I had a conversation recently that gave me great pause.
I had just met some folks who lead a 12-step group. They told me they had sponsored some folks who attained measurable and sustained sobriety over their addictions, only to relapse because of politics. These people took up the popular pastime of immersing themselves in political news and arguing with those who disagree with them online, only to get so angry and anxious that they found themselves returning to their bad habits in order to self-medicate their emotions.
That conversation has been replaying in my head the last few months as the Presidential election approached. Election years are contentious enough, but add to it a pandemic which, like so many other things in our modern day, has become politicized, and you have a recipe for emotional disaster.
Several acquaintances from across the political spectrum confessed to me that they spent so much time online reading political news and lashing out at those who they thought were not responding to the coronavirus properly that they ended up in the emergency room suffering panic attacks. We have reached a point at which many prefer to feed on the painful emotions that contentious online interactions elicit than the healing emotions which can only come from cultivating positive, real-world relationships.
I can recall the first time I witnessed this phenomenon. I had a Facebook friend who posted nonstop about a certain politician he didn’t like. Though he regularly labelled this public figure as abusive, he would resort to verbal abuse whenever someone disagreed with him in the comments.
I never engaged him in political discussions, nor did I comment on his political posts, but his fixation and vitriol piqued my curiosity. I decided to get to know him more on a personal level and found out he was facing some losses in his private life. It then dawned on me that he was doing something that many of us do: he was railing online about politics and lashing out at those who disagreed with him in order to feel in control, and he did so in order to compensate for the areas in his personal life where he felt out of control.
I am finding myself falling into that same trap from time to time. In fact, it has become a heart check for me, that whenever I catch myself feeling the urge to obsess and hold in contempt someone or something to the point of losing my cool, I ask myself if there's something in my personal life that is causing me to feel thwarted and helpless. Nine times out of 10, there is.
Another reason I think we’re drawn to complaining and arguing about politics online is because we now equate complaining about a problem with actually doing something about. I’ve asked people I know what they are doing in a practical sense about the issues they preach about online. Not a single person I asked has ever donated to or volunteered to assist with the causes they claim are so important to them. They think insulting those on the other side of the argument is contribution enough.
Let’s face it: telling someone off gives us a high, but the high is short-lived, and with any kind of addiction, the addict must then do more and more to achieve that same high, and the negative emotions that rush in once the high crashes only feed that sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Meanwhile, because we’re so busy fighting online, we have no time or energy to help meet those needs we say are so important to us in tangible ways in our own spheres of influence.
I regularly donate plasma and make some nice pocket change doing so. The other day on the way to the donation center, I was replaying in my head a heated political discussion I’d had with someone. I got so worked up that when I got to the plasma center, I was prohibited from donating because my heart rate was too high. Not only did I miss out on an opportunity to help others in a practical way, I also missed out on an opportunity to help myself.
As anxiety about the election remains large and political tempers have reached a fever pitch, for the sake of my own sanity, I am going to focus on what is in my control and surrender to God what is not, because achieving serenity is a war that is always winnable.
Sharon Alice Lurie is a reporter for Main Street Media of Tennessee and a transplant to Rutherford County from New Jersey. She can be reached at DavidsHarpAndPen@GMail.com.