Inspiring Post-Election Words from Atul Gawande and Perennial Wisdom from Gene Sharp

I’ll send out another productivity newsletter in a bit, but in the meantime, Atul Gawande’s New Yorker piece offers one of the most healing and encouraging responses to the election I’ve seen. Excerpt:

  • To a large extent, though, institutions closer to home are what secure and sustain our values. This is the time to strengthen those institutions, to better include the seventy per cent who have been forsaken. Our institutions of fair-minded journalism, of science and scholarship, and of the arts matter more now than ever. In municipalities and state governments, people are eager to work on the hard problems—whether it’s making sure that people don’t lose their home if they get sick, or that wages are lifted, or that the reality of climate change is addressed. Years before Obamacare, Massachusetts passed a health-reform law that covers ninety-seven per cent of its residents, and leaders of both parties have affirmed that they will work to maintain those policies regardless of what a Trump Administration does. Other states will follow this kind of example.

    Then, there are the institutions even closer to our daily lives. Our hospitals and schools didn’t suddenly have Reaganite values in the eighties, or Clintonian ones in the nineties. They have evolved their own ethics, in keeping with American ideals. That’s why we physicians have resisted suggestions that we refuse to treat undocumented immigrants who come into the E.R., say, or that we not talk to parents about the safety of guns in the home. The helping professions will stand by their norms. The same goes for the typical workplace. Lord knows, there are disastrous, exploitative employers, but Trump, with his behavior toward women and others, would be an H.R. nightmare; in most offices, he wouldn’t last a month as an employee. For many Americans, the workplace has helped narrow the gap between our professed values and our everyday actions. “Stronger together” could probably have been the slogan of your last work retreat. It’s how we succeed.

In other words: keep doing the good things you are already doing, maybe with a bit more emphasis. Keep reaching out for help and support, maybe a bit earlier and more often than you do now. And speak up and speak out, maybe a bit more than you’re currently comfortable doing. It only takes a bit from all of us to create an enormous amount of social good.

Remember that effective activism: (a) leverages your strengths (so that you can create actual positive outcomes), and (b) puts you in community with others who are leveraging their strengths (so: synergy). Avoid groups or projects that don’t meet these conditions.

And speaking of community…in his classic book From Dictatorship to Democracy, nonviolent resistance expert Gene Sharp talks about how democracy is forged from the activities of many and diverse groups:

  • One characteristic of a democratic society is that there exist independent of the state a multitude of nongovernmental groups and institutions. These include, for example, families, religious organizations, cultural associations, sports clubs, economic institutions, trade unions, student associations, political parties, villages, neighborhood associations, gardening clubs, human rights organizations, musical groups, literary societies, and others. These bodies are important in serving their own objectives and also in helping to meet social needs.

    Additionally, these bodies have great political significance. They provide group and institutional bases by which people can exert influence over the direction of their society and resist other groups or the government when they are seen to impinge unjustly on their interests, activities, or purposes. Isolated individuals, not members of such groups, usually are unable to make a significant impact on the rest of the society, much less a government, and certainly not a dictatorship.

Whatever group you belong to, work to make it a bit more political and radical!

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