By Troy Headrick
I’ll start this one off with a confession. Lately, I’ve been feeling depressed and overwhelmed. These feelings are a byproduct of what I see happening in America, the place I currently live, and elsewhere, especially in parts of Europe.
As everyone certainly knows, America’s president is Donald Trump. (Just having to say that disturbs me more than you can imagine.) Though he has always been a profoundly obnoxious bully, lately, it seems, he’s making a concerted effort to demonstrate, in lots of different ways, how much of a racist he is. It’s almost as if he’s coming out of the closet and is now openly (and proudly) saying many despicable and hateful things. Earlier in his presidency, he tried to camouflage his racism some; now, though, he is wearing it like a badge of honor.
Being constantly bombarded by this sort of soul-sapping ugliness, especially because it emanates from someone we all want to look up to, is psychologically unhealthy, for the individual citizen and for the nation as a whole. In fact, I have recently noticed that many political and cultural analysts, when they discuss Trump and Trumpism (more commonly known as fascism) on TV, speak more angrily and despondently than they once did. This means that as Trump becomes more hateful and divisive, many others who are opposed to him are (quite understandably) reacting by becoming either more vehement or more disheartened. Thus, the espousing of hate for others has a habit of causing those who are the objects of hatred to behave in ways that are ultimately unattractive and perhaps self-destructive. A kind of emotional maelstrom is developing. And it threatens to pull all of us into its powerful vortex.
The best way to combat racism is to become more tolerant and loving. (However, as I look back at my previous sentence, I feel the need to add a caveat: We all have a human duty to be tolerant, but we absolutely cannot tolerate intolerance.) In other words, we defeat the bully by giving loving support to his victims. This, I think, is self-evident, and it is also the way to preserve our sense of well-being and psychological health.
The great Abraham Maslow, one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century, tells us that we are ultimately motivated by a variety of needs, and that our ability to “self-actualize”—reach our highest state of emotional and spiritual development—is diminished if we are unable, for whatever reason, to fulfill these needs, which he arranges into a hierarchy. (For a nice overview of Maslow’s theories, have a look at this or, for a fuller discussion, you could read Motivation and Personality, one of his books I taught from in the past.) A lot has been written about the characteristics of those who’ve self-actualized. Scott Jeffery, creator of CEOsage, a leading “transformational leadership agency,” writes that self-actualized individuals show, among other things, an “increased identification with the human species” and a “resistance to enculturation” as well as having a “more democratic character structure.”
Thus, as Maslow believed, the people who realize their full potential will be those who are the opposite of racists. That’s because racism keeps us small, disconnects us from others, and makes us behave in petty and hurtful ways. We owe it to ourselves and to the victims of racism to reach out, to embrace, to love and respect, and to protect.
The bullies of this world will not win. They will create the conditions that will lead to their eventual downfall. We must take the high road for our own good and for the good of those who’ve been marginalized and treated unjustly. Let those who want to wallow in the mud do so. They will exit the wallow looking and smelling like pigs.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.