Here’s something you might not suspect about me.
I’m a coward.
Here’s a recent example. The Editor of my new book, Work-Life Brilliance, suggested I remove a paragraph about Donald Trump that demonstrated how unchecked emotions produce toxic thoughts that lead to toxic actions. She was worried the President of the United States might sue me for libel.
I removed the paragraph.
I abhor conflict and avoid it by nearly any means possible. I hate not being liked and criticism hits me like an anvil.
These traits have kept me from ever writing about politics in a public way.
But what’s happening in our country isn’t politics—its about humanity and decency.
My whole self is dedicated to helping people reduce stress and live more brilliant lives. So, how can I justify keeping silent when we face a challenge that threatens that to such an extent?
The Limits of Hope
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word hope. I’ve heard it a lot during the election and ever since the Electoral College handed the Presidency to Trump. People are hoping that Trump morphs into a rational and mature human who makes fact-based decisions that are in the best interest of all citizens.
I don’t much care for the word hope. As a verb, I think it’s one of the more pathetically weak ones; hope doesn’t get anything done.
I recently finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi’s sublimely beautiful tome on life and death. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, 36-year old neurosurgeon Kalinithi doesn’t waste precious energy on false hopes for a miracle cure. He wants facts so he can assess how long he has left, so he can make difficult decisions about how to best spend that time. He writes that the word hope includes both desire and certainty. And he is certain that his diagnosis will bring death much sooner than he ever imagined.
While I have a little hope that our Republic will remain intact after this administration, I have no certainty that’s the case. I have no hope that the dangerous, irrational, ideologues who have taken over the Republican party and our country will grow a conscious and suddenly become rational men. I have no hope that Breitbart, Sean Hannity, and the recently anointed “Leader of the free world,” will stop spewing hateful lies shrouded as fact. I have no hope that Donald Trump will start to respect the men and women who risk all to bring us intelligence that protects our nation. I have no hope that the men who have made taking healthcare away their first orders of business will suddenly become empathetic. I have no hope that Trump will become a decent human being and change his stripes like Glenn Beck did. This is not pessimism; it’s paying attention.
While I’d love it if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Trump traded roles, so that our nation was led by a pretend terminator (who actually had relevant governing experience) instead of a real one, I have no hope that Trump will give up this role of a lifetime for anything.
Here’s What I Do Have Hope In.
While I grieve for the patriotic civil servants who protect us in anonymity, the heroic troops who will have to fight Trump’s battles, and those people who will be further damaged by economic practices and human rights violations, I have a modicum of hope because courageous, reasonable people are using their voices to spread truths, so the rest of us can take right action. For now, we have a free press willing to deal in facts and tell the truth, even if it brings scorn from the most powerful. (If John Adams could champion the Alien and Sedition Acts, I have no doubt Trump’s will attempt to silence real journalism.)
Sadly, those Trump supporters who support him no matter what, may never read any of these truths, and if they do, confirmation bias will not let the truths through their mental filter. But there are many former Trump supporters who will see through his lies.
We also have courageous, reasonable people in Congress on both sides of the aisle. (Thank you John McCain for not retiring even though you’ve served your country well…and are older than dirt). We have comedians like John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert, who remind us of all the ways the Emperor is naked. And we have people at local levels running for office, creating petitions, and volunteering.
We have great thinkers and authors using their platforms for spreading truth and wisdom. There’s Richard North Patterson, fiction writer turned political commentator in Fever Swamp, and Paul Krugman putting things into proper (and painful) context. Author and teacher Rick Hanson helps us stay calm and rational with his monthly JOT (Just one thing).
And there are many more.
So, I’m not suggesting that you give up hope. Just make sure it’s not keeping you complacent, or from seeing what’s really happening. As Richard North Patterson recently wrote, “This is not a time for empty sentiment or false hopes.” Longing for things to be different won’t change reality.
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
Hope had a co-starring role in the latest Star Wars movie, Rogue One. The rebels don’t hope that Darth Vader will grow a conscience. They do hope that somehow, someway, despite long odds, if they keep resisting and work cooperatively, risking great sacrifice, some day they will have enough leverage to defeat the dark forces. The rebels did not rest on hope: they fought.
In J.K. Rowlings’ world, Harry Potter and his friends don’t decide to sit back and wait it out, hoping that the Death Eaters impeach Lord Voldemort.
Alas, we have no magic wands or rebel weapons. We have to keep resisting—we have to keep telling the truth—without a last page we can flip ahead to.
We have one other ‘weapon’ in common with Harry Potter that gave him an edge over Voldemort: Love. This passion to defend liberty, our Republic, and the weak and persecuted, is our power source. Love, unlike hope, is a powerful verb.
It’s true that we have limited power. In my adopted state of California, my vote is worth one-third of someone’s living in a sparsely populated state, (evidenced by the fact that the last two Republican presidents won without the popular vote.) But I can sign petitions. I can march. I can put signs in my yard. I can donate money, time, and my workshops.* I can show kindness and empathy to people of every color, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. And I can write.
A Request to Rational Republicans
To those Republicans sickened by what’s happened to their party, I make this request: please don’t defect. We need thoughtful, fact-hungry patriots to take back the party from ideologue activists intent on stripping rights and tearing down, vs. building up. We need to take it back from fear-mongers who deflect attention from their misdeeds by blaming others for the very thing they are guilty of. We need you to vote in the gerrymandered primaries as a Republican, to elect reasonable candidates who trade in fact, compromise, civility, and cooperation. We need you to call your representatives as a Republican voter. This is not the time for meaningless protests like switching allegiances to the weak Green party or the unrealistic Libertarian party (that thinks life works like an Ayn Rand novel). The Republican Party will take your concerns more seriously if you remain Republican.
Over the holidays, my daughter and I read an amazing book by Jennifer A. Nielsen about a family torn apart by the Berlin wall, called A Night Divided.
Here were some quotes in her book that stood out for me:
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
– Albert Camus
May the force be with us. (We’re going to need it.) And may brilliance prevail.
With love and light,
* While working on this post, an email came in from the League of Conservation Voters informing me that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced this week that he’s pushing to fast-track a plan allowing the coal industry to dump toxic waste into our mountain streams, jeopardizing the health and drinking water of our communities. So I jumped onto their site and became a member. With enough support, they can show Congress that we are not going to be silent while they sacrifice citizens’ health and safety, as they attempt to turn this into the United States of Industry and Corporate Interests. You can donate here.