An Elephantine Misunderstanding

elephant-modern-illustration-free-vector-jpg-graphic-cave-1080x628

Image courtesy of GraphicCave.com

This election cycle has brought to mind a classic parable. I’ll share a version from the poet Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.

No one here has ever seen an elephant.

They bring it in at night to a dark room.

One by one, we go in the dark and come out

Saying how we experience the animal.

One of us happens to touch the trunk

A water-pipe kind of creature.

Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving

Back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.

I find it still, like a column on a temple.

Another touches the curved back,

A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,

Feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.

He is proud of his description.

Each of us touches one place

And understands the whole in that way.

The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark

Are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.

If each of us held a candle there

And if we went in together, we could see it.

Politics is always about the part of the elephant you’re touching, but Rumi’s description is particularly apt this election season. A friend commented on my last blog: “We know what we know. We know what we don’t know. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know.” We may be humble enough to admit a lack of expertise in a few areas,  but we generally can’t imagine the vast expanse of our own ignorance.

We get ourselves into trouble when we believe our own frame of reference is the only one and fill in the blanks with our own assumptions instead of using our collective knowledge to get a bigger picture. He pointed out the trouble, but like the rest of us, he isn’t exempt. We all do it – in our politics and personal lives. Listening and empathizing with another person’s perspective and pain is one of the most courageous and difficult actions we can take as human beings.

Sometimes, our part of the elephant is the only one we’re willing to touch. And that’s okay – for a while, maybe even a long while – but eventually, if we want to make progress as a family, community, or nation, we’re going to have to enter the darkness with our shared light. Think of it as “group enlightenment.” Entering that space together, we’ll no longer be 100% right, but we will have fuller understanding of reality.

Another friend posed the question: “Will America stop listening to the media and start listening to each other?” I don’t know. I hope so, since it’s the only way forward, but I think it’s way too soon for a lot of people who are deeply wounded and defended on both sides. If a respectful conversation isn’t possible this holiday season, maybe it’s okay to take a year off. So much still needs to come to light, from within and without.

Where are you finding light these days and how are you manifesting that light in the world?

Some people are really good at being spotlights, pointing out what needs to be seen. Some are blowtorches, using their heat to skillfully craft something new. Unfortunately, too many of us are still forest fires, burning out of control, destroying everything in our path. But all is not lost! Even forest fires make way for new life in the spring.

I don’t know what kind of light I am. I just know I am called to return again and again to the source of Divine Light. I found one call to action from a wisdom teacher Matthew Wright especially helpful.

Listen deeply, friends. I am no fan of militaristic metaphors used for the spiritual life. Nevertheless, a battle is coming, and is now here. Our weapons are light (sharp, clear-seeing), love (non-judging, compassionate awareness), resistance (refusing to fall backwards into complacency, instead joining the forward movement of evolution on its messy way through struggle and pain), and relationship (holding our hearts open–within our capacity–so as to allow for authentic connection, born of deep and vulnerable listening). As Jesus constantly says in the Gospels – be sober, be vigilant, be watchful. But do not fear.

 

Light.

Love.

Resistance.

Relationship.

Courage.

Pick up your “weapons,” friends and enemies alike, because if we commit to fight with these in our arsenal, we will find ourselves on the same side of the battle more often than not.

c06092da549a740b19bc094bd8589b3b

Poetry is a constant source of light these days. This quote is from Ranier Maria Rilke and is currently up on our family quote wall.  

 

Finding a Way Forward

I’ve been pretty quiet here the last week. I started quiet, because I didn’t want to add my voice to the post-election cacophony. So many good and powerful and true things were being said. For the first few days, I felt what was mine to feel, but I didn’t feel the need to share it with the public. I’m grateful, however, for all the people who did, including two men I love.

My husband spoke up, and I was proud of him. Tim Kirkpatrick is a man who feels things deeply and I have a ton of respect for men like him, who are willing to express their vulnerability, especially when those emotions include a deep compassion for “the other.” A couple months ago, when the election was heating up, he started posting a series of funny, 30-second videos of him singing (badly) and riffing on all things from surfing to business to comedy. This last week, however, he stopped joking and posted some more somber reflections on the election outcome. Here is a link to his two most recent posts: “Tracks of My Tears” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

But there was a new voice too, one that hasn’t spoken up before and I am very proud of him too. My son Finn posted this commentary on Facebook on Wednesday night. (He asked permission to correct the grammar and add a couple lines).

I’m new to politics. And historically speaking this is weird place to join the convo. However, I thought I’d share this clip about Trump talking about the “good old days.” He says he loved the days when protestors would be “taken off on a stretcher.” This clip is showing footage from Civil Rights movement protestors (Brown vs Board of Education and more) and then modern-day protestors. He encouraged others to inflict harm on protestors of today. This clip made me sad. Yes, I know this clip comes from a documentary with an agenda. What documentary these days doesn’t? Yes, it was intended to make Trump look bad. Still, it has some truth to it.

This clip comes from the documentary, 13th, a doc about the mass incarceration of black men in America. They cover how little progress has really been made. First, the US had slavery. Then we had Jim Crow laws. Now we have a mass incarciration of black men. When the 13th Amendment was passed, it banned slavery, with the exception of crime, so then they just made them criminals. More and more laws were made to get more and more people in jail. Now the prison system is another example of institutional racism. It’s hard for me to explain. Anyways just watch the doc on Netflix; it will blow your mind/ reassure you how corrupt our whole political system is.

But back to Trump. This made me sad, sad for all of those who Trump has diminished and put in harm’s way with his words (shown in the video). Sad for my sister and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, for the minorities and all who Trump has already put in harm’s way. Most of my friends, being Trump supporters, tell me that he doesn’t mean what he’s saying, or that we need to give him a chance. But as far as I’m concerned, whether or not Trump believes his rhetoric, it still empowers other groups take action. And give him a chance? …Yeah, we should forget everything he’s said.  But I am still hopeful for the future. If you actually read this, thanks for listening; hopefully it makes sense.

I had originally embedded the clip in this post, but I am trying to be aware of adding more violent rhetoric to the atmosphere these days. However, it is a powerful statement on the impact of Trump’s language on his supporters. If you are able to watch, or interested, you can find the clip HERE.

As a newly registered Independent voter, Finn’s observations aren’t tied to a political party. It isn’t about being a Republican, or Democrat. It’s about how one young man is trying to keep his eyes open, and share what he sees with others. It’s what he does as a photographer and a budding film-maker as well. Most of his friends are Trump supporters, but he had the courage to speak up, to show them what he sees when he sees them wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats.

My heart broke a hundred times this week, beginning on Election night when I got this text from Keara:

img_1715

More than anything, I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her it was all going to be okay, but I couldn’t, because I just don’t know. Trump has flip-flopped on his LGBTQ+ stance. I know that. He hasn’t been openly hostile to the gay community, and yes, he has even appointed a gay cabinet member, but Pence has consistently worked to disenfranchise, disrespect and demonize the gay community for decades. For many Trump supporters, putting the gay community “back in its place” was a huge part of the appeal. Ultimately, I believe it will be okay, but the long view wasn’t what Keara was looking for. I had to let her feel what she feels, but a week later, I have to help her look for hope.

In the aftermath of this election, I’ve frequently thought of Mister Roger’s mom. When something scary was happening, she would tell him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

That is what I’ve been doing this past week. I’ve been looking for helpers: those who could help me grieve, those who could help understand and those who could help me move forward.

The first category was amply supported by my husband, my sister, many friends, my Facebook feed, and late night talk show hosts. Lots of people out there are feeling my pain.

The second category was assisted in part by this article on Cracked by David Wong and this interview with Michael Moore on Morning Joe. I actually have a much deeper understanding and compassion for Americans in deep poverty, who have been asking for attention and assistance for decades, only to be ignored by both parties year after year, despite campaign promises. This vote was the biggest “F*ck You!” to Washington they could muster. If it f*cked over a lot of other Americans, so be it. It was still their best shot to be heard once and for all. The Michigan vote, home to Flint, the filthiest water in America, makes more sense now.

The third category, the one that inspired me to write today, was this TED talk by Jonathon Haidt. No matter whom you voted for, I highly recommend you watch it. Today. Multiple times. It could be critical to the success of your holiday season and maintaining future relationships with family members, even though they voted differently than you.

It was given a serious boost by this hour-long conversation between Rob Bell and philosopher Pete Rollins. Like Haidt, they are progressives, but balanced. They don’t demonize “the other” and they offered me a larger framework for what’s happening in America right now and how we can move forward. As a side note, Pete grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, so this isn’t just an academic exercise for him.

I could probably stop now, and maybe I should, but I’m going to push my luck.

While I started off quiet to allow other voices to speak, I’ve stayed quiet, because I couldn’t write anything that wasn’t a lament, or a tirade, and there are plenty of those out there already. I have several unpublished essays where I go from being vulnerable and centered to angry and raging. While that may be how I feel, I’m pretty sure it’s not helpful.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 7.26.17 PM.png

I was amazed with Liz Gilbert’s ability to immediately focus on what she needed to do, asking “Who Do I Want to be in this Situation?”

I was impressed with Glennon Doyle Melton’s call to action.

While these ladies were out there encouraging the world, I was at home in a fetal position. I’m not finished crying yet, but this is what I have to offer as of today. Some tirade, some lament, some progress, hopefully.

I’ve heard a lot about the “echo chamber” the progressive elites were sitting in during this election and I’ll admit, I was there. But I will counter that many Trump supporters have been sitting in their “echo chamber” for the last eight years, watching Fox news and reading Breitbart, as blissfully unaware of the alternative point of view as we were. In our “echo chambers,” we are ignorant of each other’s pain and fear, (which we always cover over with righteous anger) and it is easy to assume the worst.

The clip Finn shared is a glimpse into the progressive “echo chamber.” If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to watch it, especially if you’ve been sitting in the other one (and if you aren’t deeply concerned by this election outcome, you haven’t been in my “chamber.”) We are all – every single one of us – in some “chamber,” breathing the air of our own confirmation bias. It makes us human, but not as wise as we could be.

For all of you who voted for Trump, who said it was about the economy for you, Hillary’s past, the need for change, or the “sanctity of life,” know that for a fair part of Trump’s base, it wasn’t just, or only about those things. It was about this! THIS is what fired them up and what they hope to see more of in a Trump presidency. It may, or may not happen on a policy level, but it is already happening on the streets and Trump, their candidate, told them it was okay. In this video, in his own voice, he waxed nostalgic for it.

If you don’t believe me, look at the feed of Shaun King who is collecting data and reports about these types of incidents. If a millennial civil rights activist isn’t a reliable source for you, here is Dan Rather on the subject. And if you don’t trust him either, look for the honest reporting of it in your own go-to news sources. If it isn’t there, know that your “echo chamber” is alive and well. (And yes, I have seen at least one video of it going the other way. I have also sought out inflammatory videos about Hillary, so I could experience the other echo. I am trying to do my homework.)

If you are a part of my life, I believe your vote wasn’t about this. I know you aren’t supportive of this type of behavior or rhetoric. I believe you aren’t racist, or homophobic, or xenophobic. You wouldn’t be part of my life if you were. A few of you have even reached out to reassure Kiko of your support. I trust that you want justice to prevail for ALL Americans.

But know that if you wear your victory on your sleeve, this is part of what you are clothed in, along with misogyny and a whole host of other qualities that I know you do not teach your children. You wouldn’t tolerate Trump’s behavior in a classroom teacher, or even a volunteer soccer coach. I KNOW you. I’ve seen you speak up and activate for your own kids. Trump would be fired the first time he made a comment about your daughter’s performance based on his impression that she was “bleeding out of her you know, whatever.” But we didn’t fire him; we hired him.

So if your child is spouting Trump’s rhetoric, or rocking a “Make America Great Again” hat, perhaps you could talk to them about all that it implies. Show them the video clip (and the one where Trump talks about grabbing a woman by the p*ssy) and encourage them to make a statement about what you (and presumably he, or she) actually stand for – an end to the insider’s hold on Washington, an end to abortion, a more conservative immigration plan, a business man in the White House? Whatever it is, don’t offer Trump a blank check to speak for you.

And this is where I want to be clear about my own culpability.

Every time I raise my hand to point a finger at you, three fingers are pointing back at me. I know that. There’s a good chance  you see me in the same way.

I know my support of HRC was incomprehensible to many Americans, especially people who share my faith. I imagine you see me clothed in her sins as well. So let me be clear, as I am asking you to be. I did not support all of her policies. I am fully aware of the many unethical choices she’s made over the course of her thirty-year political career. I may be sporting a whole host of obnoxious sartorial choices you find unfair, and unfaithful. She would not have been my first, second, or even third choice for a president, but against Donald Trump, she was my ONLY choice.

I will wear a pantsuit and hold my head up high if that’s what it takes to say that women, the disabled, the immigrant, and the oppressed be treated fairly, with dignity and due process. Hillary’s sins were many, but mostly politics-as-usual as far as I’m concerned, ones that men have used for centuries to get ahead. The corruption of the DNC was despicable and their inability to grasp the consequences of their actions in real time contributed to a truly horrific outcome for all Americans. I wear it all, not with pride but with humility, conscious of the fallibility of the candidate and our political process.

I’m pointing my three fingers back at me. I KNOW what was wrong with my candidate and many of her positions, but Trump’s character, actions, standards and campaign rhetoric are beyond the pale for me. There was no formula by which I could have voted for anyone else but the one woman who could have beaten him, who did in fact beat him in the popular vote.

You can call me a hypocrite, a sore loser, a false Christian. I don’t know; I may be all those things, but I’m also an American and at the moment, I’m heartbroken and concerned about the safety and civil rights of my fellow citizens. Even if the system works, and the Trump/Pence ticket is limited by the checks and balances of Congress and the Supreme Court, I am disappointed for my daughters, that they heard again at the largest scale possible that men can say and do whatever they want to women and get away with it, as long as they have enough power, money, or charisma.

Donald Trump is my president. I support the demonstrations that are happening around the country as a protest against his campaign strategies, but not against his rightfully won position. I condemn the violence and awful, inflammatory statements made by some protestors. I absolutely believe in our election process and the peaceful transition of power. I am extremely proud of the way both Secretary Clinton conceded the race and President Obama began the transition. In fact, I am blown away by Elizabeth Warren and her clear offer to work with Trump on many of his election platforms. You can read it here. They are true politicians, and I mean that in the nicest way, and I didn’t even know it had a nice way. Even Trump has sounded presidential a few times since the election, civil and conciliatory. If he keeps it up,  disavows his earlier rhetoric and condemns the violence it has spawned, that hope we so desperately need just might rise.


This was a really difficult essay for me to post. I SO wanted to get to a place of total peace and acceptance before I published anything, something like the Dalai Lama. If nothing else, this election has truly humbled me, showing me how much work I have to do to become the person of peace and unity and Love I want to be. But people have told me many times over the past week that they have reread my last post and asking themselves, “What is mine to do?” So, finally, I came to terms with this essay.

This is mine to do: to grieve, to educate myself, to share my process, honestly and with as much Love as I can muster. I am hoping this essay helps you do a little bit of that too. I know this has been a long post, with a lot of additional information, so I appreciate it if you made it to the end.