The Woe Factor

I wring hands. You wring hands. He, she and it wring hands. Woe is us.

There’s plenty of worrisome stuff over which to obsess and bad stuff is in our faces constantly. That’s part of why so many Americans don’t watch or read the news any more. They’ve dropped out of the cycle of woe, which leaves them both happier and less informed. That’s a problem.

Thomas Jefferson told us that,

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.”

You can read “oversight” as “accountability” and of course, Jefferson was right. There are cheaters, democracy killers and liars on the loose around the country. These guys desperately need accountability in their dishonest little lives. Or rather, we need them to face accountability. So, how are we to live in these times that deeply try wo/men’s souls? How are we to remain enlightened citizens able to exercise that needed oversight without succumbing to the woe factor? Good news: An obvious and good idea about that just dropped in my lap.

Have a look at this short video, then come back.

You couldn’t help but be touched, right? Perhaps there were tears in your eyes. This is the stuff of good sportsmanship, good citizenship and good kids. What if we paid a bit more attention to the good things our fellow citizens do, like that kid, like the neighbors helping neighbors in flooded, washed out Kentucky and like the good folks who rushed the stage to protect Salman Rushdie from that would-be killer and to provide him aid? What if we walled off time to celebrate one another and did it regularly?

Yes, you’re right. I’m talking to myself because I probably need my own medicine more than most.

My dear friend Brian spoke to me years ago after I had just wailed my woes. He said that was just my story and I could stick to it. I could bemoan the pain from those who had hurt me, but I would be stuck with nothing but my story. It would be impossible to learn, to grow, to get past my past without releasing my death grip on my story. That angered me in the moment because what I wanted was validation – tell me how supernaturally right I am – and he had none of that for me.

I quickly realized that Brian was right. Full disclosure: I still wanted to be told how supernaturally right I was.

When we stick to our story we cement ourselves as victims of whoever we’re blaming for whatever real or imagined wrongs they’ve done to us. Surely, you’ve had a bellyful of loud voices bemoaning the horrible “others” who have victimized them. Perhaps you’re as tired of the victim stories as I am, like the fictions from those rageful, self-righteous killer wannabes shooting innocents and threatening election workers, as well as the presidential victim nightmare that won’t go away.

We’re not going to run out of people with their stories, whining about not getting their way all the time and blaming others, so I have an image for them just to the right.

We still have to be enlightened, as Jefferson instructed, and we still have to exercise oversight and hold leaders accountable. Even as we’re doing that, let’s keep in focus the things that give us hope, like our Gen-Zs, who I truly believe will save us from ourselves. Zs like that Little League kid.


Our governance and electoral corruption and dysfunction and our ongoing mass murders are all of a piece, all the same problem with the same solution:
Fire the bastards!
The days are dwindling for us to take action. Get up! Do something to make things better.

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Copyright 2024 by Jack Altschuler
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One Response to The Woe Factor
  1. Becky Hodgin Reply

    Hello Jack, I just read today’s musings and couldn’t agree more. I also sent this to at least 3 friends. Woe is me has been on my mind for a long time—too long. If only we could be as gracious and forgiving as this young athlete. As always, thanks for your insight.