Thumb Wrestling

This last year or so has been a period of change for me: a lot of new experiments, a lot of new perspectives, a lot of new ideas and false-starts and moments of valuable and intense deliberation.

But it’s also been a time of more than a little confusion. And disconcertion. And discomfort. There’s a lot going on in the world. And while there have been some very bright lights, for my principles and philosophy at least, there has also been a whole lot of horribleness. And I mean that in regards to politics, the media, to physical violence and terrorism, to the abuse of privilege, to the willful ignorance of many, and the myriad other outrage- and fear-inducing scenarios we endlessly hear about each day.

It’s a cumbersome collection of information to carry around; I sometimes feel like my brain is on the verge of tipping over, taking my whole head with it. The weightiness and meaning of these issues are just a lot to cope with.

And it’s all so very important. Some of these things emerge out of nowhere and then steal a whole day’s worth of thought and concern, while others slowly simmer, periodically combusting into full-on flames before settling back down to where they were before, on the fringes of our awareness, but waiting for a dull moment in the news cycle to flare back up, scorching our eyebrows and pulling us from our calm abeyance.

I don’t want to miss any of it. I don’t want to catch myself dozing at the wheel, only to wake up to some horrible new reality.

But at the same time, we each only have so much bandwidth to spend each day, and if we exhaust our supply on the world-scale problems, on issues that are vitally important but not immediate and local to us, we risk becoming shells of ourselves. We risk becoming people who are filled to the brim with up-to-the-minute information about the latest political scandal, but who are also losing touch with their personal priorities, with their family and friends, with their ground-level goals and ambitions.

These large issues, the ones that are an order of magnitude larger than us and our lives—they’re important. Vitally so.

But few people can finish a marathon by sprinting the entire way. There’s a degree of self-care required; of pacing yourself, of keeping track of your personal well-being. Of allowing yourself to slow down when you maybe need to jog for a while. Of perhaps focusing more on your breathing, setting a slower but more sustainable pace.

This is something I’ve written about before in terms of relationships, but it applies here, too. You’re far more capable of being a valuable component of a partnership when you, yourself, are in a good place. And that applies to your role in large-scale efforts, as well.

Whatever your cause, whatever your larger ambitions, you won’t achieve them if you’re a used-up husk of a human being, drained of happiness and health by the constant onslaught of sirens, fire alarms, and Breaking News notifications.

Don’t give up on those larger goals—don’t stop being a valuable component of a larger, more powerful machine—but don’t lose yourself while doing so. The large-scale battles are important, but so are the minor scuffles, the thumb wrestling-scale victories.

Step back from the front lines sometimes and get back in touch with who you are as an individual. Make sure that you’re ready and able to give your best to any cause to which you commit yourself.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.