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The useful crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an actual crisis. The world was hours away from being annihilated–gone forever, all of us.

Since then, the media has exploited (and invented) crises on a regular basis, now more than ever, often at the expense of focusing our attention on chronic conditions, which are the real challenges.

Today’s election day in the US, and the whole world is watching. Even with mail-in voting, it’s mostly a one-day thing. A useful crisis, a chance to encourage millions of people to get involved, at least a little. The last time around, only 80,000 votes separated the outcome, a truly tiny fraction of the population who didn’t show up and vote but could have.

While the Tonkin crisis accelerated the US’s involvement in Vietnam, it was the chronic and persistent war that truly took a toll. We notice the amplified moments but the long haul is often invisible. And media like Twitter make it 140 times worse.

A crisis doesn’t have to be a negative event. A wedding is a crisis–one ceremony, one day, over and done. All eyes, all attention, all on this moment. That’s why we do it–even though the chronic condition of the marriage itself is always more important. And we do the same thing for job interviews and product launches as well.

Today’s the launch day for my new book, The Practice. People asked me why I would waste the focus and crisis of a launch on a day when everyone is going to be talking about something else. I did it partly because I know you can handle two things at once, and would probably want to find something to fill your time while you were waiting for the results. And mostly because The Practice is about the long haul, the persistent posture of creation and possibility. I’d love to have an exciting launch day (I’ll be posting some hoopla details later today) but I’m far more interested in what the people who go first do with the book after they read it. Tomorrow, next month and next year.

It doesn’t make sense to waste a good crisis, but it also hurts us when we are only concerned with them.

Please vote today if you can, and then let’s all try to find a way to work together to figure out how to focus on the persistent, chronic conditions that we can each do something about.

[Video by Fernando Lazzari]

What do you get and what does it cost?

This is pretty easy to discuss when we’re discussing buying an ice cream sandwich. It costs $2, you get an ice cream sandwich.

It gets a little more nuanced when we talk about what $2 means to you, what the freedom to choose is worth, the guilt or joy you get from eating a sugary dessert all on your own, the fun of sharing it with a friend, your narrative about hormones and livestock… Maybe it’s not that easy after all.

And so we get to the sometimes subtle calculation of voting.

Tomorrow in the US is voting day. It apparently doesn’t cost anything to vote–just a few minutes of time. But it actually can feel like it costs a lot, because it comes with cognitive load, with decision making, with a feeling of power or futility or connection or loneliness. If you don’t vote, it’s a lot easier to deny any responsibility.

A year ago, I was standing in line at an ice cream stand in Syracuse, NY. A person in front of me took more than two minutes (a long time when it’s a long line!) to make up their mind, and even let two other people jump ahead because it was so hard (which means, also, so fun) to be undecided. That’s a choice, and the date certain of voting pushes us to move through that state…

But along with these costs, voting comes with the feeling of participation. Even if you don’t think your vote counts, others do. People are paying attention, and over time, it adds up.

And it comes with the feeling of generosity, because you can vote to advance the well-being of someone who needs to be seen even more than you do.

If you’re a habitual non-voter, it’s worth wondering for a moment about the calculation you use to keep that streak going, and perhaps consider exploring the feelings that come when you break that streak.

Not just tomorrow, but in all the ways, and on all the days, when we don’t speak up, don’t raise our hands and don’t vote.

Omission, commission and the places in between

If you accidentally leave the gate open and foragers end up destroying 1000 acres of crops, the guilt feels different than if you went and actively burned down the fields, even if the damage is identical.

In our society, we treat errors of omission differently from the decision to commit a crime.

But there are countless places in between.

What if you should have known?

What if you could have known but didn’t bother to do the work?

What if you promised you’d do the work to find a path, but then didn’t?

One reason we hide is that we’re afraid of being on the hook, of making a promise we can’t keep, of showing up and taking responsibility for our intentional actions. But, as information becomes more widespread and our leverage increases, we’ve already put ourselves on the hook. Could, should and would not only rhyme, they exist on a continuum.