On Friday, Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about lackluster alternatives, e-mails, hacking, the Electoral College, and a hundred other factors and nothing will change. Come Friday at noon, Trump will be President.
Since the election I’ve done my best to avoid writing about politics. This is a religious blog, and while it’s impossible to completely separate religion and politics, my calling is spirituality and devotion, not political action. But there is a new reality we have to deal with, and one of the purposes of religion is to help us deal with difficult realities.
I’ll leave the analysis, protests, and search for better candidates to others. I want to talk about something more personal – the need to maintain the sovereignty of your mind.
My definition of sovereignty is “the right to rule and the obligation to rule rightly.” It’s usually used in the context of kings, who are given the right to rule by the Goddess of Sovereignty. Legend says that when the true King of Ireland touched the Lia Fail, it would cry out – the land chooses the king. If the king rules wisely, justly, and effectively, the land and the people will prosper. If the king rules poorly, Sovereignty will withdraw her blessing and the land and the people will suffer.
What Sovereignty will do with the United States over the next four years remains to be seen. I’m not optimistic.
Sovereignty is the birthright of every creature – you have the right to rule your life, and the obligation to rule it rightly. Too many of us have had our sovereignty stolen or swindled from us by politicians and marketers. Over the last several years, the Morrigan has been telling many of us “reclaim your sovereignty.”
Now we have a challenge to sovereignty unlike what all but an unfortunate few alive today have ever seen.
The sovereignty of your mind
There is no sovereignty more basic and more essential than the sovereignty of your mind. We all know a person with a gun (or with somewhat lesser threats, like jail or unemployment) can force you to do things you think are harmful and say things you don’t believe are true. But we like to think they can’t force you to change your values, ethics, and beliefs. Reality is not so pretty.
If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.
Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels most likely did not say this, but it is still true, and it is still used by people with no more ethics than Goebbels. For all our beliefs about being strong-minded and strong-willed, the vast majority of people have a very shaky self-confidence. We’re constantly looking for confirmation that our thoughts are good and right. We’re social animals and our need for acceptance is strong. If you hear something frequently enough, it’s easy to assume “everyone” is saying it and “everyone” believes it. Even if you’re uneasy with what “everyone” is saying, you can start assuming it must be true.
It’s not just Trump and his minions who are trying to steal the sovereignty of your mind. It’s the political parties, the evil sorcerers of Madison Avenue, any number of religious movements, the entertainment industry, the tech industry, and more.
None of us are immune. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight – do what must be done to maintain the sovereignty of your mind.
Limit your news intake
There is a difference between staying informed about what’s going on and obsessing over things you can’t control. During World War II, radio newscasts were 15 minutes long. When I was growing up, we had 30 minutes of local news (including weather and sports, much the same as today) and 30 minutes of national news. It was enough.
Consuming more news doesn’t make you more informed, it just makes you more obsessed. Find a couple of sources and stick to them. Ignore the clickbait you see on Facebook. Stay out of comments sections, off of talk radio, and away from the Twitterer in Chief. Even if you’re just there to gawk at the train wrecks, exposing yourself to toxic communication has an effect on your mind. Plus it’s a waste of time. Go watch cat videos instead – you’ll be happier and healthier.
Dig for facts, not someone else’s opinion
We all know the “fair and balanced” network is neither, but the hard truth is that there are no neutral news sources. Facts are meaningless until we interpret them within the context of our values, other facts, and our beliefs about how the world works. Even if a reporter is trying to be fair, they will inevitably put their own spin on the story: what do they report and what do they ignore, what backstory do they provide, what are the implications of the story? None of this can be done objectively, though good journalists try and honest journalists disclose their biases.
If you want to maintain the sovereignty of your mind you can’t rely on someone else’s interpretations. You’ve got to form your own. That means you have to dig through the news stories and find the facts for yourself.
If I’m trying to find facts, I look for several stories on the same event, preferably from different perspectives. I don’t want their take on things – I want to distill what actually happened from their stories. Use the fact-checking sites. They have a bias too, but they’re usually much better than the news sites. Do some research into the history of the situation, again from different perspectives. Try to put the facts into your own context.
If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. Perhaps you should cut back on what you’re trying to keep up with. Because if you can’t do the work to figure out what’s true and what’s manipulative, what are you keeping up with? Some one else’s propaganda.
Always ask “what is this person trying to get me to do?”
Many times, the answer is “keep watching” “keep listening” and “keep clicking.” The media is not the enemy, but neither are they our allies. They’re in a for-profit business that requires them to deliver viewers, listeners, and readers to the advertisers who pay their salaries. The most effective way to do that is to keep you agitated and anxious.
When you can separate the facts from the hyperbole, you can start to ask yourself “what is Trump trying to get me to do with this tweet?” What is Paul Ryan trying to get me to do with this bill? Nothing is ever as simple as people make it out to be… or as simple as we’d like it to be. But if you can figure out what they want you to do, you can decide if you want to play along or if you want to go your own way.
Pay attention to framing
Framing is the language we use to describe situations and actions. It conveys assumptions and values. For example, is a reduction in taxes a “tax cut” or is it “tax relief”? “Tax cut” is a fairly neutral term, while “tax relief” implies that people are suffering under high taxes and need relief.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and the top expert on framing, says “when you repeat Trump, you help Trump. You do this by spreading his message wide and far.” Don’t talk about how bad Trump is. Talk about what you want to do instead.
What are the implications of the words you choose? What are the values they project? Are your words reinforcing your values, or someone else’s?
Don’t make the problem worse!
If you read something and your first response is “I need to share this on Facebook!” please, I beg you, stop for a moment. Is it factual or is it hyperbole? Does the content support the claims made by the headline? Most importantly, what do you expect to accomplish by sharing it? If all it will do is make someone else as outraged as you are, don’t share it.
Instead, share something someone is doing to make the world a better place. Share a story of resistance and rebellion. Share a story of goals and plans. Or share, you know, cat videos.
Double down on spiritual practice
If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. Fortunately, the opposite is also true: if you tell the truth often enough, people will believe it – including yourself.
Our daily spiritual practices remind us who we are, what we believe, and what’s good in life. They keep us connected to our Gods and ancestors. They keep us connected to the spirits around us. They remind us of our values, and that sometimes success does not mean winning, it means valiantly holding on to what we know is good and right and true.
So keep up with your prayers, meditations and offerings, your devotions and study, and your communion with the natural world. Here is your strength and your source – don’t neglect it.
The next four years would have been challenging no matter who won the election. Now they will be even more challenging. The need for clear thinking, honest speaking, and courageous action is stronger than ever. If we are to respond according to our values and not the values of Trump and his ilk, we must maintain the sovereignty of our minds.