My CPE peers and I spent our summer talking about and practicing compassion. One of the unique parts of working in a hospital is that we care for everyone who walks through our doors-- the uninsured, the abused, the sexual assault victims, and the sick. But we also take the abusers, racists, and victimizers. We don't ask questions first, we take care of them first. This means nurses, doctors, LNAs, support staff, and chaplains have to work with people who may be triggering or painful for us to care for. We all have to learn the hard way that compassion is not a light and easy quality, but a hard-fought way of life.
To have compassion for your enemies is truly revolutionary. There is nothing in our society that tells you to love people you hate or even disagree with (and trust me, I've spent enough time on Twitter to test this theory). My compassion skills have been tested repeatedly over the past two years, particularly as I've stayed engaged in politics in this country.
It's easy to hate Donald Trump and the people who work for him. It's easy to hate people who call white supremacists "good people", who steal children from their parents, who call Mexicans rapists, and sexually assaults dozens of women. Sometimes the small outrages pile up so high I want to scream. I want to be furious that I have to live in this country and live under this administration, but I found that anger only takes me so far. Sure, it gets me through a few days or weeks, even. But it runs out eventually and it certainly doesn't change anything. You cannot hate your enemy into becoming your friend.
My colleagues and I spent the last few weeks of our program talking about what it means to practice compassion when it's really, really hard. Of course, I turn to Christian Scriptures about loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, and praying for those who persecute you. We began to talk about Donald Trump as if he were one of our patients who require our unconditional positive required. What would it be like to be Donald Trump's chaplain?
It would require seeing Donald Trump not only as a bully and a victimizer but as the victim of his own lifelong traumas. It would require seeing him as someone who never felt loved by his parents and went looking for it in all the wrong places. It would require feeling compassion for a person who does not truly love or trust anyone in this world, for he fears that everyone around him is there as long as he has something to offer them.
It reminded me of one of my favorite moments in the Harry Potter series...
I feel sorry for Donald Trump. I feel sorry for a man who has lived a life without love and it has turned him into a cruel, angry shell of a person. It does not excuse his behavior or legitimize his hatred to feel sorry for him. It costs me nothing but my pride to give him my compassion. It requires a changed outlook and behavior on my part. Instead of angry tirades on Twitter, I have to respond with empathy when I see him, or those that work for him, establish a horrifying new policy.
I will never meet Donald Trump or any of the people who directly work for him, so I cannot directly practice what I am so desperately trying to do. However, I will interact with people who support him, people who work low-level jobs in his administration, and people who believe in his ideology. They too require my compassion.
Compassion for people I dislike, hate even, is so painful. Choosing compassion means I cannot choose to own how right I am and I LOVE to be right. It feels good to be right until you realize you're all alone in your silo of rightness. So instead of proving how I'm on the right side of history, I'm trying to practice compassion for those who do, and support, evil things. You cannot hate your enemy into becoming your friend, but you just might be able to love them.