Part II: In The New Year

book and coffee cup

Photo above: My first read of the new year was Good Faith, a 2003 book written by the fabulous Jane Smiley. Written in first person and set in the 1980s just as the inflation and recession ended and America was poised to surge into the deregulated 80s, Good Faith tells the story of a small-town real estate agent who becomes involved with a persuasive developer with big plans for a beautiful, old farm property.

Welcome to Part II of this four-part series that explores my ideas about how to approach 2022. I hope you find this section inspiring and helpful. I love to hear your reactions, so make sure to leave a comment or question. 

IN THE NEW YEAR [Part II of IV]

What We Can and Can’t Control

We can’t control all the currents in the river, but we can take an objective look at what is going on around us and seek factual information. For me, this means stepping out of my preconceived ideas, rejecting for a moment my own point of view, looking out from different eyes, and attempting to gain a wider perspective. 

All the while, time keeps moving, and looking at a moving target can be dizzying. I understand that I can more easily process what’s already past, can attempt to be present in the actual moment, and can predict just vaguely what lies ahead. 

We can’t control things (people, current events), but we can control our responses to them. We can be a peaceful current in a turbulent river. I think we sometimes underestimate the influence our individual choices have on our community and society at large. Our individual choices add up. 

Want proof? Think about how and why social media companies (and other entities) mine our data. Our words, interactions, and memes can be analyzed, cataloged, manipulated, and sold. Our aggregate data is money in the bank for the tech companies. Our individual posts, likes, clicks, and comments are rounded up, and a “world” of data is created. Is this a real world? A delusion? A shadow world? Or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

One thing we do know: We voluntarily create the data used by marketers, retailers, politicians, thought leaders, entertainment companies, and governments who then package and sell it back to us as a product or idea or world view or political call to action–all based on our own, often fleeting or thoughtless, online behaviors.

Artificial Intelligence via social media shows us a reflection of ourselves and our world, but one that is distorted through lenses we might not be aware of. By controlling our immediate responses to things, by being aware and looking clearly and closely before acting, we create a more peaceful world–or at least not add to the general confusion and upheaval.

When something catches our attention, whether a news story, an opinion piece, a blog post, an advertisement, or a pop-up offer, the first step is to delay reaction. This can be uncomfortable. We tingle with the urge to respond. Adrenalin or dopamine floods our brain. Our fingers itch to move across the computer keys. How can we delay our response?

Some people step away from the computer and go for a walk. Others meditate. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly or counting to 100 can often break that knee-jerk urge to react.

The second step is to look clearly and consider various viewpoints and potential outcomes. Look for alternative news sources. Talk to your friends to get their take on the topic, and be sure to actual listen to what they say. Think about actions you might take, and try to predict the various outcomes that could stem from these actions. Consider the pros and cons. Make a list of these pros and cons. Come up with alternatives. Ask yourself if your response–or lack of it–jibes with your worldview, your values, your ideals. Who could be hurt? Who could be helped?

Once you’ve gone through this process, you will be able to make a more calm, considered, peaceful action.   

I’m writing this for my own benefit. As someone who has often reacted too quickly in the past, I’m trying to find another way to be in this world. I’m flawed and always will be flawed. That is the human condition. But there are choices I can make. My hope is that you, my readers, connect with some of what I’m sharing here and find even just a drop of comfort and encouragement. 

Visit here next week to read Part III: What to Do in 2022

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What strategies are YOU using to remain calm, engaged, and uplifted these days? Comment below. I comment back! XOXO Shelley

7 comments

  1. To stay calm and centred, I’m finding myself more open to trying new recipes, especially baking, which I love It’s been great for expanding our palates (and waistlines!), and being more adventurous instead of always opting for the same old, tried and tested standbys. I would never have taken the time to go beyond the usual had I not been so unencumbered, time-wise, because of COVID. Baking is relaxing and pleasurable to me.

    Having audiobooks available with an annual subscription has also helped me branch out and try different themes, authors, and titles without feeling it needs to be magnificent, or right up my alley. Somehow there isn’t the same ‘weightiness’ attached to buying the right book. My subscription includes titles that don’t require using up a credit (though I’ve obviously paid for it up front with my subscription!)

    I feel as if this ‘pause’ has given me time to grow, though it has taken time to embrace and accept life’s different schema and pace.

    1. Debbie, I absolutely love the adventures in cooking idea. It’s something that has near-immediate and tangible results, for one thing. And it can be so stimulating to experience new textures, tastes, smells. I just bought Erin French’s Lost Kitchen cookbook. The recipes look nice, but the entire book is just gorgeous–photos and copy. If I try some of the recipes, I’ll copy them down first so I don’t splatter on this beautiful book.

      I wish I liked audiobooks. I’ve tried several times and they either put me to sleep or else just bore me. I guess, for me, reading is visual. I hope I never lose my eyesight!(I even have a hard time with podcasts.) Thanks SO much for reading and commenting! S.

  2. I struggled to like and live with audiobooks when I was younger. But now I notice that my eyes get fatigued after reading for a long period, and I get antsy being on my butt for so long. Audiobooks have relieved me of eye fatigue, and I’m also getting through many more books than in the past (win), since I’m still getting home management chores done (and at the same time!). I’ve always wanted to read more, but real life commitments have always got in the way …

    It’s clearly not for everybody, and sometimes the narrator’s voice is enough to make one stop “reading”.

    1. Maybe at some point I’ll learn to love them. There is always hope. And I do think that when I’m old and have trouble seeing, it will be nice to have that option available. When I read, I do a lot of re-reading. I skip back and check names or things I might have missed. Or I reread sentences or paragraphs that appeal to me. This is difficult enough with e-books (paper is much easier) and almost impossible with “books on tape.” We each have our own preferences when it comes to storytelling. Some people even like puppet shows! In fact, I’d love to see a puppet show. Does anyone put them on anymore?

  3. Puppet shows! Sounds like something from the Middle Ages!

    With Audiobooks, I do find myself having to go back, using the progress slider when my concentration had slipped. It’s much easier than finding a spot on an audiotape or CD. I like that it keeps my place, and I can also bookmark sections or places that I want to revisit it reflect on.

    In many ways, it does strike me as a lazy way to read (Catholic upbringing)!

    1. Lots of people really, really enjoy audiobooks. I’m afraid I’ll never be one of them, unless something horrible happens with my eyesight, in which case it is good to know that a slide back is possible!

  4. The structure and layout of a book can be horribly lost in an audiobook – that is definitely a disadvantage. You lose something when you don’t have the structure visually laid out for you.

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