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
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.