Bigot. Racist. Misogynist. Xenophobe. Donald Trump is the poster child for these shadowy human characteristics, and obviously should not be the next President of the United States. It is frightening to consider this belligerent man “holding the codes” and “hovering his hand over the red button.” He deserves every ounce of concern, outrage and condemnation projected his way.
But our rightful finger waving and detest is not where the story ends. In fact, it is only the beginning.
Trump may just be one of the most devilishly packaged gifts mankind has been given. Yet, if we cannot unravel ourselves from our disdain and chastisement, we may not sense the larger opportunity he affords the US, and beyond. Our spell of myopia may entrap us as much as Trump’s entraps him.
Look closer and you might see that this cantankerous man is inviting us to more honestly examine the shadows of our social systems and inner reality. When Trump proudly boasts of his predatory behaviour towards women, disrespects marginalized members of our communities, and mocks those with special needs, he ignites a fury of political and social talking points through our news networks and living rooms. His negative and limiting beliefs and behaviours, quietly pervasive in colleges, workplaces, churches and homes, are unearthed and amplified through the national stage Trump stands on, the conviction of his words, and the fierceness of his presence. This is a man who does not refrain from speaking to, and from, the shadowy places that already exist.
Just look at the downplaying of culpability in the Brock Turner and Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trials; the way some men casually call their wives “the wife”, and speak about women as if they are pieces of meat; or the way racial tensions still divide black from white from Latino, and engender fear in those of skin colour during routine police stops. It’s all here, ubiquitous in culture and mind. It’s been normalized and kept quiet far too long. And so sometimes it takes a powerful mirror to show us the truth that is hidden in plain view, and unite us into a more egalitarian vision.
Hall of Mirrors
It is the way of our infinitely intelligent universe to guide us through the hall of mirrors, also known as life. Perhaps the most obvious example is in our personal romantic relationships. Those we attract come into our lives not so we can simply buy a house together, raise kids, build net worth, and have sex. This is the myopic view I speak of, and what I call the little agenda. Attuning to the Big Agenda asks that we soften our gaze, stand back a bit, and listen carefully for what the ears can’t hear that stirs quietly in our wise whispering hearts.
These teachers-in-disguise enter our lives to mirror back the parts of ourselves we fear to look at; parts we have disowned—including our pains, fears, limiting and negative beliefs, and trauma. A woman abused as a girl may repeatedly find herself in abusive relationships. A man who denies the dreamer within may continuously attract partners who shun pragmatism. Someone who has disowned the part of herself that is “weak” may draw boyfriend after boyfriend who is highly cautious.
The human psyche is a multi-faced jewel of the good, bad and ugly. Within us lie the profane and the profound, the diabolical and the divine, the saint and the sinner. We have it all in us. Yes, even evil, for there is not one of us who has not thought an evil thought. And if you can think it, it is in you.
Yet, when we deny our immanent wholeness, it makes itself known in often ugly and harmful ways. Tell a child that anger is inappropriate and he may grow up to be a guilt-driven accommodator, or an inferno of rage. Tell a child not to be silly and she may become highly serious, or an obnoxious class clown. Tell a teenager that sex is bad or wrong and he may grow to be deeply repressed, or a sexual deviant. Watch two children raised in an alcoholic home and you may see one grow to be righteously sober, and the other a raging alcoholic. What we disown owns us from the shadows. What we resist persists.
And so it is that we live in a compassionate universe with a mandate to return us to wholeness—the Big Agenda—so that we do not live as separate from ourselves, and thus others. Lovers, friends and bosses are generously brought to us to mirror and illuminate our shadows—the parts of ourselves we deny. They do so by being our shadow. That person you sleep with every night or report to every day, yes that person may just be the perfect embodiment of what you fear inside.
What a tremendous gift; one given so we no longer have to live in fear of ourselves, and others.
The Collective Mirror
Mirroring happens in one-to-one relationship systems, but also in larger systems such as workplaces and families. There’s always that one staff member who is a pain in the butt, a naysayer, putting on the brakes when everyone else is on board; or that family member who loves to stir the pot (all good soups need to be stirred!).
And when the shadow is dark and widespread enough, its presence persistently denied, the mirror must eventually make itself known in such a fierce way that the collective can finally face it. Hence, the emergence of Donald Trump. He is a powerful mirror for the nation, and beyond, and he is doing his job magnificently!
The gift of Trump, if only we’d receive it, is that he invites us to turn our waving, irate, or pedestalizing finger away from him, and towards ourselves. Beneath the allure and deceit of his bombast, he asks us all: Where does Donald Trump live in you? Where do you objectify women? Where do you whisper or shout sardonic words about African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Caucasians—anyone? Where do you strut and speak with controlling unilateralism, without the nuance and patience needed for deep democracy? Where do you make a profession out of bullying and lying? Where do you default to mansplaining instead of simply listening and being curious?
Trump unwittingly and profusely asks us all to deeply examine how we collude, collectively, to ensure that this cruelty and insanity continues; to inquire into how we acquired, maintain and insidiously protect this cultural ethos that makes xenophobia, sexism and racism acceptable—the collective shadow of the United States, and abroad.
We the Leaders, Leading from Within
It’s one thing to point the finger at Trump, and we must, but that is just the necessary beginning. More is needed. It is time we lead from the bottom, rather than expecting and waiting for leadership from “that special person over there”. We must be the leaders we are waiting for.
A major draw to Trump is that he idiosyncratically stands outside the norms of the political arena, stubbornly refusing to be bound by the establishment’s game, speaking without the accustomed circuitousness of most politicians. For many, his brute honesty is refreshing. He is, on one level, a symbol for a new kind of leader we crave. But that leadership, as JFK and Gandhi passionately implored, must come from all of us: leadership not only in what we do, and who we vote for, but in who we are, individually and collectively, day to day, moment to moment. Leadership from the inside out.
It is kindness, honesty, tolerance, imagination, compassion, wisdom and love that our communities need, not another political ruse, not another dollar invested in the military, not another disingenuous high dream. Let’s use Trump for the Big Agenda he is pointing us towards, the deeper truth and authentic change that wants to, and must, emerge from within.
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Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart