On the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration, I experienced a quick and rich miracle. It was here, thousands of miles from Washington DC, in a sleepy supermarket in Melbourne Australia.
The miracle – or so it seemed to me – was an act of collaborative human kindness. Not one human, but three. Two people were spontaneously generous – and another was trusting enough to accept.
First, I think you’d benefit from knowing why human kindness inspires awe in me – and quite probably you too.
Why kindness might seem miraculous
One of the ‘upsides’ I’ve found through being raised in family violence is that small acts of human kindness can land like miracles.
Or that’s what I tell myself. Maybe everyone gets a rush from a wave in a peak hour traffic jam or having someone run after you to return money you’ve accidently dropped.
To me, spontaneous human kindness seems profound. I suppose because my body – like that of many others on our planet – has experienced the intense harm that humans can do to those we love.
Do you know anyone who hasn’t been hurt – to one degree or another – physically, verbally … by themselves or someone else close to us?
So, yep, I reckon its worth savouring every act of kindness as more evidence of the wonderful things we’re capable of doing for each other every day.
When distrust is conventional … but not inevitable
From everything I’ve read and lived, it seems that when physical or emotional violence has happened repeatedly to you as a child, there’s something deep inside that feels instinctively “true”. And that conventional wisdom is: people can’t be trusted. Even if they’re being ‘nice’, they can turn in any moment and you’ll get hurt or worse.
If we’re lucky, we become aware that it just might be possible that humans are not innately vicious … even if they do act that way sometimes, with terribly tragic consequences as we experienced here in Melbourne last week, in wars around the world, and in thousands of homes right now throughout our communities.
So, I’m scared of Donald Trump too. I don’t fanaticise that he could be easily swayed by seeing that someone is being harmed by a decision he’s made. My sense is that Donald Trump has love-inspired intentions of bringing about a “greater good” … and deciding who deserves to be part of it. That’s what scares me. Not his intentions of making the world better. But the damage that is done when we don’t dare believe that everyone deserves compassion and that all needs matter in the way we go about finding and trying different solutions.
I think it will take sustained and compassionate and creative effort on behalf of many individuals to give Donald Trump enough trust that his needs can be met … as well as the millions of others who are affected by his choices.
What was the miracle
I was standing, somewhat stressed and tired, in our local supermarket.
At almost 11pm, there was actually a queue. Why? All the self-serve checkouts had been closed, and there was a single register open.
My heart beat a little faster. Outside, my teenage daughter was waiting in the car with her friend. We’d reached a specific agreement: I was going to get just one thing, and be quick.
So now I had two things, and there was going to be a delay.
Why did it matter to get through the queue quickly?
Integrity – I wanted to keep an agreement I’d made.
I wanted to nurture my daughter’s trust – so that it’s easier for me to sort things out with her in future.
And also, because like all parents I’m hoping to teach her through my actions such as “doing what I agreed to”.
Plus, I especially wanted to save my daughter (and therefore me too as her parent) from adding to distress she was experiencing that night already.
So, do you agree this wasn’t such an insignificant situation? Sure, it’s not a world scale. But it’s my world. And it’s our next generation. And our community.
Actually, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an insignificant situation … would you agree with that too?
Where did Donald Trump feature in all of this?
Well, as I joined the queue, a man in front of me said – “you go ahead, you’ve only got a couple of things”.
I paused – habitually uneasy about accepting a favour. I guess that’s about wanting fairness and to be sure he really meant it too.
Then I remembered learning that humans love to “make life more wonderful” for each other whenever we can willingly. My husband told me something along these lines a number of times after we left the religous group we were raised in, and he saw I struggled to accept any support or generosity offered by others.
I also heard that specific quote from Marshall Rosenberg about “making life more wonderful” when I came across his book in our work library and then went on to more actively learn Nonviolent Communication a few years later.
So, in that moment in the supermarket queue, I had enough awareness to think: “accept it! Let them enjoy the gift of giving, and receive the relief that it gives me and my daughter too”.
The miracle grew
As I smiled and said, “thank you so much for that kindness”, another man spoke up. He was giving up much more. He was at the front of the queue. His groceries were about to start being checked out.
“Go in front of me too,” he said.
“Really?” I hesitated.
“Yes,” he insisted.
And I figured I wasn’t helping anyone by arguing about it – we all wanted to be spending our time somewhere other than the supermarket queue. So I said, “thank you so much both of you, that’s so kind”.
At which point the man at the front of the queue grinned and said, “We’re not all like Donald Trump you know.”
I laughed and answered, “glad to hear that.”
Which is where I was given some delicious food for thought.
What else mattered here?
In my quick response to that man, I guess I was doing the best I could to meet needs – consideration, appreciation, and some peaceful human connection and joy. By now, even the register operator was smiling and his previously stressed brow had opened up. Having a long line of potentially irritable customers was no fun for him either. This whole brief exchange had lightened the night for four people … plus my teenagers and husband who would benefit from me coming back to them feeling a sense of delight and trust in human kindness.
So why couldn’t I be utterly satisfied? Conventional wisdom would say: don’t overthink it. It’s a supermarket queue. An act of kindness. Accept it. Move on.
We are all like Donald Trump
Except those words, “We’re not all like Donald Trump you know” had some extra significance for me. They kept popping back up in my mind.
Conventional wisdom would say: “don’t worry, be happy”.
Unconventional wisdom says: “be genuinely happy and appreciative if that’s how you feel … and if you notice regrets, be honest about that too and keep learning”.
Unconventional wisdom is that we are – scary as it may be – in our very make-up, all like Donald Trump. Human. Which is why we might be so scared.
Calling Donald Trump names is … being like Donald Trump
Earlier that day, I’d listened to a brief interview that Ethan Bearman on KGO had conducted with Miki Kashtan. It’s only 8 minutes … so I think I’d rather let you hear it for yourself than try to recap. It’s available here:
The three things I remembered from Miki’s comments as I thought about the loving exchange in our supermarket queue were:
1) Calling Donald Trump and his supporters names is the kind of violence that we might also be upset with him for perpetrating.
This is hard for me to write. Because I’ve learned to call people names before I even had words.
I regularly have thoughts that call people names, and sometimes I let those out of my mouth when I’m talking to others. I always regret it.
Why? Because those names feel like a relief to say at the time … but they usually make things worse, and certainly no better.
I’d much prefer to be able to access and express my feelings and needs – silently to myself, before I decide what to ask of others.
I liked how Miki named that she, like so many, is frightened of Donald Trump and his supporters. How vulnerable it feels within me to admit that. But I am. I am frightened of the power he and those around him have to make decisions which could catastrophically hurt many lives.
Still, in saying that, I feel calmer. It’s the truth. And when we call him names, we’re probably trying to express despair and gather support from others for a whole range of reasons – including hope, reassurance and empowerment.
2) “I have a dream … not a complaint”
I smile as I write that out. Ethan Bearman laughed too when Miki pointed out that Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was skillful at responding to opposition with finding common ground – creating shared vision. I remembered Miki saying something along the lines of, “his most quoted speech was not ‘I have a complaint’, it was ‘I have a dream’.
Why does it seem so vulnerable to admit to having a dream? We might be laughed at. We might feel overwhelmed because we can’t accomplish that dream by ourselves … or even imagine how it will be accomplished. We might feel dispair because we haven’t experienced a particular person (in this case Donald and his team) treating us like we or everyone matters and is worth hearing and trying to include.
3) If we want to be part of peace, first check how we are contributing to the problem.
Again, this is unconventional. We’d rather tell ourselves that we’re no worse than anyone else and “not as bad” as “corrrupt CEOs and politicians”.
How about being bold and hopeful enough to admit that we do things every day that don’t take others into consideration. How about admitting that we can’t possibly know what everyone needs, and that it’s scary to even try to hear those needs because we’re afraid that we’ll then be personally expected to “fix” or “meet” their needs at our own expense?
I find that unconventional wisdom of “we don’t know, and we’re no worse or better than anyone else” much more freeing. I am thankful for Donald Trump not only because he inspired two men to bring joy and kindness to a cold supermarket and stressed mum on inauguration night. I’m also thankful because I see his actions and words are “waking” people up to their own feelings and longings. We are alive! And there’s energy building to do things differently in our own lives rather than hoping it will be “sorted out” without us.
Being aware, curious and gentle with our own intense emotions is what many researchers and practitioners have found leads to powerfully peaceful outcomes.
It will take all that energy we have – directed towards what we do want rather than raging about what we don’t – to even attempt to make changes in how we respond to ourselves, our children, our lovers, our workmates, our bosses and our politicians. It will take all that positive energy to sustain us through the set-backs and confusion of applying unconventional wisdom. Sure, conventional wisdom got us the world we’re in now – and there’s quite a lot that works sufficiently for many people to get by. However, I think we all agree that we want to see all humans not just surviving – but thriving. And would you agree, there really is no one person who has the neat answers to all the world’s problems?
At least we can begin by listening to our own pain and despair, holding ourselves gently, and learning to celebrate the times when we consciously contribute to the happiness of ourselves and others as well as learning how to hear our regrets and grow through those too.
How do we take postive action?
There are many practices you can apply. At the moment, as a parent of teenagers and a Communications Professional with 25 years of corporate experience, I find myself drawing deeply on:
1) Nonviolent communication. (Cnvc.org) Practicing this over a few years has built sufficient trust within me that humans have a vast and mostly under-utilised capacity for compassionate, creative and fun solutions together – at home, work and politically. For a quick “dip” into learning nonviolent communication, I recommend the free podcast series that Dian Killian from Work Collaboratively released last year.
2) Brene Brown’s research about the importance of building shame resilience and self-worthiness through healthy connections, creativity and above all self-compassion.
3) Raphael Cushnir‘s very practical technique for experiencing our body’s sensations without judgement or chatter. (‘The One Thing Holding you back’).
4) Pema Chodron‘s beautiful teachings on ‘drawing closer to ourselves’, attending as deeply to ‘negative’ emotions as we crave the ‘positive’ ones and living with ‘unconditional friendliness to ourselves’.
What complaint can you translate into a vision?
So, what vision has Donald Trump’s words and actions stirred in you? Please, in your reply, try to express what you do want – free of any criticism or judgement.
For example, right now, the best I can express the vision for us is something like this:
- We want all the needs of people who will be affected by a government or corporate decision to be efficiently heard. (Including community, employees, managers, politicians etc).
- We to see that those needs openly published in easy-to-understand audio and print.
- We want expert, evidence-based approaches to be gathered and considered.
- We want the basis for any decision to be transparently published for all to see.
- We want simple and clear ways to gather feedback from the people who are being affected and to see that feedback linked to ongoing improvement – learning from unintended consequences as well as celebrating successes.
It’s wordier than I like. I’d love to hear your take. Please draw a picture or write a few words of a vision that could work for all of us.
Do you notice yourself responding with frustration or judgement to this vision? Such as “well how would you do that in practice!”. Well, there’s your own vision waiting to emerge.
Please reply if you’d like to contribute more to this vision – or suggest another one.
Thanks to WordPress for this week’s theme: Unconventional Wisdom.
This is my personal blog for enjoying creativity and self-expression. I also share visual meditations for cultivating compassion, curiousity and creativity at www.YourGuidedJournal.com.