I got an email with the above title and the following snippets, from a wonderful person who’s struggling with something I struggle with every day.
In following your blogs and talks, I’ve been impressed with the positivity and humor that you project. I would so love to hear how you keep that positivity when you know so much about all the really depressing facts of heterosexual privilege… Becoming more aware is a very good thing, but I also noted that when I see so much unfairness, my ability to view the world positively, which I always thought was quite reliable, came crashing down… What are some ways that you combat the depressing news and facts that are constantly floating around?
Below is what I had to say in response. If you have a question like this, or any question really, that you’d be okay with me answering on this site, write me at yo [at] samkillermann [dawt] com. I’d love to hear from you.
What you’re experiencing isn’t just something I’ve struggled with before, but something I have to be mindful about every day. For me, being positive in the face of negativity isn’t just important for me personally, but a requirement for what I’m trying to do.
The analogy that best describes how I handle the negativity is that of a buoy. I allow myself to be pushed and pulled, and to feel the effects of the currents, but I always stay above the surface. If there’s a particularly bad swell (some absolutely miserable bit of news, or an email that rocks me) I may get dragged under, but I have a few things I do that help me shirk that burden and pop back up to the surface.
1. I try to tread in waters where I have the abilities to help. Everyone can’t help everyone all the time — they’d break. And there is a ton of injustice in the world that needs the help of a ton of people.
2. Similarly, I’ve learned to say no. “No” to a particular article or video, and especially no to news aggregators that churn out endless “this is wrong with the world” and no “this is how it’s being fixed.” I try to be selective in what I consume.
3. If something sneaks in (e.g., a video about child slavery, something I’m ill-equipped to help), I’ll do one of two things. If I have a friend/peer who is working in that arena of social justice, I’ll share it with them. And if not, I’ll watch it, allow it to make me mad/angry/sad/depressed, allow myself to feel those feelings, then get back to work. I try my hardest not to carry any burdens I shouldn’t be carrying.
4. In general, I try to be an intentionally grateful person. In every aspect of my life. I’m grateful when I wake up, when I have hot water to shower, when I have food to eat, or when I have the opportunity to get more food, etc. I also try to focus on the good that’s happening in the world, be grateful for that, and to find the good in even the worst news (e.g., I’m grateful these things are being discussed, as they may not have been 10 years ago, or under a different political system). It’s only when I’m dragged deep into the sea that I get to see all the beautiful fishes.
5. And when everything seems to be piling on, and I’m way too deep to see the daylight above, I step back. I turn everything off. Disconnect from the world and try to connect more with my world. Get out of the ocean and rest on the beach. For a day. For a week. Whatever I need. One time, it was longer. And when I’m ready I wade back in.
Let me know if you have any questions. Sorry for the delay; I had to dig your email out of my spam folder (silly, Gmail). Also, if you’d be okay with it, I think I’d like to publish this convo on my site (your part abridged, and anonymous). Others likely have the same concern and might benefit from it.
Never ask for permission to smile,