Changing Hearts and Opening Minds—It Happens When We Listen
One after another, the executive orders roll down from the top office of the land—orders that dismantle health coverage and launch the building of a wall while demolishing efforts at climate protection and access to birth control. And then a new set—excluding from the United States desperate refugee families from seven Muslim countries.
That was just in week one.
Each one of these policies is an affront to the extraordinary and diverse people we are as a nation and to our hopes for peace and well-being for all.
I watched this unfold as I was launching my new book, The Revolution Where You Live, with talks in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and other Northwest communities before heading out to the East Coast. As I tell stories from my road trip to the Rust Belt, Appalachia, and to Native American reservations, I am also weaving in ways we can apply the lessons from these stories to this time of Trump administration shock and awe.
“How do I speak to neighbors who are Trump supporters?” one person asked at a packed book event at Powell’s City of Books in Portland. Another person asked, “What do I do with the anger I’m experiencing every day?”
I thought about the responses of Standing Rock water protectors to the multi-state, heavily armed police force there to protect the pipeline and its investors.
Water protectors have little besides their bodies and public support. And prayer. When confronted with police violence, people burn sage and sing and drum, and volunteer medics sweep in to care for the injured and for those disabled by pepper spray and blasts of icy water.
On one occasion while I was there, Lyla June, a young Navajo woman, led a prayer walk to the Morton County Sheriff’s headquarters to offer forgiveness and prayers for police officers and their families.
“We don’t want to become the very thing that is hurting us,” she said as people gathered for the prayer walk. “We want to keep our minds, hearts, and spirits clear. Only then will the ancestors be able to move through us to protect the water, the women, the children, the elders.”
We can let anger energize us but not turn it into violence.
We can learn from this, regardless of whether prayer is part of our belief systems. We can let anger energize us but not turn it into violence. We can start difficult conversations by speaking from the heart, sharing our own pain, and our wish for a world where people of all races and backgrounds are safe and free.
By beginning sentences with the word “I,” we can stay grounded in our own experiences and passions rather than projecting our anger onto others. And we can use that grounding to help us listen without getting triggered.
That doesn’t mean compromising on our stands for justice, ecological sanity, and inclusiveness.
“When we go unarmed, this is not an indication that we are weak,” June said. “It’s an indication that we are profoundly courageous. Even though we’re scared, we’re stepping out with love as our leader.”
There are reasons to believe that such a heart-centered approach works.
We will need to rise up again and again in resistance to Trump appointments and policies.
A few years ago, when same-sex marriage was still banned in many states, LGBTQ couples publicly declared their love for each other. When one state cracked open its laws and couples rushed to get married, there was an outpouring of joy and celebration. As LGBTQ people spoke more freely, nearly everyone eventually discovered that they too knew LGBTQ people.
It took some time, but today same-sex marriage is so well-established that it wasn’t even an issue in an election characterized by culture-war politics. Love won.
Research on communication regarding climate change shows something similar. When a climate skeptic hears concerns about global warming from a trusted friend, the message is much more likely to get through.
We learn more deeply and change more readily when there is an emotional connection. And as important as facts and figures are, citing research and experts can be experienced as one-upmanship.
We will need to rise up again and again in resistance to Trump appointments and policies. Sharing our own stories, fears, and aspirations can change minds and open hearts. It’s difficult to be vulnerable, but inspired by Lyla June, I believe we can use our open-heartedness to overcome Trump’s hate-filled white nationalism and build toward an inclusive and progressive nation.
Sarah van Gelder is a co-founder and columnist at YES!, founder of PeoplesHub, and author of The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.