Hitting the limits of magnanimity

Dear President Trump,

As you know by now, I’ve worked very, very hard not to let hate settle into my psyche. I don’t want it to take hold or to be a motivating force. It’s poison, and ingesting and holding poison in one’s system is a bad idea for all sorts of reasons.

I tried for a long time to take the high road by separating someone’s behavior from their person such that it’s ok to hate the behavior but not the person (and yes, I know I’ve written to you about this before – clearly it’s still an issue for me so I need to chew on it some more). In normal circumstances where one is dealing with regular human beings who are mostly acting in regular decent ways and who sometimes (let’s say a couple of times a day to be realistic) mess up and do something less than interpersonally stellar, continuing to like or love the person even as the behavior is disliked or hated is doable. Yes, it’s probably easier to do this with and for those one is in close proximity to since life would be pretty intolerable if every slight or insensitive/negligent/boorish/annoying/etc. behavior of those right around us led to full on hate of that person. Basically, such a set up would never have passed natural selection muster and if it had held sway eons ago the human species simply wouldn’t exist.

The recognition some years ago that it’s fundamentally unfair to afford those in my direct orbit such benefits of doubts and not extend them to everyone was part of the impetus for starting on the loving-kindness meditation path. Saying those phrases every day is basically a stubborn way of affirming and resetting to the idea that all beings are deserving of love, even those whose behavior has harmed us or is currently harming us (we need to be really real here). Cultural (and perhaps evolutionary) pressures abound encouraging us to make us/them distinctions and to view those outside our circles as suspect and not worthy of second chances. These judgments and disconnects in turn leads to prejudice, rationalized injustice, and violence, so actively countering them is important work.

Lately, though, it’s felt like my peaceable equilibrium has been sorely challenged and I’m barely hanging on to my prosocial practices. It’s like LKM is a little tree that’s lodged in the side a cliff I’ve fallen off of and I just managed to grab it on the way down. The cliff is crumbling around the tree and it feels like there are demons up top throwing shit down that’s not only distracting, but is making it hard to hold fast. Plus, I’m getting tired. Plus, it’s a little tree and even though its roots are very old and deep, I’ve been asking an awful lot of it and my weight is straining it tremendously. In other words, I need something firm to stand on but I’ve not yet been able to find a decent purchase and there’s too much going on to build one.

All this is to confess that I found myself last night saying that I hate you and McConnell and Bolton and Barr and Kushner and Pompeo and all the sychophantic GOP Congresspeople propping you up. That I’ve gotten to the point where you all have racked up so many hateful despicable behaviors that you’ve become one with them and I can no longer pretend that I’m a big enough person to hate those behaviors and still hold your beings in positive regard. I just can’t. Which feels like a defeat of sorts, one that feels sad and basically quite shitty, but maybe admitting this will be liberating in some way – “the truth will set you free” sort of thing.

I am still clear, though, that hating you all cannot be the firm thing upon which to stand and I am also still clear that I need, for myself, to hold onto the LKM tree even as I try to figure out ways to not put so much strain on it.

Tich Nhat Hanh talks about holding anger tenderly, like most of us would hold a crying baby, and maybe that’s what hate needs too. Dang it.

May we be safe from hate.
May we be willing to face hate when it crops up.
May we have healthy democratic processes that engender passion, not hate.
May we make peace with the limits of magnanimity without resorting to hate.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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