What To Do in 2024 Besides Give Money & Vote

Sculpture of two arrows: one pointing up, the other pointing down
Photo by Susan Q Yin / Unsplash

The Buddhists talk about suffering as two arrows. The first arrow is what happens to us - we don't get the job, say. The second arrow is the meaning we make of it, how we respond to it - well, that's proof positive I'm not good enough. An awful lot of our pain comes from that second arrow, the one we have the most control over.

So here we are on the doorstep of a year that promises every shade of political ugly. That's a good-sized first arrow. And that wily second arrow can pop up in all kinds of disguises.

Those out-worsting conversations where we trade ever-lousier news stories:
"Can you believe what the Texas Supreme Court did?!"
"That's nothing. In Louisiana, they..."
"Yeah, well, a judge in Arizona is..."

Excessive news consumption: that funny part of me that thinks reading more bad headlines will somehow protect me. Perhaps you have that funny part, too?

Cynicism, which just shuts the spirit down and sticks up a "Closed for Business" sign outside. Why bother? What's the point? It's all screwed anyways.

After George W. Bush won re-election, Toni Morrison was depressed and unable to write. An artist friend called and Ms. Morrison explained her headspace. "No! No, no, no!" her friend declared. "This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”

You could just as easily swap out "artist" for "human" here. We humans and our humanity are most needed when things are bleakest.

And we are needed, I'd add, in top form. Steph Curry doesn't shoot amazing three-pointers because he spends his time reading and talking about all the ways three-pointers are basically impossible to shoot. He does it by getting on the court and doing it.

So to alleviate second arrow suffering, we could choose one pint-sized policy change to take on this year. Which is to say, one small piece of democracy to care for.

  • Get one crosswalk painted with Pride colors (this kind of roadway art can make streets safer).
  • Work with the Parks Department to finally clean that litter-filled pond.
  • Make the city commit to planting only native trees (good read on that here).
  • Partner with the library to forgive fines and make it a fine-free zone (why that's great here).
  • Work with the school board to get accessible swings at school playgrounds so kiddos with disabilities can enjoy the swing set (other ways to create inclusive playgrounds here).
  • Get on a town board, commission, or advisory committee. Whether the Planning or Library Board, Public Arts or Bike-Pedestrian Committee, these citizen bodies can be real voices for policy change. Check your town's website for a list, vacancies, and nominating process.

Small makes it more manageable, more accomplish-able. Which is key for our wellbeing. This year will ask enough of us, we don't need another project that further zaps us. Bite-sized policy is a very fine way to redirect anxieties towards creating a public good. We know this situation is serious. So let's take one small piece of it up in our hands and love it into something better, more caring, more grace-filled.

And let's not just do this project. Let's share about it. Not in some self-congratulatory, look-at-what-a-super-citizen-I-am kind of way (though I would like to congratulate you; you are a super citizen!). But if dinner conversation slips into out-worsting each other, let's do what politicians do when they don't want to talk about something: the old redirect.

"Look, we could talk about democracy being blown to smithereens. But the real issue is what we can each do right now. I'm working with Parks and Rec to see if they can offer their camps on a sliding scale. It's slow going and it won't save democracy, but it could help some families."

I'm also leaning hard on my library card. This mind of mine is most susceptible to doom scrolling right before bed, which - as you can imagine - does wonders for my sleep. I've cleared a whole bunch of opportunities for despair and comparison from my phone and now regularly scoop up a stack of books at the library. They've gotta be page-turners, the kind I can't wait to get to. A few I've enjoyed:

  • The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper. An ER doc's gorgeous memoir about healing others and healing ourselves. I loathe the treadmill, but this got me to it every day, and kept me on it far longer than I ever intended.
  • How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith. A brilliant exploration of enslavement, memory, history, and stories hidden in plain sight. I own very few books, but this one's worth having on the shelf.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I was late to the party on this one, but got so many laugh-out-loud guffaws from it. Super delight!
  • Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen. An essay collection that's like stepping into a warm kitchen on a bitterly cold day. Wise, comforting, insightful. I re-read this every few years and get new perspective each time.

This year's first arrow will be tricky enough to contend with. But the second arrow, we could side-step a lot of that and make some good trouble instead.

Subscribe to Policy Is For Lovers

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.