The year 1982 was an awful one for me–as well as many around the world. A persistent recession, terrorist attacks, the Tylenol scare, the growing fear of nuclear war, an actual war in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, and a funk only Michael Jackson’s Thriller could shake.
In a year-end edition of a newsmagazine, a columnist admitted his discomfort of having a great year amidst the awfulness going on. I read it with a groan and a “how dare he.”
Thirty seven years later, I’m having the same sense of cognitive dissonance.
I’m awaiting a shipment of my printed copies of Amiga, the product of 3 years of work and 42 years of dreams. My granddaughter is starting first grade, and things are generally going well for me and my family.
At the same time, I recognize that things are awful around the world. The trade war between the US and China is as dangerous to the economy as I feared it would be. It is also dangerous to the planet as the Amazon is being burned so that Brazil can grow soybeans and other agricultural products for China. White nationalist terrorism is on the rise, fueled by comments by an increasingly unhinged president. We are in a situation even more frightening than the darkest days of the 1980s.
To quote an 80s song, “How do we sleep while our beds are burning?”
I look to the 80s, just like my main character did in Amiga, to find the solution. I had to find a way to persist and endure the hardship I was going through back then. As frightening, difficult, and uncertain as things were, I had to focus on my goals, study for my college exams, get tasks done for work, fulfill my responsibilities at home, and carve out a life for myself. Even in the worst of circumstances, there are things you can do and ways you can move ahead. You may be victimized, but you don’t have to be a victim.
While you can’t allow yourself to drown in the negativity, you can’t be complacent either. Our circumstances can change quickly. You may be relaxing at your villa in Pompeii one minute. The next, you’re trying and failing to outrun pyroclastic flows. The danger that seems to be half the world away can wind up on your doorstep.
However, we need to live in awareness, not fear. We can enjoy our successes, but we can’t take them for granted. When we are blessed with advantages, we can use them to help others and find ways to improve the world as a whole. We cannot assume we are perfectly safe, and waking up in the morning is itself a risk. But while we are here, we should do as much good as we can for others, our loved ones, and ourselves.
The art of cognitive dissonance is to understand that our lives have good and bad, peace and fear, comfort and danger–often in the same event. We appreciate happiness when we’ve endured despair, and those happy moments give us the persistence to get through the hard ones. Whether 2019 is filling you with joy or woe, remember that whatever you are experiencing is temporary, but the lessons can strengthen and inspire you for the years ahead.