09 Nov Response Trumps Reaction
A couple of days ago I wrote about getting whacked in the head by a tree that I was trying to cut down. When it happened, I thought about the words of Ram Dass, who asked that his hospital room be cleared out when he was having a stroke. Everyone was reacting to the stroke with fear and regret, and that energy was affecting his ability to simply be present, to observe and accept the situation. He pointed out that a stroke is neither good nor bad, it simply is- and subjective notions of good or bad were a distraction at that moment. While that might sound like spiritual hoo ha- it is a profoundly useful way to face the world. When we strip away our emotional reactions and simply observe what is going on, then we are able to respond in a much more powerful way.
Four days after that whacking, my head is nearly healed and my eye works almost as well as it did. More importantly, I learned a lot from the experience. Rather than respond with recrimination and regret, which would not have helped me in any way, I tried to approach the situation with acceptance. It is very clear to me that this sped my recovery a great deal. That understanding also helped me to stay calm and level-headed last night as the election results came in.
When we react to a situation with fear and anger we can’t think straight. Now more than ever, it is important that we figure out how to respond to this situation rather than react. The viscerally negative reaction to the things that Donald Trump has said and done literally mesmerized us, blinding us to the things that we did not want to see or believe. When I went to a Trump rally to listen to people, I didn’t like what I heard but I was treated with respect. Still, I personally find it very difficult to believe that even a single person could vote for him after looking at his record. However, some people were so mesmerized by his angry rhetoric of change that they refused to see the things that should not have ignored. We live in social as well as physical islands, and our own beliefs are confirmed so powerfully on a daily basis that many of us find it almost impossible to believe that others think differently than we do. When we don’t interact with the neighbors who live outside our island we can’t respond to them.
I have been making observational films about political issues for the last 15+ years. While I have often sided politically with the people I have documented, I have worked to not make the films into “arguments”. When we made “Battle for Brooklyn,” we found that people didn’t want to hear about the corruption at the heart of that film. They just wanted to go on with their lives, and as long as it did not directly affect them, they didn’t have much desire to know the details. When the film was complete and it clearly illustrated the depth of corruption, we were dismissed as being too in bed with the opposition to make a film that reflected reality. My frustration and anger at this response affected me physically, and I ended up stuck on my office floor for nearly three weeks unable to move. As I began to slowly recover from that incident, the Occupy movement started and I spent a lot of time documenting it in both New York and across the country. I did not attend Occupy as a participant but instead as an observer. While my sympathies were with the people on the street I was not making work as part of the movement, I was simply documenting it. At the top of this piece is a short film about the first month of Occupy. It is not propaganda for it. The piece below is from day 16. I simply asked people why they were there.
It was a very diverse group of people who came together at Occupy, but the media tended to lump the protesters together as “malcontents”. In reality, they came from all walks of life, and the seeds of both Trump’s and Sander’s campaigns were sown there. The people I filmed felt that the government wasn’t listening to them and they largely railed against the same populist issues like the big banks, their sense of being oppressed or ignored by government, and health care. When Bernie began to run, it made a lot of sense to me that people would respond as passionately as they did because he was talking about the things that had been talked about at Occupy. When Trump began to gain ground, I found it shocking, but also understood what it represented. The people at Occupy weren’t democrats or republicans- they were mad at the whole system. I tried to explain this reality to friends. A number of them got so angry with my point of view that they ceased to listen to, or talk even talk to me. I am sure that some of them will be even angrier with me now.
When I went to the DNC in Philly this past July, I documented two days of intense anger aimed at the democratic party by people who were much more aligned with the left than the right. The protesters were kept from the convention itself by big fences, and their concerns were largely ignored by the Democratic Party. The first day I documented a large number of different groups who were all shouting in order to get the Party to pay attention to their concerns. There was a good deal of anger expressed. The following day – at a Black Lives Matter affiliated march – the anger, and the sense of alienation, was even more powerful.
When I got home I put together these two pieces and I shared them quite a bit. I think they are well-made and somewhat prescient, but they have been viewed less than 200 times total. In contrast, my Trump Parking Lot piece above has been viewed 18k times. If people had watched them both, I think they would be a little less surprised by last night’s results.
Over the past 12 years, I have also been working on a film about Dr. John Sarno and the pain epidemic. It is a very personal film as well, in which I documented my journey to truly heal from my last bout of being stuck on the floor. I did a lot of work to both understand the problem and myself, and all of that personal work has given me insight into some of the cultural issues that have played out in this election. The film is called “All The Rage” because Dr. Sarno believes that the pain is largely caused by repressed rage. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to argue that repressed rage played a role in this election. If you watch the pieces above yesterday’s results might just make a little more sense.
Again, I have very consciously tried to respond to this situation with awareness rather than anger. This does not mean that I don’t feel frustrated and disappointed by the situation that we find ourselves in. However, blame, recrimination, and anger are not going to lead to a productive response. Anger is physically toxic. When we are angry, our body is flooded with stress hormones that have an impact on our physical and cognitive functioning. Last night I did not feel angry. Today I do not feel angry. I am instead trying to think about how we can best respond to this situation. Organizing our own islands isn’t going to solve this problem. Change is coming, change has come, and the more consciously we respond the better off we will be.