Do you wake up thinking about Socrates lately? Not so much? I do. Normally this would be way too erudite for me before coffee, but there have been many days in the recent past where I’ve sat on the edge of the bed thinking, “Wow, Socrates had it right.” About what? A lot of things, really, but current thoughts often turn to politics and the division in our beautiful America, and when they do, I recall that the great philosopher learned empirically to stay away from politics. He also remained calm, and focused on what good he as an individual could do in private life.
We know it didn’t end well for him (put the hemlock down, please!), but perhaps it can for us. In Plato's "Apology," Socrates muses, “The true champion of justice, if he intends to survive even for a short time, must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone.” Many private citizens have ventured into the digital fray – and in some cases, into the actual streets – in ways that have thickened the dark cloud of hatred, fear and worry that now envelops much of our country. It occurred to me last week, however, that small movements toward light are happening.
As the proverbial dust of Trump vs. Clinton begins to settle, toxic though it is, a greater kindness of spirit has begun to shine through many social media posts.
It started out, as many things do on the Internet, with cats. And dogs. Trivial bright spots in long workdays, and a time-suck for web crawlers, sure. But the “Post a happy dog photo to brighten someone’s day!” bit of fun was punctuated by other moments that felt more substantial. Christian Weaver, a Native American fashion designer and cousin of mine, asked his network, “How do you say ‘I love you’ in your native language?” A myriad of comments followed, in multiple languages, and it was heartening to see a meeting of the minds across faith, ethnicity and language community. There was Navajo. Gaelic. Spanish. Ojibwe. Salish. Tsalagi. Korean. French. Comanche. Zuni. Hawaiian. Hebrew. The simple act of saying “I love you,” and treating others with kindness and care, has long been a hallmark of returns reaped by the doer. Buddhism has a tenet that can be distilled this way: “You only help yourself by helping others.”
Gazing into the chasm of despair as much as we've done lately, Americans are looking for more than ways to distract themselves. It’s no longer “business as usual” for many; with each new appointment to Donald Trump's cabinet, those who worry for the future seek connectedness, no matter what their spiritual persuasion. This is taking the form of an awakening: All the bitterness and divisiveness of the election cycle and the outcome has produced a deep need – and a real appetite – for healing. In some cases they are real, positive plans for action to advocate for what citizens believe. In others, they are simpler: connecting with others through a common love of the straightforward joys of life.
Are the cute pictures of dogs, kittens, babies and beautiful landscapes just a silly distraction? I choose not to see them that way. They are really a metaphor for a larger shift happening, in the wake of what many have taken as the death of working progressive ideas. Americans are un-friending each other left and right on Facebook – and these are folks who are actual friends in real life – and family, too. As the tallies of swastikas spray-painted on synagogues or hate-speech episodes in normally progressive places grows daily, many online denizens are supporting each other in their grief and anger, and offering each other solace. Prayers are being shared more widely than before, and wishes for peace approaching the holiday season are omnipresent.
If you search the term “Out of the darkness, into the light,” the Internet immediately suggests Bible passages. In these times, some may indeed turn to religion, as humans have done through the ages. Others have headed into communal online space, the greatest secular temple ever built, looking for connection and community in a way we haven’t seen before.
One can find many examples in literature, history or religion of civilizations facing this sort of reckoning – traveling from darkness into light. I'm no Bible expert, but one quotation that comes up right away is John 1:5: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Dr. Martin Luther King also turns up, with a famous quotation that probably goes all the way back to a sermon he preached in 1957: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Indeed we live in dark times, and there is no quick fix, nor is it wise to trivialize the fear people feel. But, as humans we seek connection; this weekend and in the family holiday just ahead, be empirical like Socrates. Remove yourself for a moment from politics, and refrain from adding to the fires of fury. Keep an eye on your social feeds with a mental filter for positivity, and see what turns up. If you find something that moves you, share it here. And head for the light.