Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yes We Can Love

Don't Yell Wolf

I want to preface this with a note. I've seen a lot of pushback in response to recent calls for love, empathy, and understanding for Trump voters. I've also been approached by friends (expect a part two pending those conversations). People are reeling or grim at this most recent affirmation of what they already knew, at what it means for their personal futures, their families, friends, and neighbors, and many are angry at the idea that we focus on anything other than showing support for the people most affected by a Trump presidency.

That is exactly what I'm trying to do. That is exactly why I'm writing today. This message is the most important thing I can think of to try and interrupt the pattern of what it looks like is about to happen.

We don't have time to keep inching our way imperceptibly towards our goals. An entire population which both fights and impedes us could be working alongside us instead. We, collectively, don't have the luxury to ignore them. We, personally, *of course* have the right to refuse to engage. Please never interpret anything I write as a demand that a victim force themselves to reconcile with their attacker. I would never presume to tell anyone if, or when, that should happen,let alone insist they ignore their pain and get moving.

Let me give you some personal context on why I feel this is so important.

Since about halfway through my undergraduate degree, my sisters and I have been clashing intensely with our entire, very conservative and religious extended family. We've been trying to make a case that the Republican party is pro-corporation and anti-American, and that they've fallen for wolves in sheep's clothing if they think the Republican party is more Christian. 

There have been some embittered debates. Pretty sure I'm not gonna be in certain wills. 

When you have built a pattern of trying to shame someone out of their opinions by demonstrating how their beliefs make them a bad person, they eventually just stop listening to you. So that when you share the very most important insights of your life thus far, they're just not listening.

My family was done listening by the time I learned the truth about racism in America, how the prison system, when you look at the bare facts of how it operates, it's clear that this is the modern face of segregation and slavery. They weren't listening when I tried to share something that I knew they would care about deeply and want to change if they understood. 

Over recent years I've been very deliberately dialing down the angry responses and upping the verbal affirmation of the things I agree with. Slowly, we've begun to have actual conversations again. The last time they were in town, my dad made an offhand remark about "people being too sensitive" which initiated a conversation about political correctness which started to veer towards conflict, but when my mom pointed this out and we all took a breath and kept talking, resulted in everyone agreeing that listening, showing concern that you've caused pain, and making a genuine effort to change the behavior is a good response to getting called out as a racist, and a reasonable thing for people of color to ask.

That is not how things worked out when I brought up the Harvard professor arrested for trying to get into his own home.

I'm not trying to recenter the conversation back around white people. I'm trying to help other people, and in particular people like me, with family and friends they might have estranged because of their tactic of getting super angry and heaping shame and disgust, to re-establish those bonds so that we can start having the conversations that would have kept Trump from getting elected in the first place.

This is by no means meant to replace direct action on behalf of people of color. Here are a few resources for that:

How to Intervene in a Racist Attack 
Black Girl Dangerous 
5 Tips for Being an Ally
Maximum Middle Age

The Long Con

Our enmity is neither natural, nor accidental. People like Murdoch carefully cultivate and feed a great
fear of difference, a great distrust in people who are different in certain ways, and then wield it to keep us distracted, divided, and resigned. It's really quite an elegant system of control. The worse the squeeze, the more we blame each other for the fact that neither party's policies have done the slightest thing to stop the slow, sad march of the middle class into poverty.

I think we're afraid. I think that's why we satisfy ourselves with minor ideological "victories" against straw men and extremists. I think that's why we reassure ourselves that it is more noble and important to defeat than to understand and extend care to our fellow human beings, who are also frightened, frustrated, and in pain.

The greatest challenge our generation will ever face is the mandate to transform difference from a weapon of mass oppression to an engine for positive change. We must rise to it with love, creativity, ingenuity and boldness, before irreversible, devastating events are set in motion.

There are dragons loose on the world.  Alive but lifeless, they are capable of heedless, relentless destruction. They have none of the spark of empathy, none of the survival instinct, not even a flicker of the deep inner connection all living creatures share. They were born of greed, called into being by a man who figured out how to manipulate people's sense of thrift to get them to buy endless piles of cheap crap, their sense of personal accountability to get them to surrender to joyless work for people who don't care about them, and their sense of wonder to get them to trade in their dignity for a few dingy commodities. These beasts roam wild, breathing pollution into the air, crapping trash all over the world, stomping out species, poisoning us, draining everything of authenticity and quality. Their only goal: to gain, to grow, to dominate.

They've almost destroyed the planet. We're alarmingly close to that precipice. Maybe the dragon-tamers are so drunk on their own power that they've forgotten they live here, too. Maybe they're hoist on their own petard--they can't get along at this point, either. Or, scariest and kind of likely, they're saving all of these resources they've been stealing from us to build a spaceship and leave us all behind on the no-longer-viable Earth while they find some other gorgeous cosmic organism to rape and murder.

The blog I write is very stubbornly, bull-headedly, with many stops and starts and stumbling blocks, trying to re-establish a conversation with everyone at once. By insulating us in our bias groups and then feeding us misinformation to elevate our fear of and disdain for one another, Facebook and the mainstream media have completely eliminated respectful discourse, the only thing which stands any chance to disarm difference.

If you're getting frustrated that I'm telling you to change your ways with no regard for the fact that the other guys are the ones who really need to change, or conversely if you read this as an affirmation that it's the other guys who actually need to change, go back and re-read everything you just read through the eyes of someone who believes the opposite of you. If you'll listen to the language I use, you'll realize I'm putting challenges both to myself and to you in how I portray things, by which "you" I mean You, Someone Who, Like Me, Wants to Make the World Better.  Without disguising who I am and which way I lean in terms of my personal views, I counterbalance my bias towards the things I obviously agree with by putting more effort into demonstrating my kinship with those who although I disagree with, I thoroughly respect as individuals. (I check with my mom to see whether I'm really missing the mark with the opposite side. She typically says something along the lines of, "mostly it's okay.")

Everyone who can rally: we gotta sit down and talk, a LOT, and really try our best, or chances are good we're all going to die before our time. Yuck. Lame.

When You Belong

You know, everyone talks about how bad bullying is, how bad bullies are. I think part of the reason it's such a difficult phenomenon to address is the fact that sometimes the bullies are kids with a lot of friends, popular kids, people no one wants to call out, people you could get made fun of for taking too seriously, for killing the buzz, because clearly everyone's just playing. Clearly they don't mean any harm.

In middle school, picked on and harassed by certain classmates, I found it bewildering how many friends they had, how often people would make statements like "x is so nice!" They weren't nice. Not to me, or to people like me, who couldn't distance ourselves from the insult, who couldn't find the confidence to laugh along. 

People could see this but nobody seemed to care. 

If you're not the one being targeted, it's hard to even see meanness, sometimes.There's an aspect to this I now find very positive and normal. I don't think that the second someone does something unpleasant to someone else, every other human should shun them. This is a recipe for a lot of disconnected, angry, dangerous people.

But there's another aspect to it that's not so positive.

I can't remember how or exactly why the switch flipped. I think it was after a friend of friend spent a good couple of days with us, and he was a comedian and kept calling me out on things I said, pointing out things that could be interpreted as intellectual elitism. Because I didn't in any way find this man inferior in terms of wits, I didn't take it to heart, but I was watching John Oliver one day, dear sweet funny friend John, and all of a sudden I thought "what if I was one of the people he likes to make fun of, and I didn't have a diploma to distance myself from the idea that I'm dumb?"

All of a sudden my dear sweet funny friend starting sounding a lot less dear and sweet. All of a sudden he sounded arrogant, callous, and contemptuous. The audience laughter, such a warm, reassuring sound, began to sound ugly and cruel. And I suddenly got a vision of being on the other end of one of my diatribes--it wasn't pretty.

I know many, many people who, like me, have a holy horror of physical violence as a way to solve disputes (I like it fine in certain contexts, for example roller derby, where everyone in the path of pain has volunteered to be there), yet see nothing wrong with delivering an intense verbal assault. 

It's ironic that the people most in arms about hate speech and class and social divides have been lulled into thinking that this sort of political commentary is doing anything other than deepening those very divides, salting wounds, and essentially kicking people when they're down. It's exactly what we accuse the racists of: taking out their anger on their fellow dispossessed, instead of teaming up and ending oppression.

The Pleasure of Rage

Have you ever watched yourself when you were chewing someone out? Really letting into them, telling them how despicable they are, how disgusted you are with them? 

Let's be honest: it's thrilling to drop all pretense of mutual respect and go for the jugular. There's nothing not thrilling about it. Righteous indignation satisfies so many of our desires at once: the desire to be good, the desire to act, the desire to assert our power in the world, the desire to be right, the desire to surrender to our physical instincts (put in a more positive way: to be in harmony with ourselves). 

The high tends to disguise some basic facts about righteous wrath. First, any high that relies on someone else experiencing a low is probably not all that righteous. Second, we're all mighty mighty hypocrites who shouldn't be casting stones. And third, most important of all, especially now: it's a strategically terrible move. 

It doesn't offer evidence that our beliefs are ethically superior; doesn't offer assurance that we are good people who strangers can count on for trust and support. It doesn't stand to convince anyone to agree with us. It doesn't help ensure the safety or general welfare of people who believe like we do. 

It does quite literally the opposite of all of those things.

As we look around for someone to blame for all of the divisiveness, it's time to ask how we're contributing personally to the opposition's fear that our victory means their misery.

What I'm saying is, we've been haaaaad! My dad always said the left is brainwashed too, and I thought he was wrong but I kept trying to wrap my head around what that would look like...since we base all of our stuff on science, unlike...

Didn't you ever wonder why, if the oligarchs own basically ALL of the media...and if the leftist pundits really stand to dethrone the people who allow that happen...didn't you ever wonder why they're allowed to have their own shows?

Did you think"maybe these fools just don't have enough respect for the power of words"? Did you think "maybe it's just a matter of 'money is money' to them, this guy doesn't care as long as you don't say anything bad about him, personally"? But maybe something about it still didn't seem right.

Here's what I think: the oligarchs are fiiiiiine with the liberal agenda. They're fiiiiiine with the conservative agenda. They have no investment in the outcome, because they are capable of bypassing all human interaction. They are so removed, they don't need their liberties protected anymore. But they can use the tug-of-war, the violent back-and-forth of stealing back your priorities and ignoring the other guy, to make us feel like we're capable of influencing the actions of our leaders even though our collective wealth and welfare and the viability of more and more employment options steadily declines.

Trump Voters are not Evil

Let's take it back a step. If we have no evidence that the other person's utopia will bring us misery, beyond the fact that they disagree with us, we really ought not proceed with that assumption.

Someone I respect voted for Trump. He said he's been watching the presidents parade through office, red blue red red blue blue red, all establishment politicians, and none of them did anything to affect the growing income gap, not in his whole lifetime. "One thing he said struck me. He said 'how much worse can it get?'" 

Any of us who paid attention to our history books is probably thinking "a whole lot worse, for a whole lot of people." I said as much. "We're about to find out, aren't we?" 

I felt a lot of anger towards him, but I was also humbled in that anger. This is a good man, my husband's surrogate father of sorts, kind and generous-hearted. He's Mexican-American,  supports gay rights and wants to help refugees. He was desperate. Trump is the Terrifying Big Red Button version of Bernie Sanders. Don't forget about this man when you tell me you can't possibly have anything in common with Trump supporters.

I abhor just about everything Trump stands for except one thing.

Redemption for rural America. I support him in that.

I mean, don't you?

I don't support it MORE than relief and aid for people of color, not in this country or any other. I also don't support it less, or see how anyone can justify that. Because some poor white people in rural America are bigots, all of them deserve to suffer? Keep in mind that they were raised into this. Keep in mind you're talking about heroin and meth addiction, suicide, and the loss of everything they know. 

What's the plan? Hate them into loving better?

This is why we can't all just get along. Because instead of looking for excuses to love each other, we look for reasons why we don't have to. It's because even though nearly every ethical tradition in the world has some version or other of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," nearly every tradition in the world also has a big old asterisk and a list of exceptions, a "be as big of an * as you want to these folks" loophole.

You Are Not a Good Person

It's true. You're not. See my other post. You are a person who is capable of some good actions and some bad ones. The good ones don't negate the bad ones. The point of the good ones is not to offset the bad ones.

You're not a good person, so it's important that you keep working on yourself. It's also important that you stop waiting to love yourself. Until what? You're not a good person--and you never will be. You're not a bad person, either. Love yourself now. Practice making space now for people to be exactly who they are. Same way you do for children. 

We are all luminous beings deserving of everything good in the universe. We can never love each other as much as we deserve. Every single one of us needs to train ourselves out of using the people around us as punching bags because we're angry about the state of the world!

I know it's hard to do. It's hard to even recognize. What the pundits have essentially gotten us to do is identify people who are different than us in certain ways as The Problem, instantly turn over the controls to our instinctual need to defend our home and family whenever The Problem is around, which means we then taunt, avoid, or attack The Problem.

It doesn't matter what certain individuals from the other side say or do, it doesn't justify attacking the entire group. It doesn't matter how stupid or evil someone sounds...spreading hatred is not scoring points for humanity, so take a deep breath and resist the will of the oligarchs.

On that note, can we please stop showing loyalty by supporting one another's bad behavior towards opposing tribes and randos? As fun and satisfying as that can be, it's so so important at this juncture that we put our energy into building relationships and trust, not destroying them.

I'm not saying it's not perfectly within your rights to get angry, to rant, to rave. Sometimes you need to do it. I'm just saying, don't kid yourself that you're making the world better. Don't lean in. Because the evidence is in: you're not. Bad behavior thrives under mockery and scrutiny. Hatred is emboldened when it is returned with hatred.

The Real Problem

The best way to interrupt the pattern of destruction that's been programmed into us is to fully recognize what's happening as we begin to sink into the rage. We've been brainwashed like Derek Zoolander to think that we're saving the world by spreading hatred--as long as we direct that hatred against the right people.

We've been trained, exactly as they have, to exhaust our fight on people who have just as much motive as we do to dismantle the current system. 

When the rage sets in, think "this person is not The Problem, save it for the problems."

Fight to the Death Love to the Life

In a healthy relationship, you love a person for exactly who they are, flaws and all. You try not to take it personally when they lash out against you, accidentally hurt you or misunderstand you. You also don't let them get away with abusing you. You find a balance between self-preservation and generosity. In this way you hold space for their journey. 

(Once again, I am not advocating for victims to show more love to their attackers. This applies only to the many who disagree with you, but have yet to hurt you directly in any way.)

My mother-in-law and I don't see eye to eye on everything. We don't always like the way the other one treats us. Sometimes she wants me to support her by doing things that imply support for ideas I don't agree with (like the idea that dressing up inis an important way to show respect for others). She feels very disrespected by how informal I am sometimes, like the time I let the dog lick my plate at dinner, and put it back on the table. The seeming triviality of these things belies the actual threat they pose to the two of us having a meaningful relationship. We both have to relax when it comes to certain things, and pay more attention to others. It's a lot of emotional work! And, as tends to be the case, the work is partly what makes it so rewarding.

We all know how to get with people who don't see the world the way we do. Or at least, we used to. It's entirely possible! 

Here are some tips:

When it comes to those volatile matters of difference, prioritize civility over all else. 

Give one another the benefit of the doubt in every way possible, and trust that the same is being done for you. 

Focus on the positive. No matter how heinous someone's beliefs, they continue to be a nuanced being full of bright and dark moments, with people, things, animals they love, moments of beauty, etc. 

Treat the worst moments or traits or beliefs as personal challenges the other person will one day surmount, storms that will one day pass over, phases that they will grow out of. 

And in the meantime, hold space. This is vital. Sometimes we can't actively feel love towards someone. Sometimes we feel an urge to actively withdraw our love. This is a misguided urge. We can love someone without agreeing with them. Loving them does not mean supporting everything they stand for. 

It means believing in redemption, for everyone, and desiring it for everyone--stubbornly, eternally, optimistically, faithfully, irrepressibly.

Seeing the light in them no matter what the surface is manifesting in the moment. Caring what happens to them no matter what the surface is manifesting. It means understanding deep down that every single spark of sentience on this planet is just a version of you that came up through the dark differently.

Or forget the mamby-pamby hippie kumbayah side of it. Do it because it's the most strategic way to save humanity. Do it because everything else we've tried has only gotten us deeper and deeper into this mess. Do what you can, only what you can, but everything you can.

Love imperfection. Love imperfectly. Love now.

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