“If you lose,” the Dalai Lama once said, “don’t lose the lesson.” What is the lesson we must try to learn from this devastating election setback?
First that the anger, prejudice, and self-centeredness in this country is more widespread and deeper than we wanted to imagine. Second, that in the days to come we will have to struggle against much steeper odds than we thought.
There is a difference between wishful thinking and hope. Wishful thinking, which I indulged in in my recent op-eds about the Trump candidacy (here and here), where I assumed he had already lost, lulls us into complacency—and sets us up for shocks like this. Hope is based on the truth that we do not live in a random, much less a malevolent world, and there are unseen capacities for wisdom and compassion in every one of us.
As my mentor and spiritual guide, Sri Eknath Easwaran once said, “there is no nation so strong that it cannot be destroyed by hate.” It seems like that is happening to us, but there is something in the human spirit that does not want to die, does not want to hate—and this something can always be awakened, if necessary by nonviolent resistance. There are resources in the human spirit that lie dormant until some extraordinary circumstance brings them to life. This could be one of them; we can make sure that it is.
I am happy to say that while I did experience a wave of despair when I first heard the election news from friends, I felt much better when I remembered that about the human spirit, and remembered the Bhagavad Gita‘s formula to “choose the right work, use the right means [nonviolence], and be not attached to the results”—they are not in our control.
I felt better still when I talked with everyone on the Metta Center staff: We are all responding with the same spirit, which is to recommit ourselves to the great work we’re already doing.
Whether circumstances are favorable or very unfavorable, they are just circumstances. We are who we are; we do what we do. NY Times columnist Tom Friedman writes: “How do I explain Trump’s victory? … my gut tells me that it has much less to do with trade or income gaps and much more to do with culture and many Americans’ feeling of ‘homelessness.’” These are exactly the issues we’ve been addressing: to change the “story” of our materialist, alienating culture and point us to a world of purpose and belonging. Wasn’t it the Dalai Lama, again, who spoke of the haunting feeling of uselessness in our culture?
In an unguarded moment Gandhi once said, “I love storms.” We wouldn’t have wished for this one, but we’ll meet it in something of that spirit.