Holidays are a disaster in my extended family because of conflicting political and religious beliefs. My husband conveniently forgets how awful the arguments are and always wants to go to family functions. Later, he laughs about the truly sick and insane things my relatives say or shrugs it off. On Easter, I flipped out at my uncle, a fan of that idiot Donald Trump. My uncle, aunt and cousins left before dinner. My husband wants me to apologize this time. I refuse. If my uncle can spout nonsense, I can correct it. Trump’s a Nazi and if he’s elected, I’m leaving the country. Relatives have called to support me but no one stood up with me during the argument. I’m not sure why I’m writing you except I guess I needed to vent. Thanks.
Now that you’ve released some steam, let’s examine your conundrum. You defended your values and beliefs, and your uncle defended his. A passionate argument among people who respect each other can be a beautiful thing, but that’s not what happened. You both defended your respective stories about the right way to live. The position neither of you considered: peaceful.
There’s a spiritual practice called witnessing which invites an individual to observe what is unfolding in front of them without any comment or resistance. There’s no stress, just awareness of what is.
It’s helpful to practice this skill regularly, so that in a crisis it rolls into place. Witnessing feels like there’s no barrier between the interior world of thoughts, emotions or motivations and the exterior world of other people, the environment or situations. This awareness of being one transforms everything. When you are in union with all (even your Trump-loving uncle), something holy arises to speak and act through you. This is deep stuff we’re talking about, and not easy to do or live. But it is our human work to get out of the way and let the Divine work through us.
Witnessing is not about staying silent regarding tyranny or denial or prejudice, though. Rather, it inspires incisive questions to be spoken and challenging realities to be raised. A famous quote by the Protestant pastor and activist Martin Niemoller is still timely: “When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent: I was not a communist. When they locked up the Social Democrats, I remained silent; I was not a Social Democrat … When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” Over the decades, Niemoller’s poem has been edited so that “communist” is replaced with Catholic and “Social Democrat” with Protestants. Today, we could replace “Jews” or “communists” with “young black men” or “transgender people.”
One last thing: If Donald Trump is elected president, please don’t leave the U.S. We’ll need people who have the backbone and cojones to confront tyranny, denial and prejudice. You’re one of those people. Besides, lots of people said the same thing when George W. Bush was elected, but it was an empty threat. Good thing, too, as Dr. David Hawkins, psychiatrist and author, commented at that time: “In other words, you’re so self-indulgent that when things don’t go your way, you take all your marbles and go home. That’s kindergarten level. Talk about egocentricity.” Yes, I know that’s what your uncle did. And, no, you don’t want to be that way, too.