Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the politics of exclusion

Four years ago, when my oldest daughter was still in high school, she decided that for Halloween she would dress as the antithesis of herself. Since her self at that time dressed almost exclusively in black and was a devout -- almost rabid -- democrat, she went on a pretext to the republican headquarters in town and availed herself of several Bush bumper-stickers and a Bush placard (for planting in a lawn).

On Halloween morning, she dressed in a pink evening gown, plastered the bumper stickers on her notebook and backpack, and left for her day at school carrying the placard as well. It was, of course, terribly amusing to her classmates and teachers, who knew her well and saw the irony of the disguise. The tricky part came after school, when she was scheduled to meet a friend at the nearby grocery store to get a ride home.

To do so, my daughter had to leave the high school -- still dressed in pink and carrying her Bush paraphenalia -- and walk two blocks down a busy road to the store. And, because our island (despite the existence of a Republican headquarters) is primarily Democratic in its political persuasions, she found herself subjected to all kinds of hoots and jeering and general nastiness during the course of that two-block walk. She was appalled at this behavior -- she had thought Democrats were above that sort of thing -- and since that time has adamantly refused to listen to or read any of the negative remarks published by members of either party about their opponents. Bush, she concluded, was doing the best he can with what he knew, and while she remained a democrat she became intolerant of intolerance.

As now, four years later, the glass houses again begin throwing stones, I find that I, too have developed a severe aversion to this behavior. She was home when Obama gave his acceptance speech, but as soon as his sentences began with "McCain didn't" and "The Republicans" she left the room. I stayed a bit longer, but then I, too, walked away. I stopped supporting and the Obama campaign when they began sending out messages attacking their opponents, and I am resisting all the anti-Sarah Palin propaganda that has come flying into my emailbox.

Which is not to say that I am not still a Democrat: I am, and passionately so. But what drew me to Obama initially was his promise of change, and one of the changes I had hoped to see was an end to the mudslinging. But as time passes and he falls more and more into the hands of "seasoned" campaign advisors, I see more of the same-old, same-old retaliatory tactics.

And who among us, under attack, can resist the urge to fight back, to whine, to pace in fury, looking for revenge? Not I, said the Little Red Hen, Not I. So how can we expect our political candidates to do otherwise?

I heard a piece on NPR the other day, about a democrat who had been invited by a friend to attend the Republican National Convention. And he talked about a psychological phenomenon: that we who believe tend to surround ourselves with like-minded believers and become steeped in those beliefs and the language around them, to the point where we can no longer hear or understand the arguments raised on the other side.

Contrast this with this quote from Aleksandr Solzheitsyn which I read this morning:

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere indsidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who among us is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?"

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Unfortunately, I think we sense that dividing line within ourselves and project it outward onto others, loving those who we perceive to be echoing the best within us and hating those who echo that which we find unlovable within ourselves. We project our own internal polarization onto the world around us, and fail to have compassion both inwardly and outwardly for that which we falsely, self-protectively designate as "other."

I had hoped, with many others, that this election would bring an end to that sort of objectification. But Obama and his camp are only human. Perhaps it is only Jesus who can stand on the cross and proclaim "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do."


karengberger said...

Have you read Fr. Rohr's new book, "Things Hidden?" There is wonderful stuff in it, on exactly this topic.
I had hoped that this campaign was going to fulfill its promise, but it seems the promises were just that: only words that sounded great. Apparently, the discipline to take the heat and STILL practice what was preached is not here yet.
Gregg and I believe that in order to want to be president, one has to be crazy or power-mad. A bit cynical? Yes we are, but who in his/her right mind would want that job?

Singapuriano said...

i just found ur blog when i googled Jack Kornfield. really cool stuff. i'm sixty now and have been thinking myself every 4years or 8 years that this time will be the election that makes the changes to end suffering. "Duhh, What was I thinking":Wes Nisker

But I thank you for reminding me that its just that I want to believe or that I forget its not Them, or Others, its me....and its not myfault.
living in Singapore