It’s Us

I’ve been waiting to talk about Current Events. I’ve been reading, thinking, collecting impressions, paying attention to the news, delving into mainstream media and culture in a way I haven’t for a long time.

I stopped paying attention to these things because they take energy rather than give it. But I wanted to collect many impressions, from all sides, of what was going on before I responded, so I started paying attention again.

If you’ve argued with someone, you know that communication, the way we understand one another, doesn’t work well during arguments. In the current social and political climate, there is a polarization of opinions that’s drawing people away from communication and into argument. When people are angry, a mediator can help. The media can serve that role, presenting both sides of a situation with a non-emotional, almost scientific approach. Yet most of the media is failing us. On all sides it is emotional, biased, blaming, and angry.

It has fallen to us, the people, to do the mediating, organizing, and discussing. People realize this, and have taken to their forms of communication in various ways: social media, protests, and grassroots groups. I’ve heard of many people getting together in groups, face to face, to talk. This is incredibly powerful, because being face to face with people is where things can really happen.

However, the intentions that are born from discussions and our social media can’t be based on anger. Anger is a reaction, not a solution. Anger is powerful. It takes a lot of energy, too. And, being angry can be emotionally draining and harmful to relationships. This is the opposite of what we need. We need to use the energy anger gives us, then transmute it into positive action.

I was angry
I sat down, fuming, looking out the window
The anger receded, far into the back of me it went, smoldering
I became quiet

On the outside, I was calm
My thoughts were peaceful
But deep within,
The fire still burned

Becoming quiet, looking within, coming together, taking care of oneself and each other, these actions are stronger and longer lasting than anger. The media is not teaching us well. It’s showing that argument, rather than discussion, is how people communicate. This is not true. True communication involves listening. It involves stepping outside of yourself. Try entertaining an idea while neither accepting nor rejecting it. Try looking at an idea as widely as possible, and considering all sides of it.

“Journalists report the symptoms of conflict, and generally pay short shrift to its causes.” [p. 30] The media focus in dramatic events, often presented out-of- context, leaves the public ill-informed about the underlying peace or negotiation processes. However, the process is the real story; it is what the public most needs to understand in order to make informed decisions and in order to promote general reconciliation.*

We have different values and needs here in the USA. But we are all humans. Not only do we live on a common planet, but we share the same soil. We share it with a multitude of animals and plants and fungi, bacteria, eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and amoebas. The bats of the air, the worms of the ground, and the fish of the waters are part of this nation too.

A few days ago I walked through some woods after rain. On the dark forest floor were hundreds of new mushrooms. I have been learning about mycelium. It’s a fibrous fungi that grows under the ground; all mushrooms are the fruiting body of it. When mycelial threads meet, if they are compatible, a mushroom will grow. Mycelium also secretes acids and breaks down organic compounds, absorbing the nutrients. In a square foot of healthy soil, there can be 800 miles of mycelial threads. The threads are only one cell wide.

Mycelium works together with plants, making soil higher in nutrients. Without fungus, plants grow less vigorously. Some organic compounds cannot be broken down at all without fungus (for example, pine needles take a combination of over forty fungi break down).

Now, step back, and shift the scale. We are dependent on each other in similar ways (not to mention the earth). It’s not us and them. Turn away from divisiveness. It’s really just: us.

Because it’s “us”, WE have a big responsibility. It is easy to lose sense of that responsibility. But current events show that it’s still there. A lot of people are leveling the blame at the media for dividing the country. But, we also have a voice. We can talk with people who are not necessarily like us, we can make art and write, we can use social media to do more than talk about how great our lives are, we can keep in touch with people, and be active in our communities. Reflecting deeply and looking forward, we as citizens have the ability to change things. It has to be done through communication and collaboration.

I see this as a call to live less comfortably, to put out more positivity, to work harder, to do good work, to find out what needs to be done.

As I drove my dad to the airport not long ago, we talked about what can be done. My dad had a good point: whenever you spend money somewhere you are endorsing whatever that company is doing, saying: “I completely support everything you do.” Consumerism is cool, all the stuff companies make has never been more amazing. People are not driven to examine what’s behind the beautiful façades of the products and experiences they lust after. Many people are comfortable now, and cannot give up that comfort, or examine the real costs of it. You can say: I’m liberal. I support this or that. But do you? Are all of your actions consistent with your beliefs? Have you examined the companies you support, the places you shop, and where you work? If you do, well, be careful, because it’s kinda depressing.

I think one of the saddest things I’ve noticed lately is how good ads have become. People who are incredibly skilled artists are giving up their unique, personal, amazing abilities so that a company can profit from their skills. They make relatively little from it, and is it really about how much you make anyway, when your own creativity is the thing being sold?

On social media people willingly advertise for companies, tagging them in photos, wanting to become sponsored, or famous, or whatever. Essentially selling out their own life experiences.This is when it’s important to think about being comfortable. Because resisting all this is not comfortable, it’s really hard, requiring constant vigilance, introspection, and examination. But it’s deeply necessary that we don’t support things that aren’t good to support. Everything, like mycelium, is interconnected, interdependent. It’s important to know this and examine your decisions, because everything we do, especially now, makes a difference. And that’s also the good part about it. It’s up to us!

*Melissa Baumann and Hannes Siebert, “The Media as Mediator,” NIDR Forum, (Winter 1993), pp. 28–32.