Taking a Break Without Dropping Your Megaphone: Finding Empathic Joy

Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. ~Lyndon B. Johnson

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. ~Dr. Seuss

It’s hard to pay attention right now. Isn’t it?

Sometimes watching the news feels like witnessing a catastrophe in slow motion. Like being in the car just behind the one that gets sideswiped. Technically, you’ve been spared – but you’re still left shaking, and instinctively bracing for impact.

Just me?

I didn’t think so.

The stress gets to all of us, making it especially hard to continue to pay attention to the daily (hourly?) parade of horrible-awfuls.

And while it’s tempting to “check out” for a while, and promise to come back refreshed and renewed, perhaps you – like me – have found it fairly hard to escape. Talk of democracy, Mueller, taxes and healthcare permeate our lives. Our friends are fellow activists. Our evenings are packed with social events revolving around postcards for voters.

So, last week we talked about how laughter can help us reduce our stress. This week, let’s talk about another strategy that research says can help us lift ourselves and one another up: doubling down on our capacity for empathy, and actively searching for “empathic joy” in everyday life.

As it turns out, joy is just as contagious as stress. And according to Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, “empathic joy” is “a resource that allows you to stay engaged with life not just when things go well, but also when they are difficult. It’s not just a practice of celebrating and amplifying the good; it also allows us to sustain hope when we face the reality of suffering unrelieved and needs yet unmet.”

So, McGonigal recommends actively searching for everyday joy – and provides a list of potential sources that might resonate with you:

  • having a sense of purpose
  • being connected to something bigger than yourself
  • having new experiences
  • being acknowledged
  • knowing that you matter
  • “being your best self—. . . us[ing] your strengths in service of something you care about, or to express your most deeply held values.”
  • And “laughter . . . especially shared laughter, and especially shared laughter when everything seems to be falling apart.

Friend, let me emphasize this point for you and make it crystal clear: you have a purpose, you are connected to something bigger than yourself, you matter – and you’re using your strengths in service of our country and to express your most deeply held values. (And I hope you’re laughing often.)

You are part of a group of dedicated and passionate people whose actions have protected and educated the entire country. We’re a protective barrier between democracy and kleptocracy; a megaphone to broadcast injustice; an obstacle that the GOP must overcome each and every time it wants to enact policies that benefit the few rather than us all.

We need you.

So if you are feeling the impact of the stresses we’re under, perhaps focusing on the joyful aspects of our advocacy can give you a mental and emotional break – while allowing you to continue the good work that you’re doing.

The work that we’re doing together.

Let’s get to it.


Tuesday: Taxes, Taxes, Taxes. This Fight is NOT Over.

Early on Saturday morning, and under the cover of darkness, Senate Republicans passed their own version of the tax scam. It’s terrible in its own unique ways. But it’s not yet law. Because the Senate and House versions differ in key areas, a conference committee of both House and Senate leaders will be formed to negotiate and arrive upon an agreed version. That version will then be the one that is voted on in both chambers.

What that means is that our voices – our loud and sustained voices – need to be heard. It also means that whatever you thought was the most terrible part of either the House or the Senate version has the potential to be in the final legislation. (For example, you may recall that the House version removed the student loan interest deduction but the Senate version retained it; the Senate version repealed the ACA mandate, while the House version retained it. Go here for a nifty chart that helps clarify what was in each bill.) So you need to reach out to both of your Senators and your Congresscritter to tell them how those specific portions of the bill will impact you.

Even better – attend a protest or gathering! Go to Not One Penny, which lists various events that are being held across the country to protest this bill. While you’re there, take pictures, post them to social media, tag your Senators and Congresscritters and tell them why you’re protesting.

These actions get coverage! Small-scale protests and sit-ins were staged at Senators’ offices in Maine and in Pittsburgh – and both were picked up by the media. You can do this!

The time to fight against this is quickly coming to a close, and we need the same crush of voices that we heard during the attempted repeal of the ACA to push it back.

Script: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent at ____. I’m calling because I’m concerned about the tax bill that’s heading to conference committee. In particular, I’m concerned that this bill will [increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion] [require $25 million in Medicare cuts because of PAYGO] [eliminate the student loan interest deduction] [increase taxes on those making less than $75k annually] [disproportionately benefit the wealthy donor class at the expense of the middle class that the Senator has pledged to protect] [benefit foreign investors more than it will benefit American families] [cause $410 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade] [cut Medicaid subsidies by $179 billion] [provide tax breaks for private aircraft while eliminating tax deductions for state and local income taxes] … I expect Senator/Congressman/woman ____ to advocate for constituents like me, and I want to know what his/her position is on [whatever issue you raised]. Thanks for your time!

Wednesday: Fund Community Health Centers

Federally Qualified Health Centers – also known as community health centers – provide care for low-income and underserved individuals, often in rural areas. The legislation providing funding for community health centers has received bipartisan support, and everyone thought it would be renewed by the September 30 deadline. It wasn’t. Because the funding for those community health centers has not been renewed, they face losing 70% of their grant funding on January 1 – which means they are already having to make difficult decisions – do they lay off workers? Strip programs or services? If nothing is done, 9 million patients will lose access to care, 2,800 delivery sites will be closed, and 51,000 providers and staff will be laid off. Go here for a more detailed breakdown of the impact on your state, including the number of patients and jobs lost, and lost revenue.

There are bills kicking around that will provide funding for FQHCs, so we need to get more support behind them: Senator Blunt (R-MO) (!!!) sponsored S.1899, which has been cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 senators. The same bill is kicking around the House as HR3770. Check here to see if your Senator has expressed support, and here to see if your Congressman/woman has supported the bill. (Missouri residents – Blunt, McCaskill, Clay and Hartzler are the MOCs that are sponsoring.)

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to ask the Senator to support S.1899/Congressman/woman to support HR3770, which extends funding for community health centers. Those health centers provide care for low-income and underserved residents of our state. Without funding, community health centers will close – jobs will be lost and residents of our state will suffer. The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that if funding is not restored, 9 million patients will lose access to care and 51,000 jobs will be lost. That’s unacceptable. Please support these community health centers and restore their funding.

Thursday: Fund CHIP

Here we are again, discussing the Children’s Health Insurance Program – also known as “CHIP.” It is a bipartisan, highly effective and well-liked program… the funding for which our lovely members of Congress allowed to expire at the end of September. Some states will run out of funding in the next few months; others will have a bit longer to plan. (Check the link for a map, where you can check the status of your state.) Nine MILLION kids’ insurance is in immediate danger. I honestly don’t know why this isn’t a bigger priority for our legislators.

Unfortunately, Senator Orrin Hatch, who co-created CHIP, cast some doubts when he said: “We’re going to do CHIP, there’s no question about it in my mind. It has to be done the right way. But we — the reason CHIP is having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.”

Why isn’t there money anymore? Perhaps because they’re planning to pass a tax bill that will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion? Uh huh. When the GOP has made tax breaks for millionaires a priority, and refuses to budge on funding for community health centers and insurance for kids… Well. That tells us a lot about who and what they are.

So, let’s grab our phones and call our Senators. Show them that we’re not interested in tax breaks for rich folks while the rest of us have to beg for healthcare.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling because I’m really concerned that the funding for CHIP hasn’t been renewed. Children are at risk of losing their insurance – which literally puts their lives at risk. I urge the Senator/Congressman/woman to do whatever he/she can do to move a clean CHIP funding bill forward.

Friday: Share the News! Open Enrollment Ends December 15

Since ACA open enrollment began on November 1, we’ve set records for the pace of enrollment. But… the enrollment period is 45 days this year rather than the 90 days it has been in the past. So even with the record pace, it’s still very likely that enrollment will be lower this year than it has been in years past.

Open enrollment ends on December 15, so the next ten days are critical.

So, head over to Get America Covered. For an easy action, just share one of their great social media graphics!

But why stop there? Over the next week there will be enrollment events across the country, in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, California, Texas, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada and Indiana. 

So help Get America Covered get the word out!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.


2 thoughts on “Taking a Break Without Dropping Your Megaphone: Finding Empathic Joy

  1. Excellent, as usual. Here’s what I’ve been trying to do lately: interact with the homeless. Not just toss them a buck or give them a smoke, but talk to them and let them know that they, too, are worthwhile human beings who deserve dignity and respect. Sure, if you can, spare some change, too, go for it, but that’s not what will make a potentially lasting impact.


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