“I can’t believe you lived like that!” people in the “real world” always say when they learn about my past.
I grew up in a dogmatic, narrow-minded world that hated outsiders. My fundamentalist group called itself “The Church.” Everyone outside us was in “The World.” We used the word “tremendous” liberally.
We had a tremendous post-Armageddon future in the clouds as the Bride of Christ! The levels of our hate for outsiders not like us were tremendous! The fact that we insiders ‘deserved it’ and no one else did? You guessed it: tremendous.
My group’s leader was overweight and imposing, bursting with self-satisfaction and mocking insults, a businessman who continues to build billions off the backs of unpaid others. My former leader’s message is that he has the one truth and is the answer to defeating and eliminating the bad guys who have messed up our world. He calls a lawyer the minute anyone has something negative to say about him, and, unless cornered by his own words or actions, he never, ever admits to the slightest wrongdoing.
“The levels of our hate for outsiders not like us were tremendous! The fact that we insiders ‘deserved it’ and no one else did? You guessed it: tremendous.”
“Aren’t you glad you escaped that?!” people always ask.
But now, after dealing with torturous triggers over the last six months, it’s become clear I haven’t.
Our new president’s campaign said anyone who disagrees with him is “bad.” In the, apparent “better world” he was offering, at least pre-election, his opponents should be put in prison and “bad hombres” — based on his determination of who that is — should be shipped out. Guantanamo should be kept open and anyone “not a good guy, trust me,” again, according to him, should be tossed in.
Just like back in my fundamentalist group.
The Church’s main song in my teen years was “A Great Awesome Army.” It was written to the melody of the former Soviet Union’s national anthem and we pumped our stiff right arms in the air in unison to songs about death and destruction to our “enemies.” We all dressed the same. We rode a band-wagon of group-think based on frustration and fantasy.
No matter what America’s new president said or did in his campaign his followers backed him. They laughed at the all right moments, booed at others, pumped their arms in unison, and wore matching t’s like ‘lock ’em up’ about anyone, who might disagree.
“I have a message for the Trump supporters. The World understands. Truly.”
For the past half-year I’ve watched some of the scariest parts of my childhood reality play out. And this time it’s not a small group I can get up and leave. This time, it’s the new dominant, or at least ruling, mindset of the United States of America.
But after a few days of numbness under the covers after November 9th, I started reflecting seriously on what I did last time I was forced to live in a society based on fear and fantasy. Because I, we, have to get through this somehow, and it can get really hot under those covers.
I can say with complete certainty that the people in my group were there for the best of reasons. No one joins fascism on purpose. They come together around frustration with the status quo. They start because they are dissatisfied and feel powerless. They join up because they’re looking for something else, something good and right and pure and new to believe in, and often, that group promises all of that.
I have a message for the Trump supporters. The World understands. Truly. You want change. You haven’t found yourselves in fair situations. You’re tired of empty promises. We’ve heard you, loud and clear.
But as a former member of an extremist mindset, let me tell you: Your leader reminds me of my own former one, and he was a dangerous fraud. He didn’t bring about the change you are rooting for. He did not make our lives better.He was lying. He was using us. Your leader might also endanger you, us, and every freedom our collective constitution, left or right, Christian or Muslim, black or white is built on, while telling you that he is honoring that very same.
“As a former member of an extremist mindset, let me tell you: Your leader reminds me of my own former one, and he was a dangerous fraud.”
I watched my group turn on itself. We witch-hunted our own members. Opposers, we members ranted, should be weeded out: cut off as lower than the lowest scum and never spoken to or of again. Then, if they failed at life or came crawling back because they couldn’t bear complete exile, this was evidence of God’s ‘tremendous’ wrath.
I barely survived when my family didn’t make the cut.
But I’ve learned, over time, that life does go on. The world didn’t end by the year 2000 like my group promised. It was just another narrative, another mythos. And I know now that the people I don’t agree with might never ‘get it.’ When it comes to fixed mindsets, the cognitively dissonant can’t risk the implosion of their realities. They are not on my path and I am not on theirs.
Instead of expecting Trump followers to walk with me, I can walk alongside them. I can agree to disagree. I can stop trying to drive my point across, because I’ve learned it doesn’t work. I can release my hopes for an acknowledgment of the lies and abuse piled upon me as a child and teen. I can stop believing justice and my way is my right, just because I don’t take one-liners for an answer and emotional bait for a guidebook.
I can use my love of learning to bolster one of my greatest gifts as a human: gratitude. I can look at the amazing, upward trajectory of unprecedented worldwide growths in education, equality and progress that have occurred over the last century. I can count my blessings and be grateful that right now is still the best time in modern history to be, for example, a woman.
I can look at the biological fact that humans aren’t innately attracted to doing the ‘wrong’ thing. Humans want to help, or believe they’re helping, other humans. Human nature wants to feel like ‘the good guy’ and ultimately, we want to feel accepted, and loved, a part of something bigger that’s safe and good.
The answer, for me, is simply, hope. True, my anarchist ex-boyfriend called that potentially limp notion ‘another four-letter word.’ But Emily Dickinson also nailed it as ‘the thing with feathers in the soul.’
Hispanic author Junot Diaz wrote this week in a New Yorker reaction piece: “What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.”
Hope really does have a way of rising from the ashes.
“Does all this feel-good positive bigger-person stuff actually work? Can you kill your enemies with kindness? I don’t know.”
Does all this feel-good positive bigger-person stuff actually work? Can you kill your enemies with kindness? Can you turn that Christian notion of the other cheek on the misappropriation of its message, currently boiling to a ferment? I don’t know, because I am human, and I get angry, and I tend to fight back when someone is mean and unfair, and I react when someone pushes my buttons. It’s hard not to, and to suppress those inclinations would probably just give me cancer or worse, wrinkles in a society that, as much as it’s advanced, still can’t stand those on women.
But I can continue to speak my truth, without fear, and I can forgive. At the least, that is the action I can take every day. Because all the old books, including the Christian one, say these bigger-person choices have positive outcomes in the long-term. For what it’s worth, even if the results are slow in coming, I choose to still believe that.
In danger of sounding like a John Lennon song, Republican versus Democrat, peach versus brown, male versus female, Hillary versus Donald, the truth is, we might share far more things in common than we do differences.
And that, is it’s own kind of faith.
Heidi has published in The Los Angeles Times, Bitter Lemons and Bullshitlst. She is currently completing Jezebel, a memoir. You can contact her at heidihough [at] gmail. To learn more and support her work please visit https://www.patreon.com/heidihoughauthor
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