After the election, Buddhist American international aid worker Katie Letheren broadens her plea for compassion toward Syrian refugees — so that it may extend even to those who would turn them away.
Right before the presidential election, Lion’s Roar published my article, “Let’s Open Our Hearts to Syrian Refugees.” It was about the 65,000 Syrian refugees that I (and many others) thought the U.S. would be receiving once Hillary Clinton was elected. Moreover, it urged Americans to review the facts, put outsized fears of Islam aside, and open their hearts to the refugees who would soon be on their way.
Of course, most predictions about the election were wrong. (When my American housemates and I showed up to work the next day after pulling an all-nighter here in Liberia to watch the election, our Liberian colleagues were poking at us – but, for once, we weren’t collegially laughing with them.) Instead of helping those 65,000 Syrian refugees find safety in our country for the first time in five years, we will almost certainly be turning them away. So what now? How do we move forward?
First, take time and just feel whatever it is that you feel – anger, sadness, confusion, fear, depression, sorrow, you name it… feel it and sit with it. Breathe it in. Knowing that we are all in this together, try not to be ashamed by the aggression and hurt you might be feeling. Just feel whatever it is that you feel. Then, I’d recommend taking to heart what Pema Chödrön has to say about blame:
We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.
It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.
The current reality may be a very difficult pill to swallow, but it’s reality, so we must. And putting up more barriers between us isn’t going to help. Instead, let’s face it head-on and open our hearts even more. For those of us who oppose Trump, that even means opening our hearts to those who’ve put him in power. It is easy to feel compassion for victims but to extend compassion to the aggressors will take much practice (and lots and lots of tonglen meditation!) Instead of closing up, let’s let these coming years be our teacher, driving us to practice patience, balance, and compassion. Pema Chödrön, again:
If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.
It’s a start. Most importantly, cultivating open-heartedness can and will sustain us, giving us the courage and energy to help those, in our country and abroad, who will need our help more than ever.