Power in Choice

Humanity has weathered difficult and tragic times throughout history. During each period of unrest the word unprecedented could have been used. What can we learn about endurance from those past events?

My husband has used the phrase “This, too, shall pass.” He does not mean to discount the suffering involved (it is usually in response to a lament of mine); rather, he implies that there is hope ahead. These times will pass. What many are afraid of is how the future will be affected.

I know good people who are so caught up in one theory or another that hints of conspiracy–or is rife with it. There are many theories out there, but do they actually offer help, or do they simply present a narrative by which to interpret or make sense of what is going on? Preppers are prepping and reclusives are reclusing. Social media is blowing up with nastiness. There seems more an epidemic of fear than a pandemic of virus. And where does it get us?

I do believe in educating oneself and in ferreting out truth. It must be taken into account that facts will change according to research, time, and increased data, and thus a flexible outlook is wise. I explain to my children that each person on a proverbial bus may have a different map or smart device to determine which way to go, but this may or may not influence the bus driver. There are more civil ways to convince him of a better route than belittling him, yelling, running up to the front of the bus and grabbing the wheel. The latter causes more potential damage and a possibly crashed bus, than a wrong turn might.

How do we deal with the fear?

In college we learned about Erickson’s psychosocial stages of development . There are stages in life through which we progress and a key developmental task ideally attained in each. That task is named with its alternative as “x versus y.” In infancy the task is “trust vs mistrust,” and in adolescence the task is “identity vs role confusion.” I look at what we are experiencing in the world through the eyes of an adult, and the current task I face is “generativity vs stagnation.” When I am elderly, the task will become “integrity vs despair.” Of course this is all psychological theory, meant to be a framework for describing and understanding behavior; but I believe it can point the way for healthy behavior in this time of social distancing and changing policies.

In order to work through this time of isolation and avoid fear, it may be healthy to back off of social media that only serves to upset oneself. Certain sites or upsetting people can be “snoozed” or blocked. News can be learned from alternative sources. The flow of information can become more reasonable. Instead, phone calls, emails or even snail-mail letters can be written in order to stay connected.

Generativity means that we create, generate, or accomplish something. Many who are unable to work or do what normally occupies their time must reflect on what they can apply themselves to here and now. One friend of mine has painted her house, another refinished furniture, and other has embroidered artwork for her relations. An elderly friend has enjoyed going through boxes of old letters and has, little by little, organized her garage. Still other friends who own cows or horses have continued feeding, caring for and exercising their animals. Some have found ways to donate time and money to charitable organizations. I have planted so many flowers in our garden that my husband who lovingly waters them has asked me to stop. Though actors have been unable to act and produce plays and movies, I will wager that authors and screenwriters are prolific with all of this time. Each of us has desires and talents and so these activities will look different from one to another.

Reflection, writing, journaling, meditating, painting, praying…these keep us positively generating and maintaining integrity. Ruminating, complaining, lashing out…these do the opposite and stagnate us, causing despair.

These times will indeed pass. We will either be fortified or we will be weakened. In this we have the power of choice.


Moms know about knots. We are usually the go-to person to untangle shoelaces, necklaces, and little girls’ hair. Knots are worked out with patience and care.

Entanglement theories in Quantum Physics describe relationships between subatomic photons acting in concert with or reaction to each other, defying space and time. There are proposed entanglements between root systems of forests, a communication of sorts, possibly via a fungal network.

Is there entanglement within humanity? Are we somehow deeply, invisibly connected? Ira Progoff, a 20th Century social scientist described human connectedness like deep underground water. Invisible, a life force, a Living Water that grounds us as individuals, and in essence connects every person. It is ironic that in this modern world our electronic connectedness and multi-tasking create negative entanglements, and though these connections are instantaneous and exponential in number of contacts, we can still feel desperately alone.

A psychologist friend told me that the number of calls in regard to completed suicides have increased dramatically, family members and friends searching for help in order to cope. The political and social state of our country is fragile and fractious: Covid 19, brutal killings, fomenting anger. Crime and violence begin with a small ripple that gains momentum. If only we could remember the innocence with which we were born. If only we could remember that each of us holds a dignity in being human. If only it were as easy as Rapunzel singing “I’ve Got a Dream” in the Disney movie Tangled. The state of the world is arguably depressing–unless we remember that goodness also begins with one small act.

What is the human default-mode? Is it essentially bad or is it good? Recent scientific research on the brain suggests levels of complexity and adaption thought impossible in years past. Neuroscientists contend that unhealthy thoughts, fears and uncontrolled anger literally form toxic entanglements in our brains. As best as I can explain, thoughts are faster-than-lightning electrical impulses which form the building blocks of stored memory out of proteins. A part of the brain called the amygdala stores many of these memories. How we think about what we think (metacognition) determines our world view, which in turn lends interpretation to future thought.

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. Whether Eastern Meditation in which one empties the mind of conscious thought, or Lectio Divino where one reads and then listens for what God says, or meditative prayer where one quietly listens for inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our blood pressure is reduced, anxiety calmed and thinking re-ordered. Rational thinking is less likely to result in what has been coined an “Amygdala Hijack,” an uncontrolled outburst usually followed with great regret. The fight or flight response of the adrenal glands readies us to protect ourselves, but it can be mistakenly triggered even when there is in reality no actual danger. A wrongly perceived threat (from an event interpreted with negative-bias) floods the body with hormones to ready one to fight or to flee. Triggered too often, this causes ill effects in the body and the mind.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, an audiologist and neuroscientist, discusses something called optimism bias, believing it to be the default human state. Focusing on gratitude for what is good in the world helps one to see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels. The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. We can strive to replace fear with wisdom from meditation, and with love.

In the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a southern lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a grievously wronged man who is good and innocent. The accuser is an uneducated, prejudiced racist who spreads evil lies. It is clear that Atticus is right in his defense of Tom. Atticus faces the man who has done so much harm. That man is symbolic of Satan, “The Accuser.” He speaks vilely to Atticus and spits in his face. Many would have been tempted to strike out as John Wayne did in McClintock, yet chaos is more likely to erupt after any violence. Atticus coolly wipes his face, returns to his car and leaves. He knows that nothing he could say or do would change that man, and violence would solve nothing. His response was not to lower himself to that level, making things worse. Reasoning and wise action at times involve sacrifice. It could be said that Atticus’ peaceful response was weak. I believe it was sacrificial. It showed greater strength than any act of retribution or revenge.

Augustine of Hippo lived in the Fourth Century. In a commentary on Psalm 17 he wrote:

“Lord, You perfected my love, that I might surmount the troublesome entanglements of the world. Direct my desire toward the heavenly home so that I may be enriched with every good thing.”

A millennium and a half after Augustine, the children’s television host Fred Rogers said in an interview that his mother taught him he should not be afraid when the world was chaotic; rather, he should “always look for the helpers,” the ones who act for good. Their work holds greater effect because it is accomplished in spite of evil. These helpers prove that there is hope in the world.

We are connected, whether we see it or not. We are not alone. In difficult moments, pause. Meditate or pray whenever possible and if you can only breathe, then breathe in the spirit that gave you your first breath–consciously breathe in God who is Love. If you cannot call on God then start with love. The next moment holds possibility and hope. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray for others. Like the molecules and energy of Quantum Entanglement, perhaps prayer moves quietly beyond time and space. United with the source of all love, prayer is powerful.

Fred Rogers’ Mom knew best. I’ll bet she untangled his shoestrings deftly, and peacefully tied them into neat bows when he was young. Look for good and you will find it.

There is always hope.

…Over Fear

So much of social media is upsetting these days due to unprecedented events, diverse views and political divisiveness. Many decide to take breaks from it, or choose more private options with close friends and loved ones. For some, diverse views are intriguing; I fall into that category to a certain extent. When there is time, I will watch videos and read news articles with different views from mine.

An anthropology course in college led to a switch in majors to Nursing. My nursing theoretical framework or philosophy is one that is inclusive of cultural sensitivity. In order for best-care and outcomes, the patient must be the center of the health care team, their lives and desires informing the decision-making process and treatment. We need to know our patients as best we can, to know what their background is, what informs their worldview. Obviously, there is less time to do this in emergent and urgent care situations. Interest in the person as an individual, a family member, a member of the cultural or societal groups to which they belong, fuels my desire to understand and care.

Recently, a few friends sent me current event videos that were upsetting to them. I watched them. I could see how they could be unsettling and cross-researched them. One friend may have made inference to end-times narratives. A neighbor walking past the house yesterday, called out in a greeting to me that things will never be the same.

The world seems so fearful, yet has the world ever remained “the same?”

As a young person I read The Hiding Place, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the story of Job in the Bible. I distinctly remember feeling so lucky that humanity was past all that, and certainly I would never suffer such events. Later I read Roots, ‘Tis, The Color of Water, and Left to Tell. As a military wife I met the foreign officers from other countries including Iraq in the early 2000s. People had stories so profound and current, how could they not shape one’s worldview, one’s opinion of humanity? The truth is that there have been tragedies, calamities, wars, and holocausts throughout history to the present. I was lucky to be shielded–for a time. I suppose some are for their entire lives but that is really not the norm.

Today we see and hear so much, so fast. Another post may be on the detrimental effects of social media toward our youth, but this will wrap up with words of hope.

Humanity has survived. For every Hitler there is a Mother Teresa. Humanity has goodness at its core. Though the human condition includes selfishness, fear, desperation, and the devastatingly evil acts that can come from them, most of us want what is healthy and good for ourselves and others.

Try to understand why someone has a different viewpoint from your own, or just be okay that they do. In disagreements disentangle the knots of difference to the place of agreement.

In regard to end times, I learned when my young husband who was in the middle of doing what was so very good for the world died suddenly, that each of us is in our own end time. None of us knows when this day will be our last. Do what is right today, even if it seems inconsequential.These things will look different for each of us. Not all are called to writing senators or participating in marches, but if that is your strength, then do it. For others, small acts like gently brushing your daughter’s hair, speaking kindly to a co-worker, smiling on the phone with an irritated customer can be just as world-changing.

George Elliott concluded her novel Middlemarch in regard to humble heroine Dorothea:

“Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Mother Teresa said it so well, to do “small things with great love.” Each of us has gifts that the world needs in tiny unseen ways as well as grand. Treat others as you would have them treat you. Strive to choose love and hope over fear.