The end of summer is approaching. The children have returned from camp and started their summer homework from school. The solar eclipse has come and gone, and I have not published a blog post in months. It isn’t that I didn’t try. Whenever I open my computer, several screens of first drafts appear stacked one against another, proof of my various attempts. Everything I wrote seemed somehow banal and false.
My words were off. Before even getting to the editing process, I changed my mind. Over and over again, I reached for a fresh start. I began asking different questions, the kind without obvious answers. New perspectives as well as more questions came to light through the process of reframing. I re-examined my beliefs and found different angles, different inferences, and thus a different sense of the truth. Familiar constructs of arguments for or against positions were discarded in favor of stewing in the haze of not knowing. With the brisk rush of fall at my doorstep, I finally concluded that I needed to process my sense of confusion and uncertainty about the future out loud. Instead of sharing a personal discovery, I needed to share the questions I ask myself each day.
The torrent of changes in current affairs is overwhelming to the point that I struggle to discern what is actually important. There is so much to digest, from the Russia investigation and the musical chairs in the White House, to the aftermath of Charlottesville and the devastating floods in Texas. The threat of nuclear war with North Korea portends the end of the world as we know it. Intermittent missile launches and retaliatory words of aggression prompt a flurry of ominous articles. Each time, I brush up on how I understand Mutually Assured Destruction as a deterrent, coupled with the reality of nuclear proliferation and the notion that nation states behave as rational actors. Is war imminent? The Dow recently hit a record 22,000. So are we just witnessing idle saber rattling? Or does nobody care? In the face of new revelations, I recalibrate my bearings, and rethink my positions and beliefs. What is true? How deep are my convictions?
Each one of us must be taking a hard look in the mirror right now to see where we carry responsibility in how the world order has come to be what it is today. No matter our individual political persuasion, our integrity as citizens is in question. It is determined by far more than whether and how we voted in the last presidential election. Rather, we need to examine how our daily actions and moral conscience have stacked up over our lifetime.
What have we done to advance public discourse and support on issues that are dear to our hearts? Most people passively consume the news while busy living life, feeding kids, running errands, and other such mundane things. I am no different. Although I incessantly read up on domestic and world events, I allow myself to be distracted by the daily grind, yet more news and commentary, or mindless social media. I cheer when things settle along my belief systems and express disappointment, disgust, or even outrage if it goes the other way. But soon those feelings dissipate, and I return to my usual routine. I feel like I am on an automatic cycle, and I don’t know how to stop.
Alas, I am not alone. My circle of friends, neighbors, and fellow parents, are all looking for a path forward in which we are stakeholders in the deepest sense. We want to do the right thing — for our families, communities, and the planet — but we don’t always know what that is. What course of action will make a significant difference? I have been wondering about my carbon footprint and whether my recycling and use of energy efficient light bulbs have real impact. I wonder too how effective it is for me to give financial support to charities. Is it sufficient to make a donation, or should I be doing hands-on volunteer work? We can seldom grasp the full picture on any issue. Real knowledge is obscured and the truth remains elusive. Without clarity, how should we think about potential solutions? What will bring us together as people who share a common vision for peace, justice, and prosperity? What is possible for humanity as a collective?
I do not know the answers to these questions, and I doubt that any one single person does. What I do know is that we cannot continue as we have before. We must search our hearts and resolve what we stand for, and allow this to guide our full participation in shaping our world. We cannot abdicate this responsibility and opportunity to others. We have to have a say in the way we live. We are not helpless victims. We are active agents in determining our destiny.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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