Like so many others I know, I continue to feel depressed and helpless, as I have since November 8. The extensive list of rotten things said and done during Donald Trump’s “bull in a china shop” first month in office makes me want to cry and scream and throw things—and despite how it appeared, this week’s address to Congress felt like a superficial outlier at best (still hollow, dishonest, narcissistic at the core).
But, of course, we have been talking about Trump for a long time (this June will mark two years since he officially launched his campaign—it’s a Trump-iversary); and most of the conversations center on a frustration and desperation about Trump, and now his administration, that has almost nothing to do with the way we used to think about politics.
Instead, it is about a person and a personality and set of beliefs (honestly, who knows what he, himself, really cares about), and how these are very quickly and disturbingly changing the mood and tone of everyday life. In so many ways, for so many individuals, Trump is ruining everyone’s day. He is instilling in millions a real fear of losing health care benefits, being deported, or even being killed. Just knowing that there are people all around me who are now rightfully afraid of these things, and knowing there are other people willfully making this happen, sickens me.
For myself, this new reality is also chipping away at what general good I thought existed amongst humans. My days are filled with a quiet desperation of how to get back to believing we as a species can do better. I should probably start lisetning to my husband who regularly suggests that I refrain from subjecting myself to the latest, often vicious, round of news or social media while lying in bed at midnight, and that I don’t ever ever need to go directly to Trump’s Twitter account (really, does anyone need to?).
But there is a strange flipside here. There are many examples that may prove Trump to be both a dark (orange) stain on American history, and also, the catalyst for the kind of public awakening that could never have occurred under Hillary Clinton (hello, international network of Women’s Marches)—a sentiment I agree with and one which gives me that glimmer of hope I need. Perhaps out of necessity and perhaps out of self-preservation, the terrible, negative angry racist crap this man and his administration are spewing is not only making me pay attention to and actively participate in politics, it is making me want to be a better, nicer, more responsible person myself.
A friend once said to me, “you and your husband are good people, and you are making good people out of your children. And the world needs more good people.” His idea is oversimplified of course, but the premise is sincere: if we (the good parents of the world) can tip the (population) scales in favor of goodness and decency, things change. So I am asking everyone who is reading this to go home tonight and make another baby! Just kidding. I mean, you might have dinner plans. Also, we need to make things better now. We can’t wait 15 years.
So, instead, I decided to come up with a set of specific suggestions about what we can do in our regular tired busy lives to feel less dragged down by our current political reality—and, more importantly, for individuals to reaffirm their belief that people can be compassionate with one another and the planet.
A few disclaimers: This is intentionally different from political activism, which is still crucial. This guide suggests a new and additional form of activism, one about personal well-being and connection. Also, while some of this is my opinion of course, science has got my back (you feel better about yourself when you help someone else; and for better or worse, people repeat what they see and hear).Finally, I am not that nice. I do helpful and “nice” things often out of practicality, and honestly, a kind of selfishness. If people around me are happier and have easier lives, things are better for the community as a whole, and things are better for my family. Now, onto my “Easy Six Point Plan to Stop Trump from Ruining Your Day.”
1. Help someone. I have carried strollers up subway stairs. I have held a baby in a security line at the airport. Time permitting, I try to let the person with only two items at the grocery store go in front of me. Once I even put stamps on stacks of envelopes at the post office for someone sending out hundreds of invitations. Sometimes I just ask if someone who seems to need it is ok or if he needs help. The point is I try to look around and find a way to be actively helpful to another human being.
2. Pick up a piece of trash. I am not saying you have to adopt a highway, or get one of those long armed grabby claw things but it matters if our shared surroundings are filled with garbage. It matters if you pick it up. And it matters even more if you do this in front of others. Having someone, in particular a child, see an adult pick up trash from the street will make an impression. You can also, of course, try to make less trash and pollution in the first place by, say, using fewer disposable products, or by taking public transportation more.
3. Give a compliment. I am like the world’s worst person at accepting compliments. I think it might be easier and more pleasurable for me to get a root canal. So I get that it can be weird to hear something nice about yourself, and I also know it often doesn’t occur to many of us to give compliments, especially to people we barely know personally. But you want to see someone’s eyes light up? Tell her, unsolicited, that you like her shoes, or bag, choose anything. Or go deeper: tell a co-worker her presentation was really well done, or a fellow mom that she’s doing a great job with her kid.
4. Buy something in real life, instead of online. Support a local mom and pop store, a farmers’ market, or somewhere else where you may find yourself chatting as you make a purchase. My family lives in New York City, so we not only have Amazon Prime, we have Prime Now as well. This means we can buy and receive a stroller in an hour (which we may or may not have done). This is super convenient. But actually getting things from brick and mortar stores means you talk to people face to face, often a company owner or the actual real life person who grows your apples—plus, you can support the endangered species of small business. I am not foolish to think that robots won’t be taking over our lives very soon, or that you buying an occasional coffee at anywhere besides Starbucks will turn the world upside down. But it is often a mutually beneficial experience for all.
5. DON’T buy something. This could be an overall suggestion because it often feels good to not spend money, or even feel like we have to to be happy. But it also means I am starting to think more about what I buy, what we as a culture feel the need to frequently replace, and also what we throw away and where it all goes. Like, WTF do most adults need plastic straws for? Have you seen that viral video of the turtle and the straw in his nose? We know plastic is bad for the environment, so um, stop buying so much of it! It will also help with that trash problem.
6. Say yes (to something positive). Many years ago I somewhat begrudgingly took an improv acting class. I was always told I would love it. I didn’t. It was awkward and mostly not fun for me except for the fact that someone from a season of MTV’s Real World was a fellow “student.” But the “rule” of improv seems to always linger in the back of my mind: don’t negate, always be a “Yes, and” kind of person. On the stage this means that when someone pretends to see a big green monster coming at you, you don’t say, “What monster?” and instead, you jump right into the scene. In real life, it means not tearing others’ ideas down, and accepting positive opportunities that you are given. Go to a concert? Join a protest? Organize a charity event? Take an art class? Maybe now is the time to say yes.