Keep calm and cultivate compassion


keep-calm-compassion“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.” — The Dhammapada

The weeks leading up to the US presidential election were a real emotional roller coaster for me. I’m still a “Resident Alien” rather than a citizen, and so I couldn’t vote. But of course I had opinions and feelings about the outcome of the election, which directly affects my life in many ways.

The election is of course now over, and it didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It was unthinkable to me that Donald Trump could possibly be elected. Even though polls have been wrong in the past, the fact that a large majority of people considered him temperamentally unsuited to be president and dangerously lacking in knowledge, and his tendency to alienate large groups of voters, gave the impression that he was never going to win.

Because of the uncertainties, however, I’d been anxious for some time. As the results came in, however, and it became almost certain that Clinton was going to lose, I felt strangely calm. After all, what’s done is done.

Today, after waking up to find that Trump had indeed triumphed, I was of course aware of many different responses from non-Trump supporters. Some are stunned. Some are angry and looking for someone to blame. Some are embarrassed for their country. Many are of course deeply worried.

We will soon have a president who has given hatred and callousness the green light. He’s mocked a disabled reporter, boasted about sexually assaulting women, defrauded contractors, will soon be in court on fraud charges relating to “Trump University” (and soon after that for child rape), has all but given Russia the go-ahead to invade its Baltic neighbors, has given the nod to violent supporters, and is the darling of White Supremacists. And that’s to say nothing of his attitude towards Muslim-Americans and undocumented migrants.

Yes, he may end up trashing the economy, ending health insurance for millions of people, pulling out of trade treaties (and precipitating trade wars), and ignoring global warming (which he thinks is a hoax). But it’s the hatred that most bothers me and causes most anxiety.

How to respond to all this?

First, to those who are in shock, realize that as of now, little has changed. True, global markets are on edge, but that doesn’t directly affect most of us in the short term. Right now we’re still here, still breathing, still eating, still living, still doing the same things we were doing yesterday. As of now, nothing much is different on a practical level. Our main problem now is responding with fear. It’s envisioning what might go wrong in the future that dominates our minds and causes us acute suffering. Our own minds often do us more harm than our enemies.

So I’d suggest taking a deep breath, counting your blessings, and (as best you can) let go of catastrophizing. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Trump may not even become president, or his presidency might be short-lived, given the rape and fraud trials he faces. He may not be able to enact all of his promises. He may not even try; the man is an inveterate bullshitter who says what he thinks people want to hear.

What’s different for you right now, in this moment? Not much, in all likelihood.

You’re scared. I get that. I was experiencing anxiety and dread this morning. Offer yourself some kindness and compassion. You need it. We all need a source of unconditional love and support, and we can be that source.

Second, remember that politics is a long game. Stay confident. We may be in for a rough time, perhaps for another generation. It’s possible that a lot of freedoms will be rolled back. But the world is changing demographically. The US (and other parts of the world) is becoming more diverse and more interconnected. The world, despite what you might think from watching the news, is becoming more tolerant and less violent.

Third, offer kindness and compassion to those you love. This morning I had a phone call with my girlfriend as she waited in class for her students to arrive. We had a loving conversation. I told her that I was imagining hugging her. My heart was filled with love and joy. Yes, there may be difficult times ahead. But no, we don’t have to make ourselves and others miserable. Let’s support each other.

Fourth, practice empathy toward those you disagree with. When one of the problems we face is a president-elect who espouses hatred, adding more hatred to the mix isn’t going to fix anything. So feeling contempt for Trump’s supporters isn’t going to help.

Many who voted for Trump did so out of desperation. Hatred is a response to fear. Many Trump voters are financially insecure and poorly educated (which is not a criticism!). Many of them are white. They see the world around them changing, and it frightens them. Economically they are left out. Racially, they are becoming a minority. Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton has given them much succor or spent much time directly addressing this group of people, even though their policies have generally been helpful to them. They want change. They’re even desperate for change. And Trump (although he was born into an economic elite and treats ordinary working people with contempt — regularly stiffing contractors on his real estate properties) talks about change. Some of what he says makes no sense — he’s not going to bring manufacturing jobs back from China or elsewhere) but at least he’s talking about their problems in ways they can understand, even if they’re in line to suffer more than most as a result of his policies.

These are people who need our compassion, not our contempt.

Even Trump’s White Supremacist supporters need compassion. Yes, they are filled with hatred. But it’s hatred based on fear. They see themselves as witnessing the death of centuries of white privilege. And that’s true! They simply can’t understand how to see living in a racially and culturally diverse country as a positive thing. They cling to their sense of superiority and specialness. It’s all based on fear. And fear is a source of suffering.

Perhaps his supporters will settle down now that they feel they’ve won. But if we do see an upsurge of hatred, this will largely take place at a local level. Already I’ve heard from local people who’s racial-minority children are experiencing higher levels of bullying and taunting. My own children, who are African-American, are terrified that they’ll be separated from their white parents, as America slides back into racial segregation.

When hatred is local, each of us is placed to meet it with love. Stern love, if necessary, but love. responding with hatred simply creates more hatred. What we need are empathetic responses. When you see someone acting out of bias, remember that you too, in your own way, lash out when you feel threatened, at least sometimes. Empathize before you act. And when you do act, perhaps it can be in the form of reminders that we are all in this together. We live, work, and study together. A world in which we live in antagonism toward each other is a world in which none of us will truly thrive or be happy.

We all suffer. We all need freedom from suffering. The problem is that all too often our attempts to deal with suffering simply cause more suffering.

The world seems crazy. It’s full of hatred, misogyny, and racism. But these are strategies for dealing with fear. Underneath these strategies are suffering hearts — blind hearts that need to be educated and shown better ways to live. Modeling love, compassion, and wisdom is perhaps the best way we can provide such education and help heal our society.


7 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you. I needed that!

  • Hi Bodhipaksa!
    Your blog was very helpful to read. Particularly what you said about Politics being a long game, and that we can look with gratitude to our present situation, and offer oneself empathy and compassion. We don’t always have to rely on other people for this, do we, and it prevents their burn-out! Thankyou. I’m in Australia, but as allies, we’ve getting news feed from the US as well as extra internet coverage 24/7. That fear and catastrophising in response to this event is very real, and I’m not even living in their system! Of course, we have Pauline Hanson and One Nation here – our own brand of White Supremacists. If we don’t actively resist their hateful message, does this not say to them (and our own deeper subconscious) that we’re okay with it? [As per the saying “Bad things happen when good people do nothing”?] I realise the most effective way to do that is with compassion (or we simply magnify the hate).This level of hate and ‘othering’, though, seems to me particularly dangerous. In your opinion, though, does calling it out (as dangerous) cut off any chance for us to reach out empathetically to those involved? It seems to me that this may unnecessarily inflate the situation (and further contribute to catastrophizing). Maybe better just to call the situation what it is?
    Had no idea (but not entirely surprised) he was up on child paedophilia charges.
    Certainly have felt compassion for Americans, having gone through so many natural and social disasters (not least the police riots in Ferguson and multiple African-Americans shot without provocation at the same time the race was on for their votes. Having had history with someone with personality disorder, this is all ringing very loud bells indeed! Food for thought.
    Thanks again


    • Hi, Teresa.

      Thanks for writing, and I’m glad the blog post was helpful. I’d like to clarify that I’m not suggesting that we don’t resist racists, misogynists, and other social reactionaries, but just that we do it compassionately. It’s compassionate to point out the harmful effects of people’s actions, although not compassionate to throw hate and invective their way.

      It’s very hard not to hate those who hold views that we find repugnant, and I certainly have a lot of work to do in that area. What I’m doing is sharing my own work in progress. So far I’ve been finding the most useful approach is trying to understand the fear that leads to people holding these views. If we understand that someone is afraid, then perhaps we can work at offering them reassurance. If instead we resort to name-calling and regard them as evil, that would surely just increase their fear. The mostly-poor, mostly white people who voted for Trump are having difficulty adjusting to a changing world.

      Of course they’re luckier than, say, African-Americans, who have been marginalized (at best) for centuries. But while there are many public voices standing up to support the rights and well-being of African-Americans, those same people are often contemptuous of poorly educated white voters. They get called “red-necks” and “hicks.” Obama was right when he said they “cling to guns or religion,” but he came across as patronizing, which further alienated that group of people. Too many Democrats are snobs, unfortunately. We need to hear more voices like Michael Moore’s, who wrote an excellent piece yesterday.

  • With Brexit and now Trump I have been acquiring emotional baggage at a rate which far outstrips my tools to process it. (If wasn’t for ‘Imigran’ I’d have had two migraines in as many weeks – and I haven’t had one years.)

    Reading your words – and they are, I think, truly ‘words of wisdom’ – was salutary. I understand what you say. At one level I agree with all you say. To what extent I can embrace it and live by it, prosper from it, is a different matter. Nonetheless, the fact that there are people ‘out there’, facing the same potentially traumatising events can write such things should give all of us of a liberal disposition renewed hope.

    • Thanks for your kind words. Do keep working on your practice!

      It’s funny, but I’ve been having migraines at the rate or one or two a week, while they used to be one or less a month. It may well be partly to do with the stress of the election season.

  • Really fantastic.


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