Reflection on Election, with Compassion

In my Buddhist practice, I begin each day with these words (thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh):

Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
And to view beings through eyes of compassion.

That last line would be easy if it referred only to those beings with whom I feel a connection, a comfort level. But I know it means all beings.

In addition to practicing Buddhism, I sometimes refer to myself as a devout Unitarian Universalist, a term some see as an oxymoron. After all, even Garrison Keillor refers to us as the religion with the “Ten Suggestions.” But the very first principle of Unitarian Universalist is to…

…affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person

Again, there’s that pesky “every person.”

Many of my liberal friends have reacted to Tuesday’s election results by donating money to groups that will stand up for the oppressed who we fear will become more oppressed in a Trump presidency, and that’s for the good. I will do the same. Like many of my friends, I have started wearing a safety pin, a symbol that I’ll do what I can for the safety of all in the face of possible bullying (of the left or right, I’d add).

Buddha hands holding flower, close upBut most of all the election result has called into question my own eyes of compassion and commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I failed to see how fearful and angry were so many of my fellow Americans. If I were listening with compassion for those people, I would have understood it better, and if more of us were listening with compassion, maybe the result of the election would have been different.

Before Election Day, I did get a glimmer of the pain on the right by talking with some friends and by watching the three-part interview series Van Jones, TV commentator and former White House staffer, posted on his Facebook page. He went to Gettysburg to try to understand why we seem to be in another Civil War.

I’ve also been helped by a past article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and by the post I re-blogged after Election Day called Profile of a Trump Voter.

What I think I’ve learned is that both liberals and conservatives feel that we have lost control over our country, but we are looking at different things.

Liberals see a governmental structure that over the last four or five decades has become far more conservative — less financial and environmental regulation, more money for war and the military, more people in prisons, more holes in the social safety net, more big money in elections. Even after almost eight years in office, Barack Obama failed to close Guantanamo, bring the Patriot Act under control, or end our military involvements overseas. Meanwhile, the right portrays him as an extreme leftist.

Conservatives are concentrating more on the social fabric of our lives. Families no longer stay together, either geographically or emotionally. The movies and TV shows — with liberal producers, directors and writers — emphasize the individual over the family, and a wink-wink attitude toward sex and drugs has invaded our schools, even middle schools. Mainstream colleges teach political correctness. Unskilled and semi-skilled labor has been devalued. Hook-ups have become a casual fact of adolescent life. And (forgive my bluntness) former President Bill Clinton got a blow job in the Oval Office from a woman 27 years younger than him and then avoided conviction after impeachment because he said he did nothing to stimulate her.

You may disagree with some of my points in the two paragraphs above, but this is what I’ll ask you to do: Find one friend or acquaintance who voted for what you consider the other side. Sit down with him or her and say something like this:

I value and respect you, and I’m having trouble understanding why you voted as you did. I’d appreciate it if you’d explain frankly what led to your decision, and I’ll do my best to listen with compassion.

You may be surprised at what you learn.

— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

6 Comments Add yours

  1. amiezor says:

    100% wholeheartedly agree. ❤

    This whole election and your blog post has me thinking of your previous posts around rethinking UU church congregations to be less intimidating to normal folk, who are not social justice warriors but are just merely concerned spiritualists – or others who are not super liberal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Thank you, Amie. You put it well: “…less intimidating to normal folk, who are not social justice warriors….” I’ll have to remember that phrase. I’m doing what I can to nudge us in a better direction after the shock of Election Day. I hope we learn the right lessons from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m still going around and around with this, and I’m still stuck. I don’t have anyone that I can have the conversation you suggest, with. When I tried to talk about politics before the election with people I disagreed with, I got yelled at. I stopped talking about it to preserve the relationships. And I’m still there. Not talking so I don’t get yelled at and hurt and lose relationships and respect for people. I read your summary of why “the right” feels pain, and I agree and even have empathy with a lot of the feelings and observations. But the stumbling block, for me, comes from the interpretation, the idea that this pain and cultural fraying is the fruits of liberalism, the left, or government at all. I don’t understand, or connect, or empathize with that connection, if that makes any sense. When that stuff that we both decry gets blamed on “liberals” I feel alienated and angry. I can try to not take it personally, but they make it personal when they drag “the left” and “liberals” into it. I can say, well I guess I’m not a liberal because I’m not what they’re describing, but that then doesn’t make any sense. And I get mad all over again because I don’t want to let someone else define me, even if it’s just a negative definition. It’s like that profile you posted–a big fu to me and my friends and loved ones–and I’m supposed to feel compassion for that? I just can’t seem to get there. And I’m not any closer than I was in November:(

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      I understand completely that you and I are not responsible for the ills I described in that paragraph, but the conservatives see people like us, along with Nancy Pelosi and Jane Fonda and the captains of the California and New York media and entertainment centers as responsible. And if that seems illogical, think about how many of our liberal friends see Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Jerry Falwell as evil, one-dimensional purveyors of everything we consider bad. I’ll send you an email with some thoughts I’d rather not put here.


      1. It doesn’t just seem “illogical ” it seems much worse than illogical. And actually, no, my liberal friends, while they certainly don’t like the politicians you mention (and I don’t either) don’t generally tar regular people with the same brush.


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