Thanksgiving 2018. A holiday founded on colonialism and genocide, repurposed to allow gratitude and connection – with family, community, and all life. As I turn the compost pile in the front yard, a neighbor walks to her car beneath a sunny Seattle morning sky with double rainbows. “Happy Thanksgiving Jordan”. Returning the perfunctory greeting, I am aware of the deep inner conflict and discomfort at any hint of celebration over a holiday which – for some – symbolizes the beginning of a centuries long European assault upon indigenous peoples in America, which continues to this day.
It has become a truism that we live in a time of deep divisions and polarization in society. On the one hand, if we say something that pushes someone beyond their ideological comfort zone, we can be accused of being stuck in identity politics or starting a conflict at the family dinner table. On the other hand, if we fail to acknowledge the racial, social, economic, and many other kinds of injustices – which are everywhere – we risk our ethical integrity as interdependent beings on a path of truth and justice. How do we respond to the tension? How do we say the right thing which connects with others where they are at, while remaining true to our own values? There are no pat formulas; it depends upon our relationship with that person, and our own nimbleness at negotiating the ever-changing interpersonal terrain.
I’ve forgotten much of the rote memorized information from acupuncture school twenty plus years ago, but two key points are with me every day:
1. The most important aspect of any healing relationship (with myself or another), is cultivating a positive intention.
2. Healing is a journey. How do I help (myself or another) take the next step on the path. Where can we connect? What can we agree on?
Perhaps this is a good starting point: All sentient beings are basically the same. We all want happiness and seek to avoid suffering.
Counter argument: But you don’t understand me! You are living in denial! Your white privilege and spiritual elitism is blinding you to the oppression that brown and black skin people face every day!
As a white person with economic, racial, and other forms of privilege, I can’t deny my blind spots, my inability to walk a day in the tattered sandals of a Honduran mother walking north with her children, hungry, thirsty, tired, and hoping for a better life. I can only imagine the frustration and anger that disenfranchised black voters in Georgia feel when Governor elect Brian Kemp, a white politician oversaw his own election as then Secretary of State, giving him an unfair advantage over Stacey Abrams (black and female).
I can’t deny my many forms of privilege, or my responsibility – as a white person – to use my privilege as a force of good, being willing to speak out, bear witness, to move the boulders off the road of life so that all can pass unhindered, to be a change agent, working to educate others, to wake up others and right the wrongs.
However, if you can’t be at peace within yourself, if you neglect the basic connection you share with every living being on this planet – even those you don’t agree with or get along with – how effective do you think your social activism can be? If you live in a constant state of anger and hostility, letting these emotions burn out of control in your own heart, does that better enable you to connect with others, or even allow you to sleep at night?
Trump has justifiably been accused of dividing the country, of exploiting our differences in order to achieve his own short sighted, ego-centered desires for power, wealth, and a deluded sense of self-importance. The mere mention of his name may provoke irritation or even outrage. But whose responsibility is that? Someone once asked the Dalai Lama if he held anger towards the Chinese. His response: “They’ve taken everything from us, why should I let them take my mind as well.”
The disagreeable person, the one who pushes our emotional hot buttons, who tests our patience – he is considered most kind in Buddhist philosophy. Without him, we couldn’t develop patience, which is essential to being of benefit in this world.
The situation is urgent on one level. Climate change is out of control. Autocratic leaders increasingly act with seeming impunity. Human existence on the planet is at the edge of a precipice, with many theorists predicting our extinction within a generation or two. We don’t like to think about these things, but for those of us with kids or grand kids, and anyone with a conscience (which is all of us really) it is our responsibility.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I remain hopeful. It’s the only emotional response that makes sense really. This situation will continue to change, as it always has, and my own actions and state of mind has a powerful influence on my own and others peace and well being.