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?

Being different doesn't get easier.

Being different takes courage. It is a risk. It means moving against the status quo, things are they are and resisting the “norm”.

And over time, the truth is, being different doesn’t get easier.

You just get better at managing what it means to stand out.

This is how and why resilience is so important in a world that constantly pressures us to fit in and conform to a norm that, ironically, doesn’t even actually exist. It’s a concept that takes place in minds but doesn’t actually exist in reality.

And this is good news! Because it doesn’t mean you’re weird or wrong or there’s something wrong with you. It simply means that those people are asleep to what’s actually happening.

Here’s what’s happening: each person is being their unique self (there are over 7.5 billion people on the planet right now and no two people alike, isn’t that CRAZY?!) but within cultural boundaries of what is considered, “good, right, appropriate, etc.” either by explicit laws or cultural rules that are followed.

(If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve been writing about this for the past ten years in all sort of ways. If you’re new to my writing, please check out my 300+ archived posts! There’s a lot of overlap because the same wisdom can be repeated lots of times in different ways.)

So here everyone is, walking around being both unique and “normal” in various ways at the same time.

So it begs the question: what exactly IS normal? And if no one is doing it, who actually IS?!

You see what I’m talking about here.

So being yourself automatically means you’re already different. There’s no such thing as normal or the same so different is just reality. But people who don’t get this keep thinking there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to be or act or live or whatever and heap all those expectations and assumptions into your lap.

And that’s the resistance we feel. That’s why it’s hard to be ourselves, if we’re even clear on what that actually means. (That’s what I help people do, btw)

That resistance shows up in all sorts of ways, time after time, day after day. Messages coming from all angles that we are not fitting other peoples’ expectations.

It’s not like we can broadcast out what we’re doing and have everyone hear it once and for all. So it keeps coming, like waves on the shore. Endlessly. Comments. Critiques. Questions.

You know what I’m talking about.

And that’s why being different doesn’t get easier. Because it never stops, that resistance. But what we do is become more aware of it being an endless experience. And we stop expecting it to stop. We stop expecting it to be easier.

We basically start managing our response to it. We decide to change how it affects us. We shift our mindset to help us negotiate the process of being ourselves in a world full of people who are still trying to figure it out and get the courage to do it themselves.

We eat better. We sleep more. We exercise. We journal. We meditate. We take vitamins. We read books.

We find as many ways as possible to manage the impact of trying to be different in a world full of SAMENESS that is really difference in disguise. Or disillusioned sameness.

I’ll leave this deep thought trajectory right here and just come back to reassure you that YOU ARE PERFECT as you are. DIFFERENT is cool. BE YOURSELF and find a new way today to manage how people resist your brilliance because it doesn’t get easier. It’s on you to build the muscle that makes it better, one day at a time.

We can decide to deal or bail.

God. That feeling of wanting to just get the F out…of everything.

Isn’t it strong these days? Or maybe all the time? And now we’re just more conscious of it because it’s being mirrored back to us on social media and we realized, “wow. It’s not just me who isn’t feeling particularly content with Life. It isn’t just me who wants to leave this total bomb of a party.”

Yep.

Life ain’t great, sometimes.

Is it really worse now more than ever?

Does it get harder with age?

Is it really because of the current administration?

I don’t think so. I think it’s just the fundamental human tendency to want to avoid “bad” and experience “good”. I didn’t make it up. I learned it from 1,000s of hours studying and practicing Buddhism and other behavioral change theories. Did you know I had a master’s degree in identity and change? Yup. I do.

So that’s why I don’t think it’s worse than ever. I DO think it isn’t a necessarily FUN time to be alive, but you know what? Lots of people have shitty lives that don’t begin or end with one person being the President of the United States. You know what I mean? Some perspective helps, sometimes.

Life is unpleasant on the regular depending on who you’re talking to and about. For some of us, the unpleasant times come and go because we have enough privilege to cling to. Like Rose in Titanic. For the most part, we have these little pieces of wood that keep us afloat. Some people don’t have that. Some people are Jack.

Many people think more privilege helps make life better. People who have, “X advantage” have it easier and if you had that advantage, your life would work or feel better.

I used to think this, for sure, but then from coaching those people as my clients, I learned that even folks with money and identity privilege access than one could use in a lifetime feel the weight of struggle, grief and insecurity.

I’m not saying it doesn’t make life more comfortable but…well, I AM saying that. I think it’s a fallacy to retire. Privilege gets you access and things—but not comfort or happiness.

Money cannot buy inner peace or happiness if it doesn’t reside inside to begin with and, these days, privilege can often be more of a liability than an advantage.

And so the haves and have-nots share in common that thing that keeps us all going, that struggle to survive and make it through. To make things better. To right wrongs and resolve things and try to get a damn handhold to take a breather. To get “there” (where is that?). Basically, to make happy happen.

Despite our best efforts at this, shit just keeps happening, doesn’t it? ARGH! We try to get all our ducks in a row or be brave and try something exciting and it just doesn’t work. Things don’t go as we hoped or planned. As soon as we move this thing into place, something else slips out. Like whack-a-mole.

Then what do we do? Well, we’re all faced with the ultimate decision of LEFT or RIGHT. Well, standing still counts, too. I shouldn’t forget that. Wu wei is full of wisdom in and of itself (but I’ll write more on that later). For now, I’m just speaking to that moment we all face when we have to choose. No, when we GET to choose.

LEFT or RIGHT. Do I do this? Or that? Do I run or stand and face it?

Do I hold my seat or run for cover and check out. Do I deal or bail.

We all have that choice. We have it hundreds of times each day. Everything in our lives is a choice. And the choices we make determine how our lives go and what happens to us. And how we impact others.

BUT THIS IS HARD TO ACCEPT. So we fight it, often unconsciously, since it causes cognitive dissonance to have to face it. I’m not trying to be condescending (because, trust me, this took me way too long to understand and accept, myself, and I’m always a work in progress) but it forces us to grow up a little. And growing up, adulting as the kids call it, is unpleasant and uncomfortable in so many ways.

So it gets tempting to want to avoid it and check out. To run. To bail. To ditch. Come up with any way you want to say it.

We all want to bail. We ALL WANT to. But whether or not we do determines our character and our quality of life. Because we could bail, sure, but whatever we bail on will still be waiting for us in some way.

Like the lentils. My dad told this story all the time. He loved telling stories so I obviously inherited that gene because it sure wasn’t from growing up with him. My parents divorced when I wasn’t even a year old, but when we did have our court-appointed visits with him, he would tell this story over and over. I practically have it committed to memory, that’s how well oral tradition works!

This bowl of lentils was his dinner one night when he was a boy. His mom served it to him and he wanted no part of it so he sat and didn’t eat it. And his father warned him to eat and still he refused. You probably know where this is going.

My dad went to bed and woke up and sitting on the dining room table sat that same bowl of lentils, now cold and congealed, waiting as his breakfast.

Damn, I can’t remember the end. Sorry! Let’s pretend he had to either eat that nasty shit or go hungry for the day. Either one wouldn’t be a great option.

I remember that story, and so many others, and the amount of times in my life I just felt that feeling of not wanting what was happening in my life to be happening. I wanted to eject pilot seat and disappear. I wanted to run or refuse it. I wanted someone to swoop in and fix it. I wanted someone to come and save me!

For better or for worse, I grew up with no safety net. None. So I learned from an early age that you face the music and take responsibility. Or you can run, but wherever you go, there you are.

But I only learned this after years of bailing in all kinds of different ways. It didn’t feel like it at the time. I thought I was “fixing” things. And maybe sometimes what I did was a solution, in the short or long-term, but sometimes it wasn’t.

And after lots of hours spent reading books and sitting in therapy or Buddhist retreats and personal development trainings (I was on a search, you can tell), I learned that running only prolongs the pain. And sometimes (often) it makes things worse. I’m sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

Or maybe I am! Maybe this is some insight that you didn’t have before. Or a nice reminder of that wisdom inside you that hangs out and waits for you to remember it when you’re hanging on a moment of depression or anxiety. And you’re wondering why your life is going like this.

Maybe this will help you understand it a bit better. Or see it differently.

And maybe you’ll remember when you’re feeling like crap and want to bail, that everyone feels this way. Everyone comes face to face with the feelings that they just don’t want to feel. And people make all sorts of decisions about what they do, say, eat, drink, watch or THINK to avoid those not-fun feelings.

We all want to feel good and don’t want to feel bad.

But if we can remember we aren’t alone in that, it might help. And if we remember that bowl of lentils, we can decide to swallow what isn’t pleasant in the moment so the consequence, all cold and jelly-like, isn’t sitting waiting for us.