Befriending your enemy.

Did you see the news about Ellen Degeneres and G.W. Bush hanging out together?

Did you also see the hate and rage on social media in response to that news?

Did you wonder to yourself, wow. Society is made up of a lot of fickle, furious people? Folks seem to really be struggling with Love right now.

No? I did. I’m pretty amazed but not surprised about it, actually. This recent incident inspired me to write this post that I’ve been saving in my draft folder for a while, since I wasn’t really sure how or when or why to share it.

Now feels like a good time.

I mean, here you have this woman Ellen who is beloved and adored one minute and the next, she’s a social pariah. All the good she has done for people is washed away with a few angry tweets that shame and criticize her. That really tells you something about the changing nature of people and why you shouldn’t worry too much what people think of you.

But it also tells us something about why we’re sort of damned if we do and damned if we don’t. You might as well DO and do your damn best and follow your own heart because not everyone will like it or agree with you no matter what you do

But what do you think about doing what Ellen did and befriending your enemy? Practicing radical Love for someone who isn’t anything like you or has different values or belief systems? Sort of like it seems Ellen did or is doing with her political opposite? Lots of folks seems to have this opinion that she’s selling out or not being a good advocate (wow, how much more advocacy would ONE DO?! Ellen does a lot) because she’s sitting beside someone who stood against a lot of what Ellen is for, as far as political rights for LGBTQ folks are concerned.

But here she was, sitting cozy and smiling beside a “political rival”! What nerve, people are saying. That’s privilege, others say. Privilege? Seriously? I tweeted back, “privilege is defining privilege for vastly different humans.”

I knew what this gay guy meant about privilege. I’m well-versed on the activist jargon. Don’t know if you saw my most recent post about my angry activist past.

But here’s what’s interesting to me and maybe you, too. Ellen constantly tells people to be kind. It’s her who motto and MO. And here she was living that out loud in integrity by being kind to someone who others would not. I think she’s doing this for a number of reasons. What do you think?

I just know I’ve been posting about this concept of loving what feels or seems unlovable ever since this President was elected and people started freaking out.

I saw how much anger and resentment people had and no amount of #resistance was going to bring about peace and relief. How did I know that? Well, from walking in the darkness of my own anger and grief and from also practicing Buddhism for over 20 years. I know a lot about forgiveness. Have you ever tried forgiving your parents for disowning you? And your mother for overcoming her decision but never apologizing? I have.

Forgiveness is what sets us free. Acceptance is what heals us. Love is the only thing that’s real and lasting. We don’t arrive there by loving people who are easy to love. We feel that when we practice radical Love.

It’s easy to be spiteful. It’s easy to be vindictive. It’s easy to JUSTIFY this behavior when lots and lots of other people do it.

And it’s really immature, that’s what I came to see about my own reaction and behavior. It isn’t Love. It is the exact opposite.

Hating just makes more hate. It’s that simple.

A lot of my posts on social media the past several years were trying to name this over. People thought I was a sellout. They thought I “just didn’t understand”. I did understand and realized I was ahead of the curve. But maybe, just maybe, my intention and the space I held helped us all collectively.

Because here we are now. Being asked to see two adults with radically different value systems and respect their decision to be friends, despite.

It IS possible. It ISN’T popular right now among so-called progressives.

And isn’t that interesting?


It IS interesting. And hopefully an opportunity for some real change.

I know this is true because of my experience “befriending the enemy” since moving back to New Jersey two years ago. I’ve been very surprised by who voted for who in 2016 and how they lived that out in the world. Who said they believed in certain things and who, when given the opportunity, truly help when it’s needed.

It’s been certainly very popular to rant and rage for the welfare of strangers and have a collective “enemy” to blame and judge and criticize. It’s been popular to post selfies from protest marches. It’s been popular to say, “I CAN’T BELIEVE…” fill in the blank, every day.

And from where I sat, watching it every day, the people who had the hardest time believing were the ones who possessed the very power to make it better—but weren’t. They were using all their energy to be part of the problem, but not part of the solution.

Want to hear something interesting? The people who have helped me most in the past two years have been people who voted for the current President. That’s right. Trump voters have been some of the kindest and most generous people, especially when they found out my identity.

And ready for this one? People who claim to be liberal or progressive and maybe voted for Trump’s campaign rivals—-they have been responsible for some of the most disrespectful and unkind behavior I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I'm not kidding you. It’s been so stunning to me, actually, that it took me some time to process it. And once it became a pattern, it really affected my own political views.

I’m now seeing how many, if not most, so-called “supporters” as total fakes, phonies and performative allies. What’s a performative ally? Someone who makes a lot of noise on Facebook to look like they have the back of marginalized groups of people. Someone who wants everyone to know they are “woke” but don’t really come through on that behavior IN REAL LIFE with ACTUAL MARGINALIZED PEOPLE.

I am not going to shame people here. That’s not what this is for. I’m not even complaining, really. I’m telling you this because it shocked the hell out of me that people who voted for Trump have been the kindest and most authentic acquaintances to me. And way more people who voted for Clinton or Sanders or whoever else have been raging monsters when they came face to face with an actual marginalized person.

So I’ve learned that befriending my “enemy” is one of the smartest and best decisions I made. I was vulnerable and needed help. I needed a place to live. I needed work to start my business over or get settled and established. I needed friends who could listen as I worked through my grief and PTSD from losing my therapist so suddenly or my fear of coming back Home after being gone for so long.

These are things all people need in their lives. I needed them desperately because I was so alone in the world. I needed them because they’re harder to come by later in life and also because I face discrimination as a transgender person. I don’t let it stop me (as you can well see) but it HAPPENS. I needed resources and support and the people who provided it voted for the current administration. They would have been my enemies years ago when I was an arrogant and really annoying liberal ranting fiend.

The people who actively deprived me of support and resources spend a lot of time complaining about the administration in the name of the pain and suffering of marginalized individuals.

Go figure.

And we’re back to the people who are incredulous about Ellen’s behavior and rather than stepping back and learning from her leadership, they’re taking her down left and right. I laugh the hardest when cisgender heterosexual white women do this. Men, too. It’s almost become cool to have entitled rage about issues that don’t even affect them in their everyday lives.

I want to ask them, “have you walked Ellen’s path? Do you have any idea how she does this? Aren’t you curious and maybe humbled by her motives and behavior?"

I am. I think she’s absolutely right. Because I’ve come to the same conclusion.

Befriending my enemy now means learning to Love the liberals who are most responsible for the rage and hate and lack of kindness happening right now.

What does it mean for you?

How anger hurts activism.

Anger isn't an effective form of activism.

But you can't tell much of the population that right now. In fact, I felt pretty overwhelmed this week by how much anger and aggression I see out in the world at the moment. And more than that, I worry that people think I don’t see what’s going on and, worse, that I don’t care.

But I DO care. I care about the Earth and racism and gender equality (for ALL the genders—hi, not just women, cool) and animal factory farming and…all the causes.

I care so much it makes me pretty angry to see how angry activists are hurting activism and the causes they claim to care about.

It’s because I remember being that angry activist. That’s why I understand it all so well.

Is the anger more than it was before?

Is it because of one person?

My mom asked me what I thought today. I told her it’s absolutely the collective suffering of all human beings that’s being reflected back to us right now. And the angry activists are equally responsible, even if they think they aren’t.

She kept talking about one person who is making it all happen.

I don’t think she heard me when I said one person isn’t responsible. It’s ok. I stopped trying to drive my points home a long time ago because I learned from doing it so angrily that it doesn’t work—and it only made things worse.

As someone who practiced angry activism from my early 20s through my mid-30s, I totally understand the concepts and perspectives being shared around social media.

In fact, I’ve been doing the “work” of environmental activism and racism and gender equality and so on for so long (over 20 years, actually), it’s interesting for me to see more and more people wake up to ideas I’ve known about for two decades.

It’s a good thing they are waking up, but it’s a hard thing to witness. An essential stage of waking up is anger as a response to the sadness for how long you were asleep and didn’t see what you see once it’s brought to your awareness.

Anger isn’t a feeling though, as I learned from my therapist. It’s a response to a feeling. Anger covers sadness, quite often. And that’s what overwhelms me when I look out into the world right now: the profound amount of sadness that is bringing human beings to the brink of their own sanity.

And coming to that edge and feeling so helpless and hopeless. they resort to anger and rage from their frustration at feeling unable to stop the world from spinning in a way that feels so out of control.

What an incredible desire to help, I think.

What a beautiful feeling of fragility and vulnerability.

But when that beautiful desire is covered up by a reactive, explosive, alienating, derisive, vindictive ANGER—all the beauty of the intention is lost. That reactionary anger adds fuel the fire of animosity and resentment and selfishness and suffering.

When I realized this, I was standing in a room at a Buddhist retreat facing one of my favorite teachers, Ani Pema Chodron.

After years of feeling so angry as a learned behavior to deal with pain and finding a community of individuals who justified that anger as a means to change and “social justice”, I had begun to see the fault in their argument. The doubt had crept in. How did anger help reduce anger and evilness? How would self-righteousness bring about justice?

It didn’t. It never could and never would. Anger isn’t love, no matter how one tries to justify it. Anger is valid to experience or feel as a human being but it’s never a mature reason to behave like a bratty teenager because people aren’t being nice to one another or being racist or homophobic or eating meat.

I mean, really? You’re mad at people because they don’t eat what you want them to eat?

You’re mad at people because they don’t understand how race was created and lingers in society because they never learned that?

You’re mad at me, random woman who posts her preferred cis pronouns to show the world she’s “woke”, because I shared my honest opinion on my friend’s Facebook post? My opinion as a feminist trans* person?

MMM. Yeah. That one really got to me. Hetero cis white women behaving as performative allies are the folk who get my goat, these days. I thought it would be men who might give me the hardest time when I transitioned. Nope, it’s semi-woke white gurls. Going to write about that one…soon.

And this behavior is what I’m speaking to. It’s the glaringly obvious reason why anger hurts activism. Especially that last example. I wondered how she’ll feel when she realizes she’s attacking a person from the very “community” she claims to be an ally for.

I wonder if she’ll ever find enough humility to wonder…

When I step back, this is why I feel sad and that sadness turns to anger and then I feel incredulous about how many activists sit on their arrogant high thrones, judging and casting stones at the very people they claim are the wrong-doers or hurting the very people they claim they want to help (or look good pretending to). With all their awareness, they seem to lack the self-awareness of that irony.

I feel incredulous. I feel sad. I feel ANGER at them. I feel that anger because I was them. I am them, before I catch myself and bring myself back to my better nature.

I think of myself back before I had that realization in the room with Pema Chodron when she clearly explained why anger could never be an effective means of activism.

It would never bring about the result people wanted because it only sets up a reaction in the “opposite side” instead of bringing them around toward the critical tipping point needed to shift society toward a positive change.

Love does that. Kindness. Compassion. Understanding.

I once thought of these as weakness. I, too, would have been someone to use the #resist hashtag because I would have been hanging out with people who felt that way and my behavior would have been influenced by their opinions that justified rage as appropriate resistance.

But I’ve learned and grown so much to see that true courage, true strength comes from Loving what feels unlovable, being kind to who seems evil and showing compassion toward what seems unforgivable.

Anger is easy. It’s a defense the ego uses to push away and reject. But the rejection of others stems from self-rejection which is a snake chasing its tail. We can never love what we don’t love in ourselves. This is what hurts activism and the causes it seeks to rectify in our society.

Embracing sadness and choosing a different response is harder but much more effective.

How do I know?

Well, after years of alienating my mother (and many other people) with my angry activist ways, she still calls me and asks my opinion on important activist causes and matters and she listens to my new viewpoint. She may not believe her ears, actually, because I’m such a different person than she knew years ago. Back when I was a person who was so self-righteous about my beliefs that I wasn’t listening at all to the people who were trying to understand or who just didn’t want to agree with me.

And that’s ok. It’s really good actually. It’s proof that change takes time and it reminds me of the long game of activism that ends up changing us in the process of the causes we strive for.

Want more help with this topic?

Read more about my interaction with Pema here.

Read another article I wrote on Medium called Your Anger Won’t Save Us.

And listen to my interview on the ONE YOU FEED podcast by clicking here:

 
 



How to find alignment.

I don’t know how you feel about the Law of Attraction. Folks seem to either agree, disagree or feel somewhat ambivalent.

As for me? I wanted to believe in the Law of Attraction. The first time I heard about it from an ex-girlfriend back in 2007, I thought it sounded pretty silly. And then I heard about it again as I prepared to become a certified integrative health coach and thought it sounded plausible and I even experienced it many times in my life over the next several years. It was real!

But when I hit a major detour of despair and depression, I gave up hope on this Law. I stopped believing. I hated it as a concept, actually.

The Law of Attraction seemed to be for people of privilege. People with better situations who came from better backgrounds than me. It seemed to work for all the “thought leaders” who had more resources than me so they could write books faster than me and have partners to support them or families who believed in them…etc, etc.

I used my circumstances at that moment in time to weave a briliiant narrative that kept feeding on itself, over and over. It became so real, I believed it even when I knew it might not be serving me.

I mean, I was right! There were many people around me who had much more privilege and resources than me. I was white, sure, but now I was TRANS* and kept bumping up against relentless stigma and rejection and missed opportunities because of this identity.

It seemed like I had broken my life. Like I had missed my opportunity to soar and inspire people with my incredible story of overcoming an eating disorder at 16 and clearing up disfiguring acne at 26 and moving away to a totally new city in 2006 and then building an incredibly successful business after being let go from a job (that I didn’t even like or want anymore) in 2009.

When I transitioned in 2012, I was at the top of my game. At the highest point of my life. And now, years later, I was at what felt like a deep valley of grief and fear that I’d never get to be who I wanted to be and do what I’d dreamed of doing since I was 14.

That was the age I declared I’d be a motivational speaker. That was the year I’d found my purpose. And I had worked toward it year after year with such fearlessness that I never doubted myself for a moment. I WOULD succeed, that’s how I felt.

So to find myself questioning that future that had been so clear, I couldn’t even hope that the Law of Attraction would help me.

But I tried.

I tried wanting it. I tried asking, pleading, desperately begging for the shadow to pass over me so I could find my way back to the person I had been (?) or wanted to be so I could go on living or pick up where I had left off before everything turned to shit.

And that period lasted a few years. It was months of me constantly trying to “find alignment” with the higher self I saw myself capable of being. Months of me seeing my better self, my Buddha nature, but not feeling that way…about myself or other people. Months of me trying to be vulnerable with people and talk through this period and coming away feeling judged, shamed and even deprived of opportunities because I was being “too negative” or “not being who they thought a health coach” should be. That made me laugh, because I was never trying to be perfect but just a human work in progress.

But it was good for me because I was trying to be alignment with something I wasn’t feeling or being at that moment in time. I was doing the spiritual bypass, and the Universe knew it. And so I did get opportunities based on all I had achieved but they had a catch. They weren’t quite what I wanted or hoped for. They always seemed to miss the mark in some way, but still they gave me hope. The opportunities encouraged me to keep trying, keep striving, keep working my way out and through. I was getting “something” for my efforts. Crumbs. Clues.

And my confidence in myself started to build, once again. Newly, differently than before.

Focusing on what I had and received helped me feel more gratitude. Focusing less on competing with others or striving to “seem” like something other than I was removed the negative experiences and started bringing better ones.

And I could feel like I was getting closer to emerging from the woods (of my mind).

When I noticed myself rushing my process, I held back. I knew rushing came from ego. And the less ego, the better.

So I stepped more carefully, more slowly. I focused on feeling gratitude for all I had already achieved and gained. I felt pride in myself for my integrity and fortitude. I embraced the whole process and all I had learned, including moments when I faced betrayal and could have used those experiences to lose hope. I used those experiences to push past resentment and embrace forgiveness.

And that was exactly when my alignment started to shift.

And from that alignment and many more experiences like this, moments when I consciously chose a new and empowering mindset, more clarity came through. And from that clarity, came more confidence.

And from that confidence came the desire to share and to serve others to help them through that darkness I had just known for too long.

That was the ultimate alignment: when my intention went from seeking to serving.

It was the transformation that the Universe had been patiently waiting for. It always waits for us.

Now, my next intention was to make a video to share my new message.

My NEW story. Not my old story of typical health issues or other life choices and challenges I had overcome but the incredible NEW story of taking a huge risk and falling from Grace and wandering and wondering how to find my way out of the literal woods of discouragement, despair and a disempowered mindset.

I mean, you guys, I even lived in VERMONT! You can’t make this up.

And I wanted help capturing this story on video, to show with imagery what writing can’t always capture.

And, as it happens with the Law of Attraction, last week I received an unsolicited email giving me exactly that opportunity.

I got the very thing I asked for, the opportunity to capture and share on video the incredible truth of my transformational journey that started with an external change and led to a deep, lasting internal shift.

It happened when I was aligned with sharing it. When I was able to overcome my resistance to it and embrace my ability to articulate my own narrative about my experience.

This is alignment. This is how it feels. This is how you find it.

By struggling and suffering and working through all of that toward your breakthrough. There’s no other way. There’s no shortcut. Not if you want the big return of elation and joy I felt from receiving the gift of that email!

So of course you’re wondering about that video and how you can watch it. Well, when I have more details, I will certainly share them. For now, here’s a picture of me celebrating with my new rad friends who filmed me as we eat ice cream at my friend’s shoppe in Princeton, NJ.

You can see my smile as I celebrate an incredible full circle of transformation since Princeton is where I last lived in New Jersey (home) as my former self, and Princeton is where I had my own health coach in 2004 and Princeton is where I met that friend who owns that ice cream shoppe and we are still so close and Princeton is where I left in 2006 to “find myself” and figure out who I really was.

This is how you find alignment. By finding out who you really are and who you want to become and fighting your way through despair, discouragement, and even disillusionment to actually see what emerges.