Ah, election season. A time to enjoy the birds’ song and the changing of Autumn leaves.
Until I come across some message or e-mail from a friend or relative or a friend-of-a-friend forwarded a few times. It’s usually a message about a candidate, a political party, or the current state of things. In the past, such messages would send me into a panic, making me fret and worry about what might happen if we don’t do something — immediately. Assuming everyone else was as ignorant as I had been but moments ago of this imminent danger, I considered putting signs in my yard, knocking on doors,
or at the very least…
forwarding the message.
We are constantly bombarded by negative messages that shout doom and gloom. Scare tactics are one of the most instantly rewarding methods to get people to do something. There are plenty of messages being produced for us to post, like, share, read, forward, and generally consume.
I mean, there are candidates out there who opposed freedom and humanity and who are barely human themselves. They eat orphans for breakfast and, once sworn into office, will turn your life upside down. They can’t have won. We still have to do something, if not for ourselves, for the poor orphan children.
They don’t deserve to be someone’s breakfast.
I would say I strongly dislike how much we lean on fear and anger to get things done in our country. I dislike it so much that my gut reaction during elections, is to become unreachable no matter how ignorant that makes me. I tell myself I don’t care about orphan children and harden myself to their fate. Because, I don’t want my emotions played with, turning me into a trauma victim flinching at every shadow and unable to discern friend from foe. I would rather turn to inaction and apathy if it means sparing myself the pain and suffering. The hours spent stewing, the icky feelings — why put up with that? Better to get as far away from it all as possible.
And so I sit, enjoying the African birds’ song and the beautiful scenery. I mean that’s what absentee ballots, spam folders, and the unfollow button are for, aren’t they?
It’s not working.
I don’t like feeling powerless. I don’t want to be a victim to the whim of people who think they can hijack my emotions and tell me what to think. I don’t like hiding and failing to pretend that everything will work itself out. And I’m not fooling anyone at trying to be apathetic.
Of course I care.
But how? How can I strike a balance that allows me to be aware of what’s going on without pulling on battle gear or hiding in the closet.
It starts with a parallel experience.
The first few days in Africa were naturally hard. I’ve already shared some of the struggles and challenges I faced as I navigated this new place. What I didn’t share was that when I arrived, a friend who lives in Indonesia was terrified for me. Terrified. Concerned for my safety, he supplied me with images of violent black people who had little regard for human life. We’re talking orphans times 100. He felt sure that these people were around every corner and that I needed to be careful. He felt that I didn’t know the imminent danger I was in, and that he needed to clearly and graphically explain it to me. I’ll spare you the images and the descriptions. And to be honest, I left most of the images he sent me in their blurry, pixelated state. I got the picture without clearly seeing the picture.
With those clear-enough images in my mind, I really struggled to wade through my new life. Even as I exerted all of my strength to think past the false stereotype that every black person meant me harm, I found myself succumbing to the hijacked perspective. I felt fear and shame. I couldn’t help my fear and that made me ashamed that I could be so easily manipulated.
One evening, shortly after this little exchange with my friend, our family decided to explore the streets near our home. It was then I realized just how much the images and ideas were affecting me. I found myself shying away at every glance and jumping at the occasional “hello”. Someone called out to us from a shop and it took every ounce of willpower to not grab all of my children and run for home. My husband would have to fight them off alone. And anyway, he seemed unaffected, walking casually along as I cautiously stepped through my imaginary minefield. As soon as we got home I determined it wasn’t safe to leave my house.
I had become a prisoner of someone else’s perspective.
Obviously I couldn’t stay home forever. Food being the primary demand, I forced myself on errands despite the anxiety and terror that surged as soon as I left the safety of the neighborhood compound. As I did, I found things that slowly chipped away at this hijacked perspective. Violent blurry people were replaced by familiar faces and people with names. I started asking questions and gathering information so that I could capture my own perspective, more vivid and with better graphics.
And that’s when I got the idea to conduct the survey.
I wanted to know how Africans within my circle viewed the rest of the world. They had been wronged by my friend who never intended to set foot onto their continent or to correct his false ideas. Understanding the African perspective seemed like one way I could balance the scales.
I’ve shared some of the survey results. I have more results to share. In addition to that, I now have so many notes and stories that can be woven into more of my writing and have helped me regain power over my perspective. Granted, I did come to learn that there are parts of Africa where people will eat you, if they catch you. I guess orphan children might need saving after all. But in the context of everything I’ve learned, those realities and dangers are surrounded by the rest of the picture and I feel more able to mentally process it without letting it ruin my life.
Two years ago I remember processing the election results and feeling all kinds of feelings. There were things to celebrate and things to mourn. Losing my own political campaign added an extra layer of failure and defeat. It didn’t help that I imagined my opponent sitting in front of his computer screen looking all too happy with his hearty victory. It made me wonder what would happen under his tyrannical reign? How would liberty and democracy survive? Tired and overwhelmed, I didn’t want to leave my house ever again.
I finally managed to take control of my perspective and see that things were not all bad. There were the political cannibals I had to keep an eye on, sure, but in the greater context I could see the rest of the picture. All is not lost. Not everything is an immediate threat. I don’t need to attack everything that moves and I don’t need to sit apathetically protected. It is not “either”, “or”. I have found power in gathering more information, varying my sources and clarifying my perspective that can lead me to my own conclusions.
Perspectives are powerful and we have it within our power to determine our own.