We live in a time where it’s common to have unbridled admiration for your chosen political leader, who can do no wrong, and equally unbridled hatred toward opposing political leaders, who can do no right.
The common wisdom is that this hyper-partisan situation is worse now than it used to be, and I suspect that that’s true.
I don’t think this highly polarized state of affairs is at all healthy. In fact I think we need to find ways to reverse this trend. We need to do this as a society, which means that we need to do so as individuals. The individual I have most influence over is myself, so that’s where I have to start.
Now, I have to confess that over the last few years I’ve harbored ill will toward Donald Trump. There’s been plenty of dislike, and even loathing — I find him to be a morally repellant individual on many levels — but dislike isn’t the same as ill will. My understanding of Buddhist ethics is that disliking someone is morally neutral.
Having ill will or hatred goes further. It means, at the very least, wishing for someone to suffer or taking pleasure in their suffering. It may even mean wishing to see them harmed. Often it means being prepared to believe the worst about their motivations and automatically believing any negative stories about them. If those stories turn out to be untrue perhaps we don’t care. All that’s important to us is that the story is harmful to our opponent. Ill will tends to make us casual with the truth.
But I have to confess, that I’ve not just disliked Donald Trump, but have had ill will for him. I’ve taken pleasure in his discomfort. I’ve even wished him harm. From the point of view of Buddhist ethics, this is of course not OK. It’s unskillful, and will cause harm not just for others but will be a source of suffering for me as well.
Perhaps some of you reading this support Donald Trump and are displeased to hear that I’ve disliked and had ill will for him. Perhaps some of you dislike Trump even more than I do and are alarmed by the title I’ve chosen, thinking that it means I’ve gone all “MAGA.” I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people cancel their subscriptions without even reading the article.
In reality all I want to do is to share how I’ve learned to drop my ill will. I’ve found that I’m able to love Donald Trump. I still think that morally speaking he’s a horrible individual, and I don’t think he should have power over any kind of organization — certainly not an entire country — but my emotions around him have softened. Bringing this about wasn’t particularly hard. It just required a shift in the way I thought about my relationship to him. Perhaps, if you have ill will for him, what I did will help you too.
So what did I do? Simply, what I did was to imagine that Donald Trump was my wayward older brother. I think most families have a black sheep — someone who, for example, doesn’t respect the normal “rules” of reciprocity and who is prone to exploiting others, or who perhaps lies, cheats, or steals. Perhaps they’re an outright criminal. I know that my own family has (or had) someone like that.
It’s not invariably the case, but often ties of family soften our attitudes. So when I imagine Donald Trump as my wayward elder brother, out there breaking norms, breaking the law, and creating havoc, even if I believe he deserves to go to prison I’m no longer gleeful about that. I now have mixed feelings. If he’s my wayward older brother I can imagine visiting him in prison, not to gloat but to see if he’s going OK, and to be a support. I imagine hearing him protesting about being framed, and instead of being angry I feel compassion for him in his denial and delusion.
This approach has certainly been working for me. I feel much softer around Trump. My heart’s more open. Reading the news is less scary. I’m suffering less.
Perhaps this will help you, too. I’ve had to keep reminding myself to adopt this perspective, because emotional habits such ill will are strong and persistent. But every time I think of Donald Trump as my wayward elder brother, I feel compassion for him rather than hatred.
Perhaps this approach has been influenced by the Buddhist teaching that all beings have, at various times in the endless cycle of samsara, been one’s mother and father, brother, sister, sone, and daughter. That’s certainly not a teaching I take literally, but I imagine its purpose was to stimulate the same kind of attitude-shift that I’ve been talking about.
Let me be clear that I don’t approve of many of Donald Trump’s actions. He’s done many, many things that I consider to be unethical or illegal. But I no longer have ill will toward him.
Sometimes people cling to their hatred because they think that they need to hate their enemies in order to oppose them. But that’s not the case. You not hate and still tell right from wrong. You can not hate and still want to see your wayward elder brother prevented from causing further harm. You can not hate and still believe it’s right that they face the legal and moral consequences of their actions.
We don’t need hate. In fact we’re better off without it. I know I am.
As the Dhammapada says, “In this world, hatred is never appeased by hatred. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is an eternal truth.”