Paul Scanlon is a motivational speaker in England.
While I’m sure that few of us actually tell racist jokes at this point, how do/would we react if we were in a situation where we realized that one was about to be told? The importance of Scanlon’s message can’t be sufficiently underscored as we grapple with the systemic racism that has finally become more widely apparent at this pivotal juncture in our national life.
In speaking of white solidarity and white social capital, Scanlon makes observations that I find critically important. We must not be silent. We must speak up–knowing we will feel uncomfortable and may lose “social capital.”
Scanlon’s talk brought me back a few decades to another instance of harmful humor, albeit not racial in nature. At that time, I sat with a group of office colleagues who were making “gay” jokes. I recall my discomfort at remaining silent.
Not long after that, one of our colleagues “came out” publicly, and I felt ashamed that I hadn’t ended a conversation that must have been deeply hurtful to him.
I feel confident that it doesn’t dilute the focus on the heinous original sin of slavery that still haunts us and demands redress at last to expand the discussion of what I view as the abusive application of humor.
It seems obvious that there is also personal harm–and often different but important historical relevance–applicable to any “joke” that is designed to depict the “other” and to separate the joke’s target from the rest of us mortals in a derogatory way: anti-gay jokes, anti-Semitic jokes, anti-Muslim jokes, anti-immigrant jokes, anti-Asian jokes, anti-Native American jokes, anti-women jokes, anti-people with disabilities jokes…
None of these jokes can be considered benign when we know that hate crimes are rising–and people are hurting. And as long as our nation is divided into “us” versus “them,” we are diminished–individually, nationally, internationally.
I am not talking about “in” jokes that people of a particular group tell one another, well aware that they are stereotyping themselves and their group.
Some may feel this sentiment is political correctness carried too far. But can’t we be funny without being cruel?
Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”
“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”
“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”
In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.
I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us.
(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)
Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.
What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment.
“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.”
I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.
These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes.
It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.”
That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.
Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection.
These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)
.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.
But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts.
Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.” That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:
How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?
Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said.
Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.
When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.
I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire.
Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury.
The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)
Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.
But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.
(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)
So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity.
The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.
Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net.
We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.
It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
After watching the pre-Nevada caucus Democratic debate, I began writing this post with feelings of frustration approaching despair. There were many things to criticize, and I was emptying my angst onto this page, and thus preparing to send it on to you.
With the latest evidence—which we already knew—from the Intelligence briefing to the House that reiterated Russian meddling in the 2020 election, which was followed by the President’s replacement of the acting intelligence chief with someone with less than zero qualifications for the job, I cannot and will not deny that we are living in increasingly perilous times. See The New York Times article here.
The question I’ve been pondering is this: as we search for someone who is best able to defeat Donald Trump, how do we handle ourselves? And that question makes me feel more closely attuned to my more optimistic, better self—the one that really believes we can find common ground.
What brought me to this more positive place? Meditation helps, but my “recovery” was nurtured by a very calming, cogent newsletter that a friend who had just subscribed to forwarded to me. Its author, RB Hubbell, is based in California. The daily newsletter is free and can be obtained by sending your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Voice of Reason
I don’t know how large Hubbell’s subscriber list is, but he began his discussion of the aftermath of the debate by saying his inbox had “exploded” with emails that “exhibited a level of angst, anger, and disgust I have not seen before.”
He then said he wanted to share readers’ reactions, because he’s been told that hearing from others helps his readers “ground their feelings and test their own reactions to this crazy mess in which we find ourselves.”
There’s nothing wildly original about Hubbell’s message or his readers’ reactions. Maybe I was just ready to hear his words, but they hit me exactly right. Here’s a sampling:
“Before we get to the details, let’s say the important things first: We must stick together. We are on the same side. If we do not stand together, we will fall together. Whatever passion or disappointment or anger you feel, it cannot cause you to withdraw from the process or give in to feelings of hopelessness or lash out in anger at fellow Democrats. We are facing a grave threat to democracy. Our personal preferences for president are subordinate to the need to ensure the election of the Democratic nominee—whoever he or she is.
“A secondary point is the need to focus on the long-term. Yesterday’s debate was freighted with expectations and led to disappointment. Accept that fact and move on. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens; otherwise, we won’t make it to the Democratic convention in July, much less the general election in November. If ever there was a time in our history when we needed to toughen-up, hunker-down, and keep our eyes on the horizon, now is that moment.”
It’s Okay to Withdraw, But Not for Long
Hubbell’s readers include many people who told him they’d withdrawn from the fray for the sake of their mental health. I can relate to that feeling. My last three posts were about goldfinches and squirrels; solar railways and my carbon BigFootprint, and guidance on comforting the sick and dying.
But I knew I had to return to politics because this is an “all hands on deck” moment.
Interestingly, although Hubbell probably wouldn’t reveal his preferred candidate under any circumstances, he notes that he’s mostly filled out his own ballot for the California primary but has not yet determined which candidate he’ll support.
He concludes in a way that ties in with my primary objective with this post, referencing a Twitter thread by Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics (when there was such a working institution in our government!). A “snippet”:
“ Take Action. Any action. It’s not big things that will save us. It’s persistent small actions carried out by one individual, and another, and another and another across the nation…Make a very small donation, even just a dollar, to something, sign up to volunteer for one hour, go learn how to register voters.”
I wish I could include the entire thread because there’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re on Twitter, go to @waltshaub and you can read through it.
A Valuable Way to Make a Difference
Many of us have been repeatedly sending money to the Presidential candidate(s) of our choice. That’s important. But my action at the moment is to focus our attention on the House of Representatives. We must, must, must maintain the Democratic majority in the House.
All the members of the Class of 2018, those moderates in either swing districts or districts that Trump won, have been targeted for extinction—in good measure because they flipped formerly Republican seats AND had the courage to vote for impeachment. Many won by a single vote.
They are among the more than 50 House members being targeted for defeat by the National Republican Campaign Committee. According to Roll Call, the NRCC Chairman, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, enunciated the slogan the Congressional Republicans plan to run on:
“Freedom or socialism—that’s the choice in 2020.”
These targeted Democrats need our help, as their opposition is often flooded with cash and a revved up base. I’m listing their names, districts, and web sites in the hope that if you feel strongly that it is imperative to retain a Democratic-controlled House, you’ll be able to support their reelections in whatever way you can, including volunteering and importantly by contributing, no matter how small the amount.
In addition to donating to them directly, in most cases you can also go through ActBlue. I’m planning to work my way down the list, eventually giving modest donations to all of them.
Remember: each one of these individuals did what he or she believed was right for this country and upheld that oath—knowing that vote might well end their careers.
Let’s begin with the seven brave souls—all with national security backgrounds—whose OpEd in the Washington Post was instrumental in changing Nancy Pelosi’s mind about the need for an impeachment inquiry. They are:
[update: Christy Smith is running for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. Though she wasn’t in Congress for the impeachment vote, she is being targeted–hard. This is a hard-fought effort to retain a Democratic seat that needs money and votes immediately–before May 14th!]
Note: Jared Golden (ME-02): jaredgoldenforcongress.com has also been targeted by the Republicans, but the Democrats aren’t happy with him either: He voted to impeach the President on Article 1, but not for obstruction of Congress.
Missing from my version of the list is Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), who switched his party affiliation and is now a Republican.
On this list of valuable legislators, one who has impressed me deeply is Katie Porter of California, who asks the tough questions and seems fearless in speaking truth to power. She is under particularly strong attack. I believe it is extremely important that her voice continues to be heard in Congress; thus, I’ve highlighted her information.
I’ll conclude with RB Hubbell’s closing remarks in the newsletter issue I referred to above:
“We are in the fight of our lives, but we are in it together. That should give us all comfort.”
That fight demands that we act positively and don’t despair. And make sure you’re registered to vote!
In April I cited Barr’s antics
The AG was quietly frantic
The Mueller Report Was a strong retort
To the “Trump did no wrong” semantics.
But Bill-Barr knew why he’d been hired
And sensing the public was tired:
“There’s nothing,” said he—
So the Truth into muck became mired.
Yet ONE DAY after Mueller appeared
The President moved into high gear
With an unbowed head
To Ukraine’s Prez said: If you want all that aid to be cleared…
…There’s a favor I’d like you to do
Some people you gotta look into
And all will be great—
Maybe a White House visit for you.
Zelensky had quite the dilemma
With Putin evoking some tremors
He’d sought to be straight
’Twas his winning mandate
But U.S. demands were bad karma.
So why should Ukraine cause our fussin’?
Our ally’s a bulwark v. Russians
We gave them our word
Worldwide it was heard
It’s their safety and ours we’re discussin’.
Just in time someone blows a whistle
And justice’s wheels start to sizzle
The hearings begin
The experts weigh in
And Light shone on lies makes them fizzle.
But here come the intractable foes
Who back Trump from his head to his toes
They can’t argue facts
So they take a worse tack
And pretend that the Emperor has clothes.
Now we’ve entered the land of impeach
With the Dems set to not overreach
Two articles cite
The President’s blight
And his large Constitutional breach.
The facts tell a quite simple story:
Abused power for his own glory
For Congress contempt
No defense will attempt
To challenge except with lies hoary…
…Or red herring complaints like this call: “Why the rush when we’ve not heard from all?” With subpoenas defied, Delays far and wide,
These “bad processes” tales are quite tall.
There is reason to move with dispatch
The President’s acts must be watched
His lawyer’s abroad
To promote more fraud,
Our election’s integrity they’ll snatch.
But the country’s sadly divided With false stories, hard truth’s derided We’ve so much at stake
We must stay awake
And try to engage those misguided.
I shall now add a Bill-Barr return
He’s in mischief I can’t quite discern
He’ll make a report
Next spring—of some sort
That is likely to cause great concern.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this move
‘Cause its purpose will clearly behoove
Us to promptly react
And to counter with facts
So the falsities don’t gain a groove.
It’s a time our decisions must fit
With the words of Ben Franklin—to wit:
When asked what we’ve got
Republic or Monarchy, he shot:
“A Republic—if you can keep it!”
Note: I leave my rhyme to turn to the prescient words of Alexander Hamilton, which my blogging colleague Brookingslib used to conclude a terrific post on the topic:
“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”’
Finally, as stated by Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. in his testimony before Congress, by Constitutional law experts Michael Gerhardt and Lawrence Tribe, and by others:
“If this [the Ukraine scandal] isn’t impeachable, nothing is.”
We know that the US is riven by deep divisions—and that other countries are going through similar struggles. We also know that most people are unhappy with the anger and hostilities—and anxiety about politics and world events is high.
Against this backdrop, I found the final question in the fourth Democratic Presidential debate, held in Ohio on October 15, instructive. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked each of the 12 candidates (the largest group of debaters ever) this question, involving Ellen Degeneres, a popular US talk show host who gained praise in 1997 when she publicly announced she is gay:
“Last week, Ellen Degeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, we’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”
“So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.”
I’m touching on the responses that I found most relevant (regardless of my opinion of the candidates who voiced them). I’ve shortened them from their verbatim rendering in The Washington Post’s transcript.
Julian Castro: “Some of the most interesting friendships that I’ve had have been with people…who thought different from me…and I think that that should be reflected more in our public life. I believe that we should be more kind to other folks. And there are people, whether it’s our former president, George W. Bush, or others…just as we should be kind, we shouldn’t be made to feel shameful about holding people accountable for what they’ve done.”
Amy Klobuchar: “For me, it’s John McCain, and I miss him every day…I remember being at his ranch when he was dying. He pointed to some words in his book because he could hardly talk. And the words say this: ‘There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself.’”
Cory Booker: “The next leader is going to have to be one amongst us Democrats that can unite us all,…teach us a more courageous empathy, and remind Americans that patriotism is love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.
“And love is not sentimentality. It’s not anemic. Love is struggle. Love is sacrifice. Love is the words of our founders…the end of the Declaration of Independence that if we’re ever going to make it as a nation, we must mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Pete Buttigieg: “I think about the friendships that I formed in the military, people who were radically different from me, different generation, different race, definitely different politics. And we learned to trust each other with our lives…It’s also about building a sense of belonging in this country, because I think that’s what friendship and service can create.
“I think we have a crisis of belonging in this country that is helping to explain so many of our problems, from our politics being what it is to the fact that people are self-medicating and we’re seeing a rise in the deaths from despair…The purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the president. It is the unification of the American people [to] pick up the pieces and guide us toward a better future.”
I’m focused on these responses because they capture what I believe is the most important and difficult task our next president will have: uniting us as a people. And that effort is needed in many other areas throughout the world.
Cory Booker’s exhortations to love reminded me of an exchange I had with one of my fellow bloggers: Gary Gautier, who blogs as Daedalus Lex and calls his blog “Shake My Head Hollow.” Gary is a very thoughtful guy who often examines philosophical and ethical concerns on his blog. (He also writes wonderful poetry).
Gary’s recent post–which stimulated this inquiry–was titled:
“The political thing no one wants to hear”
The post itself consisted solely of a quotation from Ram Dass, a revered spiritual leader (and former Harvard psychologist, then known as Richard Alpert) who has pursued numerous spiritual approaches, including Hindu, Zen Buddhism, Sufi, and Jewish mystical studies, according to his biography. His most influential work is the book Be Here Now, which has been called “the Western articulation of Eastern philosophy and how to live joyously a hundred percent of the time in the present, luminous or mundane.”
Here’s the Ram Dass quotation, followed by my discussion with Gary, who has graciously agreed to my including our exchange as well:
“You can only protest effectively when you love the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself.”
My Query to Gary:
I saw Ram Dass interviewed a while back. His stroke seriously impaired him, but as I recall, he reflected that he has been happier since then because now he really has time to observe and reflect.
I am having difficulty envisioning the kind of protest he describes. Did Martin Luther King and John Lewis love their oppressors? Forgive? Probably. Understand? Very possibly. But love? And Mandela? Same question.
Can anyone protesting the people who put babies in cages and open the gates to genocidal acts feel love for those they’re protesting against?
What am I missing here, Gary?
Gary’s Response (with citations):
When Mandela entered the prison on Robben Island, his white guards were predictably brutal, and yet he never gave up on them; he engaged them, believing that “our occupation of the moral high ground could make it possible for us to turn some of the warders round,” and as years passed he won many of them over into “appreciating our cause,” and several of those guards became allies and attended his first inauguration. (Anthony Simpson’s biography, 214, 275, Part II).
And how, Gandhi asked, could he be angry with his colonial oppressors when “I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right” (Autobiog, 166). Gandhi’s bottom line is that “it is quite proper to resist and attack a system” but one should never “attack its author” (242).
I think both had found Ram Dass’s truth – that beneath vicious action is generally a confused or mangled soul. Fight for what you know is right, fight against those who wreak havoc on humanity, lock them up if you have to, but don’t give up on the spiritual imperative to help those who are most morally fallen – from people on death row to the politicians whose actions you find vicious.
I believe Martin Luther King had reached the same transcendental space of love. In contrast to today’s woke crowd, who all-too-enthusiastically reduce people to “enemies” and “racists,” King saw white people as much more than just racists and was ultimately much more optimistic about America’s founding principles and about the American people — including white people.
This is all hard to see as we duke it out at street level, but these spiritual masters were able to view it from a million miles above, from the perspective of unlimited compassion, viewing themselves below fighting the good fight in the trenches, and viewing their opponents and all others in the same light.
I’m sticking with Baba Ram Dass on this one.
And My Response…
I thank you, Gary. I practice mindfulness meditation, and an important aspect of that is lovingkindness: “May you/I/we be filled with lovingkindness.” I have often sought common ground in my blog posts. I do try very hard to walk in the other person’s shoes, so I don’t rail against the folks at the hate-filled rallies with the vehemence of many people I know.
But I am a long way from loving those in power whose cruelty and/or indifference is damaging so many individuals and our society/world.
I shall try to dig deeper—without faulting myself if I fail. The Ram Dass bar is exceedingly high for us mere mortals.
My Questions for You, Dear Readers…
We are all tearing ourselves apart with our political hatreds now. It’s no good for us as a country, as members of the world community, and certainly as individuals: think of the levels of stress-induced cortisol coursing through our bodies. We need a better approach.
Can we get beyond this point via the Ram Dass message? Regardless of which side of the political divide we’re on, can we “hate the sin but love the sinner”?
If you share my strong feelings about this president and those complicit in his actions, can you and I, personally, look beyond all the devastation that we feel President Trump is wreaking on people and nations and try to find compassion for the clearly damaged, wretched soul that resides within him—and the frightened, worried people working with him or supporting him? (That doesn’t mean we don’t hold him/them responsible for their actions!)
If you’re on the other side of the political divide, can you find it in your heart to feel that those of us who differ with you politically are not your enemies? That our wants and needs as human beings are, on the most basic levels, quite similar to yours?
(I realize I’m leaving out the vast middle here, those who are just unhappy that things in their personal lives aren’t going as well as they’d like—and are simply trying to make do from one day to the next.)
Can we all shift our focus from people to problems, and work together for the greater good?
Just days ago, we lost an invaluable American statesman: Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland, who died at age 68. “A Pillar of Baltimore Who Was ‘Loved by All,’” wrote The New York Times. In his years in Congress, he worked assiduously across the aisle to get things done for the people he represented and the country he loved.
Apparently, when President Trump attacked him on Twitter this summer, calling his district a “rodent-infested mess,” some of Cummings’ constituents wanted a full-throated response. Instead, Cummings calmly observed: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”
Being “nice” to the President was an example of the spirit that made him unique, according to his friends. His church pastor said Cummings was…
“…so much larger than what he was…He was something so different. He was not the angry protester. He was not the passive peacemaker. He was the deliberate man who stood for right and wrestled wrong until right became the natural winner.”
I have a strong sense that Congressman Elijah Cummings was the embodiment of the Ram Dass credo that Gary Gautier has brought to our attention.
Tell me, please: What do you think of all this—as political strategy and/or guidance for life? Can you accept the concept of loving the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself? Even embrace the idea and consider/try putting it into practice? Feel it’s a fine idea, but…?
Or does this concept strike you as naive and unworkable? Do you think I’m nuts to even raise the issue in today’s political climate?
If the latter, do you have any other ideas concerning how we as individuals move ourselves out of our current angry divisiveness?