Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

January 6, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I really enjoy reading your advice column online and think you give great advice! I am hoping you can help me with a problem that I have been having with my husband ever since the election. Since then he has been in a deep depression.

He was devastated that Kerry did not win (well he actually did win since he really won Ohio, but that is another topic!) and spends hours and hours everyday researching all the atrocities of the war in Iraq, the many horrible things the Bush administration has done to innocent Americans, the "real story of the 9/11 attacks" (the theory that it was an inside job that the Bush Administration knew about and approved) the civil liberties that have been taken away with the Patriot Act and even more to come when the Patriot Act II passes etc. etc.

He and my son are traveling to DC for the anti-inauguration protests on inauguration day. He is convinced that he will be arrested, taken to a prisoner internment center and that we will never see him again. The more articles he reads on the Internet the more agitated, paranoid and depressed he gets. His friends and family have tried to get him off the Internet and back to the reality of life but he is not listening to us.

We have tried to get him to see that even though there is a lot of bad in the world there is also a lot of good. I know this is a big problem but am hoping that you have some advice for me. Since you are the voice of reason I'm hoping he will listen to you. Thank you for anything you can recommend.

Sincerely yours,

Williamsburg, VA

Dear Eileen,

Thank you very much for the kind words. It's a heavy responsibility, being "the voice of reason," (especially when Auntie doesn't always feel very reasonable!) but I will do the best I can. Yours is not the only letter I've received, describing such a concern for a friend or loved one, so to begin with, you're not alone.

Let me start by saying that I, too, take a very grave view of the next four years. In spite of my confidence that four more years of Mr. Bush's administration will go a long way to discredit the current leadership and policies of the GOP, that is a barren comfort in the face of the damage that will accumulate during that time. We are, indeed, facing a historic rollback of civil liberties, protection for the environment and the well being of working Americans, and the social compact that supports our civil infrastructure.

International friendships and trust critical to our long-term national security will continue to erode. Four more years will see this damage embedded deeply into the fabric of our civil and social institutions, and exponentially more difficult to halt and reverse than if we had been able to begin the process this year. In no sense do I take these things lightly.

Two things keep me from despair and obsessive negative focus:

First, I have historical perspective and a deep respect for the resilience of humanity. America has been through similar periods of darkness and retrogression in the past, and the fundamental decency and enlightened self-interest (as opposed to the ugly me-first version of social Darwinism,) have always re-emerged, eventually.

Second, I have personal perspective and a deep respect for the transformational power of caring relationships. Without strong, loving human connections, the fight for progress and justice is an empty exercise in moral arrogance. It risks being a brittle and unsustainable imposition of my vision upon others.

I have chosen the responsibility of being a change agent, but I also choose to be intelligent in how I carry out that responsibility.

The future needs me healthy, well-rested, confident, loved and loving.

If I am not enjoying the process, there's something wrong with the way I'm approaching it, and I need to step back, and re-examine my motives, methods, and how well I am living the vision I want to realize.

They used to call Hubert H. Humphrey "The Happy Warrior," and how appropriate that label was! In the fight to bring civil rights to Minneapolis when he was Mayor; in his dedication to the War on Poverty as Vice President; and in his many, many fights for social justice and economic equity in the Senate, Mr. Humphrey never lost his sense of humor, his sense of perspective, or his ability to remain warmly connected with a large circle of constituents, colleagues, friends and family. We all need these qualities today, more than ever.

My religious tradition teaches me that the end does not justify the means. In fact, close observation over a long life has convinced me, rather, that the means shape the ends. If we seek justice and peace through hatred and discord, our achievements will be fragile and ephemeral at best, illusory and futile at worst. Many methods for promoting change are double-edged tools. Used as Dr. King used them, they bear vast power for good. Used with hatred and disrespect for the humanity of those we are trying to change, they become boomerangs, laying up long-term losses that will eventually cancel out short-term achievements.

I am glad to hear that your husband and son are going to the inauguration protests. To stand for one's principles in the face of indifferent or hostile society can be a powerful statement. Expressing the anguish and rage we feel, watching yet more darkness being called down upon our nation, can be cathartic and even catalytic. But not if it is done in a spirit of hatred and despair. Not if political power is simply a bone we feel we have more right to than those other dogs. Not if we are doing it only to "get back at" those we feel have betrayed our trust.

To be a "Happy Warrior" we need a deep connection to our society, a whole and multi-faceted life that includes elements of joy and laughter and fun, of healthy work and shared interaction with all our neighbors. It requires finding common ground, and when politics offers no common ground, we must go outside politics and find connection by other means - volunteer work, recreation, entertainment, education, family… there are many choices.

Finally, it's important for all of us to remember that the Internet is a wonderful tool, but it can serve as much to blind us as to enlighten us, to isolate us as to connect us. Becoming addicted to the cycle of rage and validation is easy on the Internet. Auntie's been there. It's not healthy. For me, it was part of a larger health problem, and getting my overall physical and mental health attended to helped me. I've been more productive both in the quality and the quantity of my contributions to positive change.

I hope this is helpful, Eileen. Righteous anger can be a powerful force for good, and we should not ignore its promptings. But if we want to use that anger to achieve lasting change, it must be used right. Not with hatred and despair, but with hope and confidence. Best wishes to you and your family, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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