Longtime journalist Dan Rather has a newsletter on Substack.com, a publishing home for some high quality material. Rather’s newsletter, written with coauthor Elliot Kirschner, is called “Steady.”
I know from Rather’s Twitter comments that he’s a thoughtful, sage, measured, and upbeat soul who expresses outrage about injustices but also seeks to improve communication. Thus, I was happy to subscribe to his newsletter. It’s one of a number on Substack and elsewhere that is available free or offers several tiers of financial support.
His column this week has resonated widely. It certainly resonated with me. I’d just read a New York Times front page story about the Republicans’ advantages in retaking Congress: the gerrymandering they’ve already accomplished gives them outsized control —even in states where they don’t have majorities.
Why, I wondered, am I so invested in all this when the system that the Republicans consistently bray about being rigged is, in fact, rigged in their favor?
What gerrymandering doesn’t accomplish, changes in state voting rights legislation will–unless the Democrats get their act together and at least reform the filibuster to permit passage of a bill—such as the one Joe Manchin just happened to help write.
I then watched President Biden sign the infrastructure bill, a truly historic piece of legislation that may well help Americans everywhere.
Much was made of its bipartisan nature—even though the 13 Republicans who voted for it in the House are now receiving death threats.
Death threats. From whom? From some of their House colleagues and members of the Republican base.
Why? Because any Republican who acts in a bipartisan manner has been deemed a traitor for giving President Biden a win—forget what the legislation will do for the people in their districts (or the questionable continuation in the US Congress of such incendiary members).
And the former guy, who talked about “Infrastructure Week” for years but accomplished nothing, delivered a parallel message to his increasingly violent supporters.
So I worried that if the Republicans prevail in 2022, all the good stuff will go away, and we’ll be “governed” by people who don’t believe in democracy or equity or safety or nonviolence.
That thought is deeply troubling to me, as I believe it should be for every thoughtful American, regardless of political affiliation or lack thereof.
I felt exhausted.
But Rather’s piece, true to the newsletter’s title, steadied me. It reminded me that I can’t give up. The stakes are too high.
I can, however, take a break. And so can you.
Here’s Rather’s valuable message.
Today, I would like to talk about exhaustion.
I have a feeling, echoed in what I read in some of your comments to our posts here on Steady and elsewhere, that many of you, many of us, many here in this country and around the world, are exhausted.
Now the travails of life are often exhausting. Illness, sadness, work, or the loss of work, strained relationships, all the stuff you need to do but have put off, these are but a few of the many prompts for exhaustion. And many of you are undoubtedly dealing with at least a few of these, or other ordeals.
But hanging over all of what would be the “normal” course of life, if there is ever such a thing, are some pretty existential wellsprings of exhaustion.
Covid, and our response to it, is exhausting.
The threats to our democracy are exhausting.
The former president and his allies are exhausting.
Vitriol is exhausting.
Our climate crisis is exhausting.
False equivalence is exhausting.
Injustice is exhausting.
Systemic racism is exhausting.
Income inequality is exhausting.
The fact that this list could go on and on (and on and on) is exhausting.
Now adding to all of this is the fact that we live in a media landscape where there is no limit to the size of the wave of information you can surf down into the depths of despair. You can doom scroll for hours, finding reasons for why you should be on edge, should give up hope, should be outraged with no seeming outlet to fix the outrage, which is even more cause for outrage.
And after hours of this, days on end, well, you probably can see where I’m going. It’s exhausting.
It perhaps provides little solace to understand that exhaustion is not unique to our times. In fact, much of life, for most people, and most of history, was far more physically exhausting than what many of us are privileged to face. Ours is more a collective mental exhaustion – inputs and checklists of the mind that we can never fully contend with or complete.
We get to a point where the exhaustion is itself exhausting. And I firmly believe that the forces who seek to undermine our society, who seek to pit us against each other for their cynical gain, see exhaustion as a potent weapon at their disposal.
The more exhausted people who care about solving difficult challenges become, the more uncertain success in these endeavors becomes. And I suspect many of you sense this as well. And find it exhausting.
There is a belief, and for good reason, that vigilance is necessary. But vigilance cannot be borne by any one individual alone. It is impossible to always be on the go. Remember even star athletes need a day off. Soldiers need R&R. Where would we be without a weekend?
Over the course of my career I have covered many protest movements that have ultimately proved successful. And I have found one of the hallmarks for that success is that they are collective actions where members of the group step up to help others when they get exhausted.
So not only is it okay to be exhausted, it’s okay, in fact necessary, to take a break. Step away from your screen or your newspaper and step outside for a walk. Talk to friends and family about topics other than politics or current events.
Read for fun, or watch something escapist on television. None of this will solve the problems of the world. There is a place for action of course, and commitment. But resilience is a perspective that requires rest as well as determination.
We must acknowledge that not everyone can step back from exhaustion. To be able to take a break is its own form of privilege. There are people whose life circumstances never provide respite. But there is also a reason so many of the world’s religions have days of rest and reflection built into the calendar. The human body and mind cannot always be working, or it will cease to work well.
I say all of this not to diminish the challenges we face, quite the opposite.
The world needs sustained effort and exertion. But effort and exertion requires energy.
And energy requires us to acknowledge, attend to, and forgive our exhaustion.
Does Rather’s essay resonate with you? Do you find it helpful?