When the most recent issue of Tikkun magazine arrived, I opened it immediately eager to read the editorial by Rabbi Michael Lerner, “Overcoming Trumpism: A New Strategy for Progressives.” It isn’t what I expected. It isn’t about the psychopathology of Donald Trump. Instead Lerner invites readers into a timely and complexifying conversation about the unintended consequences of “Us” vs. “Them” tactics in what was already a dangerously polarized United States.
He calls in the culpability of liberal and progressive social change agents like me and most of the people I know and love. It was bitter medicine at first. True to form, he administers the tonic with a big dose of courageous love:
… Our liberal and progressive movements unintentionally deliver a message that is filled with shaming and blaming that makes us less successful….The Left, in an effort to support the voices and needs of traditionally marginalized groups, dismisses the real pain and suffering of white middle, working, and poor people (and some people of color, a small segment of whom did vote for Trump and do not identify as racist, sexist, or homophobic) … Shaming all white people and all men, it turns out, is not really a smart strategy…and if progressives learn nothing from the 2016 election, they should learn this!
Hang on. I’ll get to that essential dose of courageous love.
I’ve stayed off social media for the most part and was brought up to date recently by friends of mine discussing protest fatigue and burnout. What I heard wasn’t so much burnout as it was feeling spiritually depleted. Their souls were not fed by all the political talk, or their public actions on Facebook or Twitter or calls to elected officials. These were lamentations straight from the human heart to something bigger than our own egos and of biblical proportion. Deep yearnings for connection and meaning.
Later that night I got out of bed later in search of a text – the prophetic mujerista theaology of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. Writing in La Lucha Continues in 2004, she had this to say about the emotional labor we need to attend to:
The lack of attention to emotion…allows us to become callous…to rationalize choices that ignore the negative consequences that our actions can have on others…It also allows our emotions to be much more easily manipulated….The future of the USA as a nation and of the whole world depends on our ability to develop a spirituality, a culture, and a mystique of reconciliation that will make it possible for us to practice reconciliation as a religious, social, and civic virtue.
Learning how to practice reconciliation together as a civic virtue is precisely what Lerner is reminding us about now:
…It is possible to both lift up the voices of traditionally marginalized groups so their perspectives and experiences are heard and valued, so the history of ignoring their voices is addressed in meaningful ways, while simultaneously acknowledging all the different forms of pain and suffering experienced by others…even those who act in hurtful or oppressive ways….We have to be willing to see that others we have historically seen as our enemy are really our brothers and sisters, too.
Lerner says we need to apologize. And apologize loudly for the ways liberals and progressives have engaged in shaming Americans. I am surely guilty.
Shaming and blaming others who don’t share my worldview was taught to me by a dominant culture that pits people against each other. It was modeled for me in school, in the workplace, in organizing for social change, and in church right up to present day. Mercy!
What if we decided instead to learn new skills and do something different together? What about learning more about the art and practice of extending empathy? WE know shaming leads to violence, to attacking others; even one’s own self.
Rabbi Lerner is encouraging us to try on new and improved community organizing strategies and tactics.
He’s calling us to work generatively, to weave together new ideas and new relationships which people who are different from us. By doing so, we act as co-creators of beloved community in our own towns and cities across the country.
At the top of Lerner’s list of new strategies is recruiting and equipping “empathy tribes of thousands of people.” People just like you and me who are inspired, equipped and sent to reach out to those outside the liberal sand progressive bubble. Our purpose is help heal the consequences of lovelessness and injustice (in our own lives and those who are different from us) so that we can learn to work together, in our communities, for the common good.
Yes we can. Detroit is becoming a restorative city. More, please.