This morning, my secretary handed me the following correspondence sent to my office by patient T. of California:
I have a problem I have been wrestling with…You know about my friends, and my political bent. You know we don’t share this particular political bent in common. Well, generally that’s not a problem. Except there’s this (fairly) new guy. He married into the group last year. His T***p-philia is the worst I’ve ever seen. And he’s not one of those “agree to disagree” types, he’s the type that will tag your name in every anti-Bernie Fox News Facebook post on the internet and say “what about THIS, T.!” It’s annoying as fuck. And, when I challenge his sacred beliefs enough to actually prove them wrong, he just deletes the whole thing.
Now, I love my group. Best bunch of folks I’ve ever run around with. They were all at my wedding renewal (including this guy). We had our NY party at his house (he’s rich as fuck). His bride is one of my best friends, and has been for several years.
And, now, lately, I find myself in the press-position. He asks me simple questions, I go off on an anti-T***p rant, and he politely says he just wanted to know what I think. So, he’s obviously under my skin.
I don’t want to throw the group away; they are family to me. But I’m struggling to deal with it. Honestly, last night I thought about my response to something he said yesterday and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, this is on me. It’s a growth moment, I’m certain, but I ain’t growin’ from it, yet.
So, hey, that’s what I’ve got. Can you work with it? Can you help me grow?
Good morning, T. First, I want to tell you that you are okay. Since November of 2016, my professional colleagues have reported a steady uptick in clients seeking their psychoanalytical expertise because the current sociopolitical climate has made them wonder if their very humanity and compassion might actually be symptomatic of psychosis. Unfortunately, those who display braggadocious glee at the election of an illiterate fascist to the presidency of the United States rarely seek out the services of a therapist. This is a pity, since those are the people who are so awash in undiagnosed mental disorders that they are an imminent danger to themselves and others.
An empathetic individual, as I can tell you are, lately finds him or herself in uncharted territory. We find that our reservoirs of understanding and open-mindedness are nearly bone-dry. But we must remember that the segment of the population enabling and celebrating the forces of institutional aggression is acting from ignorance fueled by enormous suffering. The pervasiveness of media in a perpetually connected society creates conflicting illusory world views in the minds of billions of plugged-in spectators. Facts are ignored in lieu of confirmation bias, ensuring that large swaths of humanity are literally living in different realities from each other. This situation is now far beyond anyone’s control and the occasional sober truths hidden within the vast web of misinformation too often remain obscured and unacknowledged.
Your friend is still a human being. Perhaps he was the product of a rabidly conservative household or he was picked on by a crew of cigarette smoking dirt bags in high school. It’s impossible to say why he harbors the views that he does, but the fact that he is so prone to antagonism towards those who feel differently speaks volumes. A person who is secure in his beliefs does not feel compelled to engage in verbal warfare with those who subscribe to different viewpoints. The fact that he deletes your counterpoints proves his subconscious understanding that he is defending the indefensible. A person whose public persona is so at odds with his basic humanity simply displays the involuntary defensive behaviors of a cornered animal. This psychological struggle remains largely unconscious to him because his immediate reaction to feelings of vulnerability is to lash out. Aggression, whether physical or verbal, drowns out the messages from his dwindling reserve of subconscious wisdom. This is a form of addiction. Drunks drink, junkies shoot junk and T***p supporters make loud, angry, unsubstantiated claims for the exact same reason: all of these activities temporarily mask the existential pain and fear within. Like all addictions, the compulsion to don a veneer of rage is cumulative as the corresponding behaviors grow less and less voluntary and the illusions behind them more and more solid.
Those who thrive on division and the demarcation of battle lines do not understand the truths of impermanence and interdependence that give rise to the phenomenal realm of experience. I’ve written many a professional thesis on this basic source of ignorance that expresses itself in the contrived dualisms of racism, sexism, nationalism and all other forms of bigotry and discrimination. The repetition of such delusional thoughts slowly consumes a person until all of the information captured by the senses — in other words, his or her entire experience of life — is tarnished and opaque. Life experienced in this way is what Buddhists call Samsara: it isn’t a location but rather the delusional state of mind through which phenomena are apprehended. It is the culprit lurking behind every misunderstanding and instance of erroneous discriminatory interpersonal malevolence. I am speaking, of course, of that anxiety-fueled bogeyman of defensive conceit that Sigmund Freud dubbed the ego. The most insidious fallacy perpetuated by this belief in skin-bordered individuality and eternal life is the unquestioned assumption that we are not processes arising from creative emptiness but self-determining finite conscious organisms forced to defend themselves from the dangers posed by a chaotic and unconscious universe.
To put all of that in layman’s terms: because they view themselves as individual actors in an ongoing struggle for survival, they live in a state of constant fear. Fear begets rage resulting in unskillful action leading to even greater fear. This greater fear is the unexplored subconscious realization that a life led thusly is a sham. An unnecessary exercise in frustrating futility. It is the very source of all human suffering.
So how do we interact with our unfortunate delusional friends under such an exponential avalanche of ignorance as that which is currently swallowing such a significant portion of our species? How do we resist the temptation to meet aggression with aggression and hatred with hatred? We begin by meditating on the interdependent nature of all phenomena. Visualize the Universe like a vast ocean. Waves arise from the surface of the ocean, but they are not other than the ocean – they are movements of water within a larger process of a perpetually flowing stream. These movements can be likened to a movement of one of your body parts: an action occurs but it is contained within the larger process of the body which is contained within the larger process of the environment. When you move your arm, the active appendage doesn’t suddenly disengage itself from the whole. The movement of the arm is an action of the whole. Life arises similarly from the larger phenomenal Universe: movements of molecules coalesce into simple organic compounds that combine to form the substance of a complex organism. This organism is not separate from the forces that brought it into being – the organism and its environment are a singular process. In other words, the Universe expresses itself in lifeforms in the same way that a body of water expresses its underlying movements in waves arising from the surface. And if these lifeforms behave in ways that are at odds with their true natures, this too is just a part of the indivisible process.
I would suggest that the next time you are baited to respond to one of your friend’s antagonistic outbursts that you do so in a completely apolitical manner. No matter how egregious his misapprehension of political realities, counter his statement with a calm and simple explanation of Universal interdependence. Plant the seed of an idea in his mind that he is you are she is me, ad infinitum. At the very least, this will engender a pause in the exchange. While he attempts to make sense of your cryptic reply, continue to offer him little glimpses of truth, for example: “Just as the ocean waves, the Universe peoples”. If at that point, he looks at you like you’ve lost your mind, tell him that you were simply quoting esteemed 20th century philosopher Alan Watts. You may not inspire him to contemplate your words beyond the present conversation, but at the very least, you will have avoided an aggressive exchange through the introduction of confusion into the dialogue. At the onset, he thought he was embarking on another spirited defense of self-centered motivation. Instead, he found himself rendered dumbstruck by statements that are incomprehensible to his ignorant mind. A stalemate is better than a battle.
Those of us who understand these truths are still justifiably alarmed at the state of the world, of course. What we fear is the rapidly increasing potential for wide scale calamity. Calamities themselves are still on the steady decline that began with the Industrial Revolution, but it’s an anxious peace in which we live. There’s a trick to increasing one’s compassion for all sentient beings while simultaneously remaining free of worry about what may come. It is to frequently remind yourself of the very real inseparability of all living things until you actually feel it in your experience of life and empathy arises naturally and effortlessly for anyone and everyone you may encounter. With such a view, you will always speak and act with wisdom. At the same time, understand that the only reason something like nuclear Armageddon frightens us so is because even those of us with good hearts labor under the delusion of intrinsic existence. The Earth is a rather miniscule chunk of rock floating around within the borders of a 13.8 billion light year wide playing field. Therefore, the “end of the world” is not synonymous with the end of the phenomenal Universe. And since each and every one of us are nothing but movements of the Universe, that which animates us would remain unscathed by the destruction of a single planet. Our energies thus diffused will simply drive other movements within the larger sphere, some of which may turn out to be new organisms — the next wave of sentient beings called into existence to play and dance with Lila. Every ending is a new beginning in a perpetual stream of creation and destruction and renewal and decay.
The Universe may very well be fixing to play with the forces of destruction and decay upon our little blue-green habitat, but don’t take it personally. After all, you are inseparable from this energetic web making you just as responsible as anyone for the existence of deluded mindsets like those of Donald T***p. Help your friend by embracing wisdom, and thank him for the gift of motivation to do so. As for whatever invective he may toss at you in the future, recognize it as the desperate wailing of a frightened animal whose ignorance makes him believe he has been abandoned and forgotten by the very force of which he is an integral aspect.
And if you truly want to freak him the fuck out, tell him that you love him. And remember: you have to really mean it.