“I want to say that we need to stay vigilant,” I mused to my wife when describing what I wanted to assert in this post, “but ‘vigilant’ doesn’t sound quite right . . .”
“How about ‘engaged?’” she proffered.
It’s good to be married to an English major.
Being engaged is exactly what we need right now.
Rather than shrugging our shoulders and giving in to what could become the new normal—an intolerant, fear-mongering government administration—we need to stay engaged with each other, with what is happening in our country, and with ways we can act up and speak out.
Three problems of staying engaged
Oh, we humans!
Our short attention spans are so challenged. They were like that prior to the electronics age, easily distracted by the next shiny thing. But now, with instant information on the Internet and so many shiny objects to distract us, I think gnats may be beyond us in ability to focus.
And then there’s our natural inclination to revert to the norm. You might remember the research I cited in a previous blog post about happiness and how we usually go back to our set point of happiness no matter how good or bad things get in our lives. Humans, at least in American culture, tend toward this norm-seeking behavior because we like to stay comfortable and we like to stick with what we know.
The third problem of staying engaged may be resiliency itself. Just like any characteristic, resiliency has its good parts and its not-so-good parts. One of the great things about resiliency is that we can often grow accustomed to a new normal when changes occur. And one of the not-so-great things about resiliency is that we can often grow accustomed to a new normal when changes occur.
Yes, you read that right.
Our ability to adapt can both help us and hurt us. While learning to adjust to something new in our lives often helps us function well and feel better, this same adaptability may also lull us into an unintended complacency.
And complacency is the enemy of engagement.
How many of us have disagreed with a political policy and not contacted our congressperson about it? How many of us have become outraged by a spate of hate crimes in our area but soon moved back toward our norm of thinking others will do something about it? How many of us have promised ourselves we’re going to be more active in our communities right after Monday-Night Football/I get my new iPad/my kids go off to college/I get that promotion/my life settles down?
So here we are: microscopic-attention-spanned, norm-seeking, adaptable lovers of complacency. How are we going to make a difference in our country and our communities?
By staying engaged.
If there is any time to overcome our natural tilt toward inertia, this is it.
How to stay engaged
It’s hard, this pull toward staying comfortable. You might remember my mea culpa in my last post.
To keep engaged, try these strategies:
- Make a habit of reading the news. I know. This is a tough one. It’s okay to take breaks from reading and hearing bad news occasionally, but it’s also important to keep up to date on what is happening around you. Build some tolerance around this because staying unaware is taking steps down the road toward complacency. And be sure that the news you are reading is factual, not the fake news that is so prevalent now!
- Hear stories from people who are affected on a daily basis. Join Pantsuit Nation on Facebook to read stories of heroism, anguish, joy, and courage as members post their experiences with hate crimes and harassment and their hope for our country. Look at MoveOn.org or search for a local group at Meetup.com.
- Find like-minded people. One of the main components of resiliency is social support. Find people who think the way you do. Getting together regularly or just checking in once in a while will help you feel better and keep you engaged.
- Find people who are not like-minded, but reasonable. What better way to understand the other side of an issue than to engage in discussion with someone on that side? When you go into a conversation with curiosity and willingness to hear, you can find common ground upon which to meet.
- Set up some accountability for yourself. There’s nothing like having a deadline or needing to report to someone to keep you on track. Have your like-minded friends ask you what you’re doing to stay engaged. Make yourself a promise that if you don’t _____________ (fill in the blank with “call my representative,” “read the newspaper,” etc.), you have to donate $10 to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” foundation.
- Set a reminder on your phone. Have it go off a few times a day with a reminder that says, “Are you engaged?” or “Wake up!”
- Make a habit of calling or writing your representatives. Make your voice heard! Your senators and congresspersons are actually there to serve you, even though it often seems like it’s the other way around. Check in with them regularly with suggestions, criticisms, and encouragement. Maybe you want to do this every Monday or every other Wednesday. Put it on your calendar and do it.
Engagement is an important part of resiliency
I mentioned above that part of our happiness in life depends on what our natural happiness set point is. As a matter of fact, fully 50% of our happiness depends on our set point, according to happiness researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky.* Only 10% of our happiness comes from stuff—material things.
What about the other 40%?
That big 40% chunk of our happiness is the part that we can actively influence. It’s all about positive actions—doing things that are positive in our lives and in our communities.
That’s why engagement is so helpful to our ability to bounce back. It does two things for us. First, engagement is a series of positive actions that can directly enhance our happiness. Second, it can increase social support and sense of community, two things that research has repeatedly proven essential for resilience.
Only you can know what level of activist engagement you want and need. Maybe my suggestions here are a little too much for you. Or maybe you want to do more. Find the level that works for you.
Finally, remember that engagement also includes being fully engaged with yourself. So be sure to take care of yourself throughout. We need you.
And now it’s over to you. What are your ideas for staying engaged?
*If you’re interested, you can find Lyubomirsky’s paper on the components of happiness here.
Top – Felipe Cabrera
Middle – nucce
Bottom – DigitPedia