Before I became focused on love and compassion work, I always felt that I stood on the “right” side of things. I always believed that there was a “right” and a “wrong” and that there were good people and not so good people. I believed that evil truly existed. I believed these things because that was what I was taught by society in general: good vs bad, us vs them.
But as I embarked on a journey to love myself more, I began to see the world differently. I began to understand and observe that I was hurtful when I was hurt. When I began to understand my own behavior and my own motivation, I began to understand the behavior of others. When I loved myself, I had more love to give. From that place, I got interested in what those who have been esteemed as our wisest teachers have said about loving those who challenge us the most.
In the bible, Jesus said: “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” Mahatma Gandhi, said “conquer the heart of the enemy with truth and love and not violence.” Nelson Mandela stated that “without these enemies of ours, we can never bring about a peaceful transformation to this country”. Mandela advocated making peace with your enemy so they become your partner. Lastly, Bhagavad Gita states that the mind is your first enemy and that if you control the mind, there will be no enemy in existence for you. What this means is that the concept of enemies is self-made and if it is self-made, it can be transformed. Of course, these teachings are centuries old, what about now? Who is carrying the torch of love for our enemies now?
Currently I follow the work of Daryl Davis, who sat across members of the KKK and dared to asked, “why do you hate me?”. He sought to understand, without judgement, how one race had so eagerly decided to hate another race without really truly knowing about them. In his quest, by listening with curiosity and giving respect, even when society may have felt those people didn’t deserve it, Daryl managed to get numerous and high-ranking members of the KKK to leave the Klan. As he says, how many people have been able to do that? He didn’t do this amazing feat with hate, or with violence, he did it with curiosity, and compassion. I also deeply admire Valarie Kaur and her work on revolutionary love. She teaches us to love ourselves, love others as brothers and sisters and love those whom we oppose. She also advocates for listening, and getting to know the stories of those with whom we share this earth. She does however, encourage us to do this work starting at home…starting with those we know. Those we deal with and those whose opinions we oppose. So, with this in mind, and after having decided to choose to be a compassionate person every day, I decided to have a conversation with those who oppose my views: Trump supporters.
Because the rhetoric on and from Mr. Trump seemed so negative, I was unsure why anyone would vote for him let alone at least 13 million people. As a Latino woman, who is an immigrant, I have to admit I was not terribly fond of the messaging I heard from Mr. Trump regarding our Mexican brothers and sisters. The portrayal of Mexican people as lazy or whose role was to take advantage of hard-working US citizens, seemed deeply hurtful. Thus, I was surprised to find out that Trump has a fairly sizeable Latin American following. In my quest to understand this perspective, I decided to contact individuals who were Latin American who were also Trump supporters, in my desire to understand these two seemingly opposing viewpoints. Were the individuals victims of lateral violence whereby one group diminishes another group of the same race in order to appear more favorable to the empowered class or was there something to their beliefs that I had not yet considered or learned? Was there more that was not being understood or shared?
I managed to contact individuals who were able to connect me with 4 people who were strong Trump supporters, some who were from the Latin American community. I am not sharing what the individuals said exactly because it may be seen as me promoting their viewpoints. What truly mattered was what I learned about myself and the experiences I had when I spoke to these Trump supporters. From the conversation I learned the following key things:
- One of the things that struck me most about the conversation, was their desire to have a voice. According to them, many of them had been blacklisted by friends and family, and had been shut down on social media. They shared how some groups talk about unity but hate or judge others. They wanted to stop being judged. “If you cancel me, you choose for me…how can I change?”
- Their arguments seemed persuasive in that they made sense to them. Their opinions were based on information they considered credible about Mr. Trump’s actions. These persuasive arguments did make me wonder about some of the messaging on Trump and allowed me to release some of the judgment I had about Trump and Trump supporters. In fact, when I examined my own perspective more closely, I noticed they were based on third hand information as I had never really heard Mr. Trump speak for more than 5 minutes. It also made me wonder whether our fear of being persuaded is behind our resistance to listen to one another.
- Their opinions were not particularly dualistic in that they did not advocate to hurt or negatively impact anyone. They did not advocate for riots or hurting anyone or were pro-racism. They did have a strong sense of nationalism and love for the US and a desire to “clean up their own backyard first”. They were genuinely worried about the unemployment rate and the ability to support their own families. I believe these are worries shared by many individuals including those who are not Trump supporters.
- They stated that they received their news from their own sources and resonated with Trump’s communication style and his messaging. From their perspective, the media portrayed Mr. Trump in a particular unfavorable light, so they tended to get their information from other sources, which they considered more credible. This was not surprising to me at all, considering there is a large group of people that no longer follow the news as some perceive it to be one sided, often offering a fear-based perspective. They spoke about the lack of respect shown to Trump and it made me curious about whether we justify making fun of certain people because we deem them as “bad” and therefore unacceptable
- I listened a lot more than I spoke. I learned quite a bit from the experience. I learned that listening to these divergent perspectives did not change what I believed and did not take anything away from me. When they said something I disagreed with, I just mentally filed it away and placed no additional attention to it. If I was triggered by something, I used it as an opportunity to practice compassion for myself. The individuals I listened too also did not feel I took anything away from them. It didn’t take a lot of effort on my part to listen to these individuals, but I do believe that it helped them feel acknowledged and heard.
Now it’s your turn. Who or what triggers you? Are you willing to have a conversation with those who have views that you oppose?