November 23, 2017
Hey, there! It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m so bad about that. In fact, it’s really a symptom of a deeper problem that I’ve needed to confess for some time. And that problem is this: I have almost no discipline in my life. But, because I don’t want this to be a downer of a post, it’ll be sufficient to say that I need to form some habits. And, because this is Thanksgiving, one of the habits that I really need to develop is thankfulness.
A while back, I started writing a post about detachment (in the Buddhist sense). At the time, I felt that I had made huge strides in that aspect of my outlook on life — and maybe I had made progress as compared to my old attitudes. But I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, that sense of being detached was shallow, that it didn’t permeate all parts of my life. It still doesn’t, of course, but recognizing and confessing the problem is the first step towards the solution, right? And I bring this up today because it’s directly related to thankfulness. You see, when I first started thinking about detachment, one of the first conclusions I reached (which were later confirmed by many of the Buddhist writings I read) was that detaching yourself doesn’t mean ceasing to care about the people, places, and things your life; in fact, if done correctly, it actually results in a deeper feeling of affection for your loved ones and — here’s the relevant bit for today — a genuine attitude of thankfulness. Instead of clinging to various states of people, places, or things, detachment allows us to admit to ourselves that we can never, through any action of our own, prevent the ceaseless changes that occur in our relationship to the world, and that we should instead cherish and be grateful for the times in which that relationship is positive.
I won’t lie: it’s been hard to be thankful for much this year. America has become such a dark place in just one year, and I’m not sure that we’re done free-falling into this deep pit of racism, sexism, bigotry, authoritarianism, kleptocracy, rising inequality, and polarization. But what should have happened for me personally is that I should have let go of the way things were without sacrificing my values (instead of clinging miserably to the era of Obama) and become even more thankful for both the things that occurred in the previous eight years and the rising tide of progressive activists that have come out of the woodwork to combat this insanity. Of course, I have been somewhat thankful for those things, but in general, I’ve allowed hatred to fuel my life instead of compassion. It may seem from the outside like a subtle difference in attitude — after all, it may result in mostly the same actions — but from the inside, the difference is monumental. But I can’t claim to have experienced it very often; sadly, I’ve only glimpsed it a few times.
I’m not yet sure what I think about the role of anger in all of this. After all, it seems quite right that a person should feel outrage at injustice. But there’s a lot of subtlety to be worked out here. I once worked at a school where the principal refused to say that a student “was a bad person”; instead, she always said that a student “made bad choices.” I understand, to an extent, the charity behind that language: it’s an attempt to see the best in students and to avoid prejudice about future actions that students might take. But, on the other hand, I do think that Trump is a horrible person, and not merely that he makes horrible choices. In fact, I think that he makes awful choices because he’s an awful person. And I don’t get mad at him simply because he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat. I’m not into tribalism. I get mad at him because of the way that he dog whistles to racists, because he has spent 100 of the last 307 days at properties that he owns as a way of being lazy and of simultaneously enriching himself, because he makes fun of disabled people, because he calls immigrants rapists, because he is a confessed sexual harasser, because he values no ideals and no people, because he’s one of the most narcissistic humans alive, because (in spite of his populist campaign) he seeks out ways to increase wealth inequality in this country, because he devalues the institution of journalism on a daily basis, because he seeks to disable the justice system, because most of the kindergarten-level sentences that come from his mouth are lies, and so on. But I struggle with whether my hatred of him accomplishes anything. I mean, it drives me to be involved in politics, but it surely also has negative impacts on my life. Is it possible to be involved and to make a positive difference in the world without hating injustice and/or without hating the perpetrators of injustice? I just don’t know. But I’m going to keep pondering it.
But I’ve digressed enough. I’m really thankful for so many things; I just don’t keep them at the forefront of my mind enough. I’m thankful for the parents who raised me to value justice, compassion, and humility. I’m thankful for a wife who understands me, who unconditionally cares for me, who constantly impresses me with her tact and understanding of others. I’m thankful for the Pod Save America people. Seriously, I don’t know if I could’ve survived the last year without them. I’m thankful for the good friends that have become tightly woven into the fabric of my life; without them, life would be so empty.