Pro tip: NEVER, EVER, ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG!
In a world where we all make mistakes, sometimes very hurtful ones, I’m glad to have a disposition that allows me to forgive people. That may sound funny coming from a man who felt he had to cast many old friends adrift over the years, but it’s true. All I need to be able to forgive is a sincere expression of regret when somebody I care about hurts me, their understanding of why I was upset and an assurance they will try hard not to act that way again. Reconciliation can’t happen without truth. If I won’t even acknowledge that I acted badly toward you, when you spell out exactly why you were hurt by my actions, repeated actions in many cases, what hope can you have about the comfort of our friendship going forward? Think about it.
How not to heal: refuse to hear what the other person is concerned with, no matter what, focus on your own counter-grievance, press it over and over. When they complain, tell them they are whining snowflakes, oversensitive, passive aggressive pussies. “I elbowed you in the Adam’s Apple for the fifth time this week — BY ACCIDENT, ASSHOLE, as I already fucking told you!” is an explanation that attempts to bully you into accepting your powerless in the relationship. “I’m not wrong, YOU ARE,” is an asshole’s first response most of the time.
People who are not comfortable apologizing will often “double down” in the sickening gambler’s phrase we all learned during Mr. Trump’s regime. Apology, admittedly, requires a moment of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, recognizing that you too would feel hurt, followed by an act of humility — contritely asking forgiveness — that makes you vulnerable. Ironically, it takes a certain amount of strength and self-confidence to apologize, even when you know you’ve hurt someone.
Insecure people have a very hard time admitting they are ever wrong, especially when the result of their actions is set in front of them. By reflex they feel attacked, become defensive, counterattack. It is the only play of someone too insecure to acknowledge the possibility of being mistaken. We are living through a prime public example of what I am thinking about in interpersonal terms and it has us at the brink of being angry enough to actually begin murdering one another.
In the case of the many Republican politicians continuing to support the president (many by their silence) in his endlessly repeated lying claims of massive electoral fraud (he made the same claim when he narrowly “won” in 2016, millions of dead people voted then too), they are sticking to their stories .
That their story may make little or no sense, less important than having a story. As more and more terrible facts emerge, like sickening details of the violent riot incited by their leader, seen by everyone, the stupid cover-stories about the sudden need for unity, or Antifa, or Trump learning the first lesson of his life, become more and more ridiculous. They simply can’t stop now, not after their tireless, valiant campaign has finally brought us to to bring about this sickening, anti-democratic zero-sum political moment. Now even a violent riot by insurrectionists planned and fomented by the president can be … a… a teachable moment? — a step forward on the road together? They need a story. Any story is better than no story, wait, here we go.
To hold Trump accountable for planning and inciting a riot, inviting an angry mob to D.C. on January 6th to STOP THE STEAL!, sending the stirred up mob down to the Capitol while he instructed federal law enforcement to stand down, in hopes of seeing Mike Pence (so disappointing!!) swinging from the gallows and the heads of his other enemies on pikes (“Hi Nancy, hi Chuck!! Hi, Shifty Schiff! who’s laughing now?”), would– eh, DIVIDE THE COUNTRY! That’s it — yeah, Democrat traitors, look who’s trying to divide the country now, shameless partisan hypocrite zealots!! We’re trying to heal here, you libtard commie fucktards, and you’re… so… goddamn mean and hypocritical — and vindictive! Admit you’d do the exactly the same thing if you had the election stolen from you, or even claimed repeatedly and falsely that it was stolen from you!
As I watch this heart-sickening theater, personal feelings are being vigorously stirred. Two friends from childhood did exactly this move in recent years. One simply by refusing to admit that his reflex to make me angry had anything to do with him, the other by telling me he had no idea why I was upset with him, repeatedly asking for an explanation for why I was so hurt and then attacking me for explaining it in such a brutal way. In short, two smart people incapable of great insight into themselves, unable to behave any better than they did and angry at being unfairly expected to. Each now has the consolation of knowing that I was finally the cruelly self-righteous, heartlessly unforgiving asshole who put an end to a long, beautiful friendship. I don’t begrudge them, it’s all they’ve got.
I was telling a friend recently that I’d truly have no problem forgiving either of them, if they would only own up to what they’d done, and kept doing, that was so hurtful to me, promised to try to do better. If the first guy had a breakthrough in psychoanalysis and called to tell me he realized that he was actually, unconsciously, often trying to provoke me to rage and was sorry about it, I’d be playing guitar with him the next day. The second guy is a slightly harder case, because although he initially thanked me for my mildness in stating my grievance without accusation the first couple of times, he remained specifically unapologetic (he claimed to have no understanding of why, exactly, I’d been so upset) and non-responsive, repeatedly telling me I still hadn’t made myself clear, pushing me for clarification, and then blaming me for clarifying things, which was very hurtful and made him feel terrible! A more complicated kind of asshole than the first guy, still, I’d be glad to forgive him, if he contacted me with even a soupçon of insight into how his actions, and his constant doubling down, had finally aggravated me beyond endurance.
Politics is personal, its roots go back into our formative childhoods. Social scientists have run tests to determine the basic personality types of the typical liberal and the typical conservative. Here’s a test. Take these traits and assign them to one side of the political spectrum or the other: obedience, loyalty, harsh punishment, self-sufficiency, individualism. If you said “liberal” you pass the test. How about these: fairness, reconciliation, mutual help, community. If you picked “conservative”– how right you are!
We embrace the worldview that comports with our upbringing, or sometimes rebel against it hard, like Stephen Miller (whose family, survivors of Hitler, is anti-fascist). If dad taught you that the Bible said “spare the rod, spoil the child” and took every opportunity to not spare the rod, well, you are more likely to have a certain view of the righteousness of harsh punishment and retribution. If mom instilled a conviction that food should be shared equally by everyone at the table, that no-one should ever go hungry, or get less than somebody else, there’s a different fundamental lesson about what is truly important in life.
I knew the families of these two guys I grew up with quite well. The home life of the first was an endless exercise in restraining and repressing very understandable anger. The mother, a woman of great charm and intelligence, is a compulsive (though often harmless) liar and something of a manipulator. The father, an equally charming person, was treated like a rebellious child in their home, and acted chastened much of the time. This daily humiliation was disguised as a deep love that nobody could deny. The second kid was raised by an openly autocratic father and a narcissistic mother who worshipped his uncompromising dad without question. My friends had little chance to learn any life lessons at home but what they did. Both of these boys, as men, endured rough marriages that ended in ugly divorces.
You can understand these unfortunate backstories and, still, it doesn’t sit right (my home life was as bad or worse in many ways), in a world where we can work to gain more insight and change things about our lives that torment us the most.
I am prone to anger, and it is my daily work to get better at not succumbing to it, work I consciously do. One thing I’ve learned is that when you cannot solve an interpersonal problem with someone, it is crucial to simply walk away. That applies in the moment you are getting mad as well as longterm, of your decision to stay in an aggravating arrangement with little emotional counterbalance. To conclude that proneness to anger is simply my nature, and there is nothing I can do about it, would be an abdication of any moral responsibility or agency on my part. What they used to call a “cop out” in the sixties — it’s not me, man, it’s undeniable, immutable genetic-social necessity!
To return to my personal examples of the problem of making peace with people who have lost the ability to see things from your point of view: the first guy will endlessly deny his anger and his unconscious provocations, make it everybody else’s problem that they are so angry all the time — a stance that is, frankly, infuriating. The second guy will do pretty much the same, actually, though in a much more sophisticated way. They will both be right, eternally. And so be it.
It is beyond our powers to change any of that, least of all in someone else, particularly a person who sincerely believes we can really not do anything differently, or better, than we’ve always done. It reminds us of the role our native dispositions play in our outlook, I guess, and whether you’ve had the luck to have at least one parent love you unconditionally.
Back to “politics”, the sword hanging over all of our heads. As the US nears 375,000 dead of the pandemic, it’s clear that the president, who has snapped that he has no responsibility for it, doesn’t care. He cares about overturning a rigged election he has produced zero proof was in any way improper. He clearly DOESN’T CARE IF YOU DIE and he’s not going to address taking reasonable steps to prevent the wild spread of COVID-19, in fact, he’ll weaponize disease prevention itself and insist on super-spreader events like that mask-free tour de force of domestic terrorism he hosted last week then inflicted on the Capitol.
The plain fact that the leader of the wealthiest nation in the world, whose infection and death rates are 5X higher, by population (4% of world population, 20% of infections) than anywhere else, clearly doesn’t care about stopping the spread of this deadly plague, by itself, should be a compelling argument for removing him under the 25th Amendment. It’s depraved, if not outright insane.
Oops, there I go again, angrily dividing this poor, ravaged country!
Back to the promise of the title: How to Never Heal. Focus on a grievance and being the victim. Nurture those painful feelings, no matter what.
In the case of aggrieved Trump followers, let’s take one major strand of their belief system — that the unreasonable, pushy demands of America’s coloreds endlessly claiming racism in America are a crock of crap. Here’s what you do, Trumpie, hit back with history. FACT: the ones who were slaves, the black ones, were freed more than 150 years ago. Fucking get over it! You people are fucking animals, look at you! That’s why we had a phalanx of National Guardsmen in full anti-riot gear guarding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as you passed by in your protest march — because you are insane, violent savages who will never be satisfied no matter how many rights we give you and you would have attacked even the sacred statue of Abraham Lincoln, the best friend you ever had until LBJ, if given the chance. Nothing will be enough for you, until we are your slaves. Now get out of our way so we can go hang Mike Fucking Pence.
There you go, it is as easy as that. If you are determined to be right, even with a grievous self-inflicted wound, even if it means being a moronic, self-deluding puppet screaming against your own best interests, it is very simple to do. Take the three easy steps again: focus on a grievance, nurture it, justify it, no matter what; repeat as necessary. You can thank me later.
On the other hand, if you want to heal, for some reason, there are a few necessary steps. You have to be honest. You need to honestly discuss the things in the past that have led to the harmful situation we find ourselves in now. You have to acknowledge terrible things that happened (beyond a nonchalant “we uh tortured some folks”, if you know what I mean) and commit to fixing them. You have to listen carefully, be open to all proposals for improving things, if you want to have real reconciliation. If you want to correct injustice you have to first look at it fairly, listen to the voices of those who are being hurt by it, remove from the conversation those who are intent on perpetuating unjust practices.
If you want to be right, of course, just blame the pitiful losers for wanting to be victims when YOU ARE ACTUALLY THEIR VICTIM! You know what I’m saying?
The New York Times, channeling The Onion (America’s Finest News Source), reported on its front page earlier today (they removed the headline in the last hour, during updates, so I paraphrase:) Supreme Court Declines to Fast-track Trump Election Case. I was too slow to click on it while it was up, and it can’t be easily found (searching “Supreme Court” on the buggy NYT phone app doesn’t do it) but, seriously– WHAT THE FUCK? What fucking Trump election case?