Emotional Sustainability Is Too Easily Forgotten in Politics

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A special election for a charter review commission arrives at its vote, today, in Tiverton, and the Tiverton Taxpayers Association with which I’m affiliated has been fortunate to recruit a number of supremely qualified, newly engaged candidates.  One thing I’ve learned to emphasize over years of activity at the local and state levels is the need of emotional sustainability of action.

It’s very easy to get caught up in political battles and drive one’s self and one’s allies to the point of breakdown and disengagement.  My advice:  Put in the effort you can and welcome whatever help others are willing to provide, even if you know they could do more and believe with certainty that they should do more.

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote up a telling anecdote capturing the crisis moment for one Greenpeace activist.  Being a cordial man, he answered the door when the activist came calling, helpfully set her expectations right up front, but was friendly and even helpful.  That was apparently enough humanity to give the young environmentalist sufficient comfort to open her emotional window a little, and then:

“I’m so sorry,” she said, half-sobbing, half-panting. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying. It’s just really hard, and everything is so concerning, and — ” …

“I can’t believe I’m having a breakdown in your living room,” she said. “But I’m really upset about what’s happening. I worry about what’s going to happen to people I care about.” It gnaws at her to see how angry so many people are these days. She wasn’t raised to hate people whose politics were different from hers, she told us. At the same time, she’s frightened for the future — her future, and her friends’, and the planet’s.

Perhaps the most poetic detail is that Jacoby and his wife persuaded her to call it a night an hour and a half early.  The world would survive her taking some time to unwind, and if she were to burn out, the world would be deprived of her effective efforts for years to come.

Naturally, I observe the effects of political strain on people on the Right more often, but I suspect it afflicts the Left more, mainly because government and politics are more intrinsic to their whole worldview.  Rod Dreher has gotten some traction with his book, The Benedict Optionwhich suggests that traditionalists (especially Christians) should consider retrenching to their own communities and, generally, focusing on their faith and their families, shoring up their religious communities to endure the buffeting and eroding waves of post-modernism.

Retrenching isn’t as much of an option if you think that government is the answer to humanity’s problems as it is if you think that government is just one way in which human beings organize their affairs (and often a necessary evil, at that).  Moreover, if government and politics play such a central role in your understanding of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, then those who oppose you must not just be in error in that one arena of life, but bad.

That sort of negativity can motivate, to some extent, but it isn’t sustainable, especially when one encounters a friendly face from the other side.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    My advice to the ‘activist” would be that of Victorian mothers, “Close your eyes, and think of England”.

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