It’s important to use compassion and tolerance with people whose opinion is to crush us and make us the enemy. When we allow our own anger / fears to meet those that make us the enemy the result is unproductive and we succumb to the battle of prejudice and lowering our standards. We become part of the problem when we resort to name-calling.
The personal experiences that follow are the underpinning of a beginning to include everyone in systemic transformations:
In the 1980s I was with my good friend traveling in his van with his dog to a nearby city. We encountered a hitchhiker and decided to pick him up. The young man thanked us and he slipped on a headset and listened to a tape on his Walkman.
My friend remarked about the lack of communication from this young guy. We both surmised this was from his fear that made for the separation. My friend remarked how the world had changed via the overwhelming fears.
The 1960s and 70s by contrast people seemed bold and fearless. In the 1980s fear began to creep in even more creating more division between people.
My father was a man who had many fears. He was a man in rebellion and rage that stemmed from fear. He personified the rebelliousness of his youth against his father to a defiance against government. Some of this defiance was a desire to be free. However the vehemence of his rage against authority and his obsessive need to be right and make others wrong was a clear indicator of his underlying fears and insecurities.
The 1960s and 70s represented a brief time in history where fear seemed to diminish and visions for a new way of life seemed possible. Democracy flourished through the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, protests against the war in Vietnam – people were getting involved and taking political action for change. Some would say it was a brief moment in the mid 1960s where a robust and wild creativity showed a possibility for a new world. I am not writing about the causes of the demise of freedom and creativity, just that it happened and fear took hold everywhere and nobody seemed to notice. Both conservative Republicans and the Democrats reliance on the Trilateral Commission’s report that the citizenry of the United States had too much democracy, and this needed to be scaled back.
White people had begun to re-enter a new kind of materialism – the yuppies. African Americans were taking their homes back from the power oppressors through the Black Panthers. This was movement quickly extinguished by the Federal Government’s introduction of guns and drugs in the ghetto in part through the CIA fueling gangs and wars of color.
As I began to work through my own problems with anger and rage uncovering fear and grief underneath I saw how easily people get stuck within the grip of anger and its justifications. I watched my father become increasingly isolated behind his anger. His desire to be right alienated my mother’s friends when I was in High School. His obsession with righteousness allowed him to beat me with the stick of his power and make me wrong, devalue my existence and subjugate me under his rule of terror. I know his father (my grandfather) did the same to him.
He had voted for Kennedy and later for Nixon becoming a conservative Republican until the end of his days. The anger fueled his righteousness and made him feel powerful. He was highly intelligent and so often he had closed his heart to the suffering of others both inside and outside his immediate family. His need for anger and control drove him away from a compassionate look at the causes of these drives and fueled a compulsivity to become increasingly angry and get more control.
I often watched “All in the Family” with him. One time he asked – probably rhetorically – why conservatives were portrayed by the Media as ignorant and stupid.
“It’s because they have closed their hearts to the suffering of others,” I said quickly.
He grunted. My father was a compassionate man but his compassion was limited to his immediate family and there were strings attached.
I watched my mother emotionally isolate herself from my father with passive-aggressive statements that irritated him and in some senses may have laid the groundwork for my mother’s plunge into dementia. This produced great feelings of sadness in me for her and for my father and her as a married couple.
My father’s addiction to anger and righteousness has been mirrored in present day politics as Republicans make enemies of those that disagree. I lived inside the bubble of indifference to suffering during my childhood and teen years. When I discussed my opposition to the war in Vietnam I tried to argue logically inside the premises my father presented leaving me feeling devalued, defeated and sad.
My father complained about a neighbor who was a postal worker making almost as much money as he did.
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked him.
“Intellectual work is more valuable than manual labor,” he said.
“I disagree,” I told him. “All work is honorable and shouldn’t be valued over another type of labor.”
It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that my girlfriend came to my defense about my feelings around war, specifically the Vietnam War, when she said:
“How can a feeling be wrong? Feelings aren’t right or wrong they just are.”
I came to see that my father was an elitist who lived within an upper class politically conservative bubble where it was easy to ignore the suffering of others and explain away oppression because he judged everyone from his elitist perspective. His heart and mind were closed by judgments based on anger and ultimately fear.
Even in myself I have noticed fear and an exclusion of others from time to time based on judgments of “us and them” thinking. This is an easy trap that we may fall into as we identify with a group to the exclusions of others that don’t belong to our group. These judgments include a closing of our hearts through judgments, fears, righteousness and elitism to name a few. These are prejudices when we are unaware of how we exclude others and are both prejudiced and have biases when we become aware of the motivation without examining the root causes and healing them.
We cannot keep our hearts open all the time. Heartedness is an opening to the human condition of suffering, loss and grief as well as love and joy. If our hearts were to be open 100% of the time we would feel overwhelmed and perhaps we might dissociate. So retreating to the mind is important to protect our hearts from feeling overwhelmed. The danger of retreating into the mind is staying there without returning to a compassionate feeling heart-place. Also it’s possible while in our minds to fool ourselves into believing we are compassionate when we are not, or we are compassionate towards those that share our beliefs within our social bubbles.
Changing peoples’ minds and hearts especially where fear and exclusion is prevalent becomes an insurmountable force. Talking to individuals due to many factors cannot solve the problems of fear, anger, and prejudice. To change these exclusionary beliefs and policies a systemic approach planned over decades may begin to make a dent in the fear/anger dynamic.
In the A Working Outline of a Possible Plan:
Criminal Justice System
- Overturn the three strikes law. Reduce the reliance on mandatory minimum sentencing until it is a last resort. De-criminalize all elicit drugs. Shed For-Profit Prisons.
- When someone is arrested for possession and /or use send then to a mandatory drug treatment or dual diagnosis program.
- Make Marijuana legal ( as it is in California) nationwide and tax it.
- Lower tax burden on the middle class by raising taxes on the top one percent.
- Institute a National Business Based Renewable Sales Tax – Businesses that manufacture products that use parts not made from recyclable materials or use fuels (as in automobiles) that are not from renewable resources. The more recycled or renewable materials that they use the less sales tax. Could a Nationally Based Renewable Sales Tax replace the Federal Income Tax for both businesses and individuals alike? Remember Human Beings are one the top of the Renewable list.
- Offer tax credits to businesses that use Renewable Resources and Materials in the products they sell as well as in the manufacturing of the products.
- Expand tax credits for individuals that buy products and services that utilize at 50 to 100 percent of the products / services that are renewable or use renewable resources
- Utilize emotions / intuitive principles in learning as ways to dream and envision creativity in Grades K through 12.
- Include emotional tolerance education in elementary and high school education.
- Increase funding and infrastructure for specialized technical education as an alternative to college