On the Impulse to “Do Something to It/Them”


This morning as I walked, I saw a truck with a Trump sticker on it. I’ve seen it several times when I walk the dogs. And each time, I noticed the impulse that rose within me to “do something to it.” I then noticed the little “proper” voice within me begin to pump me up with pseudo-virtue regarding the decision not to. Eventually, if I pay attention enough, I also heard the internal response that acknowledged a slight fear that I would be caught and that someone with a Trump sticker might be moved to “do something” to ME.

This morning, this is when I realized that the reaction to “do something” to eliminate or change the nature of what makes me uncomfortable is in these types of situations rooted in the very same intolerant seeds that have flourished in others. We are all related–the actions of others, virtuous or evil, speak to my own potential. I remembered the words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., about the violent nature of the existence of “hatred in one’s heart.” I considered how Gandhi’s early history of racist bigotry might have informed his eventual awareness of how violence begins internally, often in the guise of the absence of outright aggressive violence.

The impulse to eliminate, convert, insult, belittle, joke, or otherwise “do something” to that which makes me uncomfortable or frightens me; which challenges the boundaries for what I’ve learned or decided is sacred, holy, or right; or which triggers me in areas where I’ve been traumatized and moves me to hyper-vigilant defensiveness—these are seeds which can be nurtured to become violent, judgmental, intolerant…or can be repotted in a soil that nurtures my own capacity for understanding and compassion.

Out of that “repotting,” dialogue and mindful expression of my own experience and critically-rooted reflection can inform my speech and actions so that my responses are not disempowered or made bland, but are no longer distorted by a veiled desire to “do something to it.”

Colonialism in the Americas and religious “holy” imperialism in Europe and elsewhere has given us a legacy that can feed these seeds with the impulse to convert and perceive the world with an inquisitional zeal and desire to forcefully or manipulatively, mold others into shapes and scripts that match ours. Agreement feels good, and we’ve learned that power is the ability to influence.

But today I am mindful of how easily I could flip or switch, and how the seeds for violence are the same as those for mindful, compassionate, inquisitive, and engaged discourse/conversation.

I have been a religious education teacher, a youth minister, retreat coordinator, professor of spirituality and Dean of a graduate program in spirituality headed by a prominent theologian.i am a yogini, with 38 years of practice and moderate experience teaching. I have been repeatedly drawn to a life of spiritual practice and yearn, often, for life in a religious or spiritual community. But I have never been able to find comfort within the often passively harsh control that is disguised as holy or driven by a religious mandate. What I have learned is how the sword of kindness and religion can often be a sword of intolerance, an attempt to silence or stop the expression of views or positions that make one uncomfortable. It’s passive aggression, micro-aggression, and hard to address because it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

As a teacher and, a woman committed to justice and human rights, I cannot remain silent, nor distort through critique if I wish to address imbalance both outside of and within me. I must strive to be vigilant about what I’m actually trying to accomplish when I speak or act. And if there’s even a tad of a desire to feed my fear or seeds of righteous intolerance and vengeance or hate…I must recognize that these are seeds of violence. And I aim to prevent myself from acting or speaking, while correcting the way I’m addressing or feeding the seeds within me.

I must be transparent and not strategic. And willing to “take back” my words, to apologize. I must be, not “do.”


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