In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States of America, there has been a lot of soul-searching and self-examination going on.
I approve of soul-searching and self-examination. But, if we think we are ever going to come to a definitive understanding of the forces – political, social, cultural, historical, economic, psychological, and perhaps even spiritual – that brought us to this place, we are deluded.
I am losing interest in the “How could this have happened?” question. The “What happened?” question is losing energy. It will take decades, to begin to see 8 November 2016 in any kind of realistic perspective. Even then, it will never be entirely comprehensible.
Increasingly, the question that interests me is the question, “What now?” Not, “What is going to happen now?” Who could possibly know the answer to that? This is uncharted territory. No. More interesting is the question, “What do I do now?” “How am I called to live in this new reality?”
In a remarkable essay posted on his website Charles Eisenstein describes the current conundrum well:
We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. It may seem that the world is falling apart…. At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy.
He goes on to issue a stern warning:
The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins….Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.
Later in his essay he describes in more detail the shift he sees:
We as a society are entering a space between stories, in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right, and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths (Putin!), wandering aimlessly from “doctrine” to “doctrine” – and they have no idea what to do. Their haplessness and half-heartedness was plain to see in this election, their disbelief in their own propaganda, their cynicism. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, you know its days are numbered. It is a shell with no engine, running on habit and momentum.
So what is called for in this “space between stories”? How are we live in this liminal space where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain?
as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble.
What might be this “different kind of force”?
I would call it love….
Sadly, in our cynical, spiritual-averse age, the word “love” is suspect and embarrassing. Eisenstein would use the word “love”
….if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics?
But he does have a useful alternative:
let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.
Then, unable to put aside the word love, he asks what it would take
to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?
In the most practical and for some immediate terms, this may mean, being willing to truly ask yourself,
“What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person.
Even if the person you face IS a misogynist or bigot, ask, “Is this who they are, really?” Ask what confluence of circumstances, social, economic, and biographical, may have brought them there. You may still not know how to engage them, but at least you will not be on the warpath automatically. We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. So let’s stop making our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.
We’ve got to stop acting out hate. I see no less of it in the liberal media than I do in the right-wing. It is just better disguised, hiding beneath pseudo-psychological epithets and dehumanizing ideological labels.Exercising it, we create more of it.
In an attempt to plumb the depths of “What is beneath the hate?” Eisenstein reports
My acupuncturist Sarah Fields wrote to me, “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”
I think the pain beneath is fundamentally the same pain that animates misogyny and racism – hate in a different form. Please stop thinking you are better than these people! We are all victims of the same world-dominating machine, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. Something hurts in there. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood, and so much more…. Something hurts in there. Can you feel it? We are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.
I share Eisenstein’s conviction that deep pain is at the root of political dysfunction and that the only hope of a way forward is to bear our common pain and allow it to break our hearts open to true compassion.