The Healing Cries of Outrage and Compassion

So much has happened in the last week or more. So much cruelty, so many lies. Yet, the hearts of many have awoken, have reached a point where mutual feeling and compassion has overcome fear or disbelief or inertia and has led so many to speak out. It feels like, or maybe I am just hoping, that the opposition to T is growing and will continue to grow.

 

T’s policy toward immigrants, of separating children from their parents so their pain will scare others away from our borders, is not only so inhumane and cruel I can barely stand to think about it, but ignorant in terms of the long range effects of this policy. If our borders are marked with red in the hearts of so many, then we, as a people and a nation, are marked with red, like targets. Like a cruel threat to eliminate. As an immoral nation. It is unbelievably costly in terms of human suffering. It is costly in terms of the money spent in building and staffing the prisons to hold the people, and providing judges to judge them, food to feed and doctors to care for them (and hopefully that will get such care).

 

And it is based on so many lies. As most of us know, and despite T’s statements and tweets to the contrary, undocumented immigrants from the south, and elsewhere, are less likely to commit a crime than US citizens. The border, despite T’s claims, has not been overrun by illegals, certainly not more than in past years.

 

T claims his policy is nothing new. President Obama supposedly did it. Democrats passed a law to do it. And he’s helpless to stop it. Congress must stop it. Then a few days later, he signs an executive order claiming to do just what he said he couldn’t do. Of course, the order, in effect, is almost as cruel as the policy it claims to end. It creates more chaos and does nothing to help re-unite parents with the children the government ripped away.

 

Of course, Obama did not have a policy of separating children from the parents of asylum seekers or immigrants as a way to scare away other immigrants. Of course, Democrats passed no law forcing T to separate children from parents.

 

Friends have cautioned me to look behind the headlines. Whenever T does something spectacularly awful, something else awful is hiding in the shadows, or something threatening to T is being hidden. It is painful to say this, but T is ripping children from their parents not only as a way to satisfy his political base and his own base instincts. He is hiding the fact he is ripping off social welfare and health care programs from most Americans as well as hiding his own possibly treasonous and criminal activities.

 

So, while many of us are focusing on the cruelty being done to immigrants, the GOP, on Tuesday, 6/19, quietly passed through a House committee a budget proposal that would fast track large cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as education and other programs that actually serve most Americans, all to finance continued tax cuts to the rich. This proposal is expected to pass the House—unless there is a public outcry.

 

On Thursday, they released a plan to reorganize the federal government, and cut programs like food stamps. It would combine the education and labor departments and give private industry a more direct role in the government. This could, for example, undermine the teaching of the humanities and redirect education to be totally concerned with one goal —providing labor to corporate interests. It could undermine the power of workers in general and the enforcement of civil rights in schools.

 

However, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort remains in jail, a judge ruled that the evidence seized by the FBI from his office can be used in his trial, and new evidence has been uncovered of Trump advisers like Roger Stone meeting with Russian agents.

 

What is heartening is the outcry. Millions of Americans are calling Congress, and as Rachel Maddow revealed in a story on Thursday, 6/21, lawyers are organizing to defend, pro bono, federal officials who refuse to “follow orders” on immigration.  Multiple states are suing the T administration to stop his immigration policy. And millions of dollars have been raised in just a few days to provide legal assistance to the parents and children separated at the border.

 

Even more, the number of people who are ready to enter politics to defend America from the racism, sexism, etc., criminality, greed, and shortsightedness that this administration represents has increased dramatically this year. Over the last week, I have attended a fundraiser and/or donated to two amazing people who are running for office. One is a friend, Michael Lausell, who is running for the New York Senate in district 58. The other, a former student and graduate from the Lehman Alternative Community School, Satya Rhodes-Conway, is running for Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. And five people are competing in the Democratic primary in New York’s 23rd district to unseat T supporter Tom Reed. I have met and talked to two of the candidates at different political demonstrations and think both are worthy of my vote (Max Della Pia and Tracy Mitrano).

 

I just hope that all those who oppose and are outraged by this immigration policy, as well as the GOP tax policy, can keep in mind that our differences are less important than what we share ⎼ our humanity, and the drive to unseat T and his whole administration. To protect our environment and create a democratic government that works for and looks to promote the rights, freedom, education, and quality of life of the great majority of people in this nation.

 

**There is a New York primary on Tuesday, June 26th.

***And remember to make calls and speak up against this immigration policy and against cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to continue to finance tax cuts for the rich. On Saturday, June 30th, there will be demonstrations all over the nation to support immigrants. In Ithaca, the demonstration will be on the Commons, at 11:00 am.

When A Politician Proclaims “I Am The Truth”

What happens when you discover you have been lied to, especially when the lie is not a little white lie but a major deception? In a relationship, the words you speak become part of what weaves you together into a couple or a friendship, or a story that you live. You have to feel some trust in what the other person tells you in order for a relationship to exist at all.

 

Of course, words aren’t everything. If someone says they love you or care for you and their actions say otherwise, and they abuse you, wouldn’t you doubt the words? It might depend on how you think about love, or truth.

 

The same happens in a society. A society is held together by relationships of all kinds and types, not only between friends and families, but also between politicians and constituents. When someone lies, consistently, a break occurs and the whole relationship can shatter, or it can be reshaped in distorted ways, which I think is happening today with Mr. Trump.

 

Lies are not new to politics, nor is it unusual to claim Mr. Trump lies. His lies and misleading statements are frequently pointed out in the mainstream news media (although not usually in the conservative media). But the volume and obviousness of his deceptions might be new⎼ and getting worse. Several fact check and news sources, like the Washington Post, found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.) According to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, in an interview with the New York Times on December 28, 2017, Mr. Trump said something false, misleading, or dubious every 75 seconds.

 

For example, on May 1st, after the list of questions that the Mueller investigation might want Trump to answer was released by the New York Times, the President said none of the questions on the list were about collusion. Certainly, as far as I can tell, the word collusion was not used. But 13 of the questions were about Trump’s “campaign coordination with Russia,” which is the meaning of collusion. Or his lies about the 2017 tax cut bill, which he called a “giant tax cut” for the middle class, promising a $4,000 pay raise to each household. He called it the largest tax cut in history (ignoring, for example, the John F. Kennedy tax cut and Reagan’s) and claimed the bill “…is going to cost me a fortune.” According to a New York Times fact check, “the proposals [in the bill] seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him.” According to USA Today, this bill only advances the agenda begun 40 years ago (in the Reagan administration) of taking a trillion dollars a year that used to go to worker wages and giving it to corporations and the superrich.

 

Is it that he doesn’t realize he is lying? To lie implies some knowledge that what is being said is not truthful. If you say something and think it is accurate, and it turns out it is not, that is not a lie. It is not a truth, either. It is an inaccurate statement. Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is to say the truth?

 

What is the truth? Although there are different types and meanings of truth, in most cases, when you say something is true, you mean this is what actually exists or this is real. It is not simply an opinion or an assertion of what you like. Instead, a truth is what corresponds with the preponderance of reliable evidence.

 

Is he using the “big lie” to hide the truth, lying so openly no one can believe he is doing it? Or is he claiming there is no truth? Maybe he is simply not in touch with reality? Or is he merely saying one thing one moment and denying it the next?

 

When a person lies openly to you, you might no longer trust them and you end the relationship. But something else can occur. You might feel afraid of losing the sense of security provided by the relationship, or fear a variety of other possibilities. You might so deeply fear your relationship ending that you try to tell yourself the speaker is the truth, instead of what is spoken; or what is important is not so much the content of what is said, but the fact that a specific someone is saying it. Or the content becomes a secondary or lower truth. The higher truth is the person.

 

And this is what I think is happening today. Society is being pushed to the edge of breaking apart. And one segment of society is tying itself feverishly not to the reality of what is being said, but to the person saying it.

 

Mr. Trump and his followers are creating a mirror effect. By lying so openly, Trump asserts that he is the truth. This is another way to describe a narcissist, as someone who thinks his viewpoint is the (only valid) viewpoint, or that whatever thought enters his head is true because he thinks it. And apparently, about a third of the American people agree with him and mirror back to him his view of himself. They do not question or check the veracity of what he says, even when what he says is obviously untrue, and videos of his interviews or speeches clearly show he lied or misrepresented the facts.

 

Certainly, you could argue that his followers do check his statements. But they check only with right-wing, highly biased news sources, and are only able to confirm (mirror back to them) what they already believe. For example, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of political information. Fox is so distorted a media that in 2015, 52% of its viewers still believed weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion of Iraq.

 

And Sinclair Media, nicknamed Trump media, is even worse. During the 2016 election, from July to November, the Sinclair conglomerate of stations gave Trump and his surrogates often extensive interviews 31 times. Many were declared “must run” stories by management. The Clinton campaign got seven interviews. According to former Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, the conservative news media have convinced the white working class to focus blame for their woes “downward⎼at the racial other⎼rather than up.” So, maybe you should forgive his supporters, when they hear him say one thing one minute and a different thing the next, and for holding on not to his divergence from the facts but the fact he spoke?

 

Everyone does this to some degree (it’s called a confirmation bias), but the extent to which this is happening today with Trump is astounding. The media that Trump supporters rely on for information have conditioned them to believe Trump more than any other source of information. And when people close their eyes and minds so deeply, they are always fighting themselves and reality, and are often angry, but unable to find a cause anywhere but where Trump points them.

 

This is what happens in some religions. It is what happens in dictatorships. It is what happens in some relationships. To understand how to change this reality, you have to better understand how people leave such relationships. You have to better understand what is happening to our political system, economy, and media. You have to better understand your mind.

 

When you base your political sense of reality and security on a person who believes he is the only reality, the world will always feel threatening to you, and will always feel that it’s constantly shifting beneath you. If Trump believes he is the only reality, you and your needs are indecipherable to him, or nothing more than an illusion.

 

An Open Mind

 

I was recently meditating, at home, in the early afternoon. Outside, intense snow squalls alternated with a few minutes of sunshine. Schools started two hours late that morning because of the weather, and before meditating I had wondered if the after-school class that I was supposed to teach would be cancelled. I concentrated on my breath and soon became calm and focused and lost all sense of school and snow. Then the phone rang. My wife picked it up somewhere in the house. I couldn’t hear the conversation but knew it was the school calling about the class and I began to wonder, again, if it would be cancelled. I tried to return my focus to the breath, but couldn’t do it by increasing my concentration. So, I tried another strategy. I made my response and interest in the call the object of awareness. I simply noticed what was there, in me, without judging it. That did it. My mind calmed.

 

By shifting attention to what was there in my own mind and body, and being open to it, my mind became the state of openness. The result was both calm and insight.

 

Why do I have this drive to have an answer? To know is to hold information in mind and be able to use that information, to comprehend and own in myself. Even more, it is a drive for a concept to fit reality into, or this is one way to understand it. In the past, I thought that the drive for answers was a common and primal human drive. It was part of learning and growing up; humans were naturally driven to better understand the world and themselves—unless it was educated out of them. And putting what you knew into words to form a worldview was part of developing an identity.

 

You create explanations and stories to order your life. Having an explanation of any sort is often more important than its accuracy. Thus, you feel uncomfortable when you don’t-know. You take it as something missing, a lack, a hole in your universe. You then hate not-knowing, as it leads you to worry or feel anxious. Part of the joy of solving puzzles or watching a mystery movie is that, for a moment, you feel the anxiety of not-knowing, but in a controlled way. You prove to yourself that this situation can be faced and overcome. It is like an inoculation against fear. The puzzle creates just enough anxiety that by solving the puzzle you demonstrate your control over not-knowing.

 

But this day, I realized this explanation was not enough. I dislike not-knowing only to the degree that I am wedded to an outcome or idea, only to the degree that I cling to one answer, fear another, or think I am only capable of handling certain types of situations.

 

It is easy to cling to ideas, and think knowing is only about putting experiences into words. You value the memory over the “thing” or experience itself, the story about your trip to Africa in the past over the experience of a moment of your life right now. And by focusing so much on the words and explanations, you easily lose perspective on the important role not-knowing plays in your life.

 

There is a second type of not-knowing, an experience of your world being fully there, alive, not lacking. Every moment begins with this not-knowing. If the present moment were known and put into words, it would already be past. Daniel Siegel and other neuroscientists describe stages in the formation of emotion. The first is an “orienting response.” Brain and body systems become alerted and energized. You begin to feel. Only later is memory activated, energy directed, liking and disliking begun, emotion and meaning created. In this sense, not-knowing is a step you need to go through to learn and understand anything. It is your original contact with the world. It is a non-verbal or incommunicable sort of knowing, the taste, the touch, the joy and agony of a body twisting in space, the rush of concentrated attention. 

 

In Buddhism, not-knowing is to perceive without preconceived ideas. It is to hold what you know lightly, and to put observation and experience before concept. It is a silence of concept mind so you can hear the world more clearly.

 

In the first sense of knowing, where you emphasize knowing as conceptualizing, you can miss, not fully engage in, the only moment you ever live in, the present. Your life becomes a memory, a story or explanation, and is lived almost secondhand. It is something you read about in your own mind or listen for in the words of others, not what you live each moment.

 

When you understand yourself in this almost secondhand manner, you cling to ideas and it is easier to get into energetic disagreements about points of view. When you think you know and have the explanation of an event, you feel in control. When you threaten a person’s explanation, you threaten their world. And when people in power and in the headlines manipulate information, say one thing and mean something entirely different, and lie repeatedly, even obviously, they are attempting to take away your power by undermining your sense that there is a clear reality out there. They can create psychological and social chaos. The lie is not just a lie. It is an attempt to undermine your sense of control over your life. It is an attempt to get you to live as if your life were a memory. With a truth, you can have a two-way conversation; a lie is an attempt to make it one-way.

 

To not-know in the second way, you can’t be manipulated so easily because you welcome and are fully present in your immediate experience. Thus, to be open to whatever arises in your mind, body and the world around you, and to be able to utilize both forms of knowing and not-knowing, is a revolutionary act. To face your fear and anxiety is a form of resistance to the powerful. It is to return to where all action begins and all thought is born. And that is a very powerful state.

 

*Two Resources Relevant to This Post:

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self, by Rodney Smith