The world works in mysterious ways. As Donald Trump went from being seen as a comical figure that could never be taken seriously by the Republican Party to a serious threat to our democracy, I became increasingly afraid for my family and our collective future. In May, I wrote an article, “The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Be Our Next President” and another one just before the election, “Waking Up From the Nightmare: Why America Will Come Together After Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump Is Elected President.”
I felt there were larger forces playing out in the world, including out-of-control change and complexity that contributed to our fears and our subconscious desire for a dominant male figure who we imagined would protect us from “them.” When we can’t seem to address our real problems like global climate change, the destruction of our life support system including clean water, and extreme economics that make a few very rich and the majority increasingly poor, we look for scapegoats.
Donald Trump gave us a number of “bad guy” scapegoats he told us he would fight against including:
- The political establishment
- The media
- The Mexicans
- The Muslims
- The Chinese
More than a few of us bought into the fear. Now we all have a chance to keep the fear going and find our own scapegoats, or we can begin a different kind of practice that can reduce the fear that is at the root of the violent mentality that has brought Donald Trump into power.
While attending a healing ceremony and tribute to a close friend who was murdered on Thanksgiving, my heart was sad and I felt the horror of violence that seems to be so prevalent in the world today. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, I chanced to read an article by David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, teacher, and author. What he said, moved me deeply. He offers a perspective and some specific practices that I intend to put into my life today.
He says, “Imagine a country whose citizens—maybe even its leaders—are brave, calm, and open toward each other, a country whose people realize that all human beings belong together as one family and must act accordingly, a country guided by Common Sense.”
I thought to myself, “Yeah, nice sentiments, but not likely to occur anytime soon under a Trump administration. “Things fall apart,” says the poet W. B. Yeats succinctly. A “blood-dimmed tide” is loosed upon the world, and in the face of this tide of violence “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Yet, Stendl-Rast sees an opportunity for each of us during these difficult times, a gift that we have to offer the world. “It is the opportunity to wake up—wake up to the madness of violence and counter-violence.” As I thought about my dead friend who had been murdered, I couldn’t help feeling the counter-violence welling up in me. But that’s exactly what we need to feel, address, and deal with in a different way than fighting violence with more violence.
“For far too long we were able to ignore the vicious circle of violence against violence—international or domestic, our own or that of others,” says Stendl-Rast. “Let us face it: the supreme danger is violence—regardless of who commits it, terrorists or legitimate governments. No rhetoric, no posturing can any longer obscure the fact that violence breeds violence. We must break the cycle of violence.”
He recognizes that just as we each carry violence in our hearts and we can all have a change of heart. That resonated with me. I felt my anxiety and depression begin to lift as I read his words of hope. “Here in my heart I can turn fear into courageous trust, agitation into stillness, confusion into clarity, isolation into a sense of belonging, alienation into love, and irrational reaction into Common Sense.”
He tells us that we must each find our own practices, but offers these five small gestures of gratitude to counteract violence.
1. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.
All gratitude expresses trust. Suspicion will not even recognize a gift as a gift: who can prove that it isn’t a lure, a bribe, a trap? Gratefulness has the courage to trust and so overcomes fear. The very air has been electrified by fearfulness these days, a fearfulness fostered and manipulated by politicians and the media.
There lies our greatest danger: fear perpetuates violence. Mobilize the courage of your heart. Say one word today that will give a fearful person courage.
2. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear.
Because gratitude expresses courage, it spreads calm. Calm of this kind is quite compatible with deep emotions. In fact, mass hysteria fostered by the media betrays a morbid curiosity rather than deep feeling—superficial agitation rather than a deep current of compassion. The truly compassionate ones are calm and strong. Make a firm resolution never to repeat stories and rumors that spread fear. From the stillness of your heart’s core reach out. Be calm and spread calm.
3. Make contact with people whom you normally ignore.
When we are grateful, your heart is open—open toward others, open for surprise. When disasters hit we often see remarkable examples of this openness: strangers helping strangers sometimes in heroic ways. Others turn away, isolate themselves, and dare even less than at other times to look at each other. Violence begins with isolation. Break this pattern.
Make contact with people whom you normally ignore—eye contact at least—with the cashier at the supermarket, someone on the elevator, or a beggar. Look a stranger in the eyes today and realize that there are no strangers.
4. Give someone an unexpected smile today.
You can feel either grateful or alienated, but never both at the same time. Gratefulness drives out alienation; there is not room for both in the same heart. When you are grateful you know that you belong to a network of give-and-take, and you say “yes” to that belonging. This “yes” is the essence of love. You need no words to express it; a smile will do to put your “yes” into action. Don’t let it matter to you whether or not the other one smiles back. Give someone an unexpected smile today and so contribute your share to peace on earth.
5. Listen to the news today, and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.
Gratefulness boosts your sense of belonging; your sense of belonging in turn boosts your Common Sense—not the conventional mindset which we often confuse with it. The Common Sense that springs from gratefulness is incompatible with a set mind. It is just another name for thinking wedded to cosmic intelligence.
Your “yes” to belonging attunes you to the common concerns shared by all human beings—all beings for that matter. In a world we hold in common, nothing else makes sense but Common Sense. We have only one enemy: our common enemy is violence. Common Sense tells us we can stop violence only by ceasing to act violently; war is no way to peace. Listen to the news today, and put at least one item to the test of Common Sense.
These may seem like small steps, but they work and they are things we can all do. They don’t replace taking action in the world. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, were never passive in their commitment to making a better world, but they did it with love, compassion, and non-violence. That’s why we honor their work and the changes they brought about will last forever. I look forward to your comments, ideas, and suggestions.
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