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Three essential responses to Trump that will change the world (or at least your part of it)

Charlottesville snapped something inside me.

It wasn’t just the faces of those white guys carrying torches that were young enough to have sat inside one of my classrooms. It wasn’t just the video of a man driving his car into protestors where a girl almost the same age as my daughter was killed. It was that plus the grotesque response of the man who occupies the White House.

Since the attack, he’s refused to condemn white supremacists and Neo Nazis. And just in case we thought this was an outlier, he took action. To show how much he refuses moral leadership, Trump used the distraction of a hurricane to pardon the criminally racist sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The whole season of his presidency has filled me with daily dread and personal poison. I spend too much time bent like Gollum over my precious Twitter, muttering apocalyptic curses with each new belch from Trump’s id.

That’s not good for me or you or anyone. Trump’s certainly unaware of how much his tweets upset me, so my anger is largely just a matter of me making myself miserable. And if that’s the case, what if I allowed his words to act as a kind of immune response where I marshaled the opposite words in my mind?

For example, for every tweet threatening to deport or ban someone, those threats instead create their opposites in my brain: lovingkindness meditation or prayers sent to those very people. Once in my mind, the sickly words continue to spur action, prompting me to empathize with those he paints as “other” rather than fear them. A pathogen, once it invades the body, becomes nothing but a snack for our T Cells and lymphocytes, so why not let his exclusionary rhetoric become food for my compassion?

Or think of these outbursts as a form of energy that can be redirected like spiritual aikido, where an attack is harmlessly redirected into donations for charities aiding refugees, transgender people, or women’s causes. Or maybe registering voters. In world religions, this kind of thinking is presented as the golden rule; in philosophy, as the categorical imperative to act in a way that you wish the world to become.

Much like Bizarro, a parallel world where everything in Superman’s life is inverted and nonsensical, Trump seems determined to do whatever is the opposite action from Obama. And like Bizarro, the fictional world spun by Trump and his media enablers doesn’t exist, but seems plausible enough that it should cause me to question my own values.

The worst way to respond is like the recent behavior of so-called “antifa” who violently clashed with Trump supporters in Berkeley. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, both Gandhi and Dr. King believed. Similarly, an insult for an insult makes society sicker.

What if we allowed his words, the words of his supporters, and the actions of his enablers to function as a mindfulness bell or church chimes? As a call to action that asks us to be peace for each other?

Think about the times someone was kind to you—or me that’s been as simple as receiving coffee that someone ahead of me in line paid for, or as grand as the gift of getting my father for a few more years that came as a result of nameless people donating blood.

You have your own personal models, I’m sure, but here are three actions you can begin right now.

Be radically kind

And by that I don’t mean simply “nice,” but spiritually generous, compassionately considerate—some great ideas here, here, and here.

Be curious about each other

Assume nothing about the people around you. Ask authentic questions. Check in. Ralph Waldo Emerson has a quote about that I’ve always boiled down for my simple brain as: Everyone knows something you don’t—find out what that is, learn from them.

Take a brave action outside your comfort zone

Life doesn’t get easier, but you get better at it the more you challenge yourself. So promise yourself you’ll feel the fear and take action anyway. I’m reminded of this by a recent example from my colleague Donalyn Miller who, in a recent Facebook post, wrote about how she decided to talk back to a man verbally polluting the limited oxygen inside an airplane by loudly defending Confederate monuments.

She did it. She said, “so other white people will see what needs to be done.”

When we know better, as Maya Angelou said, we can do better. Let’s you and I start making some light and push back.


Shanna's post is part of CTQ's blogging roundtable on equity and social justice in education. Join the discussion by commenting on this blog and checking out the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to chime in on social media. 

 

6 Comments

Carl Draeger commented on September 15, 2017 at 12:25pm:

Truth: Love always wins.

The truth is that some of our students and their parents are Trump supporters. Even some of our peers. You’re so spot on that it is our compassion which must lead and not our initial disgust. I’m honored to be in the same profession as you.

Justin Minkel commented on September 17, 2017 at 7:04pm:

"It doesn't have to be worth the dying."

Shanna,

I became a teacher, in large part, because when I was in high school a friend of mine was assaulted. It caused an anger in me about violence against women that I realized I could either channel toward something constructive or would eat away at me until I punched the next guy to make a sexist comment. I ended up working with children at a battered women's shelter and saw how fast and deep the changes in young children could be once they were in a safe environment. Little boys in the playroom who punched the Barbies and pulled their hair on the first day were gently brushing their hair by their third day at the shelter.

So I love your notion that something good can come from ugliness that the ugliness never intended. It doesn't mean that it was worth my friend being attacked so that I could become a teacher. It doesn't mean that this era of racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant sentiment will ever have been worth the toll it is taking every day on our nation, under a man not fit for human society, let alone the Presidency. But that good can come. It reminds me of the last three stanzas of the Miller Williams poem Let Me Tell You on how to be a writer in the world:

Let me tell you

how to do it from the beginning.

First notice everything:The stain on the wallpaperof the vacant house,the mothball smell of aGreyhound toilet.Miss nothing. Memorize it.You cannot twist the fact you do not know.

RememberThe blond girl you saw in the bar.Put a scar on her breast.Say she left home to get away from her father.Invent whatever will support your line.Leave out the rest.

Use metaphors: the mayor is a pigis a metaphorwhich is not to suggestit is not a fact.Which is irrelevant.Nothing is less importantthan a fact.

Be suspicious of any word you learnedand were proud of learning.It will go bad.It will fall off the page.

When your father liesin the last lightand your mother cries for him,listen to the sound of her crying.When your father diestake notessomewhere inside.

If there is a heavenhe will forgive youif the line you found was a good line.

It does not have to be worth the dying.

Lori Nazareno commented on September 18, 2017 at 11:22am:

Only light can cast out darkness

I love the concept of shifting negative energy into positive action "like a mindfulness bell." While it is not an easy thing to do, I do know that millions of small actions like this is what is going to change things. These times, while wuper challenging, are a wonderful opportunity to wake up, look in the mirror, and do something about what we see. But we can't do this by perpetuating the us vs. them narrative by making "them" wrong.

So, how do we do that? How do we not become what we say we don't like, yet address the inequities and injustice we see?

Tricia Ebner commented on September 18, 2017 at 8:59pm:

The power of kind

I'm going to confess that the past two years have really made me rather cynical about our political system. Something that has bothered me a great deal is the amount of insult-flinging in both directions. I'm used to the mud-slinging; that's almost a hallmark of American political seasons. But there really isn't any respectful, sincere debate and discourse any longer. And that's not likely to change any time soon.

I love the concept of being radically kind. My son's K-4 elementary building had kindness as its theme, in some form, each of his five years in the building. It made an impact. If we can take the negativity, turn away from it, and focus on the kindness, and if we can encourage others to do the same, what changes might we see in our society? (And then when we are curious and take brave action--there's the trifecta!) 

I have faith that we as a country can move forward, grow forward. 

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on September 22, 2017 at 12:29am:

Love everything about this...

Shanna,

Thank you for writing a beautiful and uplifting post. I need to read and reread this in the days to come.

And I want it go more viral than any toxic tweet by you-know-who or the voices of hate and prejudice. I believe that social media, like random acts of kindess, can be used for good - for love, not hate, and to bring peace and positivity.

May your post be reshared, retweeted, liked and favorited beyond our wildest dreams. 

And may random acts of kindess not be so random - but instead become the norm.

Thanks for nudging us to push back.

John Holland commented on October 20, 2017 at 7:47pm:

Patience always wins

Shanna 

I so appreciate your call to action.

What if we allowed his words, the words of his supporters, and the actions of his enablers to function as a mindfulness bell or church chimes? As a call to action that asks us to be peace for each other?

It has helped, a little bit, to pull me back from a dark place. When we hear the daily horror it can turn us against ourselves. Moving forward I will think about your suggestion and try to see if I can take action. Especially action in opposition. 

Carl, 

thanks for your comment about Love always Wins. I have to say I agree and yet have found my belief challenged, worn down, trodden, and scraped thin. When this has happened I turn to two other thoughts. One is the be here now perspective of being present in the moment. The other is time honored wisdom of teachers through the ages.

This too shall pass. I can't tell you how many times I have mentors in education tell me this reform, curriculum, test shall pass. It has proven true again and again. When I adopt the present moment perspective and this nugget of wisdom it provides me pocket of peace. I just want to remember, when this fortune does turn and our country begins to see itself in light again that I don't forget when things are good. If we don't relish the moments of light as well as experience the reality of our place in the world of challenges we can lose hope. We were so happy when the spell of NCLB began to wear off but then we rexperienced the trauma of ill concieved reform through Race to the Top and Common Core and yet, it was still better then than now, as our leader of public schools advocates for privatization. Then again, this too shall pass. Maybe when teachers have found a real place at the table we can end the cycle of passing. Until then patience always wins. 

 

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