Stewardship & Trauma Healing as Part of Political Engagement

It is much easier to promote violence than peace. When I’m in darker moods, I sometimes wish my business were one that took a more aggressive position on social media platforms– how quickly the angry voices go viral, how quickly the criticism gets picked up and put on repeat, how quickly the sardonic memes spread, how much money goes into the pockets of cruel people, how quickly people rally behind those willing to revolt or punish others.

And I do feel the urge for revolution in my bones– I come from a long ancestral line of revolutionary war veterans, confederates, horse thieves, pirates, survivors of domestic abuse, troubled artists and those who published political-religious papers that got them into trouble… and I’m also related to kings, queens, railroad barons, business owners of questionable ethics, and other faces of the social institutions against which my other ancestors rebelled. No wonder I find myself with conflicting intuition and polar energy at times! Ancestral memory and trauma is loud, and my own memory and trauma can be even louder, and I don’t always like to answer the call of either.

But what we must collectively rebel against now is fear and our own fearful behaviors, and the fearful behaviors that have been ingrained in our bloodlines for generations. I choose to rebel against the way fear has imprisoned me and others I love, the way it causes conversations to falter and how everyone’s internal defenses rise in the silence… or worse, when one person keeps pushing and yelling, and the other gives up or dissociates entirely. I rebel against the need for such broken-hearted surrender, and against such violent persistence, and against the need for any violence at all in order for a person to be safe and heard– the voices of the small and gentle should be listened to most closely of all. Surely all this noise and violence should be unnecessary by now– isn’t the world tired of hurting and being frightened, and aren’t we all awake enough to know it, and brave enough to admit it is time to do things differently even if we don’t yet know what comes next?

It’s an election year in the U.S., and as is typical for this country, it’s bringing out the worst of our shadow states and collective trauma. This country has never been peaceful– we built our reputation on throwing tea into the harbor and waging guerilla war on the redcoats, carrying a big stick (while not speaking softly at all) and building catastrophic bombs, and cobbling together a new system of government in an attempt to be “better” than what we got away from. And we didn’t listen to what we were told– “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” (George Washington’s farewell address) 

There will be a lot of talk of political parties this year, and a lot of rhetoric about a need to “beat” the other side, a lot of speculating about the “cost” of “losing” and what might be “destroyed” or “threatened” if one side or the other gains majority. I am not here to advocate for any specific political agenda, but I DO encourage each of you to pay attention to the language of this election cycle and do your absolute best to vote against violence and in favor of de-escalation and positive social mediation whenever you can– and yes, VOTE, because this is a tangible way to cast your will into our political system!

Our country, and the world, does not need more violence. We do not need to be stirred to action by the sound of war drums, nor do we need to be goaded into religious crusades, nor should we make important choices motivated by fear. As Americans, we are some of the most privileged people in the world– we have access to a huge and beautiful expanse of land (for which we owe great debts to indigenous peoples and others who we have yet to negotiate proper reconciliation with), an ability to draw on natural resources, community infrastructure, technology, communication networks, educational and research institutions, etc. There are so many moving pieces required to maintain every single part of our lives, we sometimes overlook how much we all rely on one another just to survive here and keep the lights on.

This isn’t a soft “let’s all get along and see the best in each other” post, either. I don’t expect us all to like each other, and it isn’t necessary for everyone to want to spend time with everyone else. But it IS necessary to extend basic respect and empathy to one another, and not actively sabotage the systems that we all rely on to survive. While the internet has allowed us to make huge strides in communication, research, and some aspects of social reform, it has also enabled us to more effectively dehumanize one another and feel more emboldened to indulge our shadow states in anonymous places, and sometimes this appears under the guise of feeling like we’re “standing up for what’s right,” but we should still always question our approach when we catch ourselves yelling about anything on the internet for very long– there are probably more effective actions to be taken, and more impactful ways we can show up for the people/causes we care about the most. 

Stewardship is one of my central spiritual principles, and living on our homestead has given me a lot of perspective on what this means in practice. Because good stewardship requires being VERY clear-eyed and realistic about the situation one is stewarding, and not undermining your efforts by wanting things to be different in ways they simply cannot be. For example, the previous owner of our property planted some fruit trees on a slope that is less than ideal for them to thrive– I, the current owner, do not have the option of moving the trees (they’re mature trees and disturbing their roots would kill them). The only thing I can do is try to prune them into healthy shape, and do what I can to protect them against diseases/pests/frost. Some years they bear fruit, other years they don’t, usually due to natural conditions outside my control. But I keep tending the trees even in the years they don’t bear fruit, because if I want them to have a shot at ever bearing fruit sometimes, then I have to care for them ALL the time. 

And the same goes for the U.S., and humanity at large on this planet. Those of us who care about the environment and our friends in marginalized communities cannot afford to be politically inactive. We need to up our stewardship efforts, and that means we’re past the point of placing blame, trying to punish the people/groups we think are responsible for the situation, or thinking we can “fix” what’s already been done– we cannot un-traumatize ourselves individually or as a nation or as a planet. Punishing the individuals responsible will not undo the damage or the ways their actions shifted our collective timeline/potential future options, and we can’t simply dig up what’s already growing. Much like rehabilitating an orchard, rehabbing a political situation cannot be done in one season either– I prune our trees back into shape little by little every year at a time when its healthy for them, because pruning all of their branches at once or at an inappropriate time of year would increase the tree’s risk of disease or kill the tree entirely. 

What is required of us now is to be patient stewards, not reactionary rebels or vigilantes. Very few major changes can happen quickly or single-handedly, very few problems are actually fixed by applying blame and punitive action, so this year I’m finding myself encouraging others to do what they can wherever they can to model non-violence and promote social healing. If we are all making an effort to reduce violence and opt out of aggressive rhetoric, to speak more compassionately, to reject fearmongering and power-grabbing/exploitative behavior, to encourage one another’s empowerment and healing, and make choices in favor of empathy and sustainability whenever we’re able to… eventually these efforts will be cumulative, and the shape of our country (and the quality of the fruit it is bearing) will change. It will take time, but all things do. We, the stewards, have to be willing to play the long game if we want to see real change take root. So, avoid getting lured out on political crusade this year, and focus on what does the most good for your own home, community, and land. Taking care of yourself and our collective home front WILL help with the larger goals in the long run– the less time we’re wasting on political arguments and recovering from upsetting conflicts or repairing damage from hurtful actions, the more time we will have to take care of the good things we’re capable of growing.

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