This political season in the United States seems more contentious than any time I can recall in my five decades plus, on the planet. I have voted since I turned 18 and have not missed an election. I have voted with my conscience and chose the person who I thought would be best able to steward positive change when I pulled the lever behind the closed curtain.
Accusations of stealing elections, name calling, spewing venom and encouraging violence are all part of the ‘show’ that America is putting on for the entire world to witness this time around. Today, I posted an article on my Facebook page of a political nature that sparked a lengthy discussion. Most of my friends are liberal, left leaning, gracefully aging hippies. Some have steadfastly supported certain candidates and were steering clear of others for their own personal reasons. The conversation started out calmly and then the word ‘troll’ came out. We’re not talking about the scraggly beadered creature that hung out under a bridge and tormented the billy goats gruff.
According to Wikipedia, “In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.”
One of the commentators referred to another as a troll who supported one candidate and the other volleyed back, accusing the other of donning that same cloak. I happen to know that both of these people are intelligent, knowledgable, articulate and heart centered. And also, quite passionate about their beliefs. A moment prior to the two of them going head to head, I had just commented how wonderful it was that folks were being respectful of the opinions of others, even if they were not in alignment with their own. Heck, I was in disagreement with some of what was being expressed, but was able to share my opinion without dissing anyone else. Many years as a therapist and consummate communicator has made me diplomatic. Do my buttons get pushed? Absolutely. Do I want to shoot back with a harsh retort? Sometimes. What prevents me from reacting viscerally is that I run my thoughts through three filters, or what is known in various spiritual traditions as The Three Gates: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? A fourth bonus question is: Will it improve on the silence? The kind and true are often no-brainers for me. The necessary and silence improving queries are less solid in my mind. I have to ask myself, is what I am about to say being used to inform and educate, express my opinions or make someone else wrong for disagreeing with me? If the first two are what I am intending, I often take the next step and share freely. If the last one is waving its metaphorical hand and clamoring for attention, I step back and take a breath.
It is easy to make someone else a villain if they are not in lock step with my beliefs. When I feel that gut level, growling gremlin rearing its head and roaring its rage, I remind myself that this ‘other’ is really a part of me too. We all have our shadows. Even the most destructive person loves someone or something. I have heard it said that within each of us exists a Hitler and a Mother Teresa. I am certain that there were some days when Mother Teresa was no Mother Teresa.
Last week, I was walking around Doylestown, Pennsylvania during a local arts festival, toting around a sign that let people know I was offering FREE Hugs. I have created events in my community and in Philadelphia (known as The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection), at the Independence Day parade, as well as at a DNC rally at City Hall. As I was strolling down a main thorofare, someone pointed out a man bearing his own signs that clearly let the world know he was supporting a particular candidate who views are polar opposite of my own. My friend challenged me, “How about if you go hug that guy?” Immediately, I felt a resistance that I knew I needed to overcome. I took a deep breath, approached him and asked if I could hug him. He opened his arms and pulled me in, then asked if I wanted to take my picture with him. I thanked him and declined, as I set that boundary. My words to him were, “Please keep your heart open and don’t hate.” He didn’t respond and instead continued walking down the street attending to his business as I did mine
On October 15th, I will be involved with another means of bringing people together in the midst of the divisiveness in which we find ourselves in this country. It is an all volunteer, free event called Hugs Across America. Thirty years after Hands Across America, people will be coming together in their communities to embrace each other, across all of the lines we have created to keep us apart. When I hug people, I generally don’t know their political affiliation or religious beliefs. I just love them. I watch tough guys soften, teenagers rushing to hug and hang out with someone old enough to be their mother, folks stopping their cars and getting out, others dashing across the street to catch up with me. At the parade in Philadelphia, I hugged a dude in a Darth Vadar costume and we agreed that bad guys needed hugs more than nearly anyone. Someone asked me if the opportunity arose, would I hug the candidate whose name was emblazoned on that man’s sign? I responded that I would and perhaps it would make a difference. Maybe we could all learn to love each other.