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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The power of flexibility in the face of despair

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 9/22/21

It’s a cool, gray morning, unlike most we’ve experienced in the last few months. Although I listened to the sound of rain falling throughout the night, the rain gauge shows little …

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The power of flexibility in the face of despair


It’s a cool, gray morning, unlike most we’ve experienced in the last few months. Although I listened to the sound of rain falling throughout the night, the rain gauge shows little measurable precipitation. The garden doesn’t look as thirsty, nor the forest quite as crackly. So, I’m taking comfort in whatever moisture made it to the ground.
In fact, I just heard that Minnesota’s most worrisome wildfires are finally under control. And something else I’m grateful for — after 20 years of war, we’ve decided to draw down our military engagement in the Middle East. If I didn’t know better, I might believe that things were actually calming down a bit out there in the bigger world. But, I know that isn’t so.
With its new variants, the COVID epidemic rages on. So do the vicious debates over whether mandating vaccinations is or isn’t “Constitutional.” Texas has decided to lead the charge among states determined to erode Roe v. Wade by empowering vigilante-style tactics that allow any person to sue any “other person” who they think may be assisting a woman to terminate her pregnancy. That “other person” might even be a licensed medical practitioner merely offering information. (So much for one’s right to privacy.) Then there are stubbornly persistent levels of extreme poverty, myriad examples of egregious racial disparities, and a variety of attacks on our democracy. Everything from hand-to-hand combat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to new and complicated legislation designed to undermine the voting rights of poor people, and people of color.
If all that were not enough, there still remains that over-arching threat to our future, called “climate change.” Permission has finally been granted to link our over-dependence on fossil fuels to global warming, as well as the associated ever-increasing environmental disasters. There is no denying that we truly are in a world of hurt. And no longer can we rely on science and technology to supply us with a sure fix.
Last week, National Public Radio’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro interviewed Caroline Hickman, a lecturer at the University of Bath who co-authored a recently published global survey of 10,000 young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. Participants were asked questions exploring the psychological and physical impacts of the “climate crisis” on their daily lives. The results were shocking. They confirmed that climate scientists are not the only people alarmed about the future.
Over half indicated a significant sense of hopelessness and depression, frequent bouts of anxiety, and a loss of motivation to study, prepare for tests, or direct attention to academic success. Eight out of ten participants reported significant disturbances to their eating and sleeping habits due to a “lack of faith in the future.” Eight out of ten were angry at adults and governments “for not taking care of the planet.” Half thought “humanity is doomed.” Two thirds believed they were being lied to about the effectiveness of actions that were being taken. Many reported feeling “betrayed and abandoned.”
Environmental advocates have been urging bolder action for decades. While they called for lifestyle and policy changes, policy makers continued debating and delaying action. While some have been struggling to do “whatever they can,” others continue to live in hopeless resignation or outright denial. For many, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a hopeful “keep-on keepin’ on” attitude. They’re beginning to wonder, at what point do we just “give up” trying to make a difference.
Recently, while cleaning drawers, I found a gift from my mother. It was a beautiful deck of what she called “Virtue Cards”. She had received them from a friend who was a member of the Baha’i faith as an offering of support and inspiration during a difficult period of her life. She had found them useful and as she was nearly blind, she decided to pass them along to me. In finding them, I wondered if they might offer some inspiration in times like this.
I removed the pack from the beautiful brocade bag that my mother had hand-sewn for their safe-keeping. I randomly selected a card. Across the top it read, “Flexibility”. Beneath the title, a quote, “I bend but do not break.” Then came a description of the “virtues” of flexibility and a list of “Affirmations”, an internal pep-talk of sorts, to help get us through today and restore our faith in tomorrow. Here are those affirmations, seeds for our personal growth.
I adapt when change is called for amidst the fluctuations of life.
I trust the course of my life.
I find creative ways to solve problems.
I am open and seek the ideas, opinions and feelings of others.
I rise to the challenges of life with resilience and confidence.
I discern wisely the things I cannot change and those things that I can.
I am open to life’s unexpected wonders and challenges.
I am in a perpetual state of growth.
I am grateful for the gift of Flexibility. It keeps my spirit supple.
-Virtues Project International (2005)
Young people are calling on adults, especially leaders in government, to do more to stop the rapid rise in global warming. They know that time is running out. Many are planning to return to the streets in advance of the U.N. Climate Summit in November. They should not have to do this alone. This is our opportunity to prove that we hear them and care enough to join in this fight. They need us to show up to defend their right to a livable planet, their right to create and fulfill their own visions and dreams, their right to a future.
It’s time for us to speak up, model our own resilience and confidence that it’s not too late to fight for their future. Together, let’s agree to be resolute, on guard against the common enemy of “collective despair.”


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