Today, pondering the election, I am reflecting on the notion that in Chinese calligraphy “disaster” combines the symbols for “crisis” and “opportunity.” As it turns out this is a mistaken notion, but one that swept meme-like through western culture with the speed of wildfire. We fell on it like devouring dogs because it’s a concept capitalists like us already understand and embrace.
It’s as American as the fortune cookies invented by a Japanese-American businessman, Mr. Suyeichi who started a Japanese confectionery store in San Francisco in 1906. His store provided fortune cookies to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. During World War II, when Japanese-Americans in California were sent to internment camps, Chinese-American businessmen used the opportunity to manufacture their own prophesy-enfolding desserts, peddling them first in Chinatown thus setting in motion the universal association between fortune cookies and Chinese restaurants that continues to this day. Obviously, this small case of entrepreneurship was rife with both crisis and opportunity.
As I see it, the disaster in this election year of 2016 is less about Trump and more about the dangerous polarization that plagues our country at this moment. The opportunity comes in using these weeks before the new year, to re-examine how and why we contributed to the creation of this perilous No Man’s Land.
If anyone had to lose this election perhaps it’s better that the folks less inclined to bear arms aggressively are those taking to the streets. In my opinion, civil war is not an option and neither is should-a, could-a, would-a, breast-beating. The thing to do is figure out how to communicate with those with whom we seem diametrically opposed. Where is common ground? How do we, who purport to be the sensitive, educated, righteous ones, actually roll up sleeves and do the grunt work of mediation? This is the opportunity to take all our vaunted learning (everything we know about consciousness, psychology, sociology, history, physics, ecology etc., etc., etc., not to mention all the hours of therapy and self-help we have worked and struggled with these last few decades to become wiser people) – and actually embody what we’ve learned.
Would I have preferred Hillary? You betcha! Did I sign the petition to the electoral college, hoping they will change they’re votes? I did. Will I contribute in paying the fines? Yes. I also think if she had won that we, her supporters, would have fallen back into smug self-congratulation without considering how we contribute to the discord of dichotomy poisoning our country.
If it takes crisis to get us off our butts, to put not money, but the frustrating difficult work of compromise, collaboration and creation where our mouths have been, then so be it. This is the service we are called to, the service for which we have been honing our skills. This time, this work, is why we practiced.
I plan to look the homeless in the eye, stop smiling weakly at sexist jokes, stand beside the person being bullied or ridiculed. I will find common ground, practice random kindness, smile at those whose path I cross. I’ll work hard at staying conscious and put my efforts into the details of daily life. Good will, will be my practice from now on.
I believe kindness ameliorates hate. I know resistance strengthens opposition. My own inner journey has taught me that embracing my demons is the only way to weaken their stranglehold on happiness. This crisis is my opportunity to practice what I preach.