I have so much to be thankful for this holiday season, yet I find myself feeling frustrated and sad. In today’s world of alternate facts, bitter partisanship, endless rancor, violent attacks on innocents, and sexual misconduct allegations, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can choose a different path, one of hope and resilience. Admittedly, this isn’t an easy path. But we can begin by taking off our cloak of righteousness and animosity and embracing our human capacity for compassion and empathy.
Change is never easy. It requires us to acknowledge our capacity to make a difference in the lives of others—both the people we touch and people we may never meet. It requires us to see the world, and ourselves, in a more nuanced way. It requires us to understand that while we can’t fix everything that’s wrong in our world, we can embrace our strengths to make a positive difference in our world.
So, how can we travel from despair and frustration to hope, from judgment to compassion, and from weakness to empowerment?
Here are three steps that might help you on your own journey of empowerment:
1) Wake up
2) Cultivate hope
3) Embrace your strength
Step 1 is to burst our bubbles—or at least step outside of them. To some degree, we all live in bubbles. Increasingly, we choose to interact almost exclusively with people who look like us, think like us, have similar socio-economic backgrounds, and share our political views.
In his 2009 book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart, Bill Bishop commented:
We now live in a giant feedback loop, hearing our own thoughts about what’s right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear, and the neighborhoods we live in.
What was true in 2009 is even truer today. In her 2017 book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brené Brown quantifies just how polarized we’ve become:
In 1976 less than 25% of Americans lived in places where the presidential election was a landslide. In other words, we lived next door to, and attended school and worshipped with, people who held different beliefs than ours. We were ideologically diverse. In contrast, in 2016, 80 percent of U.S. counties gave either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton a landslide victory.
Our gated communities and members-only clubs might make us feel comfortable, even safer. But there are real costs of living in a bubble: it cuts us off from understanding other’s view of the world and limits our opportunity for learning.
So how do we burst our bubbles and exit the echo chamber?
Try spending some time interacting with people who are different from us. Let’s listen to the people we so often fear, disdain, or simply ignore. As a first step, I recommend listening to Krista Tippet’s On Being conversation with Father Greg Boyle. The Calling of Delight: Gangs, Service, and Kinship might just restore your faith in humanity and leave you feeling better about the future. Among his many insights, Father Boyle shares his surprising experience of working with people quite different from himself:
That’s where the place of delight is, that I’ve learned everything of value really in the last 25 years from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent and wisdom, but quite the opposite. It’s mutual.
We learn from others, perhaps most notably from people who are different from ourselves. Father Boyle argues that the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with others. Being willing to see our similarities, instead of focusing on our differences, allows us to move towards awe and away from judgment.
Without hope, we’re sunk, both individually and as a society. Hopelessness is enervating and pessimism is paralyzing. When we succumb to despair, we lose the will to make the world better. We believe nothing we do will matter, that the outcome is a forgone conclusion.
How can we reignite hope within us? We stop, and we start.
We STOP listening to the purveyors of divisiveness, animosity, and despair. And we START filling ourselves with life-affirming content that leaves us feeling better about the world instead of worse. Rarely is anything all good or all bad, but our media diet can skew our worldview and makes us believe that the bad outweighs the good, even when that’s objectively false.
Where can we find this kind of content? (Hint: Probably not on any of the all [bad] news channels.) Here are a few suggestions for your consideration:
- Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer
- The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life, Lynne Twist
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
- TED Talks (search for “happiness” or other topics for a collection of inspiring talks)
- SuperSoul Conversations, Oprah Winfrey
- On Being, Krista Tippett
- TED Radio Hour, NPR
Happify (this site offers tips and reminders to help you live a happier life)
EMBRACE OUR STRENGTHS
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. We’re incredibly powerful—more powerful than we’re willing to admit (because if we’re powerless, we’re also not responsible). We’re wealthy, smart, talented, and successful. Many of us received a world-class formal education, and life has educated all of us. We’re blessed with smart, talented and well-connected friends who we can call on for wisdom and support. We’re persistent and resilient. As a group, we’re healthier than most, with access to the world’s best healthcare. We are among the privileged few.
Instead of giving into despair and accepting today’s abysmal status quo, we can use our power to change the dialogue, both personally and professionally. We can choose to treat others with integrity and respect, to engage with people who differ from us. We can use our wealth and other resources to help causes we care about, whether it’s helping the poor, promoting education, protecting the environment, fostering the arts, or seeking a cure for illness and disease. (If you need help figuring out what you want to do, call us.) When we use our money in conjunction with our time, talents, intelligence, connections, and wisdom, we can become an inexorable force for positive change.
No, we can’t right every wrong in the world, but we can leave the world better than we found it. And when we make a positive difference, we contribute to our own sense of satisfaction.
Best of all: making a difference in the lives of others makes perhaps the biggest positive difference in ourselves.
THE JOURNEY TOWARD EMPOWERMENT
The journey toward empowerment can be challenging, but it’s hardly impossible. The possibilities are as boundless as our beautiful imaginations, and the price of admission to this—the greatest challenge and opportunity of them all—is relatively modest: wake up, cultivate hope, and embrace our strengths.
When we choose to do these things, we can loosen the grip of despair in ourselves and serve as a beacon of hope for those around us.
I began this letter by acknowledging just how much I have to be thankful for this holiday season. I close by saying that I’m thankful for you, for the platform you’ve given me to share my own journey of personal empowerment, and for the opportunity to empower each of you to embrace your own strengths and use your wealth to live a more meaningful, joyful life. Together, we can see the future with more hopeful eyes and perhaps even change the world.
On behalf of the entire JOYN family, I’d like to wish you and your family Happy Holidays.