Mindful Politics–Wise and Compassionate Action in Turbulent Times
We are living at a political moment that is unprecedented in the lifetimes of almost all of us. A major party candidate (Donald Trump), who has run a campaign based on false claims, manipulation of fear, and scapegoating of vulnerable populations, is one electoral contest away from taking the most powerful office in the world.
The prospect naturally raises profound concern among all who are committed to honesty, decency, and kindness in politics and society. And our fears about how things might unfold in the months ahead can easily trigger responses that create suffering for ourselves—and prevent us from engaging wisely, kindly, and effectively in the political process.
Responding mindfully to the time and challenges we are living through can provide a road map for wise and effective action. The place to begin is with an honest and rigorous acknowledgement of what we are experiencing, free from wishful thinking or clinging to pre-existing beliefs. Here are some considerations that stand out:
- The candidate (Trump), though not a ‘politician’, has been extremely adept at assessing the mood of a significant segment of the population and knowing how to arouse and channel their emotions and energies in support of his candidacy.
- There is real pain, resentment, and a sense of loss (of jobs, income, businesses, and privileges) that is fueling support for the candidate and his proposals (to build a Wall, keep out immigrants, and exclude Muslims from the country; attacking establishment politicians, and vilifying foreign nations, companies, and individuals perceived as competitors or threats). Targeting those who can be portrayed as ‘the other’ has been an effective means of arousing and channeling fears and fueling his candidacy.
- We can’t know the future and the candidate is highly unpredictable, but certain consequences are foreseeable should he become president: scapegoating of individuals and groups; increased conflict and divisions within the U.S and internationally; reverses on steps taken to address climate change; and the potential for a shift towards a more authoritarian form of government. One thing that can be readily expected is that the poorest and most vulnerable individuals and groups will bear the brunt of the candidate’s policies and actions.
- While he is currently viewed negatively by a majority of those polled and the electoral ‘map’ favors the Democrats, his defeat is far from a foregone conclusion: we are living in a very volatile time and the likely Democratic candidate has her own high ‘negatives’ and vulnerabilities.
Responding wisely and appropriately
“We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them in ourselves and others.” (Albert Camus)
It is very easy—particularly when so much is at stake—to respond to fear with fear, to anger with anger, and for our responses to be driven by our pre-existing beliefs, opinions, and unexamined emotions. How do we respond to the unique challenge of preventing a Trump presidency in ways that do not perpetuate division, hatred, and fear, but support healing and the building of a truly inclusive and equitable society?
Here are five practices that I’ve found can support wise and mindful engagement:
- Opening to our emotions: An essential starting-place is to open fully to our emotions and reactions without acting them out or suppressing them. To breathe into our fears, feel them in our body, bring awareness to our thoughts and beliefs, and let them come and go, seeing how everything comes, stays for a time, and then passes—and recognize that when we don’t identify with our emotions and mind states they no longer control us.
- Wise understanding: When our fears are activated, we can default to believing that we need to destroy ‘the other’ in order to defend ourselves and those we care about. But the truth is that to destroy the other is to destroy a part of ourselves, as ‘they’ are a part of who we are. We can follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King’s attitude towards white segregationists during the civil rights struggle: “Do to us what you will and we will still love you… [and] we will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’
- Loving-kindness towards the candidate and self-compassion for ourselves: When I found myself full of fear of what a Trump presidency might lead to, I felt tight, contracted, and immobilized—and less capable of responding wisely. I now practice loving-kindness daily for the candidate and his supporters, wishing that they be safe, happy, and free from fear and harm. I’ve felt my own fear evaporate like the air in a Macy’s Parade balloon character when I stopped feeding the fear. And when concern and worry about the future do arise, I practice compassion for myself: acknowledging and opening to my own suffering, I send wishes of safety and well-being towards myself…
- Take in information judiciously: The huge amount of information available—news, views, opinions—and the way it is often presented to trigger fear and division—can become overwhelming and lead us to shut down or feel flooded. Being mindful of how much information—and the kind we take in—can help us respond in a balanced and resilient way.
- Effective action for the benefit of all: There are many ways of engaging politically to prevent a presidency that promises to be grounded in the three main afflictive states identified in Buddhism—greed, hatred, and delusion. Whether we are speaking to family, friends, or colleagues; writing, or posting on social media; volunteering for a campaign that offers the best prospect of defeating Trump; registering voters; donating funds; engaging in protests, civil disobedience or other action, what’s important is that our efforts be effective, kind, and designed to serve healing rather than division.
My own commitment in the months ahead is to hold those motivated by fear and anger in my heart with kindness—recognizing that the candidate’s fear-based solutions arise from his own unexamined suffering—while engaging in efforts to ensure that divisive and fear-based policies not win out in the November elections. And to breathe deeply and trust that while ‘the arc of the moral universe is long it bends towards justice.’