The Clean Slate Program article in this issue of the Marin Lawyer opens with the following lines: “The world is tough to navigate. It is constantly changing, confusing, and often overwhelming—and having a criminal conviction on your record is a complexity multiplier.” The barriers a criminal record erects to leading a productive life are enormous and many of them are detrimental not just to the individual but to society as a whole. But I quote these lines not to write about criminal justice but to write about how tough the world is to navigate for everyone, especially lately.

Clearly, the pandemic threw an enormous wrench into the machinery of our everyday lives, even for those who have avoided illness and death among their friends and family. That wrench may have done less damage to those of us privileged enough to work from home or with more resources to cope but it has added another layer of change, uncertainty, and complexity to our lives. Change, uncertainty, and complexity often go hand-in-hand and most of us find them challenging, sometimes even overwhelming.

They have intruded into our lives at a time when many of us are already unsettled by the degree to which we see them happening in society. Change, of course, is often good. And many people are working hard to bring good change to the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized the idea that, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” (he was paraphrasing the Transcendentalist Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker). I agree with the sentiment but wonder if much of the (historically relatively) rapid change for the better that has occurred in our lifetimes has let us forget the “long” aspect of the arc (more apparent in Parker’s original) and that nowhere does it say progress will be steady.

It takes a lot of work to keep that arc bending towards justice. I hardly need to name many of the forces in the world today that are bending it away from justice. Those forces seem especially powerful now, sometimes inspiring dismay instead of hope, paralysis instead of action. Pondering the big picture can be disheartening, to phrase it generously. Indeed, each of us individually has little control over these forces but we should not let that discourage us from collectively acting.

Over the last two years, much of our energy has gone into figuring out whether we should wear a mask or attend an in-person event or what to let our unvaccinated children do or how to find baby formula or…you get the idea. We are not used to dealing with such a rapidly shifting daily landscape and it is impacting how we perform in other areas of our lives, including what we have the energy and inspiration to cope with. What to do? How do we keep working to bend the arc towards justice when sometimes it feels like we can’t even remember our car keys?

There is no single answer and I am interested in hearing your suggestions (really, I am). But in the meantime, here are a somewhat random ten suggestions of my own:

  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t berate yourself for tasks you aren’t doing. Or for things you are doing to take care of yourself.
  • Be realistic about what you can and can’t do and know that whatever the balance is right now is not what it has to be permanently. Be realistic both with yourself and with others when agreeing to something.
  • Limit your news intake. We should all be informed about what’s happening in the world. But you are not going to stop the war in Ukraine, reverse climate change, ensure fair elections, and prevent a monkeypox outbreak, at least not by yourself. But ruminating (which includes excessive newsgathering) on events you cannot control generally reinforces feeling out of control. In other words, focus on what you can control.
  • Help others. Choose something that matters to you even if it is something as enormous as climate change, as long as you feel that what you are doing is helping. Plenty of research supports the conclusion that helping others is one of the best ways to make yourself feel good too. And we are in a helping profession, which offers plenty of opportunity to help.
  • Take time for yourself. Do something just for yourself without worrying about whether it has any benefit for you or anyone else beyond the act of doing it.
  • Practice gratitude. When the world seems bleak or something in your own life goes wrong, remind yourself what is good. This is not a prescription for ignorance or inaction but a counterbalance.
  • Stay connected with others. Adequate social support is associated with a significant improvement in mood and even life expectancy.
  • Be active. Do something physical. Choices abound and it does not take all that much. Even vacuuming is physical but I have to say would not be my first choice. Extra points for doing something in nature, which has been shown to improve mood.
  • Meditate. Meditation is not just about blissing out, it’s about awareness of thoughts and emotions and improving your ability to cope with the full range of experience. Ask me more about it since I’m a meditation teacher.
  • Your everyday choices matter. Bend the arc towards justice wherever you can, even in the smallest things.