Ever since the election, in spite of attempts to stay centered in a positive outlook, I often wake up in the morning with sadness and apprehension. As much as I try to avoid it, I find that I have to come to terms with a new presidential administration that is displaying the underside of human thought and behavior: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, elitism. Exclusion that sees “them” instead of “we.” This is the shadow of humanity that has existed for thousands of years as hatred of “otherness.” Yet, now it is in our faces, even more so than in past administrations, which were not exactly stellar either. Electing Barack Obama seemed a step toward inclusiveness and diversity, yet even then, the country was almost evenly split, as it has been for many years now. True, the electoral college is not a fair instrument for representing the will of the people, but changing that will not erase the shadow. We have to face the huge division that exists in this country.
The United States is not united. Nor has it ever been, really. This is a country that has always been made up of people from different countries, cultures, races, religions, and belief systems. The first explorers and colonists—the first “immigrants”—imposed their lives upon the people who already lived here, the Native Americans. The formation of a new country was rooted in exclusion and appropriation.* That shadow has always been there, even as waves of immigrants from countless countries came here seeking freedom and liberation from oppression. Slavery was the most extreme manifestation of the shadow, and racism continues in its wake. The United States has always embodied dual, contradictory aspects: open arms and closed doors; freedom and injustice.
This election has brought to the surface all the fear-based shadows in this country, shadows that exist worldwide as well: intolerance, separation, inability to accept difference. And here is the hard part: As the shadow of humanity is on full display all around us, we have to look at its presence within us as well. Where do we see “other” instead of brother or sister? Where do we judge, condemn, or exclude people from our lives? In what ways do we tell ourselves that the world would be so much better if certain people just didn’t exist? Do we live with an open heart or a closed mind? Do we live in love or in fear?
On the morning after the election, I was traveling to Florida to attend Panache Desai’s annual global gathering. My state of mind was heavy, to say the least. As I found my seat on the plane to Charlotte, where I would change planes, the woman next to me whispered, “Governor Romney is over there.” “Who?” I asked, still in my own thoughts. “Mitt Romney,” she answered, pointing a few rows up, to first class. Finally, it registered, and in exasperation, I replied, “Oh, great, that’s just what I need today.” The woman looked a bit puzzled, and suddenly, it all struck me as very funny, and I began to laugh. (She chuckled a little, but I’m sure she had no idea why I was laughing.) Encountering yet another conservative former presidential candidate seemed to me like a comical cosmic wink or wake-up call. The message: “There will always be someone you disagree with on the plane of life.” In this out-of-the-ordinary occurrence, I was being reminded that from the perspective of global oneness, there is no “other.” No one is excluded.
And that is precisely why we are here on the planet at this time: To break the toxic habit of “otherness.” To find common humanity even when there appears to be none. To love in the face of hate, hope in the face of despair, have courage in the face of fear. You and I are being called to shine our own peaceful light ever more dynamically in the world, no matter what else is going on. To speak out for human rights and universal sister/brotherhood as we hold unconditional love for all in our hearts. (This is the basis of many nonviolent movements for social change.) In seeing every single “other” as another “one” in oneness, we come into greater balance and harmony, both individually and collectively.
Even when it seems unrealistic or emotionally impossible, take a deep breath and express the truth of your soul, which is love, which is kindness. Find the inner strength and compassion to keep expanding your heart until the shadow of separation falls away and you see yourself reflected in every face you encounter. That is the loving connection that holds our very diverse humanity together, in spite of the conflicts that pull us apart. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Love is the strongest force the world possesses.”
*This continues today at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, where Native Americans are protesting a proposed oil pipeline as an environmental hazard and a threat to their sacred lands.