My teen daughter is going through the anxieties and insecurities we all remember from those coming-of-age years. Adding to the stresses of her life are the much-noted amplifying effects of modern living: social media, 24-hour news cycles and the dehumanizing pace of an unbalanced world.
Modern culture has given my daughter and her friends heavy labels (bi-polar, ADHD, suicidal) to describe their teen tumult, and violent narratives to exacerbate their anxieties. All of this is very scary. I want kids to grow up grounded, resilient and strong.
It reminds me of discussions I have with colleagues around the country who are reeling from the daily onslaught – school shootings, “fake news,” a sense of loss in the promise of our collective endeavor. How, we wonder, can we stay grounded, resilient and strong when so much draws us into the chaos?
Just yesterday, I was delighted to listen to author and global community activist Margaret Wheatley share her recent work with the Tamarack Institute network. In her new book, Who do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Wheatley explores what it means for us all to be leaders in “this time of profound disruption, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.”
Wheatley calls on us to create conditions in which people can act on their capacity to be generous, creative and kind. Her work aims to strengthen leaders and practitioners who strive to rebalance the world, to bring more light and love into being.
This morning, I was reflecting on Wheatley’s work when my daughter came to me, distraught. I said to her, “My love, we must feed the light – turn off your Instagram account, listen to sweet music, take a walk with your mama in the spring sunshine. There will always be darkness, there will always be things that happen that are outside of our control. We can rarely stop the darkness, but we can minimize its impact on us, by feeding the light.”
My daughter looked at me with a glimmer of amusement. “Are you going to tell me about the circles of influence again, Mom?” She was referring to a blog I’d written, in which I encourage us to focus on our spheres of influence to mitigate a feeling of hopelessness in our lives.
How can we feed the light? A few of my strategies (in addition to the ones I shared with my daughter) include:
Manage your information I love the concept of a “news diet” and so every Sunday I try to stay off my phone and computer, avoid the papers and let my mind be free to wander, connect and create. I figure I can hear about the news – good and bad – on Monday.
Treat your brain as you treat your body While books, blogs and magazines regularly advise us to take care of our bodies (eat this, not that; exercise regularly, etc.), I find that the same advice is helpful for my brain. I’m thoughtful about what I put into it (what I read, watch, contemplate) so that it can remain creative and resilient.
Give yourself the present of presence Eckert Tolle’s book The Power of Now had a big impact on me when I read it a few years ago. When we truly place ourselves in the present moment – see the sky, feel the wind, hear the hums of our home – we catch a break from our ceaseless worries, and life regains its grace.
Focus on local community My work life focuses on the promise and practice of people coming together at the community level to, as Wheatley would say, tap whatever resources, people and projects we have. That’s where I do my work. Unlike the dominant story at the national level – of strife and combativeness – local communities across the nation are working to do right by one another, and to engage in authentic, trusting ways. Knowing that fosters my understanding and service to the work.How do you feed the light in your life? How do you encourage the people you love, the people you work with and live with, to be generous, creative and kind? I’d love to know.