Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
March 2017 - Volume 17, No. 3
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An Anatomy of Hope for 2017 (Part Three)

For two months in this Newsletter, I’ve been working toward a definitive statement as to where in this time of national political turmoil we as the ‘people back home’ can find hope. Many have noted (and complained) that the more I write, the worse it seems to have become.

So where is there any hope, except perhaps to hide and escape? Yet those of you who know me, know that’s not where my beliefs and behavior would want to go. 

The Simple Answers

From many I hear the primary hope that it will all work out under our new President. The desire for a change has been a long time waiting, and this election was/is supposed to bring about that hope.

Another hope is that even if it doesn’t work, four years is not a long time to wait for another change.

Both these hopes include 1) our government folks finding a way to work things out without a lot of people getting hurt, and 2) that our Constitutional form of government, and the general wisdom of the American people will provide a form of order and direction to take us through this current chaos. 

One problem with these answers is that they generally are passive - letting those in charge fix it for us. In some ways, it’s this citizen passivity that has gotten us into our current dilemma. We found someone, a hero, who will take us there - all we have to do is (passively) follow. 

My red flags 

There are specifically two:

First is a professional bias, from my work in the field of mental health and psychopathology. For a number of years I have had as clients the partners of folks with the personality patterns of Mr. Trump. A predominant characteristic is the lack of a functioning empathy, and the tendency to radically split the world into good and evil, the evil always being an ‘other’. This particular kind of splitting, can render the chosen ‘other’ impotent to disengage. In the domestic world, the other is frequently a spouse. In the political world, the other is the ‘outsider’ - those who these days must be eradicated from a) our country, and/or b) the face of the planet. 

My second red flag is our temptation to hate Mr. Trump. Each of us has our own inner Trump, and in confronting just the outer one, we run the danger of splintering our own glass houses. There are many who oppose our President through behaviors of their own that are greatly immature, venal and insecure. It’s a psychological reality that those who hate, usually end up being consumed by that hatred. Though in the immediate (mean) time, it’s many of our most vulnerable others who pay the price.

I’ve long contended that our ‘terrorist enemies’ find their greatest victories in getting us to hate like them in return. “When you become like us, we win.” I’m sensing this very aroma emerging more intensely these days, especially from around the Potomac. Many are afraid. Citizen anger and vengeance is on the rise. We see it every day now.

The Best Structure of Hope

Here I’m not talking to the government, I’m speaking to the citizen - where the feeling of hopelessness seems greatest.  

Do Something - be Actively Involved

My first guideline for citizen hope is “to get up and do something.” This doesn’t mean we all have to agree on things, but that we begin to trust citizen action - the actively beating heart of a democracy. One young client of mine, visiting her grandmother, recently told me she noticed her Grandma’s “prayer list” on a hallway wall - in the midst of which in large letters was the name “Donald Trump.” She doesn’t discuss politics with her grandmother, but now she knows that her elderly grandmother is definitely doing something about our national situation. 

Beginning last Summer, and especially after the election, I became aware that many people are most certainly going to get hurt in all of this - an awareness many have had for some years now as well.   

Direction one:  Ideology

So often in politics, the “involvement” is in terms of belief.  I’m frequently amazed when I hear of our politicians voting their “party line.” Do these men and woman whom we’ve elected have no independent brains! Party is belief, and belief is often rigid. No wonder nothing of wisdom gets done in congress or our statehouses. I recall our new President at one point (the specifics of which I don’t remember) that he’ll be an ideological leader.  This is good and this is bad, and as our leader, he will define which is which.  

[Note:  I am planning my April Newsletter to consider the question of what is an effective and faithful leader in a constitutional democracy.]

When citizen action becomes subservient to ideology, those who govern easily become split. And dialogue (the secret ingredient of effective government) becomes instead rigid posturing.

Direction two:  Humanity

When citizen action is grounded in response to the humanity of those around us, this is the Ground-Source of true Hope.  

Where ideology easily becomes ‘against’ - humanity more readily becomes ‘for.’  

Last Summer I noticed how much more attention I was paying to my immediate neighbors. Some of them are ‘special needs’ folks, and my own life is much richer by getting to know them better. I need them, and they need me. And we’re getting better at looking out for each other, and knowing each of them more than just by name.  

One benefit (at least for me) of a Church or religious institution, is the training in an almost universal code "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary." Rabbi Hillel the Great (1st century BCE). For Christians it’s to Love God and your Neighbor (then defined as everybody). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament say in strongest language, that we are to have special care for those in greatest need. This includes those with no legal rights as well as the stranger and foreigner in our midst. (Yes, that has to include refugees.)  There’s no doctrine of judgement here, only care.

Yes our greatest structure of hope in a world at odds with itself is to awaken to the common humanity of all people. (When a Native American prays and cares for “all my neighbors” he or she doesn’t just mean humans, but all living creatures of the Earth. They hold to an ancient vision that we others have often long forgotten, and to our peril.)

Yes, there will be setbacks and failures. There will be losses and betrayals. The amount of suffering on the face of the earth is tremendous, often more than we can fathom. In my own work I come in contact with much secret suffering that takes place within the homes even of just my community. And sometimes it’s heartbreaking.

Where is Hope? Here’s where it is - it’s in human community and caring.

Pay Attention.


Here are a few of the quotes I gathered in preparing this Newsletter:

"When the world seems sad and lonely and cruel, remember there are countless empathetic hearts yearning for honesty and kindness and justice, just like yours. You are not alone in your aloneness. We must then find the kindness in our own hearts, and extend that first to ourselves, then those around us, then the world entire." ~ @waylonlewis

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm [that they cause] does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” 

~ T. S. Eliot (1988-1965), poet. 

“We cannot change the way the world is, but by opening ourselves to the world as it is, we may find that gentleness, decency and bravery are available - not only to us, but to all human beings.”

 ~ Chögyam Trungpa (1939-1987) a preeminent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism

Comments (2)

  • Hate

    How do we stop the “hate”? Like many, I often say that I “hate” something or someone. This is just a euphemism for “I really, really don't like that”. Yet, after this election, I find myself truly “hating” the man. I understand that there are a large number of people who feel that the current politicians aren’t dealing with their issues. They want, no demand, change. But to think that any significant number of people can look the other way at the things he’s has admitted to; things they would have found reprehensible in anyone else is just unconscionable to me.

    My hate tears me up inside. So much so, that part of me just can’t wait to say “You got what you asked for”. I know this is wrong and I know that for the most part these are good people who simply want better for themselves and for the country. How can someone like get beyond this and work to help close the divide in this country (and frankly, the world)?

    — Brian, 3/1/2017
  • Staying alert and involved

    Bill, your commentary deeply resonated within me. Thank you for the affirmation.

    — KaM, 3/3/2017

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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