The other night I watched the State of the Union address. Because I find our president a disagreeable man it’s hard for me to listen to him. My anger keeps getting in my way. I don’t listen properly. A jaundiced eye is always biased. A jaundiced eye also has a voracious need to validate its own convictions.
A tale from Japanese folklore makes the point.
A farmer loses his axe. The farmer after searching everywhere, suspects that the boy who lived next door must have stolen it. He did not confront the boy at first. For days, he began to study the boy’s every move. The farmer was sure that the boy, usually friendly and always faithful about saying good morning, was becoming too overly friendly. The farmer began to think that the boy was averting his glance in ways he’d not noticed before. He’d watch the boy walk and he now seemed furtive. Finally, the farmer was convinced that, indeed, the boy was the thief.
One day, the farmer went about his chores and in one corner of the field, found the axe.
The tale ends with this pithy observation: “The next time the farmer saw the boy, there seemed to be nothing suspicious about him at all.”
I needed to unload my anger and suspicion to hear what the president was saying.
About two thirds through the president’s address I noticed how my body was tense, my back aching and I was having a hard time listening. Off and on I’d catch on to how I was playing to my jaundiced eye. I was instinctively critical of everything he was saying. This was not good.
Ignoring strong negative feelings won’t work. Like whack-a-moles, they’ll just pop up again. I know cultivating a level of self-awareness can go a long way in mitigating some of the dead ends to which an angry mind invariably leads me.
I tried acknowledging my anger, but not dismissing it. Then I tried to put the moment in a larger context. What forces drive the Trump agenda? What is he trying to do? He says he is committed to making America great again. I took him at his word. Then I tried to be as open and attentive as I could to hear how he plans to do it.
The attitudinal shift proved helpful. I was better focused. I listened. This is what I heard.
The broad vision he promoted wasn’t a democratically functioning America, but more like an imperial America: the strongest in the world; an invincible military; the most economically successful; an America cleansed of undesirables; its citizens the envy of the world. I decided that my big issue with him beyond my personal pique is that he is committed to an outdated paradigm. In my opinion, he seriously misreads what the future is requiring of us. His ambitions for winning, of being first in the world, of being the wealthiest and the most powerful I find a thinly disguised invitation to return to colonialism.
Britannia gave up ruling the waves long ago because it wasn’t working for anyone, especially Britain. America’s been there and done that, too. The wave of the future, as I see it, is not a feared and isolationist American economic and military fortress such as I hear the president promoting. The future is in becoming a partner, a team player along with the rest of the world. I see an America that brings its venerable and compassionate history of governance that has enabled the aspirations of millions by providing valuable resources to the task. I do not believe our future is about making America great again; I think the future is calling America, with all her blessings, to help heal a broken world. The future is not all about America, it’s all about the world in which America is important, but still only one among many.
My petty irritations aside, this is where I can say, now with less anger and with conviction, how I differ from what I heard from our president Wednesday night in his address.
Simply put, I think he lacks a vision for the future in which America can play a critical part without having to dominate the world in all aspects of national life.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.