An Open Letter to Agents of Change on Inauguration Eve
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” - Gandhi
“As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” - Rev. Nathan Baxter
I did not vote for Mr. Trump, nor do I support or condone the hatred and disrespect he expressed, nor the repressive and regressive initiatives he championed.
In an odd way, however, I am inspired by Donald Trump.
And then I remember.
I’ve never used the same exact words that that mom was saying to her daughter with my own two children, but when my buttons have been pushed by my kids, I’ve acted and reacted badly too. I imagine there’s not a parent alive who hasn’t “been there”—that is, reacting less than gracefully with their child, falling short in living the values they hold dear. And this dynamic isn’t limited to parents and their children: it happens in many relationships. Why is that? Because the common, shared life-ness of all of us precedes the specifics of any one of us. As Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli wrote, “In each of us there are, potentially, all the elements and qualities of the human being, the germs of all virtues and of all vices. In each of us there are the potential criminal and the potential saint or hero.” (Act of Will, 65-66)
It’s as if there’s one Life and then poof, Life takes the form of each unique life expression. And what is common to all, sits right beside the uniqueness of any one of us. Think of each one of the 7 billion people on the planet. At this very moment, there is one common Life force that animates all of us, breathing our lungs and beating our hearts. The breath in our lungs and our beating hearts make us all card-carrying members of the human race, capable of acting, reacting, and responding in all the potential ways that humans can show up. Life looks like that mom in the airport, and Life looks like Donald Trump, too. Life looks like me and it looks like you reading this essay.
For every criticism my mind makes of Donald Trump, and there have been many, I make a practice of finding that behavior in myself, too. Because if I can see it in him, it surely exists - either in actuality or in potential - in me. It it didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to identify it at all. That’s the mechanism of projection: we project out onto others what we can’t see or don’t wish to acknowledge in ourselves. In seeing our projections, we don’t dismiss nor relinquish responsibility for actual behavior: neither our own, nor others. Yet it’s my conviction that in this shift of perception the seeds of possibility rest for compassionate change, for connection amidst difference, and ultimately for a nation that recognizes we truly are indivisible, and thus ensures that the promise of “...liberty and justice for all” will be realized.
In another time, pre-Donald Trump - I might have noticed my mind’s chatter about that mom in the airport, wished I could be more charitable in my thoughts, said a prayer for the mom and child - and went about my day. In this new, Donald Trump Was Elected President world, I am a bigger, bolder, more courageous person. And I am ever more dedicated to the transformation of consciousness. I know that change happens one person at a time, even when transformation is inspired by national or global events. The personal and the social are one.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed piece from R. Derek Black, the godson of David Duke and a former white nationalist who “moved on from extreme views” and now believes “this country can too.” Of his own dramatic transformation, he credits the “devoted and diverse people” at his college; “people who chose to invite me into their dorms and conversations rather than ostracize me.” Through those conversations he “began to realize the damage” he’d done.
“That kind of persuasion,” he notes, “happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides. For me, the conversations that led me to change my views started because I couldn’t understand why anyone would fear me. I thought I was only doing what was right and defending those I loved. Even those on the furthest extreme of the white nationalist spectrum don’t recognize themselves doing harm - I know that because it was easy for me, too, to deny it.” Mr. Black underscores that moving anyone from abstract ideology to an understanding that real people will bear the burdens of what “hate will reap,” requires building relationships with people with whom we are not in agreement, rather than maintaining isolation from or disregard for them.
It would be absurd to think I changed the world on some grand scale that morning. But in that moment, I know without a shadow of a doubt that kindness changed that mom and her daughter’s world. But this isn’t about kindness, alone. It’s about seeing beyond the judgments of our minds, noticing our common humanity and listening to a quiet call to loving action that is in alignment with our deepest nature. Our deepest nature is Life and allowing yourself to be moved by That which is life-giving is to be in alignment with an Unconditional Regard for All - what some would call Contentless Awareness, Self, True Nature, Unconditional Love, Spirit, God, or the Divine - that moves and lives the world. All of it. Including Donald Trump and all those he is appointing in his administration. Because our deepest nature is Life, even though our actions (and those of others) may not always be in alignment with that reality and may have caused great harm. If Mr. Trump’s campaign and the promises he made are indicative of future action, I recognize that his presidency portends grave, if not calamitous, potential changes.
While I wouldn’t have wished for these times, now that Donald Trump has given voice to the inner judgements of millions of people in the US, he has made public what was previously closeted and thus silenced (or held in shame) within those who voted for him. Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, the founder of the spiritual psychology called psychosynthesis, suggests in his classic synthesis exercise that identification must precede transformation. In making vocal extreme views, Donald Trump has made bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia part of a national conversation unlike at any other time in recent history and I sense the possibility of transformation is also heightened. Donald Trump and all that he represents, is not some great mistake. He is part of the transformation of consciousness. As am I, and as are you, reading this essay. We all have choices to make. What will you do in the face of overt bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia?
For me, I am thanking Donald Trump today for inspiring this bit of writing. Pre-Donald Trump I might have held back, played it safe, worried that I would be misunderstood as someone who supports what Donald Trump has espoused and worried that I’d be dismissed and judged for being a person of privilege who has the luxury to fly on airplanes and write essays, because I don’t or won’t suffer directly the effects of a Trump presidency. In my pre-Trump life, I might have decided publishing this was too risky, put my computer away, and concluded my voice didn’t have a place in this conversation. In the age of Donald Trump Was Elected President - and all that preceded his election - I’m not playing by the norms of conformity I imposed on myself anymore. This is my new refrain: If Donald Trump can run for and be elected President of the United States with his brand of humanity, isn’t there room in this world for the concerns, hopes, dreams and vision that flower through my humanity, too? What about you?
I dedicate myself to relationship and conversation even with – and especially with - those whose views are different than mine, and I invite all people of good, strong and skillful will to do the same. I write with respect and appreciation for all those who have come before me on the paths of justice and peace, and those who work today for a better world. I’m willing to see what I may not be seeing. I am and I will show up more fully in this post-election world. And I know I am not alone. While hate crimes may be on the rise, I’ve also witnessed a concomitant blossoming of kindness in the general population; an increase in the number of people who understand and are willing to act as allies for people who suffer discrimination and injustice; and greater numbers of people taking action to catalyze systemic change for justice and peace, post election.
In this new Donald Trump Was Elected President World, when you find yourself angry or enraged, saddened or disgusted by another’s actions, will you act for change from a divided place of “us” and “them” within yourself? Or will you allow yourself to be inspired to act from wholeness in the face of hatred—and from a place of peace in service of justice? Because where our actions arise from matters as greatly as, if not even more so than, what shape our actions take.
“We must be the change we wish to see.” - Gandhi
“As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” Rev. Nathan Baxter
© Barbara Veale Smith, 1/19/17
 Great thanks to one of my spiritual teachers, Adyashanti (www.Adyashanti.org) for sharing this particular way of describing Life in all its myriad forms.
 United States’ Pledge of Allegiance
 R. Derek Black, New York Times, Sunday Review, 11/27/16, “Why I Left White Nationalism,” pp. 6-7.