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Opinion | 11 Small Ways You Can Help Mend the World – The New York Times

In Christian liturgical churches, today is Trinity Sunday, which kicks off a long sweep of “ordinary time.” This period — which will last till mid-November — is the longest season in the church year. Ordinary time is what we call the weeks that are not included in the major seasons of feasting or fasting in the church calendar, such as Easter and Lent.

In some circles, this span of months is referred to as “the long green growing season” because the liturgical color of the season is green, but also because it invites us to deepen our roots, to grow.

In his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Wendell Berry calls his readers to “Practice resurrection.” That’s how I think of this stretch of ordinary time. During Easter season we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and in this next season we learn to “practice resurrection” in our everyday lives. We seek those things which bring renewal and repair.

There is much that needs mending. There are signs that our society is unwell, with polarization and anger sizzling under the surface of our discourse. The problems of the world feel big and overwhelming. And we can look to big things to rescue us: national elections, a revolution, widespread revival, the apocalypse. Of course, big things matter. Voting and federal policies are important. Yet most of us, in our limited spheres, must learn to embrace small practices of repair. These practices, though small, are profoundly significant. They are the tiny threads that weave a society where, as Dorothy Day said, it is easier for people to be good.

I’d like to offer a short, certainly not complete, list of small, ordinary ways to practice repair:

1. Have more in-person conversations. To love people, or even to tolerate them, it helps to actually speak with them. This may look like small talk with neighbors or a long conversation with a friend where you look them in the eyes and ask how they are doing. It may be a family dinner or chatting with your barista while you wait for an order. All of this interaction, however profound, however fleeting, helps us connect with others in ways that cannot be replicated online but that form the very fabric of our lives and society.

2. Get outside. The benefits of the outdoors are so great that fresh air almost seems like a magical elixir. Being outside boosts immune systems and lowers stress levels. It also helps with anxiety. We are made to be creatures who spend a lot of time in the natural world, and doing so humanizes us in deeply necessary ways.

3. Eschew mobs — online and in real life. There is plenty to be upset about. There is plenty we need to protest and seek to change. There are important things to debate and address in our culture and society. But when a protest or conversation becomes unruly and vicious, certainly if it skews toward violence, then it contributes more heat than light to the world.

This is evident to most of us when it comes to in-person mobs. But the architecture of social media incentivizes vitriol and anger en masse. Tweets don’t go viral because they are the most brilliant, helpful or accurate things being said. Multiple studies show that social media rewards emotional language and indignation.

Noting James Madison’s warning that factions and fast-spreading outrage could sink the American experiment, Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell wrote in The Atlantic, “Social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant.” Resisting the temptation to join an online pile-on is one step toward reknitting the social trust and political virtue necessary for sustaining a peaceful society.

4. Read books. While the internet trains our brains to take in lots of small snatches of information, it makes engaging with long, complicated arguments more difficult. But the world is complex. In order to even attempt to understand it, we have to sit with slower, longer arguments, stories and ideas.

One lovely and effective way to retrain ourselves away from too-easy answers is to read books. In his book “Stolen Focus,” Johann Hari argues that reading long books cultivates empathy. It asks us to put ourselves in the place of the author, investing enough in someone’s work to follow their argument or story to its end. This empathy is essential to a just and flourishing society.

5. Give money away. In “Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair,” Duke L. Kwon and Gregory Thompson argue that injustice cannot be addressed unless we confront the ways that it inevitably robs people. Injustice isn’t an abstract idea but a financial reality that affects people every day.

One way to push back against injustice is for both individuals and corporations to voluntarily redistribute wealth by giving to organizations that invest in historically marginalized communities. Giving appears to be up in America, with lower-income workers often giving the most proportionally. A friend of mine told me that the first question to ask in making a budget is, “How can I use what I have to repair the world?”

6. Invest in institutions more than personal brands. Institutional trust in the United States is plummeting. Yuval Levin said that from “one arena to another in American life, we see people using institutions as stages, as a way to raise their profile or build their brand. And those kinds of institutions become much harder to trust.” With our focus on personal branding and celebrity, we neglect the often boring, tedious and slow work of institutional change. But institutional rot is at the heart of societal breakdown. One way to rebuild a better world is to invest time, money and energy into reforming broken institutions and sustaining healthy ones.

7. Invest in children. If we want a flourishing future, we must seek the flourishing of children in the present. One way to do this, of course, is to have children and be a loving parent. But, whether or not we have children, we can all invest in them. Whether it is spending time with nieces, nephews or friends’ children, volunteering for your church nursery, fostering or giving money or time to organizations that serve kids, children need our attention and effort.

8. Observe the Sabbath. We, as a people, need rest. One intentional way to find it is to use one day of seven to chill out. Don’t work. Don’t get on screens. Don’t spend money, if you can avoid it. Enjoy the world or a nap. Slow down. It’s amazing how a day of opting out can completely change my perspective.

But historically and scripturally, Sabbath keeping isn’t simply luxuriating in privilege for a day. Instead, it involves ensuring that others can rest as well. We seek as best we can to allow those who work for us or around us to also embrace both meaningful work and rest. “The Bible’s sabbath,” wrote the Old Testament professor Richard H. Lowery, critiques “the economic systems that create scarcity, overwork, and gross economic inequality.”

9. Make a steel man of others’ arguments. Making a straw man of our opponents’ arguments is easy. We portray them as ridiculous or as moral monsters, but dealing with steel men — that is, the best and smartest ideas of those with whom we disagree — not only strengthens our own thinking but helps us to better and more compassionately understand others. Straw manning is an easy way to get likes online, but it ultimately hurts us as individuals and as a society. Choosing to seek out the best arguments of those with whom we disagree requires humility and curiosity, and it makes for healthier societal discourse.

10. Practice patience. With our increasingly fast-paced world, nearly everything about our society encourages impatience. We prize efficiency and speed, and are losing the ability to wait patiently. But we can practice resistance.

Some brass-tacks ways to do so are to let yourself be still and slow. Wait in a line or at a stoplight without checking your phone. Make friends with boredom and the things you can’t control. In the words of the philosopher Dallas Willard, commit yourself to the “ruthless elimination of hurry.” Many of these other practices — from spending time with children to reading books and working for institutional change — demand and foster patience.

“Patience outfits faith, guides peace, assists love, equips humility, waits for penitence, seals confession, keeps the flesh in check, preserves the spirit, bridles the tongue, restrains the hands, tramples temptation underfoot, removes what causes us to stumble,” writes the historian Robert Louis Wilken. “It lightens the care of the poor, teaches moderation to the rich, lifts the burdens of the sick, delights the believer, welcomes the unbeliever.” He concludes, “For where God is there is his progeny, patience. When God’s Spirit descends patience is always at his side.”

11. Pray. Because prayer and work go together. And because, ultimately, true renewal requires more than we can do on our own.

This is nowhere near a complete list. What would you add? What are small, meaningful ways to practice repair and resurrection? Write to me at [email protected].

Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and author of “Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep.”

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