Did you know every year there is an official color? Indeed there is, and the announcement is met with some fanfare in the world of design. The Pantone Color Institute picks it and names it. This year’s color of the year is actually two colors, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. That’s grey and yellow to you and me. The colors were chosen together because they create contrast and balance. Things being what they are, I guess even paint company employees are looking for answers to our current predicament. “The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, in a press release.*
Readers, I never thought I’d be passing on success tips from Pantone, but I find inspiration where I must. Optimism and strength are “two characteristics that are needed as we enter the new year,” according to the author, Nicoletta Richardson, of Pantone's colors.* Because things right now are very hard and dark. You know, we’re in it. The days have a ways to go to the shortest one, so we’re still tunneling down and we can’t expect that little upturn that means we’re going to make it out to sunlight again until then. The too short, too dark, too cloudy days. We know they’re going to get longer soon, though, and that does bolster the mood. However, as Kate McKinnon said on “Saturday Night Live Weekend Update” last weekend, it’s well and good to see the light at the end of the tunnel,“It’s just that the light at the end of the tunnel has shown us how stinky and bad the tunnel is.” What’s in my tunnel right now, aside from the wider world of politics and incomprehensibly stupid people, is the paterfamilias with COVID-19, alone in the hospital, in a city far away. Not that distance matters at the moment, because visitors aren’t allowed.
On the side of Count Your Blessings is that he has a bed, he doesn’t need a ventilator, and he has enough energy to complain. On the side of Life is Infuriating, Hard, and Scary is the government’s murderous response to this pandemic means my 95 year old father is alone in the hospital with a disease he never needed to have.
Okay, so what do we do? We gotta get through the tunnel. This blog is about success, at least putatively. Success is sometimes just plodding along. Indeed, often it is just taking that next step. How’re you doing, I would ask my stepmother, as she descended from sharp-witted lawyer to demented old woman. Oh, still putting one foot in front of the other, she would say. It’s what we have to do.
But what can I do? Anne Lamott would say, do what we do: tend to the sick; feed the hungry; cheer the sad; practice self-care. My social work professors are big on self-care, too. What do you do for self-care, they all ask. Perhaps they know something. Perhaps we should listen.
Of course, in times of stress, self-care gets de-prioritized. Okay, so here’s a tip. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Just promise to practice it more when things are better. That way, you’ll establish your practice, whatever it may be, and if it’s a habit, you might stick to it the next time a crisis rolls around. Or not. It’s not perfect. You’re not perfect. Meanwhile, whenever you remember to practice self-care, do so.
Meanwhile, what to do about the outrage? That’s a good one. The answer, of course, is feel it if you feel it. Feel it if you feel it, and try not to get caught up in it.
Because I’m only passing on wisdom, not generating it, at least not at this time, I offer this tidbit from Professor Bonnie Duran of the Schools of Social Work and Public Health at University of Washington, who offers a six word mantra to get you through a bad day: Not perfect, not permanent, not personal. (https://www.tenpercent.com/podcast-episode/bonnie-duran-300)
Let that sink in for a moment. You can apply it to many things, but if you’re one to get caught up in the political moment, or to get whipped into a frenzy by covid numbers, or to wring your hands because the reforms you want aren’t happening fast enough or in the right way, just take a breath and remember, nothing is perfect, it’s not personal, and it’s not permanent.
These people who are so incomprehensible to me, they make sense to themselves. It’s not about you; for them it’s about them. It’s not personal. As far as perfect, nothing is perfect. So remember that your idea for fixing the world may be great, but it’s not perfect. Nor is the world perfect. So all solutions once we get out of the tunnel will be imperfect. It’s not personal that everyone else doesn’t immediately grasp your great idea as the best solution. It’s just inevitable. Machinery as klunky as the human cooperative society is never going to move smoothly in one direction. Move it does, however. Remember, it’s not permanent. Now the more Fred Flintstone feet we get moving in the same direction, the more definite the direction and the movement will be, but still, there will always be other feet walking at a different pace or in a different direction. Maybe it's going a direction you like, and maybe it's not. Either way, it’s not permanent.
This brings me to the next point. We can’t give up. Just because life is hard, doesn’t mean we give up. When it comes time to give inspiration, I can’t turn to faith. Sure, humor, sure wisdom (sometimes), sure honesty—I can do those. Faith, though? Faith in humanity I have to some degree. I tend to skew towards faith that people overall are good, that most want to be good and do good.
What I can put faith in is the power of purpose. I get that from Viktor Frankl. In Man’s Search For Meaning he drives home that to survive an existential crisis, a person must find a meaning and purpose to her life. Sometimes the purpose is simply to endure suffering. Bleak as it sounds, it is also a testament to hope. As Frankl worked himself nearly to death at Auschwitz, he told himself his job was to endure the suffering he confronted. We are close to the end of the tunnel, but we know that the light outside is pretty dim, and there’s a lot of scary stuff out there, too, with which we’re going to have to cope. Not perfect, not personal, not permanent helps with suffering, too.
Maybe this post doesn’t seem that optimistic. Maybe there’s a paucity of Illuminating, or is it Ultimate Gray? I guess to that point I say this: it takes both strength and optimism to face the tunnel. “It is possible to practice the art of living, even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent,” says Viktor Frankl, and he should know.
It takes strength and optimism to crawl forward in the dark and believe in the light at the end, and it takes strength and optimism to look at what’s in the tunnel, too. Here's Frankl once more, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Sometimes the most optimistic thing I can muster is the knowledge that I will feel it once again.
It’s what I have, today, Readers. That’s it.
Frankl, Viktor. Man's Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006. (1959).