$Monday: Defund Mindless Consumption and Invest in What's Good

Most people and systems don't change until they are forced. This pandemic has forced a lot on us and keeps ramping up, so now is make-or-break time to defund our worst patterns, from the global to the individual, and reinvest in our future. If you have been in a mental fog since March, or if you have been using harmful coping mechanisms to get by, there's no shame in your automatic responses or in your survival strategies. At the same time, we each have the agency and the urgency to shift to sustainable ways of living through hard times that have no quick fix.

Each one of us can and must use the current pandemic and the winds of social change to redesign our ways of life from the ground up, in the unfortunate absence of national leadership. It's sink or swim time, for you and for me and for the whole of our society. And it isn't just a matter of surviving so that we can get back to normal--this is our chance to truly heal some old wounds and to build a new normal that is so much better than the old baseline that we won't even miss it.

A recent New York Times opinion piece lays out the historical and economic precedents for meaningful, lasting changes for good occurring in response to crises. Transformation is not just possible in the aftermath of a crisis, it's more likely to succeed.

“Hope right now in America is bloodied and battered, but this is the kind of hope that is successful,” said Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey. “It’s hope that has lost its naïveté.”

So what do we do with our bloody hopes? First, we need to accept that social justice and personal responsibility are not opposites but rather interdependent conditions. One cannot exist without the other. In an economy built on the premise of consumer choice, how we spend our money and how we spend our time--the most obvious manifestations of our power--determine our fortune. And, plot twist--social injustice means that we don't all get a fair share of money and freedom over how we use our time. That very inequality fuels the urgency to change how we live, individually and collectively. Don't waste your energy blaming yourself for not having been endowed with certain unearned privileges at birth or at any point in your life. And don't--absolutely do not--scapegoat others with less power and privilege than you. Focusing your rage and blame in a backwards direction will only dig us all deeper into the muck. Do recognize, accept, and use the powers you have at any given moment--for yourself and for your larger community. Listen and be compassionate, but also mind your own business and do your own work.

In the United States, our economy is based upon useless and numbing consumption of "future-garbage" products and services that we don't need and which do not make our lives better for having consumed them. The pandemic, economic crisis, and social unrest have set the whole system ablaze, exposing how it has damaged our health and made us, as individuals and as a nation, weak and vulnerable. To come back stronger, we need to come back different. To come back better, we need to take responsibility for our own wellness and happiness by making conscious decisions about how we spend our money, our time, our lives.

Personal responsibility and social justice depend upon each other to exist. Never forget that. When you hear someone using one as an excuse for discounting the other, these concepts are being misapplied. Blaming the victim is never a solution to injustice. Learned helplessness is never an effective response to victimization. We need both justice and personal responsibility to drive systemic change in a positive direction. Social justice empowers individual people with the resources and freedoms they need to take good care of themselves and others, and getting involved in issues that are larger than our individual lives gives each one of us a greater sense of agency, which is essential to our abilities to heal, develop our skills and talents, and thrive. Our psychic wounds are not our fault, but nobody else can heal them for us. Our centuries-deep cultural problems are no living individual's fault, but as my mother-in-law says, "That and a quarter will get you twenty-five cents." We must come together to come within closer reach than ever before to the American dream, to the ideals that we are all free and that every child born matters.

During a regime of authoritarian violence, uncontrolled disease spread, and widening social divisions, it's easy to come up with lists of things we can't or shouldn't do. But this time also provides unique opportunities to:
  • connect with a social movement online to deepen your involvement with demilitarizing police and reinvesting in systems that nurture community health; protecting natural resources and the right to pollution-free water, air, food, and land; dismantling racism; or another cause that moves each one of us to stand up and speak out
  • get serious about attending to our own health--physical, mental, and emotional--so we can continue to show up for our loved ones and our communities, even if "showing up" is just being there for a supportive phone call or doing what we can to mitigate our own children's trauma; for guidance on how to manage your own wellness, read Raptitude's simple advice on "How to Feel Better" and plan your own "Corona Summer Self-Care"
  • set an example of self-care for our friends and family; encourage others to do the same for themselves and celebrate their victories and joys in addition to comforting them in times of grief and sadness
  • use the downturn in FOMO to our advantage, spending less money and time on makeup, haircuts, clothes, travel, entertainment outside of our homes, and all non-essential work we'd normally have a greater need to pay others to do for us, or spend time and energy doing ourselves, just so that we can be a good rat in the race
  • use the best blanket excuse of our entire lifetimes to dump the chumps in our lives, end toxic relationships that drain us more than they sustain us, and quit enabling self-destructive behaviors in friends and family who are not coping well; social distancing makes it easier than ever to prioritize the people and social dynamics that give us life
  • catch up on home and vehicle maintenance to invest in a more secure future with fewer financial and logistical emergencies
  • give back to our communities by donating if we are in a strong position to do so

A lot of the world's chaos is happening outside of our control, but what you do matters, especially to yourself and to everyone who loves you and benefits from knowing you. We're all in this together, even in our loneliness and ennui. The only certainties we have are that the big problems of the world will stick around for a long time--too long to cling to unsustainable ways of doing and being--and that there are always unique opportunities to be found in chaos. So take stock of any ingrained habits that hurt you long-term, replace them with behaviors that help, and connect with something bigger than yourself to overcome self-centered despair. It's never too late while you're alive, and--the sooner the better.


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