When I took place in one of the many sister marches going on around the country to demonstrate against a Trump presidency/cabinet, I reconnected to something that I hadn’t felt since before election day, 2016: maybe all hope was not lost. I connected to the courage to take a stand.
I’ve been angry with myself, since the election, for my inability to neither act nor even articulate how I felt. Marching yesterday, I realized that I’d felt so stuck because I’d been bouncing between hopelessness and fury, and that they are really one and the same, just expressed differently. Arms flailing, words failing.
If any of us are going to survive the next four years and the work that it will take to demonstrate against the policies that Trump is enacting, the first thing that we will need is not knowledge of how to flood political networks with calls or use words like “intersectionality” when we talk about feminism.
What we will need, first, is the ability to stop our own fear-based, parasitic thinking. If you, like me, have felt to varying degrees like you really wanted to do something to effect change, but you quickly grew overwhelmed or exhausted when you tried to engage, I’d bet that fear-based thinking is at the root of it.
A parasite dissolves its host. When we’re stuck in parasitic thinking, we’re stuck in that hopelessness and that fury. It churns and churns, exhausting you but never actually going anywhere. Every single oppressive system–patriarchy, classism, all of it–depends on people being stuck in that endless churning. Fear-based thinking is what oppressive systems teach. There is no way out, with fear-based thinking. You are always under its knuckle. It has power over you, while pretending that you’re the one making the choices (all so that you won’t question things, too much).
The parasitic thinking of hopelessness is How is this going to ever get better I can’t believe that this happened what more could I have done what’s going to happen to the people that I love? The parasitic thinking of fury is This is unacceptable they’d better not think they can get away with this I can’t believe they’re doing this why aren’t more people saying this is wrong I’m going to tell everyone on social media how fucked up things are.
Hopelessness breeds inaction (not good). Fury breeds action (good) but not the kind that is sustainable (not good). People flame out when fury takes the wheel.
Parasitic thinking is fear-based—which is to say that it is rooted in our underlying fears.
Hopelessness is fear that causes you to check out, and fury is fear that causes you to lash out as a protection.
The first step in getting out of fear-based thinking is the simple awareness that it exists and that it’s happening. Good old Buddhist-based awareness practice: access your body, see what’s really happening.
In the fog immediately after the election, myself and most of the people I know were so shell-shocked and horrified that we ping-ponged back and forth between the hopelessness and the fury. We didn’t want to be neutral because then a sexist-racist-homophobic tyrant just gets away with all of his sexist racist homophobic tyrant behavior. Yet many of us quickly saw that the angrier we got, the more depleted—the less useful—we were to actually effecting change. So we’d go back over the net to a sort of neutral stasis, at which point we’d think, “I can’t let that sexist-racist-homophobic tyrant get away with things…”
The cycle rages on. It’s exhausting.
The Middle Way
I’ve known for a long time that accessing the body, listening without attachment, and reframing stories are critical courage practices. I’ve drilled myself in them so much that they’ve become courageous habits. Someone yells at me? I start accessing my body, listening without attachment to what they say or what I feel, and then reframing any limiting stories that would otherwise have me feeling shut down.
It’s only when you become aware of fear-based thinking that you have any capacity to step outside of it (and this is true, by the way, whether your fears are about the politics of the country or about your relationship or about money or about anything else).
You access the body. Accessing the body, by the way? An enormously important practice for anyone who has spent a lifetime with other people’s negative projections about their body (which is, frankly, most of us). When accessing the body, you notice whether you’re at the pole of hopeless or the pole of fury. “I’m feeling hopeless (and checked out)” or “I’m feeling furious (and ready to do some damage).”
You listen without attachment to all of the fears and the anger and the sadness and the despair. The “without attachment” part is critical, because if you listen—and then react based on what fear says to do—then your reaction is fear-based.
You reframe limiting stories. For instance, if the story “They’re going to win with their hateful agenda” comes to you, you notice that you have no evidence that this is true and that whether or not someone else has a hateful agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not you’ll decide to speak up, about it. This is not, also, “reframing” as in, “slap an affirmation on it until it no longer bothers me.” This is legit reframing, a true grounding in your own psychological resilience and efficacy.
Altogether, this becomes a sort of “middle way,” which is what Buddhism aims for (if Buddhism can be said to have aims).
Instead of the one extreme of shutting down, and the other extreme of fury, you step into the marvelous middle: a place where you are grounded in your integrity and in the next action that is called for.
The Courage To Take a Stand
If you want the courage to take a stand, it starts in remembering this: if you shut down either from hopelessness or after exhausting yourself with fury, then a discriminatory president and his cabinet will do more damage.
To save our sanity for the long-haul of social justice for everyone, and not just for the first few weeks of a presidency or even the next four years, I think that we do ourselves a service when we decide to walk a middle path. That looks something more like every day, clearly, straightforwardly and without reservation stating that you will not support this presidency.
No, you don’t abuse other people in your clear articulation of the problem (that would be going back over to that parasitic fury, again).
You just refuse to be silent about this fact: there is a real issue, here. Trump and his views are a real issue that will impact real people in real ways, and you will not be complicit. The complicity of the people who are making up his cabinet and who voted for him, are also part of the issue. The issue of someone coming to power who uses power to diminish the rights of others, is a real issue.
Most of us struggle with finding the courage to take a stand because we worry about doing it wrong, being rejected or criticized, the re-stimulation of old traumas as we encounter other people’s anger or shaming behaviors, outing ourselves as being part of a group that is discriminated against, and more.
When we decide to practice a middle way in our approach, neither shutting down out of despair nor lashing out and behaving just like the abusers we seek to put in check, we put ourselves in place to respond to the challenges that will come from a place of sanity.
When we’re grounded in our own courage, we find the courage to take a stand and bring courage beyond the walls of our own individual lives, and to the lives of others who have long needed it.
A few more resources for thought: