Americans look at their country with eyes filled with anger, betrayal, sadness, injustice, mourning, and perhaps most potent of all, hatred. The political field is ladened with poison that seeps into countless homes, dividing family and friends alike. The COVID-19 pandemic has infected the Nation with fear, isolation, death, and the deterioration of well-being. The combination of these emotions and events has crafted an extremely potent, and pervasive hopelessness the envelops many of us. It is in the air we breathe, through masks that serve as a constant reminder of that in a time like this, even trusting our air takes a certain level of bravery. Where do we find hope while wrapped in a murky fog of unrest and distrust?
As a psychologist in training, I have often thought throughout the last few years about the distinct lack of genuineness, empathy, and positive regard that Americans have for one another. Those three tenets, created by Carl Rogers more than 50 years ago, are paramount to effective therapy each mental health practitioner strives to learn over their careers. However, genuineness, empathy, and positive regard seem to be wholly absent from the American spirit. There are violent political tensions, violent racial tensions, and violent cultural tensions that persist in a nation founded on individual freedoms and liberty. Americans look to their leaders to heal the American spirit, to mend the wounds caused by fear and misunderstanding. I propose, however, that the power to revitalize the spirit of this nation lies not in our leadership, but within its citizens, within its individuals and the diverse communities we come from.
The power of this country was always meant to reside within the hearts of citizens. As a country comprised of a uniquely diverse citizenry, the challenge to unite and see one another as uniquely American is more difficult. However, if we change how we fundamentally view one another, we can allow room for hope. What if each person looked to another and truly tried to see the world through their lens? What if each person held one another with positive regard? What if each person were able to truly be themselves and present how they wished, felt, and thought without fear of invalidation or threat? These three principles may be rooted in therapy; however, they are also fundamental principles for any successful relationship, and our country is in dire need of relationship repair. We are a nation in conflict; a nation enveloped in mental, emotional, and physical violence. Truthfully, it feels like we are more at odds with one another than we are in harmony, all living together in the same country that we feel has strayed from its values.
What then, can create the momentum our Nation needs to form a catalyst for change? You. The individual. If we are going to have any hope, we need individuals to decide that change is needed on an individual level to create a cultural shift. Creating hope within the self is a first step toward clearing the murky fog of anger, unrest, distrust, and fear that suffocates our country. Cultivating hope may vary in difficulty for many of us due to the historical and current experiences of racial violence and oppression, COVID, and other collective and group trauma; yet choosing to begin the personal journey towards hope remains a fundamental construct of self-betterment. As individuals, we can create hope by setting and pursuing goals; move from a context of being to a context of doing. It can be as simple as choosing to be hopeful and matching that choice with meaningful doing; personal movement and goal attribution that leads to self-empowerment. When setting and pursuing goals, start small. Do you want to lose some weight (hey, COVID has been hard), read more books, start writing, learn a new language, or start a new skill/hobby? Or maybe a smaller goal, such as simply talking with friends and family more, combating loneliness.
I know the jump from a weight loss goal to fixing major cultural issues may seem like a rather ridiculous leap. However, setting and completing goals is done to foster the growth of personal hope. Simply, hopeful people tend to have much higher well-being, confidence, and motivation. It becomes significantly easier to have a capacity for empathy and positive regard when you hold those constructs for yourself first. National changes are difficult to undertake when individuals do not hold themselves in high esteem, let alone one another. So, it starts with you. Set your goals, accomplish them, and work towards becoming the change you want to see nationally. Work towards self-mastery to open the door to cultural change.