My responsibility to the storm

In a sand storm, each grain of sand both is controlled by the storm is part of the storm. Individually, the grains are controlled by forces greater than themselves. Together, they constitute those forces.

I remember being at a circuit party in the late 1990’s where a friend of mine, dancing near me on the dance floor, leaned over to me and said: “The vibe is weird here right now. This crowd doesn’t seem like they are having fun yet. They seem like they are waiting for the fun to start.” He had an anxious look on his face, eyes darting here and there through the room. He very clearly was not having fun yet. I replied, “you are part of this crowd.”

He didn’t get my point. I closed my eyes, smiled, and danced to the music.

Our country–our world–is going through a lot right now. People are worried, people are stressed, and many people are angry. I’m so grateful to all of the people I see who are reaching out to each other to create feelings of community, compassion and support. I see it among strangers on social media, and I see it in the efforts of small communities to find ways to connect socially during this period of physical distancing. All of the little things, from video-chat group meetings to sharing lists of their favorite shows to binge-watch, are not only helpful for themselves: they are helpful because the fact that people are doing it conveys a message that people want to help each other.

It warms my heart.

However, I also see some of the cracks in the system. Some people are under incredible strain, and everyone deals with strain differently. I see people who lash out. On social media I see some people being loud and destructive, taking their own feelings of personal frustration or loss out on others.

Conspiracy theory chatter is ramping up, and I see this as a symptom of the same underlying problem. Conspiracy theorists feed off of feelings of helplessness and anger. They provide a target onto which people can project their anxiety and rage, and they provide a narrative to rationalize lashing out in hate. It’s very, very dangerous. Their chatter makes everyone more anxious, which then just spreads fear and toxic behavior further into the system.

I’m a mote in the storm, so what can I do?

I provide emotional support, when I have the emotional strength to do it.

I provide advice and tips on health and self-care, when I have any to give.

I give generously to people and groups in need, when I can do so without putting myself at risk.

And I monitor myself to make sure I don’t run myself dry. If I’m feeling fragile, I reach out to close friends and try to connect in kindness. If they don’t have the emotional energy to help me, I remind myself that they are struggling too.

I need to take care of myself this way, because I’ve seen how people act when they get overrun by frustration or fear or hate. They can lash out, they can cause harm. Caring for myself is the best way I know to make sure I have the strength to be compassionate. Caring for myself is something I do for my own well-being, but I don’t do it only for my well-being.

It is my responsibility to the storm.