Don’t flatter yourself

In the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman,” there’s this scene where Snow White escapes from the castle and ends up traveling with the Huntsman. At one point, he takes his axe and whacks off the bulk of her dress, which is hindering their progress. (Don’t worry, she has leather leggings on underneath.) Snow White looks at him pensively, and he says, “Don’t flatter yourself.”

Dont flatter yourself.

What a demonstration of the problems we face in our society: The same experience interpreted totally different ways by two people because of their very different backgrounds.

Both characters had known suffering. But experience with one type of struggle doesn’t make a person automatically privy to all types of struggles. Snow White’s only experiences with men for the last 10 years of her life had been that they come and they rape. The Huntsman presumed something altogether different, based on his experiences, just like so many of us do when we can’t imagine that others in our society could be living such a very different reality than we perceive.

Don’t flatter yourself says that only pretty girls get raped, or are worthy of being raped. Don’t flatter yourself says you don’t get to take a knee because we pay you millions of dollars to play football, not to disrupt our entertainment. Don’t flatter yourself says you’re not fully human if you use food stamps or aren’t a legal citizen.

Don’t flatter yourself says that someone else owns you, and can use you however they see fit. It says it’s your fault that your circumstances suck. It says that the perspective of the powerful is the only one that matters, and that any other experiences aren’t legitimate.

Don’t flatter yourself devalues by assuming we know someone else’s story. It assumes that since everything looks fine to me, there must be something wrong with you.

Good people get offended when people of minority groups treat them like they are not good. Good people don’t understand that it’s not really about them, but about everyone who came before them, because they can’t imagine other people not being good. They can’t imagine other people not being just like them.

Imagine if the Huntsman had recognized that Snow White’s reaction wasn’t about him. Imagine if he had asked her to share her story. Imagine if he had asked her how he could be different than the ones who came before him.

At the end of the movie, I suppose you could say this sort of happened. You could make the argument that they recognize their mutual need for each other. But even the Huntsman’s kiss scene is still all about him — resolution for his pain, her requirement for his intervention, the implication that she wouldn’t be queen if it weren’t for him. Part of me wants to tell the Huntsman: Don’t flatter yourself.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Snow White does point out that she saved the Huntsman from the troll, and the wise blind dwarf tells him he has eyes but can’t see who she is. What a metaphor for power today. Power never understands its reliance on those it oppresses. It never perceives others as having equal worth and value.

The opposite of don’t flatter yourself isn’t flatter yourself. That’s what we see in the wicked queen. That’s the attitude of people who find the struggles of others insulting to their version of reality. No, the opposite of don’t flatter yourself is May I flatter you?

Seek permission to understand someone else’s perspective. Seek permission to raise them up. Esteem them. Value them. Bring legitimacy to their humanity by listening to their story, and seeing the experiences that shape their reality.

The narcissist’s cycle of political abuse

I was watching a video of Trump and British PM May this morning. I found myself thinking, He doesn’t sound so bad.

Wait — what?!?

I must have Stockholm syndrome, was my first conclusion. As I think about it however, certain qualities of Trump’s demeanor remind me of abuse. As soon as you’ve decided you detest him, he’s using that calm, soothing voice while making quasi-reasonable statements. You find yourself thinking, Ok, may be it’ll be ok, it’ll work out. So you let down your guard a little, which is about the moment he turns back into Mr Hyde.

A little research shows that the cycle of narcissistic abuse is different than the general cycle of abuse. It involves a “flip” at the third stage, where the narcissist – the abuser – becomes the abused. Not only does this keep the narcissist at the center of attention, but it positions him to profit from the potential benefits of every stage while deferring nothing to the victim. It keeps the narcissist in a position of power and control at every stage.

As a country, we’ve entered into an abusive relationship with Donald Trump. Please understand I am not suggesting that he is or ever was abusive to his family – important to note in light of the “free Melania” internet jokes. No; I am suggesting that Trump has and does leverage this narcissistic cycle of abuse to get what he wants in the business world, and now in the political area. Supporters who don’t recognize abuse think the rest of us are crazy when they are actually the victims. 

It will be up to the rest of us to keep ourselves from being drawn into Trump’s psychological abuse. I wonder if we can open people’s eyes not only by standing up against walls and gag orders, but by also pointing out the abuse. I plan to continue my study of this subject. I hope to find ways to protect myself from the psychological impacts while finding opportunities to reach the victimized.

He’s that one kid in class

Every teacher, and anyone who’s ever attended grade school, knows who I’m talking about.

There was always that one kid in the class. The kid with the unpredictable behavior. The one that made everyone operate with a low grade, constant level of stress. Before long, it became the new normal. You didn’t even realize it until the first day that one kid was absent. 

On that day, everyone was lighter on their feet. The noise level in the room dropped. People actually got stuff done because the atmosphere in the room wasn’t ruled by that one kid. You realized you kind of liked being there. 

Then that one kid was always back the next day. The tension in the room rose when he entered as everyone’s guard went back up, because you never knew what that one kid was going to do next. Except every once in a while, he’d be a decent person for a few minutes. You’d think, ok, maybe he’s getting it; things are going to get better. And then that one kid would suddenly throw a tantrum or hit someone or steal your pencils. You’d feel emotionally taken advantage of, angry that you let your guard down. 

You’d spend some time wishing that one kid‘s parents would move to a different town, or at least get sent to the principal’s office for a while. But eventually, you realized the depressing truth: We’re stuck with that one kid for the rest of the year. Every day, you and your classmates counted the seconds until the last bell rang and you could escape it all, ignoring the fact that you’d be doing it all over again the next day.

I’ve never wished I lived in another country, but right now, I do. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be trapped in Donald Trump’s shit show. Every day, I grit my teeth and wonder, What will he do today? and It’s only been one week – how the hell will we survive FOUR YEARS? Actually… maybe I need to thank that one kid. After all, he taught me that eventually, the school year comes to an end. 

Since I feel such a gross disconnection from my fellow Americans at this time, I’ve decided to consider my blue state to be my home country. It is a beautiful place, and we care about things like climate change and not being an asshole. Our governor doesn’t having a problem mocking Trump’s wall and voicing opposition to his un-American policies (because if you can’t beat him, you can at least make fun of him).

One day, Donald Trump won’t be president anymore. Until then, you can find me in the corner of the classroom, head down and going about my work, counting the seconds until that final bell rings.

American voters scream “Barabbas!”

Warning: I am about to mix religion and politics.

In the biblical story of Barabbas, the religious leaders of Roman-occupied Israel have brought Jesus to be crucified. Pilate, seeing that Jesus has committed no crimes, offers the crowd a choice of which prisoner to release: Jesus, or the prisoner Barabbas, an insurrectionist. The religious leaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy, encouraging them to chant “Barabbas!” as their answer to Pilate’s question.

The book of Matthew tells us that Pilate understood the religious leaders had brought Jesus to him out of self-interest. So let’s be clear before proceeding: The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had a vested self-interest that felt threatened.

They were not crucifying Jesus; they were crucifying change. They had society the way they liked it, and the boat was rocked.

Sound familiar?

In this metaphor, I equate Donald Trump’s brand of fundamentalist conservatism with Barabbas. But do not make the mistake of thinking I’m equating Hillary with Jesus. No, the Jesus in this metaphor is truth and basic American freedoms.

Conservative Christians have seen American culture as becoming distinctly less conservative, less traditional, and less Christian. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, they saw their influence diminishing, and they feared it. Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, fundamentalist American conservatives voted for Trump because they fear loss of power and control in our society.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider what exactly it means to be a fundamentalist American conservative Christian Republican:

  • You’re OK with war, because it makes you less fearful of other world cultures.
  • You’re opposed to abortion, because it is murder (see previous point, note irony).
  • You dislike paying taxes, because you don’t want to support things you don’t believe in or think are unnecessary (see first point, note irony).
  • You see liberals as people who support culture change, whereas you want to live in 1950 (which was mostly only a good time if you were white, male, and Christian).

The first three items can actually be captured fairly well in the last item. That is why Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated so strongly with fundamentalist American conservatives. They see that time in our country’s history as a time when we were homogeneously Christian and on top of the world.

So when almost half of America had a choice between a Clinton and Donald Trump, they overwhelmingly screamed, “Barabbas!” because Trump represented those ideals. The problem is that Donald Trump is overwhelmingly un-American. That one snuck past us while Trump was being disguised as the more “Christian” choice.

I’ve heard Christians make a variety of justifications for voting for Trump. My favorites include: “Hillary is a murderer of babies/ambassadors,” “Trump is surrounding himself with good people,” “We need the wall,” and, “Things just have to change.” These are the ropes with which the sacrifice of American freedoms is tied to the altar of fundamental conservatism.

Donald Trump had the knife poised over that sacrifice the entire campaign season — some recognized this, and others ignored it. (“He makes me feel strong. Barabbas!”) Every time the Trump campaign cited lies — er, “alternative facts” — as truth, every time he changed his story, conservatives looked the other way. (“He sounds as angry as I feel. Barabbas!”)

Every time Trump mocked women, or the disabled, or minorities, or other cultures, they looked the other way. (“It’s not me; I’m not affected. Barabbas!”)

Every time Trump exhibited anti-Christian behavior, they looked the other way. (“He must be God’s choice. Barabbas!”)

Five days into his presidency, even if you still believe Trump is a Christian (“My religious leaders told me to vote for him. Barabbas!”), you must now begin to concede that he is wholly un-American, as he shuts up and shuts down institutions and organizations who oppose his vested self-interests.

If we knew our history better, more of us might have thought Donald Trump’s demagoguery smacked a bit of post-WWI Germany, who allowed Hitler to come to power because he made them feel strong again. Or maybe we’d be reminded of Russian Cold War-era propaganda, where truth was reinvented and opposing voices were imprisoned or murdered. (Be careful about longing for the 1950s — you just might get them.)

This election presented Americans with ugly choices — two candidates of despicable moral character — but the unseen choice was really between American ideals and a particularly ignorant form of fundamentalist conservatism. It’s now becoming clear that nearly half of us so strongly fear cultural change that we are willing to pay for traditionalism with American freedoms and truth itself.

My fear is that those things will be lost. When the blind cries of “Barabbas!” die down, our eyes will be opened and we’ll see them crucified. Like the crowd that screamed, “Barabbas!” we will also find ourselves saying that the blood of this sacrifice “will be on us and our children.” But unlike Jesus, we may not be able to resurrect them.