By the end of the first week of Donald Trump in office, I recognized I needed to do something for my own mental and emotional health, just to understand what was happening and be able to artfully respond. So I decided to pretend I was now in a concentration camp, and live my life as if this were so.
Clearly, and thankfully, this concentration camp I am now in—that we are now in—is not as extreme as Hitler’s death camps or the Japanese POW camps or even the U.S. internment camps. Nevertheless, both the mood and the circumstances seem similar. So lessons that were learned back then, like from Victor Frankl and Oskar Schindler, can be applied right now.
Bear Jack Gebhardt is a Colorado writer who has authored everything from cowboy poetry to academic papers to self-help books. Learn more about Bear…
Too many liberties: It’s as if our contemporary camp suddenly has a new commandant who is convinced we’ve all been given way too many liberties over the last two hundred years, too many privileges, expectations. We’ve been allowed to speak and think and act in ways that he now claims are no longer safe, no longer permissible. So he cracks down.
After just one week, the new commandant has changed things radically, damaging two hundred years of precedent.
So what do we do, here in the concentration camp, not only to resist, undermine and reverse such policies but, first and foremost, to simply survive, keep personally, mentally and emotionally healthy and functioning under such outlandish policies?
“I need a specific plan to retain my sanity.”
Following precedents from history, I recognize I need a specific plan to retain my sanity. Every day of his first week in office something new came down releasing waves of fear, anger, aggravation and despair in my inner ponds. With the latest—the closing of the borders to refugees, and the open requirement that new immigrants must be Christian (I have to ask myself: which kind of Christian?)–I glimpsed again the depth of the new commandant’s disrespect of the whole history of human rights. Uggh. What to do?
This is personal, for me and all of us.
Insult to our humanity: Time and time again we are made to feel like victims, simply because we ARE victims; this new commandant insults our humanity, our decency, our common sense and human compassion. The rule of law is told to take a back seat. No, not even the back seat. The rule of law is being kicked to the curb, while the institutional train, via Executive Orders, flies off the tracks.
If all this happened in just one week, I realized I wouldn’t last if I didn’t come up with a plan to keep my sanity over the next four years—make that two years, until the next election. If he lasts that long, which I pray is not likely.
“So I designed my own plan for my survival”
Escape victimhood: I decided to adopt a daily routine that allows for mental and emotional health, to escape victimhood, that allows for the experience of beauty, in spite of the commandant, and in spite of the guards. I will establish a daily routine that includes quiet self-care—breathing and walking and eating in mindful, peaceable, caring ways. I will give myself a timeout every day, time away from the tsunami of disturbing news swamping my TV and the internet, swamping my inner calmness. I need a time out.
My daily routine will include regular house and family care. I’ll make my bed. Plant the garden. Laugh with the neighbors and repair the gate. Every day.
I will engage in some form of non-political reading, learning.
“I will engage in…daily resistance”
Daily resistance: And, of course, I will, I promise, engage in some form of daily resistance to this commandant’s policies. Some days large, some days small, but every day I will resist, overtly or covertly.
But after the first week under the thumb of the new commandant I recognized I needed to dedicate a particular amount of time, be it a half an hour, or an hour, to the resistance, though of course some circumstances may require a full day, or a full week. But for my own mental health and buoyancy, for daily resistance I need to set a definite amount of time, have a start and stop for my resistance activity. Otherwise, if this week was any indication, the new commandant will consume my mind 24 hours a day. I will soon exhaust myself in an effort to find a way to stop the madness.
We don’t need exhausted resistance artists. We need fully alive, fully functioning, healthy and enthusiastic, even humorous, resistance artists. To be part of such artistry, I need to have a daily start and stop for my resistance activity; otherwise I’ll drown in it.
Confine the enemy. One of Mao’s tactics for guerilla fighters was to “confine the enemy to the towns.” By giving only an hour a day—some days two hours, some days three—and then during the rest of the day living a good life, a happy life, a peaceable life, experiencing the beauty around me, I confine the enemy to the towns. He’s still here, but he’s not taking over. The commandant and his minions are not allowed to drain all my mental and emotional energies. I can continue to live a life worth living.
I suspect one of the first forms of resistance will be to quietly convert the guards—those who the new commandant relies on to enforce and fund his dictates. We will convert them, one at a time and in small groups and agencies, back to common sense and compassion. We will help them use their own dignity and courage to, if not deny, at least ease, deflect the dangerously silly orders coming down from above.
But that’s another story. For me, this new daily routine of peace and harmony and guerrilla-like resistance will be my “first line of defense” here in this new concentration camp. We need to help each other learn how to cope, and fight back against this new commandant. Establishing a healthy, personal daily routine is my first suggestion.
Let’s talk more about how we all come out of this alive.
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