, community service is a graduation requirement and some teachers build political/social action into the curriculum. In my historical development course, on the first day of classes, I often asked: “What are the biggest problems with our world today?” Once students named the problems or concerns, I then asked: “Which of these is most basic?” Each student then had to decide which named concern they considered most basic and follow its historical, cultural, and intellectual (and sometimes artistic or other) roots through all the times and cultures we studied during the year. The final assessment became analyzing and describing how this problem developed, and how other cultures dealt with it. Students need to be helped to recognize that their way of conceiving the world and themselves is crucial in how they act and in the responsibility they assume for the state of the world.
In our concern and outrage lies our salvation. Our loves, our willingness to act not just for our own welfare but for the welfare of others, combined with our openness to study, analyze and understand what might be in the greater good–this can counter hopelessness. And a comprehensive education, which includes learning mindful self-awareness in a democratic school, serves the possible realization of that salvation.