A life lesson long in arriving

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Months ago – years ago, now – I began a rapid slide into a low-grade fever that I called “This can’t be happening in my country.”

After two years and nine months after an official election on top of months of what for any other candidate would have been really bad press, I’ve finally found a way not to go mad when I hear the leader of the free world (the position was once called this) say undemocratic things; also known as tyrant rants; strongman bluster; prejudice against the other (which includes females), such as the following:

• A tweet about journalist Megan Kelly: “…blood coming out of her whatever….” (Aug. 8, 2015)
• “I would bring back waterboarding. And I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” (Feb. 7, 2016)
• Mocking a reporter with a congenital joint condition by acting as if he himself were having an epileptic fit. And then saying he didn’t do it. (July 28, 2016)
• “I wanted to hit those speakers at the Democratic Convention. So bad. I wanted to punch them right in the face, every last one of them. The voices alone on those women made me want to hit them.”(August 2016)
• “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset.” (Jan. 11, 2017)
• Calling Haiti, El Salvador and Africa “sh**hole countries” [sic; Africa is not a country.] CNN called this line a “new rock bottom,” but obviously they didn’t know their man. (Jan. 11, 2018)

All of these statements made my stomach hurt. There was worse to come as the days and weeks to come, but they all fall into the same general category of the insidious injustice of hate speech and what it can do to the people of a country. Of any country. Of the world. What drove a terrorist to attack El Paso last week was called a “cut and paste” from the most infamous Twitter account we know too well.

A large part of my malaise moved beyond just one twit with power promoting a general intellectual, cultural and moral climate of permission to act with violence.

Beyond this horror is my dismay that self-proclaimed Christian men and women – friends, relatives, entire congregations – could support the rabid rhetoric of a conscienceless, self-centered “leader.” It seemed to me that a lot of these good people who followed him were suffering under the condition of cognitive dissonance – holding two opposing views at once and being able to live with both of them.

But this week, I came upon a way to make my stomach quit hurting, a way to rid myself of the seemingly permanent low-grade fever of dismay at the true State of the Union: I, too, need to adopt a cognitive dissonance way of thinking.

My answer came from a spiritual lesson of Buddhism called upekkha, which means equanimity (evenness of mind under stress; balance).

If I practice the cognitive dissonance in this way – accepting the existence of injustice/while fighting to vanquish it – I can keep my own heart steady, free and open. I can’t just rail against it; I have to accept, a big way, that injustice exists in a big way in my country.

I was apparently living under the delusion that life is fair. I was taught that I had to be fair. I was not taught that many others never heard of it. Late to the game of real life, I have finally arrived at some semblance of maturity.

I accept reality – there is injustice in this world, and my country’s leader is a world leader of it.

I accept that I can help to vanquish it. Without turning into it, without bombast and ugliness; but with compassion and loving kindness. Well, maybe just compassion. At least at first.

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