Hatred In The Mirror
The political campaigns have given me the great gift of looking at myself more deeply, figuring out my own hypocrisy and failed ambitions, helping me to see the anger that seems to live in the marrow of human beings. The campaign helps me to look in the mirror, and see the hatred and resentment in me. This is not a new revelation, I have been there before, but I always seem to discover that I am not as far along as I hoped to be and thought I was.
This, said Thomas Merton, is the very definition of humility – being able to see and hear the hard truths about yourself.
The other day, I was sitting in the Round House Cafe and three men were having their morning coffee there and they were talking about Hillary Clinton, in the most angry and hateful of ways. She was a monster, was evil, she cared nothing for her country, endangered its security, is a thief and corrupt to the bone, she could have stopped the Benghazi attacks but didn't care, was an abuser of women.
The men were speaking softly. In some places, I imagine, they could shout their support for Donald Trump, in others they seemed to want to keep it a secret.
What struck me about the conversation was not only the anger and extreme harshness of it – I can already picture the Facebook comments saying the comments were all obviously true. And perhaps they are, perhaps everything the candidates say about one another is absolutely true, and if so, if there is truth in all those posturings and lies, then we are all in trouble. The men talked of moving to South America if Clinton wins, they don't want their children to be raised in America any longer.
Two nights later, I was back at the Round House with Maria and a friend for pizza night, and two young couples were sitting next to me. I heard them talking about the presidential campaign.
They talked about how much they despised Donald Trump, how stupid, racist, sexist and vulgar he is. He is a monster, one said, he cares for nothing but himself, would undermine every international treaty and commitment that makes America secure, he was lazy and a cheat, a failed businessmen, he lied about his taxes, insults minorities, and is a serial abuser of women.
I waited, and then I knew it would come, and I did. The woman in the group said she was going online every night to look for a home in Canada so she would have a place to go if Donald Trump won the election, she didn't want her children living in America if he was our leader.
At some point, I thought that night, it doesn't really matter who was right and who was wrong. We are never short on good reasons to hate other people, it seems necessary for human beings. But at some point, I wonder if anger doesn't become just another bad habit, like smoking or spitting on the streets.
Some days, I find myself trawling through the news a dozen times or more, and yet I almost never come across anything new or of value to me. Some days, I get angry at my Other, and lose the center of myself.
Freud and the shrinks mostly all believe that anger is about us, not them, about our need to conquer and control the Other. We need to have an Other, says Freud, so we can control our own anger and fear, we always need someplace to put them.
Could both of these groups of people possibly be correct about the other, what a hopelessly bleak view of the world, how painful to put your whole life and happiness on such a transparent and flimsy construction? I will decide where I wish to live, thanks.
It is a continuing revelation to me, that every single thing people say about Donald Trump are the very same things people say about Hillary Clinton. How can that really be, that we all can come to the same way of looking at things and speaking of them, there is so much diversity yet I often feel I am living in an Orwellian dream factory, we are only allowed to speak or think if we use the same words and in the same way.
Do our opponents really need to be evil to be wrong? I wrote about the campaign last week and a writer e-mailed me and asked me if I thought the people who supported Donald Trump were racists and stupid.
No, I said, it is never a good thing to label vast segments of any move in that way, labels like that are just a license to push away what we don't like or wish to hear. I don't want to look in the mirror and talk to the mirror, I want to look in the mirror and see myself.
Those labels, like "left" and "right" are too cheap and easy to mean, they have no universal meaning.
I imagine Freud would have explored the idea of the Other, perhaps something we all need to be in control of our fears and our own rage, how else could one explain disparate groups of people using exactly the same language to describe one another? I think I see that in our world, we have all constructed our own mirrors to hide behind, shields and walls from which to hurt insults and suspicion on the other.
I don't want to live in the shadow of any other time, or look in anybody else's mirror. It's a gift to me to be reminded of that, almost every day. I mean for it to stick.
Freud says that it is human nature for people to seek power, wealth and success in life; instinctively fail to see what is of true value in life, that's why there is such a thing as therapy.
I have learned that there is no path to happiness or peace of mind in power, wealth, and other people's idea of success. Anger and hatred leads to no good place, and has no just reward, not for them, not for me. So I am hearing my own music in this season of rage, constructing my own campaign.
I am beginning to see what is of true value in life, and I am reminded every day to keep that in mind.