Last March I wrote a piece questioning whether perception is reality, as some have stated quite persuasively. I argued that it is not, and presented my rationale for being courageous enough to face our own (mis-)perceptions and the way we tend to cling furiously to them even if there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
Over the past year I tried valiantly to convince myself that once the election was over, despite who ultimately won the increasingly disgusting battle, somehow our country could refocus and come together to face the future with some sense that we are all in this fragile boat together and if it goes down, most all of us will drown. I watched the inauguration, fervently hoping that Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion, realize that he bears a sacred responsibility, and not act as if the presidency is a CEO position at one of his corporations and he can make unilateral decisions because he doesn’t have to answer to anyone.
Several weeks later, I am forced to admit that this hasn’t happened and, if anything, has only gotten worse. I apologize. I was wrong. Perception clearly is reality in this new political world. Or perhaps, more accurately, it is that reality doesn’t matter any more. Perception is everything and the only perception that counts is Mr. Trump’s.
I do not support most of the actions of the Republican administration so far and am disheartened and worried about the consequences for many Americans (including most of those who voted for them). But I am also disheartened by much of the criticism that has flooded social media. Not the opinions expressed in the endless flow of comments. Not the satire on SNL or The Daily Show or the creative t-shirts and signs, even when they strike me as vulgar or inappropriate. Free speech is a sacred right of all Americans, even those with whom I disagree.
But I am saddened by the vicious name calling and personal attacks that often serve as “dialogue” or “conversation” on social media. And surprisingly I find myself most disheartened and saddened when it is done by those who disagree with the current administration. Not that I give a pass to Trump supporters. (I don’t like to use labels, but cannot figure out how to say the following without using them. So please give me a pass on the next few sentences.) While I know that many on the “Right” are racist or sexist, I also believe that many more are scared and frustrated, unsure of how to navigate this increasingly complex world, and feeling they have been left out of the national conversation, especially by the “Left.” Unfortunately, I have often been guilty of thinking of “Conservatives” as ignorant, arrogant, anti-everything good and right and sacred. Probably many of them are. But many “Liberals” are also; it’s just that the people we consider ignorant, arrogant and anti-everything are different.
Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit organization. For a period of time low-risk prisoners came once a week to work as part of their court-ordered community service. This involved a large bus (with clear markings on the side that identified where these men were coming from) that passed by neighboring homes. One of these neighbors called to ask what was going on and why a prison bus was passing his house once a week. After one of the staff spoke with him, she was muttering about him in an unflattering way, and indicating there was something amiss about his concern. When I asked her why she couldn’t understand his position, she replied “Because HE doesn’t have any problems.” This is a blindness that is unacceptable, particularly from those who consider themselves more enlightened and progressive. If someone fears for his safety or the safety and well-being of his family and home he does have a problem (even if that fear is unfounded).
When “We the People” engage in harmful dialogue with each other, resort to calling each other names, and act in the same way as those we criticize, we have already lost the battle. We need to speak truth to power and to each other. We must stand against injustice, whoever is the target, but do it in a way that strengthens our national fabric. One of the reasons, I think, that non-violent movements and their leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and, yes, Jesus) are so compelling is that they refuse to engage in the same vicious behavior (which includes speech) that characterizes those they oppose. Instead, they live their values, even at the cost of their lives.
By spending our energy demonizing and fighting each other, we are unable to recognize any common ground and work toward solutions that benefit all of us. That allows our leaders to use their positions for personal gain and glorification and ultimately destroy what actually makes this country great.