Love in the Time of Crankiness. Part Two.November 4, 2016 | 10 Comments
In a recent post, I wrote about my choice to respond to hateful comments even though the general consensus is to delete. Go back and read it if you like, but you don’t have to. Here are some additional thoughts on how one might go about doing this without creating more insanity.
What usually happens is this: You yell at me, I yell back. You accuse me of this, I accuse you of that. It is circular and unending. No good can come of trading insults, no matter how pithy or righteous or cleverly phrased. (One of the most striking things about the current horrible, depressing, terrifying dialog in the US around the Presidential election is that everyone is saying the same exact thing. Each side thinks the other is idiotic or worse. Each side accuses the other of plotting destruction of the world as we know it. Each side has “proof” and each side wishes that the other side would just go away. The only thing that changes is the preferred candidate’s name.)
This will never work. Trying to beat each other will fail. Violence begets violence. In the current election cycle here in the US, the problem is not whether we agree or disagree on certain positions or values. The problem is that we hate and distrust each other. I don’t want to contribute to that. However, I am not going to be all nicey-nice when someone promotes racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, and violence. This must be stopped.
There has to be a way to do so that does not create more racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, and violence.
I believe that there is, but it is very dicey. It takes a lot of precision of mind when the effort is not to defeat but to defuse. It is very, very hard to avoid getting lost in anger–but so-called negativity will never be resolved by piling on more negativity. Rather, the energy could be transmuted.
In Buddhist thought, there are four actions that transmute energy. They are called the four karmas and they are to pacify; to enrich; to magnetize, and to destroy.
To pacify, listen. To hear beyond what you fear is a very high art. However, it is the gate. Study what is actually said and, here is the key, separate it from how it makes you feel. Respond to what you hear, not to what you feel about what you hear.
The writer Catherine MacCoun defines listening as “when you stop thinking your thoughts and start thinking mine.” This is a frightening thing to do because we believe that our opinions and judgments provide some sort of refuge. The more frightened we are, the more calcified our thinking becomes and the less we can hear. When our fear is entirely out of control, all we see are threats to be decimated. This is very dangerous. Listening, however, is pacifying, if only a tiny bit. I’m sure you have experienced this; you feel enraged, hurt, what have you, and plot and scheme what you will say in your defense. You prime for battle. However, if someone simply hears you out, you might actually calm down.
To enrich, offer. With a bit of pacification, you stand the chance of offering something intelligent rather than reactive. The most enriching offering is always this: it is your attention. Remain open. Actually take the other person in, not to affirm or even to understand, but to remain connected. Once that connection is lost, pretty much all is lost. When it is present, all things are possible. This too requires a lot of precision of mind.
To magnetize, wait. That is all. See what arises in the gap following pacification and enrichment and then respond to that rather than what you imagine may arise or hammering your point over and over.
To destroy, let go. What do we let go of when there is so much that we need to fight against? The Buddhist practice of loving-kindness provides some clues.
Loving-kindness has nothing to do with feeling all snuggly and warm even when someone is a complete asshole promoting the destruction of Democracy as a power-grab. Of course not. You can be enraged, opposed, and even hate. (People hate it when I say this. “It’s wrong to hate! You should never say hate!” they say, as if mere utterance of the world could cast an evil spell. But I am a human being and sometimes I feel hate. I am not proud of this.)
There is only one thing that you cannot do and you cannot do it under any circumstance: You cannot imagine that you are any different than the person you hate. Seriously. Of course you’re not going to paint yourself orange and destroy our country with your narcissism and sociopathy/lie about emails and have a weird foundation. I am not saying that at all. But, riddle me this: Have you ever lied to get your way? Have you ever taken something that was not yours? Have you ever ignored the consequences of your actions for selfish purposes? Have you ever hidden the truth because it might get you in trouble? Have you ever knowingly done something to hurt someone else? I have done all these things. While the degree and scale are vastly, unspeakably different, you (and I, of course) are actually capable of what you (and I) purport to despise. We are made of the same material as those we hate. If we had been subject to the same causes and conditions, we might have turned out the same. This is not a cure-all, obviously. But it is a start.
The slightest softening of “us and them” into “us with a scary lunatic in our midst” actually helps. So, the first thing to let go of is your unwillingness to acknowledge a fellow being as a fellow being who may also be an enemy. (Whenever I promote such a view, by the way, people get very mad at me. I am accused of naively promoting wussery or some kind of kumbaya asshat-ery. I most certainly am not. What takes more courage: Leaving a nasty comment on someone’s twitter feed or entering into a genuine dialog with someone who terrifies you?)
The exception is people who promote outright violence or are in the grip of psychopathy. There is no point in discussion and anything you say in response, believe me, anything, will throw another log on the fire of hatred. It will harm them in addition to yourself. In this case, cut. Just cut the connection. Turn away. But as you do, make some kind of aspiration, prayer, hope, plea, whatever you normally do when you feel helpless, that this violence could be liberated into peace.
Just as it is primed for dehumanization, the internet is also primed for intimacy. Each interaction is one-to-one. We are looking directly at each other. So that is very hopeful. If you want to engage on such a basis, even with people who drive you crazy, you could do a lot of good. In the meantime, stay beautiful. I love you or at least I’m trying to.