or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear; the darkness around us is deep.
–William Stafford, A Ritual To Read To Each Other
For many of us these can be discouraging times. Then again, I doubt any of us get through our lives free of discouragement. Like me, you may be discouraged by the outpour of support for Trump. Or you may be in a job or relationship that undermines you. Or you have experienced a great loss or a considerable disappointment.
Something is dissing our courage: dis-courage-ment. When our courage is dissed this may mean we withdraw when we should engage, close down when we should open up, hold back when we should take action. Discouragement can make us habitual and reactive rather than responsive. It’s a way of giving into the darkness around us.
On my walk yesterday a local farmer stopped in the street to say hello.
“Are you watching the conventions?” He asked. “They’re crazy.”
“I liked Michele’s speech,” I offered.
“They’re all bad. I’m likely voting for Trump,” he said.
This surprised me and a wave of discouragement and hopelessness flooded me. I knew him to be a good man. I felt myself wanting to either shout at him or shut down. Instead, I let my curiosity and compassion take over. I remained open to him.
“Really?” I said.
“I’m a conservative,” he said.
“So, Trump is a conservative?”
He looked surprised and didn’t say. He smiled and shrugged. He repeated that he was a conservative without mentioning what this meant and I asked again how he considers Trump a conservative. And then he said what for me was the deal breaker in this conversation.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.”
Something about this brought me closer to him and I moved up to his truck. “Everything matters, every thing counts. This conversation matters.”
“Wow. I’m glad I stopped,” he laughed. “But too bad the politicians don’t stop to talk, and listen,” he said. I agreed. Then he said something about getting back home to put up some drywall, and drove his car a few feet. Then stopped and put his head out the window.
“What was that you said again. I want to remember it.”
“Everything matters; this conversation matters.”
“I like that.” And he drove off.
His statement that “this doesn’t matter…” is an epidemic expression of discouragement these days. But that small conversation helped me to hold my neighbor in a more compassionate light and allowed for a mutual influence. We even laughed about how the politicians need to be thrown into a room together until they learn to listen. And, possibly, he is considering if Trump really represents his conservative views.
- Keep the conversations going. Engage in dialogue and conversation with others, with your self (and your principles), and with the world around you.
- Read inspiring poetry, essays and stories by those who understand discouragement and have gotten to the other side of it. Read books and blogs that bring forth your courage. Many great posts, articles and poetry can be found each week on Parker J Palmer’s Facebook page. His latest book on Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit offers up many ways to be courageous during these stressful times.
- Find and express the lighter side of life: humor is a great antidote to discouragement.
- Tap into your grit. Take risks. We need grit for everything from making that thousandth breakfast to finishing the novel. We need grit to raise a child well. We need grit to raise our self properly. We need grit to keep to our meditation practice. We need grit to create something new among all our losses and mistakes. We need grit to fight against the voices that try to steal our spirit. We need grit to be courageous.The antidote is next to the wound, or in the wound itself, as the African proverb so famously claims. Be courageous in the face of discouragement.
- Spend some time enjoying the outdoors. The natural world is restorative. My morning walks always restore my faithfulness in others and the world around me.
we climb the steep side of
this hill strewed with sharp objects
and I know daughter, you will get cut
but don’t stop
don’t let the sharp objects
interrupt your flowering spirit
Because there is a there to get to
a greening so full of light
You will be willing to make
the climb again