Ever had a frustrating experience on Thanksgiving with friends or family? Your progressive ideas are dismissed as unrealistic or seem to offend people? Here are some tips on how to navigate that at your Thanksgiving table 2017.
First, remember that there is a lot to give thanks for in our world today. We ought not let our celebration of all that is miraculous in the universe, our celebration of the continuing bountiful reality of planet Earth, and our appreciation of all the good people in this would be undermined or ruined by having all the conversation focusing on the Trumpists.
So step one: encourage friends and family to spend some time celebrating the good, even at the expense of not watching the t.v. or focusing on everything wrong with the world. Ask your host or your friends to give some time to expressing out loud some of what people assembled appreciate about each other, about themselves, about our mother Earth, and about the tens of millions of people (the numerical majority of voters) who did not vote for Trump and would not support those (in both major political parties) who blindly put the needs of corporate America above the needs of the rest of the population. . We can also celebrate the growing outrage at the sexual abuse of women–an outrage that wasn’t there in the past and which is a further testimony to the huge impact of the women’s movement (whose struggle against patriarchy benefits men as well as women, and which is in my view the most important revolution of the past two thousand years at least).
And challenge those liberals and progressives who are putting down everyone who voted for Trump or didn’t vote. Remind people that a section of those who did vote for Trump were NOT racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. but people who were voting against the Democratic Party that they perceived as having abandoned them (sometimes with good reason–you can reread Tikkun’s critiques of the way the half-hearted steps taken by Presidents Clinton and Obama, supposedly pragmatic and realistic, actually raised hopes that they did not fulfill and helped create a growing discontent about paying taxes to a government that wasn’t coming through for many many people, e.g. the flawed Obamacare which did not create any serious controls on health insurers or pharmaceuticals or for-profit-hospitals’ ability to raise their charges dramatically, as people have been discovering this year and will feel even more intensely next year).
Ever since the 1960s a growing number of voters have been angry at a Left that looks down on anyone not already in their ranks, assuming that these others are all haters or racists, sexists, homophobes, etc., or that they are all stupid, or that sees them as a ” bundle of deplorables” (in Hillary Clinton’s words). Many of them have experienced liberals and progressives dismissing all people who are religious as ignorant or just plain stupid. The Left reeks of religiophobia, not just from people like Bill Maher but from a pervasive belief that religious people are reactionary or psychologically retarded. This pushes many people who would agree with everything else we stand for into the arms of the Right.
Another problem: since the election of Trump more and more people in the liberal and progressive world, particularly on college campuses, have turned the important and legitimate struggle against patriarchy and racist practices into a discourse that suggests that ALL men are sexist and have “male privilege and all whites are racist and have “white skin privilege.”. In so doing, they are driving more and more people into the arms of right wing demagogues who use the opportunity this discourse presents to convince people that these lefties are elitists who hate them and know nothing about the real struggles that most Americans face in their lives (even whites and men).
Those of us who are outraged at the persistence of racism and sexism (including the recently highlighted disgrace of so many women having faced sexual harassment and abuse) should not see whites or men as privileged just because they don’t face the same outrageous assaults that some women and some African Americans and other people of color face. That is how everyone should live, not a special privilege. Would we say that those women who have never been sexually assaulted are privileged or that people of color who never were attacked by racist police or lost jobs because of the color of their skin are privileged? No. This is just what everyone deserves.
For many whites and men working two or three part time jobs to put food on their family table, or middle aged white men whose jobs have disappeared to foreign shores, the response to being called “privileged” reflects how little people on the Left care about them or know anything about their lives. No wonder they want to punish the Left even if, unintentionally, they are likely to face tougher times once the Right succeeds in legislating away many of the elements of the skimpy safety net that the liberals put in place ever since the New Deal. So it would be a good idea to approach people at your Thanksgiving table who seem obnoxious or irreparably misinformed to start with a little bit of empathy, trying to understand more fully what were their experiences and interpretations of their experiences that lead them in the direction they are going, and what pain in their lives continues to lead them to what we might legitimately think of as misguided ideas. Among other things to search out in engaging empathically–do any of these people feel alone or unable trust others (even in their own families), do they worry about not having enough financial security to keep up with the expensive gift items that they are being told by the media is the way to show “true caring” for friends and family members, do they feel disappointed in themselves for feeling slightly depressed instead of elated as they enter the month in which we are all “supposed” to be joyous? Caring about the things in their lives that make them feel uncared for and even scared about their health or relationships or the lack of real respect they experience may open them to listening to your ideas once they feel you really are interested in them and their experience!!!
And then there is another direction you might help to initiate. Perhaps this Thanksgiving it would be helpful to move the conversation beyond our legitimate complaints at all that has gone wrong toward a vision of the world we are FOR. Let’s talk about a new bottom line for our society—judging our economy, our corporations, our government policies, our legal and educational institutions as productive, efficient and rational to the extent that they tend to increase love, compassion, generosity, kindness, environmental sanity, ethical behavior, social and economic justice, and enhance our capacity to see others as fundamentally valuable and deserving of respect (rather that see them through a more utilitarian framework of “what can they do advance our own personal interests?”) AND how much they increase our capacity to see our mother EARTH not only as something that can be “used” to satisfy human needs but also as something that evokes awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of life.
Now imagine you could get people talking about this New Bottom Line—you’d have a discussion of basic values, not just about how outrageous this or that thing Trump said or tweeted! And the people at your Thanksgiving table would feel elevated rather than angry at you.
In fact, you’d find that some of the people who seem most stuck in their conservative views could agree with you. They’ve never ever heard people on the Left talk about love. Of course, people on the Left are astounded by this–they think it obvious that they are motivated by these values. But the problem is, they rarely use words like love, generosity and kindness when they describe what we are for. If we could convince the liberal and progressive social movements to emphasize this New Bottom Line as what they all share, and a desire to build what we at Tikkun have called “The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth,” they’d be able to have a far greater impact in the world, and probably even in the 2018 elections. Try it this year at Thanksgiving and also ask any social change movements or political candidates in 2018 you are supporting to talk about The New Bottom Line and the Caring Society, and you could have a huge impact. As a starter, send eveyone you know this email and link to it on Facebook.
And if you get into this kind of discussion, it might make sense to also tell them about Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a movement of people who seek to help reshape the culture of liberal and progressive movements in ways that will help many people who should be on our side come back to supporting those movements once they no longer feel we are so elitist, shaming and blaming of people not yet on our side, religohobic, and thinking that anyone not already with us must of necessity be either stupid or evil. Urge them to subscribe to Tikkun www.tikkun.org/subscribe , to buy gift subscriptions for a perfect holiday gift, or to join the NSP–Network of Spiritual Progressives at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join, or if they have any activist bones in their body to take the Activist Training for the Trump years at www.spiritualprogressives.org/training (it’s online and a new series will begin early next week–it’s perfect for people who want to learn how to be an effective and empathic voice for environmental, social and economic justice. If nothing else, you might get some of your friends to make a tax-deductible contribution to Tikkun or the NSP at www.tikkun.org/donate or if you (or they) prefer giving their credit card to a real person, call Wednesday (tomorrow) or early next week to Chris at our office (west coast time 9-5) at 510 644 1200 .
And if you do try this approach, let me know how it all turns out!
My blessings for a spiritually rich and love-filled Thanksgiving!
510-644-1200, firstname.lastname@example.org P.S. and if you happen to be in the Bay Area this coming Saturday morning, you are welcome to come to Rabbi Lerner’s home for prayer (9:30 a.m.) Torah study at 10:30 (the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel), and a vegetarian pot-luck at 12:15 (bring a main course vegetarian dish–not necessarily vegan– to share with about ten people). At 951 Cragmont Ave, Berkeley and email us by Friday noon with info on what dish you are bringing so we can supplement it. You are also welcome to just come to the Torah study and not stay for the pot-luck if that fits your needs better.
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