In Karen Armstrong’s absolutely essential book on kindness, Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life, she quotes Confucius’ political take on the Golden Rule:
You yourself desire rank and standing; then help others to get rank and standing. You want to turn your merits to account; then help other to turn theirs to account.
In the same chapter she also quotes a 12th Century Sufi philosopher version of Susan B. Anthony’s quote, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires”:
Everyone praises what he believes, his god is his own creature, and in praising it he praises himself. Consequently he blames the beliefs of others, which he would not do if he were just, but his dislike is based on ignorance.
I was thinking about what Biden could do to be the President “of all Americans” like he promised, and I started thinking about the opposite of Trump Rallies.
The opposite of Trump Rallies may be town halls? I’m not sure yet, but it’s a start. I keep thinking about that town hall John McCain held where one of his fear-fed supporters said Obama was an “Arab” and McCain calmly schooled her and told her he wasn’t.
Obviously Trump Rallies were mostly blatant ego fests for a deranged narcissist, but for the attendees the rallies served an important purpose: they kept the cult isolated from reality and stoked them with constant boosts of fear and hate.
Misinformation, AKA lies, will more easily die the more open a society is and as facts and figures get checked and tested. It’s a fairly slow process, but steady. Trump’s frequent rallies were weaponized and designed to thwart any fact-checking by incessantly piling on and keeping cult minds as narrow and clouded as possible. The spinning wheel of fear demands a lot of drama and caretaking. It seems just exhausting to everyone outside looking in.
But now we are not just suffering from conspiracy theory kooks who used to be fringe figures in isolated cabins and sad chat rooms — those same kooks have been coaxed out of their basements, loud and proud and lethal.
They are holding America hostage and demanding we give in to their racism or they will terrorize us with further conspiracy theories and victim narratives.
They will run batshit around the field moving the goal posts forever, if we let them.
So the question is: can you hold a town hall for very long without that kind of cray exploding in the front row and choking everyone with the toxic fumes?
Listen, there’s understanding, listening, and kindness, but there’s also accountability. Someone yelling “fire” in a crowded theater absolutely needs to be removed and tried, but is there room for “tough love” which means looking out for someone by making them take responsibility for their actions? Any terrorist action is inexcusable, but if a person can be made to take responsibility for it BEFORE it happens then they can be helped. It’s an impossible line to navigate after their actions have injured or murdered others.
Can a town hall give enough “tough love” to help an individual BEFORE the terrorist action by that individual? Can they be calmly led away from the anger and gently disarmed of their ignorance?
You want them to come back to earth and be human again so you can help them. This doesn’t mean to make them agree with you, but to invite them to enter into an adult relationship with reality. You want them to be around normal people in some public venue, hearing real names, hearing personal stories… you know, all the things hostage negotiators do to defuse terrorists, hopefully BEFORE those terrorists kill hostages.
Like I said, town halls are a good start — some sort of town halls with tough love. You can’t just let crazy fly free. There have to be limits set. It’s a difficult task and definitely not sound-bite/click-bait/news-cycle friendly, but it can be well worth the peace and kindness that can come for all in the end.
The Golden Rule isn’t just a guideline, it’s CPR for a seriously ill society.