As we lead up to the 2018 Mid-term elections (remember to vote!), I struggle with the violence and hate I see in the news. A white, right-wing terrorist sent bombs through the mail to the political ‘enemies’ of our current president. Two African Americans were shot at a grocery store in Kentucky. There are continued threats against the legal protections of our transgender and non-binary siblings. There is relentless misinformation and threats spreading about immigrants and asylum-seekers. And on Saturday, October 27th, a gun-loving anti-Semite opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during their worship service killing 11 people and wounding several others. As Unitarian Universalists, these incidents (and culture that breeds them) threaten our values. We are called to speak out, to challenge the hate, to make a difference.
Resistance fatigue is a concept for activists dealing with an overload of stress, of being in an unending cycle of fighting against injustice. With so much happening and so many cries for support and attention, people are beginning to feel overwhelmed as the abnormal slowly becomes normal.
How do you stay engaged? How do you combat resistance fatigue? I have been thinking about this a lot (and listening a lot, and reading a lot, and feeling a lot.) Here are some tips I have found.
First: if you want to stay engaged, you need to occasionally back away. But it is a two-part process. Take a break as you need to AND don’t give up. I’ve seen the reminder of how a choir can learn to stagger breaths so the notes are sustained but everyone can rest. You don’t need to attend every rally, re-post every news story, and work every phone bank. In the Pirkei Avot, a collection of rabbinic teachings, it says “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Take a break so you can stay engaged for the long haul.
Second: Be mindful of what you consume. Think of the news like food. It is the nourishment your mind needs to survive. Sensationalized news is like candy, it will cause rot. A balanced diet is best, fill your plate from different news sources and different perspectives. Seek out news about art and science if you feel inundated by politics and social issues. Seek out a deeper version of the headline that upsets you. Be aware of the impact news has on you.
And Third: Listen more. Give a little extra attention to the voices of vulnerable people. Listen to people’s fears; try to hear the unspoken fears behind the news. Amplify the voices from the margins. Part of what you’ll gain is an appreciation that you are not alone and that your part matters.
As Unitarian Universalists, our values lead us to engage with the world, to support the vulnerable, and to speak out for truth and for justice. It is not easy or simple. It can be overwhelming. But we are in this together. And together we will persevere.