In our weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

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On November 30, I received the following question, and I thought I’d like to add to this and provide more information, since we just witnessed further acts of violence and mass arrests in the United States.

The question was from Delphine in NZ and the response titled, “Fearlessness will aid you when dialoguing with others being driven by fear”:

 

QUESTION

How do I navigate in the craziness that’s going on around the world since the U.S. election? I watch the social media and have friends on both “sides,” I have friends who are being hurt—or perceive the smallest possibility of being hurt—and no matter what I say (I refuse to take sides) I’m attacked. I watch how they treat their friends, and if anyone tries to show the slightest bit of understanding for the opposite view, there’s a mini-war declared. It’s ridiculous.

If I remain neutral, I’m told I’m clueless and attacked for that. If I try to show understanding to both sides, I’m called a traitor to one or the other. I tell them to be calm and try to put themselves in each other’s shoes; I’m told I don’t know what I’m talking about.

There’s so much fear going on right now, I can see absolutely no solution. I find myself withdrawing more and more. I’m struggling to come to terms with the energy that the constant fear and loathing—yes, loathing—and intolerance is causing around the world. It feels to me as if it’s in the air I breathe. I suppose it is.

I do meditate, I’m a naturally positive person. Nothing usually gets me down, but what’s going on in the world now is making me withdraw more and more from contact with others. It feels as if anything that even looks like happiness or joy isn’t acceptable anymore. And I wonder if it ever will be? What do I do?

 

ADDITIONAL RESPONSE

It appears that race relations have unfortunately declined within the U.S. over the last few years. This is very disheartening, especially in light of the fact the U.S. had twice elected Barack Obama as President of the United States.

I can still recall the speech that former President Obama delivered during the 2008 election. His words on race and racism inspired me and gave me great hope that perhaps, under this person’s leadership, the racial divide could finally be truly addressed. The following are excerpts from that speech:

“This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this presidential campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction—toward a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”

“But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America—to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.”

“Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African-American community and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”

“Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race and racism continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.”

“That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity within the African-American community in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

Similar anger within the white community 

A similar anger as mentioned above exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they’ve been particularly privileged by their race.

Their experience is the immigrant experience—as far as they’re concerned, no one handed them anything. They built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labour. They’re anxious about their futures and they feel their dreams slipping away.

In an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity has come to be seen as a zero-sum game, in which “your” dreams come at “my” expense. So when these people are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, or when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighbourhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they’ve helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.

Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers on unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or even reverse racism.

We’re further away from the ideal than in 2008

During this past election year, accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia were hurled as political hand grenades on an almost daily basis. References to Hitler and Nazis became more and more frequent.

This past election wasn’t an election focused on policies; it was one focused on identity politics and group divisions. If people supported one candidate over another they were accused of not being American, of being ignorant or uneducated, or worse, of being morally defective.

What many found very insulting was that even after electing Barack Obama for two consecutive terms, the nation was called racist and it was alleged that white supremacists and sexist individuals had come out to vote because of their hatred. Those statements just don’t reflect reality and only cause further division and animosity within our communities.

MTV even put out a video telling “white guys” what they needed to do better in the coming year. “White guys” were also told that just because they have minority friends, that doesn’t mean they’re not racist. This ad basically declared that white males, who make up roughly 36 percent of the nation’s population, or around 223 million individuals, are racists and need to “do better.”

Again, this type of politics and rhetoric isn’t going to bring any healing or reconciliation. In fact, according to a controversial psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. I truly hope this isn’t the case. However, you could make the case that our government and media are pushing the nation towards a civil war of races.

Paul Schrader, an American screenwriter, film director, and film critic who wrote or co-wrote the films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Bringing Out the Dead said the following words:

I have spent the last five days meditating on Trump’s election. Upon consideration, I believe this is a call to violence. I felt the call to violence in the ’60s and I feel it now again. This attack on liberty and tolerance will not be solved by appeasement. Obama tried that for eight years. We should finance those who support violence resistance. We should be willing to take arms. Like Old John Brown, I am willing to battle with my children. Alt-right nut jobs swagger violence. It’s time to actualize that violence. Like my Civil War Michigan predecessors, I choose to stand with the black, the brown and the oppressed.

A protester stated on CNN, “If we don’t fight, who is going to fight for us? People had to die for your freedom where we’re at today. We can’t just do rallies, we have to fight back.” Said Lily, the same Latina woman from Los Angeles, “There will be casualties on both sides. There will be, because people have to die to make a change in this world.”

Jesse Benn, a journalist for the Huffington Post, wrote an article in June of 2016 entitled, “Sorry Liberals, a Violent Response to Trump Is as Logical as Any.” In this article the author stated,

Violent resistance matters. Riots can lead to major change…. And when those who hold that privilege dismiss the potential validity or logic of violent resistance, it’s effectively an effort to dictate the rules under which oppressed peoples respond to existential threats, and to silence forms of resistance disagreeable to privileged sensibilities.

Even more disturbing was the undercover video of Scott Foval, the National Field Director of Americans United for Change, when he described the practice known as “bird-dogging.” This is, essentially, when one party sends people into the opponent’s rally with the intention of inciting violence to discredit the opposition.

Except for one instance above, these quotes come from people considered among the social elite, or in positions of power and prestige. The goal here, however, isn’t to say that one group is innocent and the other is the offender. The goal here is to point out that people who are known, are respected and have a voice in the media are calling for violence against fellow Americans—this should cause us all great concern.

A healthy amount of skepticism

But what are we ordinary citizens supposed to do? More specifically, what are we, as practitioners of mindfulness, to do to help correct the course this nation is heading onto?

Mindfulness is about being in touch with the present moment, here and now, and isn’t about escaping reality. Mindfulness isn’t about sitting on a pillow and experiencing bliss and feelings of peace. Mindfulness is about seeing and experiencing reality as it is, and doing our best to limit the obscuration within us that distorts and twists reality.

While I support standing against tyranny and oppression, all I can see at this time is that all this rhetoric is turning Americans, including those who I know are good people, into enemies. We’re not clearly seeing each other. Instead, I believe that often, we’re projecting our own fear and hatred onto the “others.” This isn’t to say that awful, despicable things don’t occur, but I don’t believe these events represent the majority of Americans.

The Founding Fathers of America were rather intelligent men. One piece of wisdom I take from them is to have a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to believing everything reported to me by the government and by the media as well. Thomas Jefferson stated in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell,

The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many…. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and power into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.

Vessels of peace and communication

In other words, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge, the Republicans or the Democrats; a person should always question what’s being reported as truth. If I maintain some skepticism in the back of my mind, then I’m unable to fully convince myself that those on the other side are enemies worthy of violence.

Through mindfulness, we can become vessels of peace and communication. Understand that this mindfulness practice may not entail you specifically dealing with issues of intolerance or anger within yourself, but will perhaps influence how you’ll respond if others project their own anger and intolerance onto you.

We’re standing at a crossroads today in America. We need those who are well-grounded in the present moment, who are able to see reality quite clearly, and who can refrain from projecting their feelings onto others to lead us into the future—mindfully into the future.

Read more about American politics in U.S. ELECTION: Bringing awareness into our political winter of disconnect»

image: Peace by jiunn kang too via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)