Hi everyone. It is spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s my favorite season and love it as much as we all love MYGOD (multi-year general operating dollars). The days are getting longer and the crocuses and daffodils and tulips are popping up and the cherry blossoms will explode like balls of pink snow and it’s all magical.
The last several years have been one long, bitter winter. With the pandemic, the worsening climate problems, the open embrace of fascism, the rise in hate and violence, the banning of conversations about race, the rolling back of abortion rights, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the potential for world war 3, and so many other horrific things, we’ve been living through at least six consecutive years of end times without much of a break.
Meanwhile, practically every single one of us has been dealing with personal, professional, physical health, mental health, and family crises. Among the people I love, several are grappling with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. A few are struggling with alcoholism. I have friends who are mourning loved ones, who are grieving from miscarriages. Divorce. Custody battles. Mounting financial debt. Loneliness. Some are parents of small children who cannot be vaccinated yet. Others have to take care of elderly parents who are hospitalized for traumatic brain injury, or who have dementia and can no longer recognize them. So many have constant brain fog and exhaustion from long covid.
And yet, it seems that all of us are still operating as if things were normal. We continue to be hard on ourselves for failing to be productive. We continue to feel guilt and shame for not performing at our best. Probably 30% of our communications these days is just apologizing to one another for failing to meet standards that were set up during a different time.
Unfortunately, we’ve been really hard on one another too. We still expect one another to think and speak and react and plan and strategize clearly, as if none of us are constantly stressed to the breaking point. We still expect one another to keep it together, to keep our personal crises we’re dealing with from affecting our work, and to keep following social scripts. “How are you?” “I’m fine.” That’s a lie! Very few of us are fine!
Everyone is suffering, and we’re all in denial about it. Things are not just not normal, they are horrible for a lot of people. We need to renegotiate the rules and standards on how we treat ourselves and one another, or I don’t know how we can get through this with our relationships and integrity intact.
We need to redefine productivity: I see advertisements for apps to “increase your productivity,” “get more done,” etc. Despite the apocalypse revealing the destructiveness of capitalism, society is still enamored with it. We are still beholden to deadlines, outputs, deliverables, etc. on things that may not matter in the larger scheme of things. What if we focus instead on being there for one another, on strengthening community, on resting. Let’s cut down on all the stuff that don’t matter as much as we conditioned ourselves to think they did, so that we can focus more energy on the things that actually do.
We need to rethink concepts like laziness: On social media, I joked about being lazy because I wasn’t as engaged and active as I thought I should be. A friend, Denise Barreto, texted me “You are not lazy. Stop saying it. Even as a joke. You are selective in how you expend your energy. That’s it. Full stop. Only in a patriarchal, white supremacist, grossly capitalistic society are you lazy and to that I say FUCK OFF!” That was a nice wake up call. As we redefine productivity, we also need to deal with the guilt and shame around what society considers the opposite of productivity. Rest is not lazy. Setting boundaries is not lazy.
We need to be OK with being human: I’ve had to deal with kidney stones. I also have small children. So sometimes I need to attend meetings while lying down. Sometimes one or both kids pop into the room, screaming and crying for some reason. Sometimes I forget things people say, or forget to follow up, or forget people’s names. We may need to reschedule several times. We may need to end or leave a conversation abruptly because one or more of us have to deal with an emergency. We have to be OK with all that. We’re human beings trying to navigate an exceedingly challenging time.
We need to communicate differently: We still get upset at one another for failing to read subtexts, to read minds, to follow subtle hints and clues, a skill that was hard to execute even during the Before Times when our mental capacity had not been as occupied and diminished by pervasive emotional and existential exhaustion. Let’s all agree to try to communicate our needs directly. For instance, instead of giving hints to someone who annoys us, and then get upset when they don’t pick up on the hints, we just be honest with them. None of us have the emotional energy or mental reserves to play psychics or detectives when it comes to interacting with one another.
We need to celebrate the small victories: When we’re in crisis mode, we’re hyper-vigilant of everything that’s going wrong that we often fail to see what’s going right. We see one another’s faults without seeing one another’s contributions. We must remember to take time to see and celebrate the things that are going well. And also things that are going just OK, because that’s good too. Both with one another, and for ourselves. Considering everything going on, just making it through the day without breaking down crying is a win. Making it through a day WITH breaking down crying is STILL a win.
Above all, we need to give ourselves and one another grace: We are all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to not be at our best all the time. We’re all going to respond to situations in ways that we are not proud of and might regret later. We’re all going to misinterpret data and miscalculate strategies. We are all going to fail sometimes. Many of us are barely holding on by a thread. Let’s be gentler with one another and accept that we are each imperfect beings who are just trying to make it through some difficult days and years. And let’s give ourselves the same grace we more frequently extend to others.
It’s been a long, difficult winter. I appreciate that spring is here. On a walk around my neighborhood this weekend, I saw rows of beautiful daffodils, and plums and cherry blossoms getting ready to bloom. Poets often write about flowers “bursting” out of the ground, out of branches, triumphantly, full of life and color. But they don’t burst, not really. They spent months storing up energy, and then waited patiently, enduring the cold and the hard soil, constantly watching for signs—the rise in temperature, the softening of the earth. What we see as “bursts” is the culmination of hard, relentless, unseen movements, tiny growth one day at a time.
Though our literal winter is over, things are still going to be hard for a while. While we wait for the ground to soften, and as we also work to soften it, let us give ourselves and one another grace to rest, to store energy, and to grow.