Monthly Archives: October 2016

Anxiety

NY Times columnist David Brooks is my favorite of those people. I thought his piece early this week on the anxiety many Americans are feeling in this election season was right on target, and worth sharing. Mostly this is Brooks, assume that quotes go around most of it. I have just finished many holidays and don’t have so many original thoughts.

This election campaign isn’t now and maybe never was about policy proposals, issue solutions or even hope. It has taken the form of two candidates who arouse gargantuan anxieties, fear and hatred in their opponents. As a result, some mental health therapists are reporting that three-quarters of their patients are mentioning significant election-related anxiety. An American Psychological Association study found that more than half of all Americans are very or somewhat stressed by this race.

Now there are good and bad forms of anxiety — the kind that warns you about legitimate dangers and the kind that spirals into dark and self-destructive thoughts. In his book “Worrying,” Francis O’Gorman notes how quickly the good kind of anxiety can slide into the dark kind. “Worry is circular,” he writes. “It may start with a concrete anxiety: Did I lock the back door? Is this headache a stroke? And it has a nasty habit of taking off on its own, of getting out of hand, of spawning thoughts that are related to the original worry and which make it worse.” That’s what’s happening this year. Anxiety is coursing through American society. It has become its own destructive character on the national stage.

Worry alters the atmosphere of the mind. It cycles possible bad futures around in your head and forces you to live in dreadful future scenarios, 90 percent of which will never come true. Pretty soon you are seeing the world through a dirty windshield. A mounting tide of anxiety makes people angrier about society and more darkly pessimistic about the possibility of changing it.

This being modern polarized America, worry seems to come in two flavors. The first fits many (some?) people we know. Educated-class anxiety can often be characterized as a feeling of overabundant options without a core of convicting purpose. It’s worth noting that rich countries are more anxious than poorer ones. According to the World Health Organization, 18.2 percent of Americans report chronic anxiety while only 3.3 percent of Nigerians do.  Today, when you hear affluent people express worry, it’s usually related to the fear of missing out, and the dizziness of freedom. The affluent often feel besieged by busyness and plagued by a daily excess of choices. At the same time, there is a pervasive cosmic unease, the anxiety that they don’t quite understand the meaning of life, or have not surrendered to some all-encompassing commitment that would bring coherence and peace. I see that.

This election has also presented members of the educated class with an awful possibility: that their pleasant social strata may rest on unstable molten layers of anger, bigotry and instability. How could this guy Trump get even 40 percent of the votes? America may be not quite the country we thought it was. I definitely have felt this.

Now, among the less educated, anxiety flows from and inflames a growing sense that the structures of society are built for the exploitation of people like themselves. Everything is rigged; the rulers are malevolent and corrupt. It is a well-established fact that people who experience social exclusion have a tendency to slide toward superstitious and conspiratorial thinking. People who feel exploited by, and invisible to, those at the commanding heights of society are not going to worry if their candidate can’t pass a fact-check test. They just want someone who can share their exclusion and give them a better story.

Anxiety changes people. We’ve seen a level of thuggery this election cycle that is without precedent in recent American history. Some of the anti-Trump demonstrators seem more interested in violence than politics. Some of the Trumpians are savage.

Now, some of the things that have made us vulnerable to this wave of anxiety are not going away — the narratives of fear, conspiracy and the immobilizing stress. America’s culture may be permanently changed for the worse.

But the answer to worry is the same as the answer to fear: direct action. If the next president starts enacting a slew of actual policies, then at least we can argue about concrete plans, rather than vague apocalyptic moods. Furthermore, action takes us out of ourselves. If we’re worrying, we’re spiraling into our own narcissistic pool. But concrete plans and actions thrust us into the daily fact of other people’s lives. This campaign will soon be over, and governing, thank God, will soon return.

Ponder this and have a good day. Bill Rudolph

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A Yom Kippur Thought

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agree that they had no other recourse but to pray to God. However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the islands.

The first thing they prayed for was food.

The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife.The next day, another ship was wrecked, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing. Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him.
However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God’s blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?
 “My blessings are mine alone, since i was the one who prayed for them,” the first man answered. “His prayers were all unanswered and he does not deserve anything.”

“You are mistaken!” the voice rebuked him. “He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you wouldn’t have received any of my blessings.”

“Tell me,” the first man asked the voice. “What did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”

“He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”

For all we know, our blessings are not the fruits of our prayers alone, but those of another praying for us.

As we gather for Kol Nidrei, we need to understand that we stand together before God, not as individuals, but as a community, a caring community. Hopefully we all have that, so that we can lean on one another, pray for one another and be able to depend on one another. Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZeh, we are responsible for each other.

May all of our prayers be answered and may we all be blessed.   Best to you for an easy fast. Bill Rudolph