We were in Real de Catorce to photograph the Passion of Christ. I was wobbly-tired after taking care of my sick airbnb guests and overseeing home repairs. Besides the shoot, my other goal was to plant my butt on the cushion I had brought along and meditate every evening. The meditation and mindfulness practice was simple: to ask “What is happening?” as thoughts and observations arose.
As an atheist, I was totally unprepared for the emotions that welled up as the pagaent unfolded. At one point, when the crowd was screaming “Mátalo, mátalo!” (Kill him, kill him!), I was shooting with tears streaming down my face. Another photographer told me she was sickened by the hatred and brutality of the human race.
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those words spun in my head that evening as I meditated. However, my thoughts were far from the story of the crucifixion. I thought of a local cafe in SMA, with its picture of a urinal that was Trump’s open mouth. I had seen the exact same picture of Hillary during the campaign. Posted on facebook by a fellow Democrat, it had the initials RSC in the lower right-hand side. RSC is the Republican Study Committee.
What is happening? From where I stand, the Left and the Right look like mirror images of each other. Before I go on, let me state that I am a Moderate Democrat.
I worked in a post-genocide region once. There is a eight-stage classification system that predicts genocide. The first five stages describe how hate builds. Stage One: Classifying people by what they believe or how they look – Hutu or Tutsi, German or Jew, Republican or Democrat.
Stage Two: Distinquishing groups by symbols. Tutsis were called “Cockroaches”, Jews were “Germs” to be identified by yellow stars, Republicans are “Rednecks” and nobody is ever going to visit Texas again.
Stage Three: Dehumanization by extreme vilification. Recently, I saw an image of Trump´s head on the body of Hitler, the monster who killed millions of people. These sorts of claims are not just false exaggerations; they convince us of our righteousness and pump us up for all manner of inhuman behavior. I recently heard someone say that Trump had no good qualities. She was adamant. Not. A. Single. One.
Stage Four: Organization, or the power behind the process, which is almost always political parties. Political parties on both sides of the aisle in the US have a vested interest in keeping us apart while they rip us off.
Stage Five: Polarization, when extremists drive the groups apart. Why did 16 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries vote for President Trump in the general election? (Source: NPR) The strategy was to increase polarization and give the extreme Left a better chance of winning in the next election. Nothing like being double-crossed by members of your own party…
At this point, Moderates on both sides of the aisle have a responsibility to stand up and make it clear that they will not participate in the process that is driving us apart.
This is me standing up. To my own tribe.
Hate is corrosive. It not only consumes a person, it affects physical and emotional health. According to Pew Research, Liberals, who view themselves as tolerant, are in fact less tolerant than Conservatives. Liberals are more willing to end friendships and to unfriend or unfollow those who don’t share their beliefs on social media. PRI reported that Liberals were boycotting their families if they supported Trump and GQ wrote an article telling readers it was their civic duty to ruin Thanksgiving dinner by ranting about Trump if their relatives had supported him.
What is happening?
It used to be that people knew not to discuss politics or religion at the table. The feeling was that meals were for building relationships, not tearing them down. I recently sat at a table where the entire group was ranting about Trump. It wasn’t a reasoned political discussion about issues; it was code to show membership in the club. One person nudged me to show a text sent by a relative who called the White House a “Clown Bus.” Three people were discussing the state of the Trump marriage. One person mentioned Hitler.
I piped up, “Do we have to talk about politics at breakfast?” The response was “Don’t listen.”
It was good advice. I quietly left my uneaten food, went somewhere else, ordered a second breakfast and read a book while I ate in peace. Later, someone said my exit, as inobtrusive as it was, was dramatic. (It is sad that refusing to participate in polarization is considered dramatic.)
Yesterday, I listened to a talk by Buddhist teacher Steven Batchelor on reactivity. He pointed out that letting go of reactivity doesn’t mean stamping it out. Letting go means we stop identifying with it, buying into self-righteousness, or getting caught up in the madness of the crowd.
The world is on fire. We are being consumed by hatred. I have lost count of the number of people I have heard say that they could never be friends with or date anyone who voted for Trump.
Well, I didn’t vote for him, but I love people who did. And they love me. I refuse to make my world so small it only contains people who think like me.
No Tutsis, no Hutus. Just people.
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was Christ letting go of hatred.
Wasn’t that the real story of the Passion of Christ?