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Can I Be Happy for an Annoying Politician?

On Election Day, I was doing a practice of mudita, appreciative or empathetic joy. Like in metta practice, you choose a neutral person, a loved one, and an irritating person. In this case, you look to feel happiness in their happiness, taking joy in their joy. For my irritating person, I chose a politician, not one whose election would bring me joy.

The practice, though, doesn't ask me to approve of the source of their joy. It doesn't ask me whether I would feel joy in their shoes.  It simply asks me to be happy that they are happy. It is a counter to resentment and envy.

But grrrrrrr. If he is happy, presumably about being elected, I am not. I do not think he would do good things in the near future, and those things he says he would do that I term "bad" would have wide and long-term consequences. How can I be happy for that?

What the practice really asks me to do is to see the irritating person as human, not as some kind of irritation-generating machine built solely to annoy me. He is not inherently annoying, and almost half of the voters actually chose him on their ballots, so he must not annoy a lot of people. The irritation is in me, not him.

And while I disagree with his ideas, if I drop my aversion I can see that his intention, as a human, is to feel safe and to secure that safety.  I happen to think that he's going about it the wrong way, but it doesn't change the fact of his humanity. I don't have to agree with him to see that. But by seeing him as human, my disagreement becomes less closed in, less of an angry ball of despair at the state of the world. And that creates more space to explore options -- even to have conversations.

It's not easy to have conversations with people who are locked into a world view. Some people are so defended that you can't hope to reason with them. Maybe all you can do is bear witness, be a reminder that there is another way of looking at the situation.

I'm reminded of Ajahn Amaro, a genuinely lovely Buddhist monk, who I took a class with a few years ago. The day before he'd gone to a pro-war demonstration in Central Park, not to argue, not to disparage, simply to stand there as a presence of peace in the midst of people calling for war. He wasn't there to change minds, just to be a reminder that there is another way.

A couple of his comments in particular have stuck with me:

-- "There's no excuse to be contentious, but sometimes we have to be fierce."

-- "Just because you're compassionate and kind to someone doesn't mean you won't obstruct their activities."

Sometimes you can do more -- and you should. Amaro also said, "If we are aware, with unbiased compassionate attention, our attitude will respond in the best way possible to what is needed." Being there as a human among human, relentlessly optimistic because impermanence and emptiness mean that nothing is going to stay the same forever, gives you the chance to influence the direction events will take.


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