It is July 4th. Many of us are with friends and family engaging in rituals and traditions born of an era steeped in national pride. To be clear, there have been times when this time of year has called forth true feelings of gratitude about our collective embodiment of values that feel aspirational and true to who we are at our deepest core. This is not that time. Many of us are conflicted, tethered to nostalgia and wistfulness for a time that seemed purer and less divisive, while at the same time casting our line out toward horizons that feel increasingly hopeless in light of national and international human rights catastrophes that cast aspersions on any tacit belief in humanity's goodness.
Collectively, we are a mess.
The present administration is redefining the nature of truth while the country watches on. Transfixed by the profundity of the president's pathology, we are caught in a malaise of misdirection as there are literally too many crises being created by the president and his team to keep up with. In the meantime, democracy is being undermined in quiet ways that don't cause waves big enough to make their way to the shore of our collective awareness. What results, more often than not, is either a galvanization of the last vestiges of overt and covert prejudice in our country or a concomitant response that makes the current administration a screen for our worst projections. Perhaps another time we can explore whether this administration willingly invites and even enjoys those projections, but for now I'd like to focus on what in the world we can do as individuals and communities when faced with a gaslighter in chief and injustices that seem as terribly magnificent as any fireworks show we may see this evening.
Narcissists (both covert and overt) enjoy creating conflict. They willfully embrace falsehood and use their understanding of others against them such that getting you riled up satisfies something deep inside them. Because the truth matters little to them, they will stop at nothing to make you angry. They will attempt to redefine historical events so that you are left wondering whether something actually happened. They will goad you with statements that are purposefully provocative. Their behavior will cause you to feel profound confusion.
You will ask, "Who would do this?" and "Are they aware they are doing this?"
You will think to yourself, "This is not normal." And you may even try to help by teaching them what a more humane, empathic response looks like, "A caring response would look like...."
You may even begin to question yourself and wonder if you're going crazy. "Maybe I'm the one who is out of touch with reality..."
The problem is that you are enmeshed and in a state of trance, and they are incapable of the level of self-awareness and humility required to look deeply at their own brokenness.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."
We have a choice to make. Are we going to continue wrestling with the pig, or might we learn a different way to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Source of our wholeness?
As paradoxical as it may seem, it is imperative that once we recognize that we are dancing with someone incapable of empathy and who has a loose relationship with the truth we must embrace no (or minimal) contact. For those of us who find ourselves unable to look away from the cataclysmic car crash that is our current political reality, this may mean cutting back on our intake of media, eliminating our hate-watching of the latest presidential faux pas, and refusing to engage in conversations with others whose perspectives either make us feel further self-satisfied in our righteousness or even more disconnected when we discover significant differences of opinion that make it feel impossible to relate to someone representative of all that's wrong in the world. We are not located fully on either side of the continuum of saints and sinners, but our current political situation would have you believe otherwise. Step outside of the swirling tornadic activity created by toxic personalities and find your center in the cyclone.
This Independence Day, I hope we can find a way to open our eyes to the ways the herd mentality causes us to become lost in our unhealthy dependencies. It is time to embrace independence, to learn to take responsibility for ourselves, as Mary Oliver writes in her poem "The Journey, "...to do the only thing you could do--determined to save the only life that you could save." Perhaps when we embrace our independence we are more likely to find ways to develop healthy interdependence. Our country needs us to be independent and interdependent now more than ever.
There are lives at stake.
Some closer than we like to admit.