Someone sent a ranty email around at work last week that closed with the line, “stay angry, keep punching, and never let the bastards see you cry.” If there is better advice for making it in the wild world that is politics in Washington D.C., I have not seen it. Yet this advice totally contradicts the vision I have of an open-hearted life—one led with a focus on honesty, kindness, and patience. Perhaps foolishly, this is the kind of life I envision on the west coast, where there’s always time to meditate and eat kale salad. The thing is, I love the idea of anger and fisticuffs and bastardos just as much as I despise the sentiment that success in politics is impossible without them.
I’ll admit I probably spend too much time thinking about how our efforts to build a beloved community are almost completely dissociated from the world I currently work in… wondering how to change politics for the more mindful… trying to figure out how to bring more of a heart-based integrity to my days inside the political machine. At this point, though, it still feels like the driving force of one world is totally at odds with the other. The duality is as annoying as it is elementary, but it defines my current life. On that note, a few musings:
Stay angry: can you commit your life to advocating for social change if you aren’t angry? I’ve always thought it was impossible to be an activist if you didn’t see inequality and despise its presence in the world. In my twenties, I wholeheartedly believed that in order to want to work in the field of human rights, you had to harbor some degree of hate (or at least a very strong disapproval if you don’t like that word) for the status quo. And yet I’ve been told by some wise folks out in the world that the key to living a more open-hearted life is to accept the world as it is. They say that to do otherwise is to pass judgment, which is unhealthy—and will ultimately bring darkness where there could be light. I have a hard time living entirely in either camp. I’m both eternally angry and exhausted from passing judgment on the world as it is.
Keep punching: for anyone who has ever been told to wait their turn, the concept of an eternal fight is not an obscure one. You learn quickly that the game is rigged, and the only way to not get trampled is to keep your fists in the fighting position. As a lifelong puncher, I’ve waged many of my fights on principle alone—making mountains out of molehills and sustaining an “over-sensitivity” (particularly with loved ones) because the fight was my entire life and lens of the world. As far as I can tell, this is a worldview or lifestyle choice that pretty much completely contradicts any lessons from meditation or mindfulness-centered practice. Can you accept, love, and contemplate while throwing punches?
And never let the bastards see you cry: the role of emotion in policy and politics is a strange one. Remember when Hillary Clinton cried? Interestingly, I meet with people all of the time whose lobbying pitch involves tears—a strategic show of emotion that is meant to elicit sympathy, and then action on their behalf. After nearly seven years of other people’s tears, I almost despise strategic emotion. How horrendous, no? Emotion is a common thread of our humanity and maybe one of the more equalizing presences in a political environment. But it can be so easily co-opted and used to manipulate as easily (or more?) as it can be harnessed to inspire positive change.
I realize that polarizing these conceptions of wholehearted engagement and prude political interest is uncomplicating a knotty situation. It fits, though, and it helps somewhat to walk through it step by step. Maybe the challenge is amending the salient advice from that email for the present moment: stay angry but mindful, keep punching after you’ve worked through a situation and deemed it necessary, and never let the bastards see you cry—or really, just try to be as present emotionally as is realistic given the situation.
With love—lots of love,
The Pleasant Progressive