“You can’t talk racists out of their racism. They have to have an experience that breaks them down to their essence so they realize two things: an awareness that I am really wounded and the reason I put all this pain on other people is that I’m denying my own woundedness and my own internal inferiority and since I don’t want to deal with it, I put it on other people. That’s the dynamic of racism”
This gem from Michael Meade’s recent talk goes far in making clear the work ahead. Biden’s executive orders are welcome and necessary. Accountability for the traitors, especially the enablers in Congress, is both an affirmation of justice and a warning to those who thought they had permission to be above the law, including the deposed tyrant. Re-working of laws to root out systemic, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and the like are essential.
But all of this is just a safety net to minimize the damage of our cultural failures, our educational failures, our family-raising failures and our personal failures. If people felt whole in their own soul, were wholly awake in their critical thinking skills, where able to distinguish truth from lies and good character from bad, where able to care about truth and good character…well, it would be a different world indeed.
Hard to say something new about the catastrophe of these last four years, but I think Meade hits an important point that doesn’t make into the news. It’s not just a political problem, it’s a deep psychological, mythological, spiritual problem of how we acknowledge, look at and deal with our wounds. We are all, after all, the walking wounded, carrying different levels of hurt and even trauma in our bodies and minds. No one gets away with a sorrow-free life and even if you are so fortunate to have had the most loving parents, good food and pleasant shelter, a fabulous school with a great music program and no deaths beyond your pet hamster, life will eventually find you and that means disappointment, betrayal, injustice, lost love, lost loved ones. Not to mention your own failures to be wholly the extraordinary person you hoped to be, the facing of the hard truth that you feel less than others, inferior in some ways and ashamed of it all.
All of these blows leave wounds and now the question is how you will meet them. Welcome to the world of drug addiction, alcoholism, money addiction, abusive behavior, depression, denial, the fortressing of the heart to avoid the next attack. Sometimes the wounds go inward to depression, sometimes outward to rage and in that case, they feel “better” if you have a target, something or someone else to blame it on.
Enter Trump and his ilk. Here is a man willing to offer the targets and stoke the fear—the Muslims, the Mexicans coming in mass mobs, the blacks taking your jobs, the Democrats limiting your freedom to drive your SUV, stockpile assault weapons, live away from the people with darker skin. Now your personal unwillingness to face your demons and acknowledge your inferiority is wrapped in a good and evil cause, elevates you to a crusader, armors you with fanaticism and joins you with the others who are also to scared to admit that they are wounded and need to look strong and tough, to take on the archetype of the warrior. And to go so far as to storm the Capitol in the name of patriotism.
Trump also gave them another kind of permission, a living example of someone who was emotionally abandoned by both his parents and spent his life covering up his deep wound, a man who is like a hungry ghost with a vacant soul trying to fill up the empty space with constant adoration, trying to satiate his soul’s hunger with the food of unquestioned admiration that never fills him up for more than five seconds. For those wanting affirmation of their own choice to deny their wounds, he’s their guy. Heck, he became the President of the United States!
And now here’s Joe Biden, a man who was deeply wounded by the death of a wife, son and daughter and owns that grief, acknowledges it, works with it. He consciously creates a memorial ceremony for the 400,00 Americans who have died from Covid and gives it the solemnity and gravitas it deserves. And Kamala Harris— while I don’t know the specific stories of her wounds, I know that as a black person and a woman in this country, she has had more than her fair share. To have this country run by two people who understand grief is one of the most extraordinary turns we have taken as a nation.
And as Meade makes clear, Grief’s companion is Joy and we saw it, the descent of the Memorial the night before and the ascent rising up singing in the Inauguration and the after-party the day after. It’s not a mean-spirited Joy—“We (the Democrats) won!! In your face, Repugnicans!” but an inclusive “We all won a chance to be better than we've been.” For once we acknowledge our own wounds, we find ourselves connected to everyone else who has them—which means “everyone else” and can truly move from “me against you” to “we.” Nothing unifies so much as grief. Nothing unifies so much as joy.
Finally, Meade notes that traditional initiation ceremonies have two parts— a descent into the wounds and ascent awakening into our larger—and better—self. That’s where we are. And it’s a beautiful place to be. More grief awaits and let’s not tap dance around it. Let’s dance through it and rise up joyfully—together.