Is there anything more powerful than forgiveness? Is there anything more difficult than to truly forgive? “An eye for eye,” as one famous teacher noted, leaves everyone blind and is the driving force in many of the world’s political conflicts. In its more insidious form, it drives much of our personal conflict.
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The Politics of Resentment and The Practice of Forgiveness
Only genuine forgiveness breaks the cycle of suffering and in practice it benefits the forgiver far more than the one forgiven…
First things first: on the same day set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre, Sarah Palin decided to portray herself as one of them. Apparently, only words critical of her hateful rhetoric are deemed dangerous. Ms. Palin, your argument is really against this woman, who today lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life. It was the brave Ms. Giffords who first pointed out that your rhetoric could have consequences.
This habit of painting themselves as the victims, even whey they are perpetrators of violent acts and speech, is what characterizes the politics of resentment from the right. Sarah Palin had a great opportunity to evolve into a force for unity and healing and instead delivered one of the most despicably politicized defenses in recent memory.
This cynicism plays into the hands of keeping the public apathetic to the political process. Most Americans do not participate in the political process and many are just turned off by the whole bullshit. It’s meant to be that way. One of the founders of the Moral Majority and architect of modern conservatism, Paul Weymouth, once stated, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Among the attendees that day was Ronald Reagan.
The problem is that the more you abandon the political office of your citizenship, the easier it is for the hypocrites who claim to be truly patriotic and who go on incessantly about “real” American values, and “real” Americans to maintain the status quo. In some ways, I can understand why the American public would abandon its vigilance on our democracy.
The other day, I wrote about addiction and it is my observation that we live in an addictive society. One of the characteristics of addiction is how it erodes the family structure. Addiction is the only recognized medical disease that not only affects the afflicted, but everyone close to the addict. Families plagued by addiction almost never fully confront the dysfunction wrought by addiction. Shame, denial, and anger serve to keep the “problem” a secret and secrets kill:
Daddy isn’t a drunk, he just likes to tie one on every once in a while.
Junior isn’t a dope fiend; he’s really a good kid who’s strayed from the path.
Moms was forced to spend the rent money, she’s just trying to cope, she’s not a pill head.
In this way, the family plays an active, if unconscious, role in maintaining the addiction. No one really talks about it. No one really confronts the lies, the cheating, and the abuse. Most often, the children will tune out in their attempt to find some inner sanity. And if one family member stands up and takes a stand, that family member is often stigmatized and sometimes exiled. Furthermore, all the roles within the family are skewed: the children become the caregivers and the parents become the children. Or the parents co-sign the child’s addiction by indulging him. Oftentimes, the problem is ignored even when there’s a death or tragedy. The ruse that everything is normal must be maintained at whatever cost.
It’s not that these families are bad or evil, or morally bankrupt; it’s how the addictive process works.
I find the same corollary within our political process today. Most of the population has dropped out of the democratic process, turned off as they are from the politics of resentment. The few that do stick around are at a loss and what “leaders” there are out there are more invested in manipulating the confusion to their advantage. Finally, no one is addressing the root of the problem which is that the political process has been sold off to the highest bidder. No one is pointing at the burning cross in the room. No one is pointing out that a democracy with a two party system consisting of center-right/ extreme right factions owned by corporations is not truly a free society. Instead, those with the megaphone are busy demonizing those with solutions and some solutions aren’t even being considered.
You doubt me? Well let’s consider one of the most pernicious of our addictions, the military. Today, it’s considered reasonable to consider closing down schools, dismantling hospitals, and cutting benefits to the most vulnerable. In addition, a coming class war will most likely decimate middle class public sector employees. All these measures are considered “sane.” At the same time, we spend more money on our military than the next ten nations combined. Most of this expenditure is allocated as sweetheart deals for the obscenely rich — “wealthfare,” if you will. Try suggesting that we should decrease such unnecessary spending I will guarantee you will have a target painted on your back faster than you can wink and blurt “you betcha!”
Insanity is doing the same actions and expecting different results and tragically, not one of our leaders, from either party, will stand up and point out the hanging noose in the room.
We live in an addictive society…
Thursday night, like many of you, I heard president Obama’s remarks on the day set aside to honor the true victims of the Tucson shootings. For me, the most powerful part was the Indian blessing performed by Dr. Gonzalez because that was totally about healing. I also loved the way the students cheered when the Dr. Gonzalez proudly said, “… that a barrio kid like me could get an education and not only that, but come back here and teach.” The audience went wild when he stated his Latino and Yaqui Indian ancestry. And when he evoked his right to be standing there — generations of Indians who came to the Tucson Valley to escape genocide. There was no anti-immigrant bullshit, no shit about “real” Americans, just being real. For me that was healing. This wasn’t lost on the youth at the university last night and maybe there’s hope yet…
Many of our conflicts, whether personal or global come from an inability to break free from habitual patterns of fear and resentment. The practice that most directly deals with this is forgiveness. Palin failed Thursday because she failed to forgive herself and instead chose the robe of resentment disguised as exceptionalism. At a time of mourning, Ms. Palin chose to resent, rather than entertain the potential of openness. Forgiveness is an often-misunderstood practice. Forgiveness isn’t mindless acceptance of wrongdoing by another. Forgiveness is the practice of looking deeply into ourselves — into our own emotional reactions. The path to forgiveness demands our open-hearted attention to the obstacles that block our way to it.
Thursday night, President Obama said something that reminded me of the time when I was volunteering at ward for the terminally ill. Me being me, I would ask everyone the same question: “If you knew you had one more disease-free year to live, what would you do?” Mind you, these were people who knew they wouldn’t last past six months, people in pain, many despairing. Their answers profoundly changed my life, how I perceived the process of healing. What mattered most to these people who knew their gift of life was at an end were simple things. Like making sure you let those close to you know how much you loved them. Simple things such as making sure to take walks in the park more often, to let go of resentments faster. Not once did I ever hear someone say they would work longer hours, spend more time in the office, or spend more time fighting or feeling resentful. In other words, they taught me that the things that really mattered were the answers to the questions: Did I love deeply? Did I live fully? Did I honor the gift of life?
Make no mistake about it, “feel-good-ism” and pretty speeches will not be enough. At times during his speech, I heard President Obama trying too hard at being the “professor-in-chief” rather than the “healer-in-chief.” Too often, I heard comfort instead of healing. The two, though not mutually exclusive, are not the same. Please, I am not saying Obama should’ve miraculously healed everyone. If that’s what you’re thinking, then you haven’t understood what I am writing. The president should set the tone, he points the finger, he leads. I felt he took the easy road. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.
In the past, I have written about something I call the “core wound.” I define this as not merely a psychological issue or birth trauma, it is the basic issue of our existence. It’s our realization that we are both material and spiritual, finite and non-finite. We are at once, limitless and limited. These basic contradictions create the core contradictions of our lives. Mostly, we don’t experience this as a conflict — at least not in a conscious manner. Rather, we experience it as a wound, an almost inexplicable, unnamable pain. We endure it like a gash in the most intimate places of our being. As a species we are unique in this regard. We all suffer this wound.
The major danger is that one response to this wound has been fundamentalism. Fundamentalism festers like an infected wound at the core of our being. This running sore is the violent fault line in our collective psyche from which the molten magma of our hate spews.
Picking up the political pieces of what’s left of our democracy will be a long and hard journey. I despair that we might not even make it. Or perhaps Faulkner was right when he famously said that humanity will not prevail, it will evolve. The paradox of the core wound is that it is also the gateway to our personal and collective liberation. We fear it and hate it because we don’t understand it and we run looking for black and white answers in a world of infinite gradations of gray. Of one thing I am certain, before we can even begin that healing process, we must admit there’s a problem first. And the only way we can get there is by challenging the politics of resentment and in its place create a vision of a society where we are all empowered to search for ourselves the answer to those simple yet profound questions: Did we love deeply… did we live fully… did we honor life…
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization.