While the House of Representatives debates over whether or not to impeach a U.S. president who incited, encouraged, and condoned a violent attempted coup at the Capitol last week, I'm sitting here thinking about something.
Here's what's on my mind today: when you get right down to the core of pretty much everything that's happening right now – all the protesting, the counterprotesting, the domestic terrorism, the rise of Anti-Semitism, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter (1), and all the rest – the way I see it, it comes down to one thing:
Stay the Same, or Change?
If this country had stayed the same in the late 1700s, we'd still be British (2).
If this country had stayed the same in the 1800s, we'd still have slavery (3).
In this country had stayed the same in the 1900s, we'd still have segregation (4).
Hell, if this country had stayed the same in the 1400s, First Nations people wouldn't be forced to live on reservations today, and wouldn't have been slaughtered by the millions by white, European "settlers" (5) then.
I mean, let's get even simpler: if nothing had changed since the dawn of America: no phones, no cars, no plumbing, no — you get the point.
Life. Is. Change.
You're born, and instantly you change.
Every single second of your life from then on, you change.
Each time you eat, drink, sweat, pee, sit, stand, breathe... you change!
And yet, there are those who are so terrified of change that they will STORM THE U.S. CAPITOL AND REFUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE LEGITIMACY OF THE RESULT OF A FREE AND FAIR, DEMOCRATIC ELECTION BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT TO CHANGE *THEIR MINDS.*
These people have murdered civilians in the streets (Charlottesville).
These people have murdered cops at the Capitol (January 6th).
These people have literally attempted to murder the democratic process by which we peacefully transition power every four-to-eight years (by attempting to reject and overturn the election results, even AFTER a violent coup attempt).
They're so afraid of change, they will go to any length to keep things "the same."
Particularly their *minds.*
Because in order to accept these external changes, they'd have to accept internal, mental, moral, philosophical, religious, and social changes, and they refuse to do it.
They're too afraid of that change to even consider doing it.
That is to say: they're so afraid of external change, because it would require an internal change that they fear even more.
They afraid of change... because they're afraid TO change.
And listen: I can understand that.
Change. IS. SCARY.
When you're a tween and you start to stink and hair starts growing in places and the teacher calls on you to come up to the front of the class while you've got a spontaneous boner situation, it's fucking terrifying!
But we get used to it. We grow to accept it. We learn to change our thinking to adapt to the external change that's happening around us. (And we penis-having-people also learn to wear oversized sweatshirts with front pockets so we can secretly adjust what needs to be... adjusted.)
When we travel to a place that's cold, we don't keep wearing shorts and flip-flops. We put on a jacket and pants! We literally. CHANGE.
What do you call it when you go to your room and put on a different outfit?
But the disheartening thing is: I have no idea how to get anyone on their "side" (6) to see that.
How do you get someone who won't even acknowledge the need for change, to change their mind... About change?
The primary chant in Nichiren Buddhism is one I really like:
"Nam Myoho Renge Kyo"
It essentially means, "I devote myself to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra."
Or, more simply, "I devote myself to the universal law of change."
At first, I really struggled with chanting it. It was in a foreign language, I didn't innately understand what I was saying, and chanting felt way too much like Catholic prayer for this lil' Atheist (7).
But then it dawned on me.
I was resisting making an internal change... in my perspective on a chant... about devoting myself... to the law of the universe... that everything changes.
I was literally resisting changing my mind... about a chant... about change.
Now? It's one of my favorite things to take two or three minutes to just stop, take a breath, and chant, recommitting myself to accepting change.
Hell, even within my industry, there are sort of two archetypal actors:
The "Well, I Already Learned It This Way" Actor,
and The "Okay, Yeah, I Can Try It That Way" Actor.
Guess who directors prefer to work with?
Everything changes, y'all.
Volcanoes erupt; clouds form, and rain falls; coastlines erode; people grow old and die; the body metabolizes food, turns it into energy, and removes the excess; people learn.
But what we're seeing is a refusal to learn.
A refusal to change.
I don't know what the answer here is, or even if there is one. But I believe it's necessary that we really examine ourselves right now.
Which actor are you going to be? What are you going to wear in the snow? Whose side are you going to choose?
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. (8)
(1) Which isn't a thing. You can't have a blue life. That would be a Smurf. Are you Smurfs? No? then you don't have a "blue life." You have a "blue job." Which you chose. And get paid for.
(2) Though not European. Hashtag Brexit.
(3) We do. It's in the 13th Amendment. Right after it says "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude" [sic], it says "except as a punishment for crime" [sic]. Don't buy from companies that use prison labor. Download the buycott app (buycott.com) and check your brands. It has a barcode scanner. Fuck Starbucks.
(4) Do I really have to go into this one?
(5) Conquistadors I think is a closer-to-accurate word.
(6) I've said this before. *They* made this all about sides. We didn't. They made it "Us vs. Them." We're just accepting the change in how we approach this conflict and playing with the cards we've been dealt. They're the ones bringing guns to a poker match.
(7) I'm calling dibs on "lil' Atheist" as my rap name.
(8) Do we like the footnotes? I'm kind of enjoying them. But do we like them? Lemme know!
Many of us are making some big decisions about who we keep in our life from here on out.
I've unfriended, blocked, told off, silently walked away from, and purged so many I've lost count.
Work friends, old friends, tangential friends, and some of my closest relatives. Gone. Just like that. (1)
And it's been difficult to maintain faith that I'm doing the right thing.
Aren't we supposed to find common ground? Aren't we supposed to talk it out? Aren't we supposed to not take "political differences" (2) personally?
I shared a little cartoon that was floating around with a synthetization of twentieth century English philosopher Karl Popper's notion of tolerance. To sum it up: if a society tolerates the views and actions of those who are openly intolerant, then the intolerant will inevitably seize control and eliminate all tolerance. Or, even more simply: we must not tolerate intolerance.
What we're living through and working through right now is... a lot.
And what we're witnessing and experiencing and engaging in feels like a tidal wave of, at last, granting ourselves permission to be vocally and loudly intolerant of intolerance.
But, we also all know this isn't "all of a sudden." This isn't "out of the blue." This isn't happening (1) "just like that."
These people have always been like this.
Or, if not always, then at least they've always had the capacity to be like this, and that they made decisions all along the way to close their minds to anything other than their own myopic understanding of the world and their own comfort zone, and only in the last five years has someone so cruel, so selfish, and so intolerant been in such a high position of influence as to give them permission to unabashedly and violently lash out at anything or anyone they consider "other."
Either way, this is on them, not on us. (3)
And as I've continued to wrap my head around this – reminding myself hourly that, no, I'm not the crazy one here, I'm not the one who's wrong, I'm not the one who's being intolerant – a thought occurred to me.
These people we're cutting ties with...
Family or friends or associates or whatever, no matter how tenuous – or enduring – our relationships to them have been...
These people we're unfriending, blocking, muting, telling off, or silently walking away from...
Would any of us have chosen to spend a single second on them if, at our first meeting, they'd just come out and told us what they were really like and what they really believed?
Seriously, though. If they hadn't started by hiding this enormous well of fear and hate and intolerance and violence and cruelty and selfishness that they have within themselves...
If they hadn't kept the truth about themselves from us because, on some level, I have to believe they knew and they know how wrong they have been and are...
If they hadn't lied and lied and lied to us about who they really, actually, truly at their cores are...
Would any of us have still hit "confirm" on that friend request in the first place?
I don't think so.
So – and I'm saying this in large part so that I have to hold my own self accountable to this once I post it...
Though we will have to take time to mourn these losses, though we will have to cry and rage and wallow and meander through every single bit of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages, and though it is jarring and infuriating and depressing and baffling and utterly unfathomable in some cases that this is how it has to be...
This is how it has to be.
We are doing the right thing.
We are not the crazy or intolerant or selfish ones.
And if we'd known who these people were from the start, we'd never have been friends with them in the first place.
(2) These aren't "political differences."
(3) It's also on them that we have to be Us vs. Them. They started it. Period.
I had an essay that I was very excited to post.
I'd even filmed it and planned to start presenting these musings as videos instead of text posts.
I was going to talk about an epiphany I had last week:
That for four years, I've had to deny myself my favorite way of waking –
I like to get up early; I like using an alarm clock;
But I like to wake up to top of the hour NPR news –
I like their soothing voices and the quick one-shot of information –
Puts me in a good headspace;
But for the last four years, that pleasure has been taken from me,
Because the first two sounds I would hear would be the name of, and the voice of, a megalomaniacal, fascist, wannabe-dictator chronically and neurologically incapable of accepting reality, condemning racism, or serving the actual and legitimate will of the American people;
But on January 21st, the US-of-A will slap the "Mute" button on this unhinged, despicable, xenophobic terrorist and I'll be able to wake up the way I like again.
It's a small thing, but I'm excited about it.
And I was excited to post a video essay all about it.
I shot the thing on the 5th.
Then on the 6th, I listened and watched in horror and disgust, overwhelmed by a sense of "I fucking told you so, you willfully ignorant, selfish garbage people."
And yesterday, I binge-watched Cobra Kai Season 3 to get to the other side of my hangover.
So, today, I'm back at my desk, but the entire world has been rocked by the evil that has been perpetrated on so much of this country, and nothing feels okay anymore.
Like... even LESS okay than it already felt.
I've spent most of my life hoping that true, cinematic-level villains couldn't ACTUALLY exist anymore, no matter how many times I was proven wrong.
It hasn't mattered that I understand the psychology and the neurology of how confirmation bias works. It hasn't mattered that I'm the first one to preach the notion that some people just can't be reached. I still needed to believe that there had to be a way. On some small level, there must be SOME way to trigger an awakening in ANYONE.
As closed-minded and violent and hateful and racist and cruel and selfish and uncaring and apathetic as so many people have always shown themselves - and will always show themselves - to be, there's still a way to get through to them, right? George really can change Mr. Potter's mind. The Jedi really can stop the destruction of Alderaan. Sensei Kreese really can be reasoned with.
Guess it's been the adult child of an alcoholic mind talking.
Because, no. I was wrong.
There are actual villains.
And we need to call them what they are.
There is a lot of gray area in this world. There are a lot of issues up for discussion and disagreement. But what we just witnessed this week, and what we've been witnessing for the last four years, and what we've been warning y'all about since 2015, and what marginalized communities have been screaming and begging and politely asking and lobbying and organizing and protesting for for generations?
There is no gray here.
There are two sides.
We didn't draw the line.
The other side did.
And anyone out there who said, "Give him a chance," anyone out there who said, "It's just locker room talk," and anyone out there who said, "Lock her up," or, "Law and order," or, "There are fine people on both sides," or, "But–," or, "What about–?"...
Y'all are wrong.
You. Are. Wrong.
None of this is new. (Faction-driven hate and investment in solipsistic self-interest is as old as our species.)
None of this is unexpected. (The mob that assaulted the capitol were wearing T-SHIRTS THAT THEY'D PRE-MADE DECLARING "CIVIL WAR JANUARY 6, 2021.")
None of this is normal. (Remember when "hashtag-not-normal" was still relevant until we stopped saying it because this shit got normalized?)
But straight up, none of this is up for debate.
If you haven't picked a side yet, then yes you have.
And you chose poorly.
So, go sit in the corner. You're on indefinite time-out until you learn your lesson.
And you need learn it on your own time and of your own accord.
Class is dismissed. Y'all don't deserve the education any of us over here have been trying to give you.
They say that the wise teacher doesn't force the student to come in out of the rain, they wait until the student chooses to.
Well, keep screaming and whining in the downpour.
The door's been open the whole time.
We're done trying to drag you inside.