11/22/2016 05:57 EST | Updated 11/22/2016 05:57 EST

How Can We Move Past Self-Pity?


When I was a kid and something crappy happened, my parents had a rule about it. They applied this rule to themselves too, so it was pretty fair. We were allowed to indulge in what they called an OOSP -- an Orgy of Self Pity - in order to give sorrow or rage their due. Then we had to get over it and get on with life.

Time allowed: 24 hours, max.

If you practice the OOSP Rule for a while you start to find that 24 hours is way longer than you actually want to spend there. It's not exactly a play-date, after all. And it gets really boring. Allowing yourself the total wallow therefore becomes an efficient way of dealing with bad ju-ju. When you go the alternative route and suck it up all brave and smiling-in-the-face-of-tragedy, you only get little snatches of pain release here and there. The whole process takes ages as a result.

This I know from occasionally not following The Rule and allowing the Big Funk into my soul. It's dumb, however compelling it may appear at times.

It seems to me we're having a collective and rather protracted OOSP these days. Even those of us who aren't Americans. There are plenty of OOSP-worthy things going on in the world of course. Wars, environmental crises, surprising (ahem) election results and a general sense that the world is falling apart. A whole lot of that stuff feels beyond our control, which makes us want to moan and rage against it even more.

And that leaves us wallowing. Which is a sad, super un-productive place to be.

I'm thinking it would be better to ask ourselves: what can I do to alter some thing that's bothering me about the world? Something in our personal universe. Our individual realm of control.

So if you're a woman and you feel women's rights are going down the toilet (having barely peeked over the rim), how might you empower yourself and someone near you? If you worry about the marginalized, the impoverished, the displaced, the war-ravaged, what can you do within your own sphere of influence to improve that?

Your actions don't have to be big to make a difference. Give a female colleague a leg up, invite a gay couple to your otherwise straight dinner party, invite those new Syrians down the block in for a cup of tea. Teach someone a useful skill that will help them in their life. Quit your soul-destroying job. Start your own business. Tell someone you love them. Tell someone they're great.

Are these trivial things in the face of a world mess? I don't think so, because ultimately a great deal comes down to attitudes. The more we live the attitudes we want the world to embrace, in any way we can, the more those attitudes become the social norms that drive how we all live. Baby steps are the kind of steps we can all take.

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" - Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Personally, I'm getting back in the saddle with my Gumption programs after a prolonged funk about how hard it is to get movements started and new businesses off the ground. Guilty as charged: I did not follow my own rule. But I've seen the light. Our world situation is a call to (non-lethal) arms. I need to get over myself and do what I can, teaching people how to up their gumption quotient so they can make their own good stuff happen in turn.

I don't know yet what other things I might do too, but being aware that I need to take matters into my own hands is the first step to making change.

Together we can drag our sad asses out of this OOSP. What are you going to do?

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