In “Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded,” a 2016 New York Times op-ed, the Dalai Lama and Harvard professor and president of the American Enterprise Institute Arthur C. Brooks join together to write:
“How strange, then, to see such anger and great discontent in some of the world’s richest nations. In the United States, Britain and across the European Continent, people are convulsed with political frustration and anxiety about the future. Refugees and migrants clamor for the chance to live in these safe, prosperous countries, but those who already live in those promised lands report great uneasiness about their own futures that seems to border on hopelessness.Why?”
This was an interesting op-ed for me to read a day after I talked with twelve students in my Write! Submit! Support! class out of the Writing Barn in Austin. The students are spread out all over the country and so many of them had difficult Julys when it came to getting words on the page and one eloquently asked, “How do you write when you’re so worried about the world?”
To my sort of brain that’s the perfect time to write because I’m one of those “write your way through it” kind of people, but obviously not all brains are wired like my brain. Thank God, right?
It also made me think about our marriage. Shaun is a wicked caretaker and I’m not used to that. He’s also severely independent and so when I try to take care of him? It doesn’t always happen because he’s also super alpha, right? And that makes me feel like . . . Well, like I don’t have as much of a purpose, that I’m not needed in that fundamental way that he’s needed to unscrew the tops off jars, to get the pressure washer to work, to lift all the heavy things like our dog, Sparty.
And I felt the same way when my daughter left for college.
Brooks and the Dalai Lama actually address this a bit in that op-ed saying,
“Virtually all the world’s major religions teach that diligent work in the service of others is our highest nature and thus lies at the center of a happy life. Scientific surveys and studies confirm shared tenets of our faiths. Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important. Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.
“This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.”
And that’s why I often feel unhappy personally. I feel superfluous and I don’t want to. How about you?
Brooks and the Dalai Lama write:
“Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.”
So what can you do?
On an individual level, they say, do this.
“Start each day by consciously asking ourselves, “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others offer me?” We need to make sure that global brotherhood and oneness with others are not just abstract ideas that we profess, but personal commitments that we mindfully put into practice.”
And from there, they say, we build into a society that is compassionate and happier, where children are educated with practical and ethical skills to move them towards peace and “economic security.”
“Many are confused and frightened to see anger and frustration sweeping like wildfire across societies that enjoy historic safety and prosperity. But their refusal to be content with physical and material security actually reveals something beautiful: a universal human hunger to be needed. Let us work together to build a society that feeds this hunger.”
But it’s more than that. Our society is full of polarities and hate, devisiveness, trolls on internet posts, and it’s hard sometimes to not constantly feel personally attacked. And to not attack back.
In another op-ed, this time for the Washington Post, the Dalai Lama and Brooks team up again and address this by writing:
“Each of us can break the cycle of hatred, starting today. Do you feel that you’ve been attacked on social media? Respond with warmheartedness, disarming your attacker with forbearance. Overhear someone make a snide remark about people who think as you do? Respond with kindness. Want to say something insulting about people who disagree with you? Take a breath and show generosity, instead.”
That sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Anger can be a motivating force. Don’t we have a right to be angry?
Yes, we do. We have the ability to feel a plethora of emotions. The difference is what we do with those feelings–how we act on them–how long they fester.
We totally failed at this when the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade and someone was a butt on my Facebook post and Shaun called them a f-stick. I should have used that opportunity to educate and work towards betterment, but instead I was just angry—a person-oriented anger that I used to strike back rather than strike forward. I didn’t harness my anger toward social change, toward the system that made this guy think he could say that stuff to me. I just lashed back at him.
Brooks and the Dalai Lama write that how we respond can
“ . . . help counter the widespread crisis of contempt? Warmheartedness is contagious. Just as people mimic bad behavior, they mimic good behavior. We all want to be happier and better people. The best way for each of us to improve society is to model behavior that offers a way forward. Others will follow. It may take a long time to change society, but it won’t come sooner than our own individual actions.”
A robot broke a little boy’s finger during a chess match in Russia.
XIV, Dalai Lama, and Cutler, Howard C. The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living. Penguin Publishing Group, 2009, 294.
Dalai Lama, by Christopher Michel, October 14, 2012. Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/50979393@N00/8089285536. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW! It’s taking a bit of a hiatus, but there are a ton of tips over there.
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.
Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!