Just a heads up that this is not going to be a normal post. I honestly just need to rant, and writing privately for myself is not doing it for me right now. I have woken up every day since the 8th angry and deeply, deeply worried. Even hearing people managing to go on with their days sends me into a personal fury, and I am still at a loss of how to move on without rage.
I’ve heard the whole, “This is how the other side felt when Obama won.” Well, here’s the thing about that. My fear is based in the idea that people (including myself) will lose their rights. Fear of Obama was based in racism. Even if people were unaware of this deep-seated bias, all their vocalized fears can be traced back to the fact that a portion of the country does not trust a non-white man to make intelligent and caring decisions.
I’m currently struggling with the difference between intent and impact. I have always been a blind believer that intent is by far the most important thing, and that we must find a way to have ultimate compassion for those who act with the intention of genuinely doing good for themselves and those around them. But the past ten days have truly made me realize that choosing not to recognize our impact hurts others, and for this, I am losing patience. As someone who has studied Buddhism inside my bubble of suburban peace, I am lost on how to build the discipline to have empathy for those who could threaten the lives of literally millions of people around the world.
As usual though, my Buddhist studies are helping me work through the pile of garbage that has been the past two weeks. First off, let’s talk about:
Ignorance and fixation on strength. One of our largest challenges as human beings is seeing the world without lenses and biases. It has become our nature in the Western world to believe there are only two sides of things, right and wrong, good and evil, democratic and republican. We often ignore balance and, strangely enough, see the idea of balance as weak. And heaven forbid if anyone calls us weak! It’s like we’re a country of Biffs from Back to the Future, waiting for someone to call us yellow so we can unleash our wrath of Facebook vitriol to prove them wrong and show the world how strong we are.
We’ve only just passed Mental Health Awareness week, and already we are judging ways that people are choosing to cope with this legitimately frightening occurrence. As someone who has spent large amounts of energy and many years managing my anxiety, I recognize projection. When someone online calls another person weak or whiny, it’s because they are not at peace with their own confidence and mental wellness.
Anyway, lenses. I have them, you have them, the Dalai Lama has them. If we didn’t, we’d all be perfect, enlightened beings and wouldn’t need to be on earth anymore. These lenses fog up and misdirect ideas and information around us. The issue has become so extreme that false news stories are actually shifting the results of world-altering decisions. Our job in the coming months is to remove these lenses, and to challenge others to remove theirs. We should not give others our lenses, but instead, actively seek out the truth–actively seek out what we would still see if we were wearing neither side’s biases.
Obsession with Winning. We have been taught, through our myths and fairy tales, through our religions, through our schools, through our superhero movies, that good wins and evil loses. The whole week, all I’ve seen is “You’ve lost, get over it.” It comes from this mindset that the world through their biased lens has prevailed, and that peace and certainty will be restored to their unstable lives. “Before” was bad, and “now” is good. They chose their hero, ignored any words against his qualifications to be a hero, and fought for his victory. Now that they believe they have “won,” they are confused by those around them looking outside of winning and losing. They think we’re upset about losing a race, they think we wanted the trophy. No, we don’t want the trophy, we want everyone to have the freedom to safely live their damn lives. We want everyone to feel supported by our country’s system and to feel equal to someone they pass in the street. Because, guess what? We are equal, we just aren’t treated as so. It’s not about winning, it’s simply about living and having the option to work and thrive.
Levels of Awareness. When you’re driving in your car and someone cuts you off, what’s your first response? I flail my arms and usually scream something like, “What is wrong with you?” I see others do it all over town. I am, quite literally, seeing the world in my small bubble of awareness. I am protected there. I then get to work and talk to my coworkers, talk to my husband online, and occasionally hear from my family and college friends through email or on the phone. This is my medium bubble of awareness, and I want to protect this bubble. Both Bubble One and Bubble Two feels within my control. For some people, this is where their world ends. They only have these two sections, and seeing outside of this world feels daunting and confusing.
Then there’s Bubble Three: everyone else, both in time and space. People from America both now and 100 years ago, people from Australia, from Pakistan, etc. You get the idea: not you and not your personal circle. This circle most likely will not come to you, you have to go there yourself. For me, I read constantly, if I’m busy, there are audiobooks. I listen to podcasts, I read blogs, I read articles across political lines, across country lines. I don’t get locked into one job for too many years at a time. I work in theatre–a job that constantly pushes you outside both small levels of awareness. I study religions other than the one I was raised on. And hey! I am not wealthy. I am also not an Ivy-League educated person. I do have extreme, extreme privilege, however, and I recognize that. I am also still incredibly ignorant to so many things. But, these are my weapons against staying safe inside my small levels of protected awareness.
When the bubble breaks. I always felt a little different from my childhood friends because I was forced to see the outside world when I was very young. It was obvious to me the moment my house was broke into that my small level of awareness was not all that existed. Illness can also be something that breaks this myth. On the other side of the spectrum, really amazing surprises like winning the lottery or getting hired for an incredible job can break this bubble as well. They are all reminders that you are part of a larger world. But without an occurrence like this, or without the push to seek out the environment outside yourself, what happens to someone?
It’s sadly clear that many people choose to only protect and defend their space, oppose to reaching out and learning about the greater world. They build walls, they buy guns, they erect a fortress of fearful beliefs. They keep themselves locked in a tower. Now suddenly, all these tower dwellers have felt that they’ve won, that their tower will be protected. No one is going to force them to look outside their bubble anymore. Hooray! What these people don’t realize, is that by hiding, they are perpetuating the idea that those without the privilege of a protective bubble will be stripped of their rights as citizens.
But tower dwellers are not just rustbelt Republicans. When I get really low, my bubble shrinks. I often literally feel like the space around me is getting smaller. I lose motivation to read, to reach out, to find new career opportunities. I want to hide inside my personal space and protect myself from anything that will challenge me to come out of it. I develop what, psychologically, is known as learned helplessness. I begin to accept that I will always be in my small bubble, and nothing will bring me out of it.
This is what I see when someone tells me they are unwilling to see outside their own views. I see the pattern of learned helplessness–the acceptance that what they know is all they can ever know. Their small bubble is protective and perfect and strong, and the large bubble of the world only wants to threaten that, to destroy it.
But this week, I am watching their fear, and using it to become more aware of my own. I am not helpless, and neither are you. This past week has allowed me to feel justified in my anger, in my fight. I got over my fear of writing to representatives and electors, I got over my fear of defending my choices online. I got over the fear of reaching out to friends with opposing views and trying to gently start a difficult conversation. And I am so uncomfortable. I feel terrible. And you know what? Good. It’s really good I feel terrible. If I didn’t, I would still be going on long walks and thinking lofty thoughts about my plans for next summer. I would still be assuming that Obama’s beautiful presidency had actually calmed the racist fears of many Americans too afraid to see their weaknesses.
I’d rather feel terrible now than later find out I had spent my life living in ignorance.