I AM DEMORALIZED
As a Progressive Democrat I am demoralized. Not so demoralized that I won’t vote, but still, pretty demoralized. It’s been about a nine month process, but I want to abort this lack of enthusiasm before it gives birth to depression. Watching Rachel Maddow stories night after night about “C” Street, prayers against health care, Republican obstructionism, about the Glenn Beck’s and Joe the Plumbers –all of those are infuriating, but they are not demoralizing. I mean, sure, I get saddened by the state of our country, but it does not demoralize me.
First of all, being demoralized is not the same as being depressed. Here is the classic definition of “Demoralize”
1. to deprive (a person or persons) of spirit, courage, discipline….2. to throw (a person) into disorder or confusion.
So, just so we’re on the same page, this is a situational condition, not a chemical imbalance, nor an ongoing state. Actually, from what I have read, it is more like grief. This is how psychiatry thinks about the state of being demoralized:
A demoralized person is sad, apprehensive, or irritable; thinking is pessimistic ; behavior can be passive, demanding, or uncooperative. Although these phenomena are distressing to the demoralized person and others, they do not constitute a psychiatric disorder. Like grief, which has some of the same manifestations, demoralization is a normal response in certain circumstances.
The only way I know to combat low morale is to go way back to the skills I had in my management days, when I was an avid reader of the motivational gurus of the 80’s. And I found that demoralization is caused by the same reasons whether it’s because of a bad boss or because the Democrats are flailing. After all, leadership is leadership, be it in a company or a country.
A loss of confidence in leadership follows when people believe that those in charge either don’t really know what they’re doing, don’t care about their constituents (or employees) or are fundamentally dishonest.
But leadership factors do not account for all of the causes of low morale. Neither does overwork–Exhaustion, yes. Low morale? No. However, when people are working very hard over an extended period of time and feel no hope for reward or a break, then morale suffers. Those of us who worked our asses off to get Obama and other candidates elected feel this. And we are still working, following legislation, writing our representatives and becoming worn out.
Aside from poor leadership, another factor is negativity. Rumor, negativity, gossip, and quiet character assassination kill organizations, kill productivity, kill morale and crush the spirit. We see this all the time at Huffpo. That is the biggest reason I no longer post there regularly. Criticism is good and necessary, but indirect rumor mongering invites – no, it breeds – distortion and untruth, and actually has a chemical effect on the brain that inhibits happiness and human growth.
So far, I have only been talking about those of us who are politically engaged, but many more are probably the least politically active It is not just the base that is demoralized big time. Most voters usually focus their ire on the nebulous “Democrats.” The more active we are, the more likely we are to realize that most Democrats are on the side of the people. It’s the folks least interested in the details who are likely to say, “No matter who I vote for, my life doesn’t get any better, so why bother? There is no difference between the Parties! ”
WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS
I think it is important for Progressives (even those who vehemently disagree with those who sit out elections) to sympathize with the point of view of those voters. We’re not going to be able to come up with good suggestions on keeping them in the fold if we’re too angry at them to understand their point of view. After all, the actual act of voting is not really all that easy, what with the lines, the weather, whatnot.
A lot of people in America are hurting– the slide downhill of their fortunes has been going on so long that they’re feeling bereft and hopeless. It’s easy for those of us who are activists to admonish people for seeing Obama as anything but a centrist Democrat, but he really did present himself on the campaign trail as a new FDR. It’s unfair that he’s getting dinged for what Joe Lieberman and other Senators are technically doing, but that’s just the way it goes when we’re talking about inevitable low information voters. It is their PERCEPTION that matters.
The long list of Obama’s achievements was really helpful to me. However, the list of Obama achievements is not likely to change many people’s perceptions. The stimulus was critical but insufficient. Financial regulation reform is something of a joke compared to the perception that the banks own the Obama administration. The draw-down of Iraq troops is going to be overshadowed by Afghanistan. And most of all is the sense of ongoing unfairness we all feel about the rewards given to the cheaters and torturers of the Bush guys.
In a recent poll, 80 percent of Republicans are definitely or probably going to vote. For Democrats, it was just 55 percent. Those aren’t bloggers or political junkies, its rank and file Democrats, and they’re seeing no reason to turn out and vote. Democrats pissed away their mandate with a series of corporate bailouts, but nothing for the average person. The signature Democratic policy item — health care — has been hijacked by Lieberman, Lincoln, Baucus, Snowe, and Ben Nelson, to the detriment of pretty much everyone else, all with the full support of a “bipartisan” obsessed White House.
I’m going to vote, and you guys are too. We’re not the problem. The problem is the marginally engaged Democrats, and without them we’re going to get creamed next year.
Before we can motivate others to vote, we need to re-motivate ourselves. Back to my management gurus. I got the following from an ACLU training workshop manual. (I am not an ACLU worker, but they had good employee/volunteer training.)
“Burnout is very common among activists – both paid and voluntary workers. Stressed people are not effective and can often create conflict and contribute to low morale. They also often act in ways which make it unattractive for new members to join the organization. Cynicism, negativity and rigid thinking are side effects of chronic stress. Taking care of the part of the environment over which we have the most control – that is, ourselves, is a vital part of effective activism.”
Some concrete practices:
- Create a group culture / ethos that supports self-care, balance and sustainable work loads and patterns. (Which we do here, at PlanetPOV.)
- Take a long-term perspective of planning and working for the long haul, to keep experienced / skilled group members for as long as possible
- Balance task focus with process and relationship / maintenance focus – in meetings, in daily work, in planning, and in evaluation
- Allow people to express feelings of distress, grief and loss and frustration – regard them as normal and healthy responses to unhealthy situations and state of the world.
- Put value on socialising, fun, humour, relaxation time as a group. (Which we do here, at PlanetPOV!)
Finally, to combat my sense of demoralization, I need to stay engaged, but I need to dial back my expectations. I need to “Set challenging but achievable goals and expectations with specific metrics and rally your team to meet them.” The “team” is we Progressives–and myself. Thank you, my friends, for helping to keep up my morale!