Keep my hope alive.
September 30, 2011 7:04 PM   Subscribe

How do you stop yourself from being worn out by the negativity you perceive in the world?

I feel a little bit like my life is really bogged down by negativity right now. This manifests itself in several different ways:

1. I care a lot about certain issues, like social inequality and LGBTQ issues and feminism, and it can be so exhausting to be reminded on a daily/hourly basis of what you're fighting against. In conversations with people in my life--people I work with, my liberal and "enlightened" friends, my family--I constantly run up against instances of implicit sexism/racism/classism. If I try to call people out on it, I get accused of taking things too seriously. If I try to just ignore it and go along, I feel like I'm betraying my values, and I usually end up feeling hurt by something someone says. It feels like things will never change for the better, because people choose to remain wilfully ignorant of these problems and the implications thereof.

Even within the activism communities themselves, there seems to be neverending strife: there's a lot of knee-jerk disdain from the LGBQ crowd against trans-folk, for example...and even though feminism and masculism are both fighting against the gendered status quo, there's still a ton of blame thrown back and forth between the two camps. Even the people in my life who care about social welfare and global economic development will still talk about about things like how the people in Greece would deserve any economic disaster that befell them because "they were lazy bums". I just...really hate how everything is so adversarial and radical.

2. I'm really concerned about "the state of the world" right now, and it just feels like it isn't getting any better. I know to some extent everybody feels like their generation is the one in which everything goes to hell in a hand basket, but when I observe the anti-intellectualism I perceive in the States, or read about the Occupy Wall Street protests, or about the GOP presidential nomination race, I can't but feel like society is sliding backwards and taking all of us with it. I try my best to be involved--through donating time, money, publicity, whatever--but it never feels like enough. Eventually, inevitably, I'll talk to someone or read something that makes me feel like I'm wrong for caring about what I do, or that I'm wasting my time, or that the causes I believe in are ridiculous, or that I'm giving sympathy to people who "don't deserve it". And then I wonder if I'm dedicating my "passion" to something completely futile. (And then I wonder if the reason I feel so defensive when someone challenges me is because my views are too fragile to be critically examined...)

3. I don't even want to read about technological developments anymore, because it's exhausting for every article to be all about how the other camp of the technological ideology divide sucks. Apple fans hate Android who hate Amazon who hate Google who hate Microsoft who hate HP who hate Samsung and blah, blah, blah. It feels like there isn't much genuine and sincere celebration of just creativity and innovation anymore. Everyone has an opinion about everything, and it's usually negative in some respect. It's cool to be jaded.

4. I previously used to really enjoy getting into online discussions about my favourite books or movies or TV shows, and these days I steadfastly avoid any thread that discusses anything I like, because I know I'll get angry about something someone said. I feel like reading about anything online ends up being an exercise in having someone explain to you why your opinion is wrong, and I'm tired of feeling defensive all the time.

Given my history with depression, I've been reading a few books on being mindful and trying to just try to be aware of my experiences without putting some sort of judgment on them regarding how things should be, but it's just really hard to stay optimistic sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I'm tired of dealing with the entire world.

I guess one of the trends that's emerging is that I just need to be online less, but it also feels like I have a civic duty to stay informed of what's going on in the world. It feels like if I don't stay up-to-date in [topic of choice] then I won't be a well rounded person. I'm also having trouble staying engaged socially, so I just don't want to leave my computer. I feel alienated from my friends--not because they've done anything to me, but because I often find myself frustrated with them for something in one of the above four categories, and it seems easier to avoid them than to get into yet another confrontation about catcalls and rape jokes.

I do plan on getting more involved with activities through places like, but I also wonder if there's a deeper attitudinal shift that needs to happen here for me. Maybe I'm just an incredibly sensitive person who needs to be okay with not consuming as much information, but that would really be heartbreaking.

Any thoughts on how to stay positive when I can't see anything positive in the world?
posted by Be cool, sodapop to Human Relations (35 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: it's natural to get discouraged when you put a lot of energy into things you can't change - it's like force-feeding yourself helplessness 24 x 7. focus on something you can change, something that's definitely your business and on your turf - like yourself. be the change you want to see happen in the world, create positivity, and love the shit out of yourself. if you wait for good things to come to you from outside you might be waiting a real long time.
posted by facetious at 7:09 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think that not taking yourself and your thoughts about your "values" too seriously is the best way to deal with--everything. Most people, to paraphrase Preston Sturgis:
The best ones aren't as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren't as bad.

You're not the standard bearer for right thinking. Rather than constantly railing against everyone/everything you think is wrong, engaging people on a personal level is a better way to influence hearts and minds.

The world won't collapse if you back away from the keyboard.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:15 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I struggle with this a lot, also, but here's one thing that helps me to remember: we are not designed for this. Humans evolved over millions of years, and for countless generations they only knew of about twenty to a hundred other people in their lives, tops. We didn't evolve with the capability to bear the infinity of human cruelty and suffering, any more than we evolved with the ability to pick up a car. You are doing the absolute best that you can. Allowing myself feel to miserable and discouraged -- that is, not feeling contempt for myself or terror for the future, but accepting these emotions as natural -- makes it a far easier thing to bear.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:18 PM on September 30, 2011 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Nature. Take a break. Step away from your computer and go for a walk. See that butterfly? Isn't it crazy that that butterfly even EXISTS? It's made of practically nothing, and doesn't really do anything substantial--not that individual butterfly. But it's SO BEAUTIFUL; like, ridiculously beautiful. And it doesn't give a shit about race or gender or poverty or taxes. It will exist, and be beautiful, no matter what happens in the human world.

It is helpful to see the small, beautiful, insigificant things in the world, and find joy in them. Those seem to be the things that can provide happiness regardless of your feelings about society. And maybe that can give you the refreshment and the strength to go back to your computer and deal with the heavy things.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 7:24 PM on September 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

I find that the way to deal with it is actually not to engage so much in arguments, and spend a lot more time being really productive and pragmatic. Instead of saying, "Should I go to this rally/have this internet fight/write this paper because it's the Right Thing To Do?", maybe try saying, "Will my going to this rally/having this internet fight/writing this paper /advance my cause/ and have a /productive impact on the world/, or am I just chasing my tail?"
posted by corb at 7:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I felt the same way. I stopped following national news altogether and mostly just follow news on topics I work on. When you're working on it, you have lots of minor victories, and though there are some gut-wrenching setbacks too, you at least feel empowered to change it rather than powerless. I guess I'm agreeing with this idea of yours:

Maybe I'm just an incredibly sensitive person who needs to be okay with not consuming as much information, but that would really be heartbreaking.

Except it's not just you, and for me, it has turned out not to be all that heartbreaking. I sure don't miss knowing the gory day-by-day details of the second half of the Bush administration or the horse race between potential Republican candidates.

And it's a completely defensible choice if your standard is making the world a better place. Just following the news informs you but doesn't change it. Meanwhile, it can make a person feel bad and take up their time. Doing things and following those topics from the inside can make a person feel better, and give them time during which they can have greater impact on the things they care about.
posted by salvia at 7:30 PM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Try finding common ground. If you are with someone with whom you disagree with 99% of what they say...make it a goal to find the 1% and have positive interactions instead of stressful ones. Any by doing so you are probably actually having more impact than by engaging people about issues in a way that stresses you out and makes you feel isolated when you do so.
posted by ian1977 at 7:35 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: It's not your civic duty to stay so up to date on the news that you end up a fetal ball of depression who's unable to leave your bed.

Stop reading the daily news. Go outside more. And read some history - not so you can be all "things have always sucked", but to gain some perspective. Mostly, though, go outside.
posted by rtha at 7:47 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Wow, your exquisitely high standards for the people around you are exceeded only by your excruciatingly high standards for yourself. The passion you feel for the issues and the thrill of taking action to make a difference, punctuated by bouts of crushing disappointment when you or someone else falls short of your expectations makes for quite a rollercoaster ride, and I doubt that's really helping at this point.

But also, when you're really in the thick of a crucial issue, hanging on every development and feeling every setback is like the end of the world, it's hard not to feel despair. What works for me is to get a sense of perspective by reminding myself what things were like before anyone started to care about or work on the issue. Or how bad it would be if no one cared enough to push back against the marauding hordes. Then it's easy to see how much progress really has been made and the setbacks take their rightful place in what will, really, be a very long road.

Or, you could go meta. Start asking why there's so much negativity nowadays. Why people are willfully ignorant. Why things are adversarial. And figure out how to make a difference in that.
posted by DrGail at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Eventually, inevitably, I'll talk to someone or read something that makes me feel like I'm wrong for caring about what I do, or that I'm wasting my time, or that the causes I believe in are ridiculous, or that I'm giving sympathy to people who "don't deserve it". And then I wonder if I'm dedicating my "passion" to something completely futile.

I take the LONG VIEW. The day-to-day back and forth, the setbacks some years, that awful election result, that negative article; they do not mean defeat. On the issues you mention, when I look back over my decades, I see tremendous improvements.

I am never surprised by a fiasco, but remain cautiously optimistic; I take heart, I have hope. Why not? I prefer not to give up prematurely, but to encourage good things and others who are working for them. I like to imagine this helps them occur.
posted by lathrop at 7:55 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I REALLY want to answer this in long form because I was you 5 years ago, but honestly - I just don't have the energy right now. Ha!

Please contact me via the Memail so I can remember to write to you at length when I get a chance. I've got a newborn that puts an even bigger spin on your question and lends a lot of insight. I live in West Hollywood, have an extensive background in political activism, struggled with depression which I have totally overcome, and even worked in tabloid TV waaay back in the beginning of my career.

I have answers for you. I do.


The short answer is (a) just BE the change you want to see. It's none of your business what anyone else is doing or thinking. Be good and kind to everyone you meet, everyday. Always choose the Win-Win scenario. This alone is HUGE. And (b) load up on positive input. Shut off the current events, the negative TV, the ranty internet blogs. Learn the larger patterns so you can stay current, yet switch off the daily details - I swear to you it is the same fucking info every day - and when you learn to spot the lies, you can speed bump them in your mind and not take it so personally.

Decide in your heart to KNOW that sooner or later, everyone will get it right. One day. Imagine that day, that Happy World.

I recently ordered this book for $15 to $20 to give me an emotional lift from time to time. I have to consciously remember to pick it up and read a few pages whenever I get worried, but it really does the trick.

Previously, I subscribed to a lot of positive minded podcasts and listened to them non-stop when I was working myself permanently out of the funk you find yourself in right now.


Work hard to never EVER give in to the negative feelings you are having right now. You are feeling them by design, the media is designed to influence you and everyone else into thinking we are all against one another, against the better good. The Truth is this, is not our True Nature as a species. But when you get conned into believing this false viewpoint, they win. You give a way your power. So don't do that.

Work hard to stay generous and fear-free. It's all you have to do to change the world. Really.

posted by jbenben at 8:36 PM on September 30, 2011 [14 favorites]

Geezus! What happened to those wrap-up sentences? Corrected for clarity....

"You are feeling these negative feelings by design, the media is designed to influence you and everyone else into thinking we are all against one another, against the better good. The Truth is, this is not our True Nature as a species. But when you get conned into believing this false viewpoint, they win. You give away your power. So don't do that."

If you want to know who "they" are, read this book : Puzzling People, The Labyrinth of the Psychopath.

A description:

"As well-researched as a scholarly work, yet with the immediacy and accessibility of a layman, Puzzling People is a first-person account of the cheats, the charlatans, the liars, the neglectful parents, abusive teachers, two-faced politicians and their Psychopathic Control Grid, tyrannical bosses and colleagues from hell we have all encountered, including the lying lovers who use us then lose us in an instant. Puzzling People takes an in-depth look at how the minds of psychopaths work and why, and focusses on what you can do to survive and thrive and ultimately escape forever. Delivered in a voice that makes it clear that the author lives what he writes, Puzzling People is an invaluable field guide to spotting and avoiding entities so completely lacking in empathy or compassion they may as well be counted as a different species entirely to human beings."

(emphasis mine, below as well...)

From the user reviews:

"Thomas Sheridan has done the world a great service by writing this book. He writes from his own personal experience with psychopaths, the experience of others, and the results of research from the scientific and medical communities. This book is written in easy-to-understand language with everyday examples given. You don't have to agree with everything in this book (I don't) to learn from it. The chapter on the Psychopathic Control Grid (also covered in the book "Political Ponerology" )deserves to be expanded into its own book. I bought an extra copy of this book to share with my grandchildren when they are older. If you've wondered why black images of skulls and crossbones and death and destruction have been the dominant themes on children's clothing in the past few years, this book will point you in the right direction. I recommended this book to my local library but they refuse to add it to their collection because it is self-published. Too bad. At the end of the book the author has a list of recommended reading. The author also has youtube channel that is worth watching. Two thumbs up, buy this book, it is a keeper."
posted by jbenben at 8:51 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Choose your inputs. It's easy for the media to sell newspapers if they can provoke shock, fear, panic, anxiety, disgust, etc. It's not easy to stay positive with all that noise.

There is plenty to be in awe of and excited by, but you need to choose to seek it out. Tip the balance so your mind has happy things to dwell on.

Trans people can get surgeries and hormone regimens that have never been possible before. Gay marriage rights are becoming more common every year. The internet gets wilder and more complex and beautiful every month. Twitter and Facebook and sites like them are completely revolutionizing democracy everywhere — from Egypt to Toronto's municipal politics. Stock up on TED talks for amazing tech.

Rather than dwelling on sexism, read up on the wonders of women: The Story of V, Woman: An Intimate Geography, anything that celebrates us. The same for racialized groups, sexual orientations, the poor.

It's easy to get bogged down when you're working against an -ism, but what do you want to work towards? What kind of world do you want to see, described in positive terms? Who is making steps towards cultivating those things?
posted by heatherann at 9:06 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

No matter what happens, take care of your self.
posted by ovvl at 9:33 PM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: Simple answer - Do what you enjoy doing.

If you want to discuss your favorite books with people who may hate them, do so; If not, just read and enjoy them. If you want to work for preferred political causes, do so; If you find that too tiring, just vote for them when possible. If you love tech but hate the latest incarnation of the Emacs-vs-VI wars, stick to semi-factual review sites like Tom's Hardware rather than mostly-editorial sites like Slashdot.

We don't have enough time on this planet to waste doing things we don't like. Some people enjoy debating, some enjoy agreement, some just enjoy facts. Do what you enjoy doing.
posted by pla at 9:33 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

-left activism communties
-stopped reading the news or bein involved in politics
-decided to help people deal with the crap of the world on a very individual level, where I could actually effect change, by becoming a therapist
-stopped reading Sartre
-started taking SSRIs
posted by whalebreath at 9:48 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oof - did I write this question?

This is a little thing, but: don't read political blogs. It is so easy to get bogged down in the ticky-tack nonsense of "that stupid thing that jerk public figure just said 5 minutes ago." Stay informed by reading more big-picture, long-view stuff; stay away from the minutiae. It's not much, but it's helped me a bit.
posted by naoko at 9:55 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like someone needs a media vacation. Sounds crazy, but media in and of itself can be exhausting. It's designed to be sensational and deliberately caters to radicalization of opinions. It highlest mostly the worst in us & the world, with only the occasional mention of the better, and avoids like the plague such unexciting topics as reasonableness & run-of-the-mill, day-to-day humanizing things like tolerance & generosity (on the non-epic scale). Step away from the boob tube, the newsletters, the computers, the feeds. Let your soul observe the world around you without first feeding the majority of your input through the filters of people with agendas. As for the rest: you can ask people to change the topic. Transgendered issues are an easy touchstone of commonality (or difference), but why not talk about the hobbies for a change? Or the weather? Or some positive current event that can, with effort on everybody's part, be discussed without reference to gender-role controversy. You don't have the right to ask people not to be who they are, interests & all, but you can, at any time, make a motion for a change in topic.
posted by Ys at 10:33 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Doctor, it hurts when I do that ...

Nthing the advice to stop reading things that upset and discourage you.

I too have a history of depression, and I've been working on cultivating a mindset of serene optimism. It doesn't do anybody any good for me to get bent out of shape about politics or a whole host of other irritants, and it just messes with my mental health. I did political activism in my youth; I've made my contribution. Now I read the lifestyles sections of the paper—restaurant reviews, recipes, human interest stories—and mostly skip the hard news. (The NYT paywall had the unintended effect of facilitating this.)

I read tech blogs but avoid the comments where the fanboys are aiming flamethrowers at each other. In fact, I avoid online comments in general. The anonymity of that medium seems to attract bitter, sarcastic cranks. (Metafilter and to a lesser extent Reddit are happy exceptions to this rule.)

If you want to do your part, outsource it: find a few organizations that are fighting the good fight, and write them some checks.
posted by quirkbot at 10:58 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My old slash fandom friend could have written this, so I'm going to pretend I'm talking to her (just a little, but not projecting too much, I hope). Anyway, um, there are a lot of people who expressed these sorts of sentiments in my narrow little circle, back when I was active in online discussions and/or fandom. Either people were super-psyched about shallow-ish things, or we were always talking about how everyone's sexist/etc, the world sucks, and also no one appreciates certain oppressed characters in children's fiction properly. Back then, we were all so oppressed. Even the squeeing was oppressive: they were squeeing about the wrong things, the bastards!

The problem (well, one problem) is that you haven't yet gotten to step 1 of my old friend's mantra: step back, step back, disengage. You still think engagement is your duty, but in fact you aren't doing the world or your community a favor by endangering your mental and emotional health by giving up your energy when you have none to spare. It's all about common sense and moderation, you know? When you have low energy, conserve it. When online fandom gets to be too much, take a break. When your friends are being assholes, decide how close you are: if you aren't that close, either let it go or let them go. If you are close, simply tell them the sorts of language you will not tolerate, what your personal sensitivities are, and they will respect that. While I disagreed with my friend (she was-- and is-- way more radical than I am, and cares way more about the activism aspect of social justice than I do), I would never intentionally say things to hurt her, and her efforts to challenge me have mattered to me. I'm still not on board with everything she said, but I remember her whenever I think about issues, and am thankful to her. I also am thankful that she was willing to debate with me even though I know I hurt her feelings-- but hey, you know, she also hurt mine sometimes, not to mention that her vulnerability often bordered on manipulation/emotional blackmail ('look how much you're hurting me!'). I was teaching her to step back and she was teaching me to step closer, maybe. Making good points means being less emotionally invested, because you trust your reasoning to do its job. Sometimes it takes awhile for your efforts to become clear.

This leads me to the next point: historical perspective-- you need it. The world has been 'teetering on the brink' of both disaster and revolution for quite awhile now. Dig deeper into the history of the last 300 years, and you'll see. Human beings have always been bitter. Things have always sucked, people need scapegoats for social cohesion to work, and outsiders are always going to be around as long as there are human beings. We-- human beings-- we are not, y'know, pretty. So realizing that and making your peace with it should be on your agenda, rather than simply 'wanting to keep your faith'. It's not an either/or between despair and idealistic optimism. There's also this tendency to idealize victims among the radical/activist idealist contingent... sometimes it's admirable, and sometimes it translates into stubbornly clinging to deluded notions about 'bad guy' characters, because people identify with the victim so much, they simply flip the black/white dichotomy around. Anyway, yes, people need The Enemy, yes. This is what people are like. This shouldn't kill your hope-- this should challenge you to stretch your compassion further than you'd expected. No one said faith in humanity would be easy.

As for hope-- it shouldn't be blind. Maybe you need to do more things you think are less than ideal, to see it's not the end of the world. Leaving fandom, stopping the news for awhile, etc-- that's not a big deal if you still do meaningful things in the ways available to you to make a difference. Your simply 'keeping up' with some community or news cycle means little to nothing in the grand scheme of things unless you're in a position of power, anyway. If you're more effective as a person without that input, by all means make that choice. Like, a lot of my friends could only participate in fandom healthily while being isolated from 99% of it-- but this let them at least do something. This is good! Something = better than nothing.

Hope also depends on scale-- both time and space. You could have hope that includes the space for wobbling, setbacks, and long arcs of justice, as well as inevitable disasters and mistakes. You could have hope that is fiercely focused on individual potential, on the ability of individual human beings to listen or to grow, even if most fail to do so. You could believe that some is better than none. And you can believe that sexism/racism has been around pretty much since the dawn of time, so perhaps fighting it in an organized fashion since the mid-20th century, it's no surprise it's not 'done yet'. I always thought it was funny how easy it can be to see other people's limitations but not your own; I only really respected my friend when she realized her own prejudices, even on small fandom scale. She realized that simply in identifying with one character, she Othered another, and when she made an effort to understand the latter, things really shifted in her mind. A line of communication was born that wasn't there before. In other words, don't assume other people are the only ones 'wrong', who should change, who should 'get it'. You may think this has nothing to do with, say, preferring Draco Malfoy over Harry Potter, but I think you'd be wrong.
posted by reenka at 12:31 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I started anti depressants and went to cbt therapy, which helped enough that I eventually went off meds.
posted by jacalata at 9:40 AM on October 1, 2011

DrGall: "Wow, your exquisitely high standards for the people around you are exceeded only by your excruciatingly high standards for yourself."


To the OP: write out a list of other people who you are obliged to "fix", and concentrate on only fixing those people.

hint: there shouldn't be any names on that list.
posted by alan2001 at 10:00 AM on October 1, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, thank you all so much for all the thoughtful answers. I've read every comment and there's a lot to think about. I'll be coming back to this thread and re-reading everything before I mark any best answers, but I just wanted to voice my appreciation.

I also wanted to address a couple of comments that--I'm not going to lie--kind of hurt my feelings, and maybe misread what I was asking for help with.

Ideefixe: "You're not the standard bearer for right thinking. Rather than constantly railing against everyone/everything you think is wrong, engaging people on a personal level is a better way to influence hearts and minds.

The world won't collapse if you back away from the keyboard.

I do try to engage people on a personal level. Where I find myself frustrated, and the reason why I'm asking this question, is when I find those efforts rejected and turned down. If my friends and I are having a conversation about the dating scene, for example, and someone brings out the "girls won't pay attention to you unless you're asshole card", I will (rightly or wrongly) interject and call them out on it, and say that being a jerk deliberately isn't going to get them anywhere. Then I tend to get shouted down by every other guy there who will proclaim that being nice never works and that girls will just find you creepy and that negging is useful because girls all have low self esteem etc. etc. etc.

Then I tend to just shut up, because it's a Friday afternoon, and why open a can of works about rape culture and entitlement? But then I feel pretty crummy for the rest of the conversation, because they're going to go on thinking as they do, and I feel like I'm incapable of making even a small difference.

In the past, when I've told people on a one-on-one basis why I think rape jokes are distasteful, I've been told not to talk like that because I would make other people uncomfortable by calling them out, and then no one would feel comfortable joking with me, and I wouldn't want that, right? (These are instances where we're just discussing the concept of "tasteless jokes" in abstract, and not even when my conversation partner has said anything in particular.)

Then I get depressed, and post on AskMe.


alan2001: "DrGall: "Wow, your exquisitely high standards for the people around you are exceeded only by your excruciatingly high standards for yourself."

To the OP: write out a list of other people who you are obliged to "fix", and concentrate on only fixing those people.

hint: there shouldn't be any names on that list.

I'm not really interested in fixing anyone. Hell, I can't even keep myself together.

On a holistic level, I would like it if everyone were given equal rights, and that's something I want to fight for. (Hence the activism, I suppose, and the attendant frustrations with the setbacks I perceive in any civil rights movement that I care about.) On an individual level, I would simply prefer to be engaging in conversation that demonstrates respect for others, even if those people aren't part of the conversation. So I would appreciate it if my male friends didn't talk about plying women with liquor being the modern equivalent to clubbing them over the head and dragging them back to the cave, for example, or if my Caucasian friends didn't complain about immigrants and their unintelligible accents.

I can't always help my associations where these conversations come up, either. If my parents complain about the "lower class" or if people at work are making tasteless jokes, it's not like I can just quit work and get new parents. At that point I'm not even trying to change people's minds. I'm just trying to move on from the conversation and hope that no one says anything that will make me actually lose it, because I need to keep my job and not call people out at work, for example. (But man, the knee-jerk "girls who wear short skirts are asking for it" comments...)

Is it in an incredibly high standard to set to be upset when people say things that are mean and bigoted and just plain wrong about other people? Well, maybe. But I don't really know what the alternative would be.

(I feel like maybe I'm being a little defensive here. If so: I apologize. I recognize that everyone is just trying to help.)
posted by Be cool, sodapop at 10:32 AM on October 1, 2011

I feel like I'm a lot like you in many ways. What you describe, the following of news about all the causes I believe in, getting upset at the stupid things people say -- that's definitely me. I think things have changed for me though, since say two years ago. At the time, I was still dating my now ex, a wonderful guy who believed as I did in feminism, equality of all and all those other liberal values you talk about above. We would sit together, reading the same political blogs, that we followed via RSS feeds, getting upset about the stupid things that people had done today, about all the hunger and suffering still going on in the world. And you know, there's nothing wrong with that really -- there's nothing wrong with feeling upset about things one should feel upset about, I'm not ashamed of that. Yet what I found was that this tended to wrap us up in each other -- we had this feeling of being us against the world. Anything that happened was brought home and dissected in the safety of our shared world view. Over time, all of this was extremely mentally exhausting.

After we broke up, I slowly started withdrawing from all the politics and feminism. I deleted almost all of the blogs I used to follow from my RSS reader, keeping only the ones that pointed me towards new and cool items or articles. When I wanted a dose of feminism, I visited Pandagon or Femniste, got my fill and then moved on. Reading about the terrible things happening in the world every day is just plain exhausting and there is little you can do by just reading about things. Keeping informed is important, but I'd argue that keeping track of the tiny minutiae of the political process is actively detrimental to your sanity.

My new boyfriend also has political opinions and we agree on most everything, but I've noticed that he's never had the same obsession about politics and feminism, say, that I have. He reads many full-length non-fiction books (when's the last time you actually read a full book about a political topic?) and has an in-depth understanding of many topics but he's also inherently an optimistic person with a lot of interests besides those. I'm learning a lot from him about how to engage with the world in a healthy way. Seriously, get away from the computer, go out there, meet some new people. When you have people around you who understand you, the cretins at work won't matter as much. You really can't fix the world, which doesn't mean you shouldn't try. But cut yourself some slack. Remember that the world is steadily getting less violent and bigoted, however slow the process seems.
posted by peacheater at 11:34 AM on October 1, 2011

Best answer: Hey, as a follow up: I don't think it's an incredibly high standard to care when people you can't escape are genuinely being assholes. My other friend works in an incredibly patriarchal sexist environment that's heavily white and Republican (aero engineering), and she's always complaining about the extremity of the stuff she hears. It genuinely made her work unbearable and her nearly ineffective at one point, and that's not something you can argue away.

Two things, then: make absolutely sure you separate your immature friends and their immature jokes, and people at work, and your parents. Realize all these are actually pretty different circumstances in terms of what your options are to deal with it.

Parents: tell them you're uncomfortable with the subject, can they please refrain from mentioning That Stuff, it stresses you out. My mom's a Republican, but she rarely talks about "crazy Obama" in my presence without me even having to ask. Sometimes she does, but only since she knows I don't care-- I have a pretty high tolerance, plus we have a great relationship and I respect her. Respecting/loving someone is a great foundation for your own tolerance of their prejudice-- and by tolerance I mean 'just enough not to let it drive you insane'. Being part of a certain social strata, a certain generation-- your parents are limited by these things, but you can (gently!) educate them with stories or with your experiences, or simply tell them when something upsets you. Few parents will intentionally upset you. On your part, try to mentally 'cordon off' this prejudice as a sort of infection that society gave your parents. They're kind of, well, sick with it. You don't have to engage, just acknowledge this means they're part of their time and place in some ways. This is compassion, and justice can learn from it.

Your idiot-male friends-- well, which ones are you close to? Sounds like this is a group of relatively 'normal' youngish guys. You're unlikely to get through to most of them at this age, on this subject. If you like, pick some 'likely candidate' (the smarter one) and have A Talk about rape culture/etc-- not one, but like, more than ten. This takes lots of energy and lots and lots of talks to change. In my experience (and I started off being pretty 'enlightened' already, if I do say so myself), it took quite a few conversations on social justice to change my mind about some things. In these circles, a guy may be more effective than a girl, so you do need an ally, if you're serious about changing some of these dynamics. The easier route is just to write them off as young and horny and stupid/clueless. They are all these things, probably. They thing 'oh, I should be an asshole' because (I'm guessing) they simply don't know how to get girls otherwise (or at all). So they make up these cultural myths, they posture, they puff out their chest, they act macho. I guarantee you, more than 90% of them aren't assholes, and are nice to girls, and are nervous, and need alcohol themselves to loosen up enough to talk to an attractive female, but they cover it up with this talk of females needing liquor to be raped or whatever. Macho posturing! How cute. Just remember: they're really secretly woobies, and mentally pat them on the head. One day they might be men. One day.

The work stuff is the toughie. That is a genuinely sucky work environment. I think you need to think about getting a different job if/when it gets bad enough. Otherwise, just disengage emotionally, try to get into a different dept (what my friend did), and try to be on autopilot at work as much as possible. It's important to do a good job, make money, and get the hell out as soon as you can. This is emotional poison, and your job is not to let it determine your mood or your performance by any means possible. Don't let the bastards grind you down! That's what the bastards want, so don't give it to them.
posted by reenka at 11:39 AM on October 1, 2011

Best answer: I wanted to start off by thanking you for writing this. It's nice to know that these responses aren't just something I do but a greater part of activist "burnout".

I, too, encourage you to stop keeping up on the news if it's triggering you. I have to do this routinely and only read summaries that get posted on my fellow activist friends' Facebooks. It's about mitigating the damage to your mental health; you can't always be up to date on everything all the time, our brains aren't wired for it and if you're predisposed to depression then even less so. This isn't a bad thing! Having limits is entirely okay, everyone has them, and your sense of unease is likely your body/brain telling you that you've hit them. Be kind to yourself and listen to this unease, pull back from your over-exposure and give yourself a bit of a rest.

I wish I had an easier way to respond to this than "avoid triggers". I, too, find a lot of moments ruined by casual sexism/cissexism/racism/classism/etc and the response that people give when I point out their problematic behaviour (defensive, angry, etc). I feel like I'm constantly educating people and it's exhausting. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're not alone.

Another thing I do to cope is to avoid hanging out with more triggery people/disengage emotionally/disassociate from my situation when I'm feeling vulnerable/exhausted. It's not ideal but it keeps my head above water.
posted by buteo at 11:42 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Be cool, sodapop, I also could have written this question almost word for word (except for the tech stuff), so this might be a little long.

I completely "get" what you're saying, and it's not about trying to "fix" the people, per se...but it kind of is. We want them to see where they are contributing to the problem by brushing these things under the rug and saying we are too sensitive. It's like you want to bang your head against something and scream, YOU'RE NOT SENSITIVE ENOUGH, YOU DON'T CARE, AND YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

But honestly, you could be correct a thousand times over, but They.Don't.Care. They just don't have the sensitivity chip. If it's not harmful to "them" and their people, it simply doesn't register...and they certainly don't spend any time researching anything or the harmful effects of their opinions. When we point out that there are other ways to look at these issues (other than HATE HATE HATE), we end up being the bad guy for rocking the boat and challenging them (even though we are trying to do good in the world, even though we may be right, even though, even though, even though)...

We feel compelled to speak up, (seems like a good thing) but often, people who speak up against social injustice get smacked in the face with how indifferent most people are, or like you said, some are WILLFULLY ignorant. They want rape jokes to be alright, they want nigger jokes to be accepted, they want to be able to take a big dump on immigrants. They WANT it. For some crazy reason that we can't wrap our minds around, they don't care how that makes the world a suckier place. They DO NOT CARE.

I'm going through this myself, with "friends" who know that a racial joke joke is going to make me upset/annoyed on several levels, but they continue to do it, because they are going to make a statement about "they are who they are." and me being sensitive to these issues (I call it giving a shit), somehow offends them. I could go on and on, but I won't. You know what I'm saying, I'm sure of it.

How to stay positive in the face of all this? You're alive and you care. Sometimes what you say has an impact on SOMEONE, even if it's ten years down the road, the person goes, "You know what, maybe I was wrong about that." If it's only one person, that's a victory.

To mitigate, I have also avoided hanging out with and disengaged emotionally from a few people. It's sad, but it's better than the alternative. Me thinking they are insensitive, backwards clods, and them thinking I'm trying to "change them."

It's exhausting and sad, I know, but you aren't alone.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:08 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit caring.

Well, that's not quite true, but I quit paying attention to national-level politics, quit arguing about issues, quit getting so involved online because I felt I was just wasting my time. I focus on local issues where I can see the visible results of my work and I can help try and elect good people locally. I send money to organizations that do good work and let them do the heavy lifting of changing the world. And I feel so much better.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:30 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're sweating the small stuff. Who cares about what a group of twenty-something males say on the Friday night before they go out and hit the bars? I mean really. I can remember crap talk like that too when I was that age. Now I'm 45 and if any of my male friends spoke like that I'm sure we would all think he was a fool. Being young and stupid and alpha, they are just trying to impress each other with their crap.

There was a sentence above that struck me: "You're not the standard bearer for right thinking". I can understand where that would be hurtful, yet please allow me to put a spin on it. What I read that to mean is that you can't (and shouldn't) try to impose your views on other people. You will never win that way. The old "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" analogy. Yes, I'm sure that when you tell your group of young males that they shouldn't be talking about sexist topics, they are going to apologise! Even IF some of them wanted to (hell, even IF all of them felt guilty and realised that what you have to say is valid (and it pretty much is)) bravado will NOT allow them to admit fault or to change. Very few people will take a backward step with other people, especially if there are others of their peer group around. This applies to your work colleagues, but also to a group of your friends, to your family when at a family dinner, and so on.

Try and pay less attention to what people say. 99% of it is just crap anyway! Most people do not think before they speak.

As far as the media goes, it is very difficult to get a well-rounded view of what is going on in the world. Having said that, how much of a view do you need? Let's say you find out that orphans are being slaughtered in Rwanda - how does that help you? Can you volunteer for the Red Cross, or Medicins Sans Frontieres? If not (and 99.999% of us can't) do as suggested upthread and donate a small amount of your wages to a similar cause. This is the most that we can do.

And point 3) of your question made me laugh! Geek wars indeed! I am a geek and (passionately) hate Microsoft and Apple (and love Linux!) but REALLY - it's just a game! If anything was to happen to Bill or Steve (as in, they got a terminal illness or were murdered or anything else horrible) I would feel just as bad as if it happened to anyone else in the news. Geek "holy wars" are just posturing crap - the same posturing crap as your group of twenty-somethings on a Friday afternoon at work.

In short - when the bullshit starts, recognise it as such and try to ignore it! When you read about upsetting stuff in the news, don't internalise it but know that your small contribution is helping.
posted by humpy at 7:29 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

dump your TV
posted by dougiedd at 12:36 AM on October 2, 2011

Thinking about activism instead of thinking about how far things need to go, think about how far things have already gone. Think about feminism and what women were expected to do in the 1950s, and think about it now. Same goes with LTBGQ issues.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:07 AM on October 2, 2011

I sympathize very much with you. I have worked as a community and labor organizer for over ten years and I understand that it can be so emotionally overwhelming because you care, because you are passionate, because you are a long distance runner and there are no easy victories, because your causes aren't something you can clock out of, because sometimes people are belligerently stupid, because other people won't help or don't care even when the injustice is obvious and right in front of them.

Infighting in particular drives me crazy as well! Unfortunately, infighting and squabbles amongst people who should be allies will never go away. I find the group that I want to work with the most and avoid drama as much as I can. I stay educated about what issues people have that cause infighting but choose my battles carefully. Stay dedicated to serving your cause and let that be what guides you and fuels you and lifts you up above distractions.

Some of these people are total vampires! Understand that you can choose not to deal with them or work with them. Same goes for non-movement people that say stupid stuff. Choose your battles! Keep your eyes on the prize. You can witness an argument that you don't agree with without making it personal or wasting emotional energy getting upset. They bog you down because you let them bog you down. Just because someone says something you don't like doesn't mean that it has to drain you emotionally or upset you. You can't change some people but you can change who you deal with them. I have struggled with that a lot and I am at a place now where I can navigate minefields and still keep my sanity/energy. It is a good skill to try to learn.

Yes, your views and thoughts will change! Be OK with the idea that something may change your mind. It is ok to have doubt. That is learning, growing and will only make you stronger! Finding your own path is not easy but it is an important investment in yourself.

Also, make time to celebrate and for art! music! fun activities together with others! You can do things in support of your cause that are creative or uplifting, this is essential to fighting the feeling that all of the heavy things you deal with are just going to crush you down.

Good luck! It does get easier, I promise. Strength comes from building muscles, which takes time, so give yourself that time. Finding a mentor can help too! It was good for me.
posted by dottiechang at 1:03 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Come work with me in South Sudan and then go back to the USA and things will seem peachy.
posted by tarvuz at 5:31 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I realize that everyone believes as they do because they've had a set of experiences that leads them to where they are today. I can't change that; they believe what they do, and they are who they are.

This doesn't give them permission to be who they are forever, the future ain't written yet.

Justifying the past in creating the present is what enables me to deal with the now.
posted by talldean at 9:18 AM on October 4, 2011

Meanwhile, less philosophically, I tend to follow Apple news conferences *and* Google's public blogs, but not third party fanboy sites. They avoid telling me how the other product sucks, and mostly just focus on how they're doing awesome stuff.
posted by talldean at 9:48 AM on October 4, 2011

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