Recognize yourself and the world: How to find agency in the face of madness

Hi all,

(This letter is being sent to current and previous students of mine in the past 2 years, as part of a series I started when UWB first went into lockdown. An archive of previous emails can be found on my website. If you want off this mailing list, let me know. If you want to stay on it after you graduate, send me your non-UW email address.)

I’m not sure what to say. The news from two days ago is horrific and debilitating, further making the world seem senseless as we despair in our helplessness. If you’re a UWB student, there are good resources for counseling and advising. Regardless, you will always be welcome to reach out to me for support.

I read on CNN that the US has had more mass shootings than days so far this year. That’s insanity. A collective insanity as our Senate is held hostage by the GOP and lobbyists (who’ve also filibustered meaningful action on climate change, federally protecting abortion rights, etc.).

If you’ve been reading my emails for the past two years during COVID, you may remember that most of them included words of support. I’ve written about how absurd the world is yet also how to find agency when it seems like you’re stuck. And so, I guess I’m writing again… to what? to reiterate what I’ve already said? I guess so… but maybe in a different way…

Two weeks ago, I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, and it was transformational for me, succinctly coalescing I think what I’ve been trying to say for the past two years. That in the face of absurdity, you DO HAVE control over how you react and treat others. Everyone is going through something; we’re all human. Take the time to understand and treat each other with kindness as the default attitude rather than being so self-centered and reactionary to a confusing world.

I think a lot of the problem is we live in a hyper-capitalist society that privileges profit over people, manipulates us into thinking we have to always be productive (at the cost of irreversible climate change), and, when combined with hypermasculinity and gender norms that stresses individuals rather than collectives, encourages toxicity and selfishness.

The only way to change this is together. As Ursula LeGuin stated: 

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

But even before finding meaning in art and writing, realize that there are more basic ways to live that act as a foundation to finding meaning in the world. As the elders of my family say: You can do anything you want except two things: Never compromise your integrity and never act against your conscience. 

I’m adding that you also have to stay informed and to think bigger about the larger forces at play and what it says about us as humans. There are patterns that can only be recognized through continual assessment of our current constraints.

Definitely, these two things must exist together: recognize yourself and recognize the world. Treat others with generosity and kindness, and be consistent with that vision of your ideal projected self, AND be critical of the world and how it should be different so that it’s easier for everyone to be kind and safe and happy.

Also, realize that we can discover how to do these things together. It’s better together. From there, we can and will move forward with meaningful action. These wounds we’ve suffered recently will heal. That said, a scar will definitely form, though, and we’ve got a whole lot of previous scars to prove it. PTSD is real, and its effects last for generations.

But remember, in the long scheme of the universe, we are but a tiny speck. It’s what we do with that knowledge that defines us and gives us meaning. Be sure to tell your friends and loved ones that you care, ask how you can help them, or just say hi and let them know what you have going on.



One thought on “Recognize yourself and the world: How to find agency in the face of madness”

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