As people who are decent and have basic values (I mean you, dear reader), we want to “live out” our decency and basic values. When we don’t, cognitive dissonance sets in and we can be confused about our values and who we are. If this confusion and conflict go on too long, whether in our own brains or as a nation, a mental breakdown ensues.
Two Urgent Questions
Who are we as a nation? Who are we as individuals? To answer these urgent questions requires us to reflect upon, define, and align our values WITH our thoughts and actions. As a nation, and as individuals, we must go back to fundamental questions. Are we inclusive? Do we believe in fairness, not just for “people like me” but for “people not like me”? Do power and authority and “might” make right? Should we follow authority? Do we have moral responsibilities to others, for making the world better? Or am I the only one who really matters?
We are being trolled as a nation, and our basic values are being challenged (and trolled and contested) every single day. The goal of trolls? To confuse, to weaken, to undermine core beliefs so that moral relativism is the norm. If you are susceptible to trolling, then you need to sit down and reflect. You can strengthen your values by actually modelling them for others around you. For instance, don’t TALK about inclusion and respect for others; ACT in a way that shows you value inclusion and respect for others. You don’t need permission from the White House to live out your values, nor should your values be trolled from the White House either.
What I Believe and Why
I believe firmly in building community around caring and mentoring and empathizing and listening. These are my values because they sustain me; they keep me happy and healthy. Back in 2000 and again in 2014, I suffered a series of panic attacks caused by severe social anxiety. These panic attacks left me unable to sleep and unable to function at work or in my life. In the end, on both occasions, I was hospitalized for a short time. I’ve spent years of my life in therapy, trying to understand how to effectively manage my mental health. I used to do it with therapy and medication. Then I decided on another way. I realized a very simple secret which has become the key to my physical, mental, and spiritual health: the world can generally be trusted, and people can generally be trusted. Err on the side of trust, rather than isolation.
I don’t preach community just because it sustains personal and professional lives, although I know that community helps sustain personal and professional life. I preach community as a mental health imperative for myself and others. When we isolate ourselves from community, we can get lost in our own heads. Anxieties, resentments, and fears can grow, taking us to places that are unhealthy. I’ve been to those places.
What community does is teach us that we can (and must) choose trust, that we can seek help and we, in turn, can offer help. This goes for our personal lives, our careers, and our health. When we reach out to others, we’re given the chance to get help, to be better, and to also get better by helping others be better. This approach has helped me in every area of my life.
The Next Step: Act On What Matters
As a nation, we are awash in fear, anxiety, trolling, and resentment. These feelings serve the status quo because they keep us turning on each other rather than to each other. We can reduce our national and personal cognitive dissonance by talking to each other, especially with people who have been excluded and “othered.” Instead of being afraid and bunkered in, reach out and try to learn something, to trust someone. We are in a crisis of empathy. Get out, talk to people, work on improving your capacity to trust and empathize. Doing these things goes far beyond mental health; they will transform the world around you and, if scaled up, can morally transform the entire nation.
The best thing you can do for the nation right now is to think about the values you are willing to fight for, and then promote those values in what you say and what you do. Will doing so put you in the bullseye or crosshairs of “the status quo” or “conventional wisdom,” “the patriarchy,” “the power structure,” and “the man”? Yes. Do it anyway. The alternative? Cognitive dissonance and unhealthy “wobbliness” about your values. When we don’t talk about and live out what we believe, our values can disappear quickly, so can our sanity and our democracy.