Finding Peace In a Time of Dread

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a freight train barrelling down on you and all you can do is wait for it to hit before. You’re waiting for the power to be turned off. The doctor to give the terrible diagnosis. For the court date to come, the judgment to be rendered, the relationship to irreparably break. Where you’ve just stood and watched the cracks form as the world starts to fall out from under your feet. Even if you’ve experienced it all before, waiting for the freight train to hit can leave you struggling to breathe from one moment to the next and make each day a long, arduous endeavor to get from morning to night without breaking anything or anyone.

I think a lot of people are in that place – or realizing that they may be headed towards that place right now. Unemployment claims in the US are expected to jump from 250,000 to over 2.5 million this week. Elderly people and those with preexisting health conditions are living in fear. People with no health insurance are thinking through what will be their sign that they have no choice but to seek medical treatment if they get sick. Everywhere there are people making choices between income and protecting their health. Being isolated or risking the health of those they care about. Right now there are people watching the cracks forming under their feet and contemplating whether they even have what it takes to survive the world falling out from under them.

This time 5 years ago, that was me. I was living in a state of constant dread. My husband hadn’t gotten a paycheck in over 6 months and the last bit of consulting work he could drum up had been completed a couple of months back. We hadn’t paid the rent for March and there was little to no hope of being able to cover it in April either. Our one working car was in such dire need of repairs that we didn’t dare even use it for one of us to get a job working for low wages lest it finally breakdown and require a repair bill too large to be covered by a low wage job and thus make it impossible for my husband to get to job interviews much less to his first paycheck large enough to cover the repairs. We had no plan for the inevitable eviction we were facing – no place to go, few people to turn to when the day came that we were forced to load the family into our janky truck and leave. The only positive was that the utility companies were prohibited by the laws of the Northern Tundra from turning off the gas and electricity until Mid-May.

The kind of dread that comes from waiting helplessly for the freight train to hit is like a great suffocating blanket. When the freight train actually hits it creates problems that demand action. The adrenaline hits and you physically have to move. There are plans to execute, solutions to find, calls to make. When the train hits and there’s carnage all over the tracks, you call in help, you move to stop the bleeding, you put aside thoughts for tomorrow while dealing with what’s right in front of you. But when the train’s barreling down on you and the ground under your feet starts to rumble and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, there’s just that paralyzing dread.

Back in 2015 when I was walking through long days of dread, I was reminded one day of the sparrow whose fall Jesus says God takes note of. And it hit me that in my mind, the entirety of that bird’s existence was defined by the moment it fell and yet that wasn’t so at all. Prior to the moment it fell, there had been a great many more moments of not falling. Of flying, socializing, singing, eating, resting and just living its bird life. Out of all the moments that the bird existed, the moment of fall was actually the smallest one. I don’t know what it was about this idea that grabbed me that day, but it came to me that if that freight train was going to hit, it made no more sense for me to suffer in advance over it than it would have for the bird to allow the fact of its inevitable fall to steal all enjoyment from the other moments of it existence.

I felt God telling me, “you think constantly about what has happened or what will happen and hardly even notice that right this moment, you are fine. You can breath, you’re not far removed from a meal, you can get something to drink when you need it, you have shelter from the weather and covering for your body. No one is harming your body in this moment and there’s something beautiful closeby for you to see. Right in this very moment, you’re OK.”

After that, when the dread would start to overtake me, I’d stop and repeat to myself, “right now, I have everything I need. I am safe, I am fed and watered, I am sheltered and I have something beautiful to look at. In this moment right now, I am fine.” It sounds trite, but I’d actually think of the last meal I had eaten, take a sip of the cup of tea, coffee or water I had sitting nearby. I would let myself physically feel the creature comforts I was surrounded by. I’d take a moment to look at and appreciate something beautiful and the dread would pass. In its place came almost a sense of awe at my good fortune. There was still a freight train approaching, but until it hit, I was living in a level of luxury and security that many of the humans who have ever existed rarely had. It made no sense not to savor every moment of it for as long as I could.

Over the next couple of months I would regularly discipline myself to engage in this little mental practice whenever my sense of dread would crop up. Simple and trite though it sounds, it transformed the entire way I experience life. After a while, I started to feel unreasonably spoiled. Yeah, all the furniture might wind up on the front lawn come May, but have you felt how soft this couch is? (Don’t look at the stains!) And how many people in history ever got to enjoy both coffee and tea with just the right amount of sweetener and cream on the same day?!? Have you seen the view through the living room window or looked closely at this picture on the wall? And smell the lentil curry cooking on the stove! I live on the great Northern Tundra of the United States of America and there’s a freight train barrelling down on me and yet somehow I have coconut milk and rich spices from the other side of the world! It’s all quite amazing if you really think about it. I mean – lots of people have had the earth open up under their feet, but how many in human history have birthed 5 children who were all in good health and spirits and had never really been hungry?

The hard reality is that life doesn’t owe us anything and when we enter into human form here on planet earth, there are no promises. Anything can happen. We might get hit by a freight train. In due time, each of us inevitably falls just like that bird. But for most of us the moments of disaster are wildly outnumbered by all the moments in which we are fine. Isn’t it enough to deal with the moments of disaster and the arduous work of recovering from them without also handing all of our moments when we’re actually fine over as well?

If you are one of the many, many people who are suddenly living under the shadow of dread, I would strongly encourage you to start disciplining yourself to stop and be in the moment you are actually in rather than fixating on the train that’s barreling down the track towards you. If the train hits, it’s going to suck – there’s no two ways about it. But there’s no point in suffering in advance. Let the moment you are in – the one in which you are fed and clothed and sitting at a computer or on your phone reading these words nourish you so that in the moment that train does hit, you won’t have already worn yourself out with worry and sacrificed all your moments of fine leading up to disaster to it.

And you never know what’s going to happen anyway. I’ve certainly had freight trains hit me and leave a mess behind but that freight train barreling down on me five years ago? It never did hit. My husband got a good job with the best company he’s ever worked for right in the nick of time. The repair guy we took the car to when the first paycheck came did the most critical repair on the cheap and then arranged to replace our ready to blow tires for less than half price. The bills were eventually paid down and there was even a trip to a resort in Mexico on the company dime the following February. I really am spoiled. And even if you have a freight train barreling down on you, you probably are too. You just have to stop and let yourself feel it for as long as you can.

Rules for Discernment – Particular vs Universal

Image result for what's good for me is good for you

Once upon a time I had the chance to spend time with an unusual man who was a massage/hypnotherapist who believed we’d all be nudists after Jesus’ return. Which I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with except for the fact that I live on the great northern tundra of the upper midwest where it’s Fahrenheit 9 degrees outside right now. Not long after I met him, he advised me that God wanted us to stop thinking and just trust his lead. After having a spiritual experience a few years prior during which God had told him to stop thinking he had made it part of his mission to advise others of this message going forward. I happened to know that it most certainly was not God’s will for me personally to stop thinking, but after spending time with this gentleman, I could totally understand why God would give HIM such an instruction. Every time he tried to reason things out, he inevitably wound up out in left field somewhere. In fact, the last I heard from him, he was toying around the edges of the anti-government “sovereign citizens movement”. (God puts such interesting people in my path. It’s one of the ways I know she loves me. lol)

There was a great deal about this gentleman that was unusual and peculiar, but his belief that a message given to him was a message meant for everyone generally is an error that one does run into fairly often among Christians. In fact, it’s not all that unusual for a Christian teacher to take some revelation, instruction or insight which he or she believes God has given them and proceed to teach it to others. Entire ministries have been built on this kind of thing. However, when you see someone doing this, it’s a definite red flag. Just because God gives you an instruction or revelation, doesn’t mean it’s meant for everyone. It doesn’t even mean it’s meant for you for all time. Generally speaking, when God teaches us something or gives us an instruction, it’s meant for us and for that time. It’s particular rather than universal.

Now, if you’ve been following along with my slow motion series outlining my “rules of discernment” for navigating the Christian church without falling prey to charlatans, cons and false teachers you’ll know that the other red flags I have pointed out (claiming authority for one’s self, promoting an us vs them mentality and claiming that there’s a basic pattern we should all fit into) came with a warning to run like hell away from anyone displaying them. Like, I won’t even carry on a conversation with people teaching those sorts of things beyond a polite “smile and nod” while figuring out how to extricate myself from the interaction as quickly as possible. Those kinds of people are flat-out dangerous. This particular error, however, may be more of a warning not to take the person making it too seriously. Or it could be predator who is using it as a way to claim authority for themselves which as we covered in Rule #1 is a warning to flee for your life to escape a likely predator.

Even if they’re not using their personal revelation to claim authority, accepting one person’s revelation as universally true can certainly mess you up. So don’t do it . But assuming that person doesn’t set off one of the other 3 red flags I’ve shared, it’s an error that can easily come from immaturity and a lack of understanding rather than actual malice.

A good, mature teacher knows that we all move through seasons and stages. And we have our own particular issues and personalities as well. What’s good for me may be death for you and vice versa. The more my massage/hypnotherapist turned his brain off and just let himself be lead by love, the better he and everyone else around him was. But at the time I met him, God had me puzzling over all kinds of ideas and thoughts that were coalescing into wisdom and insight that have served me quite well and formed the basis of a lot of my work. If I had taken my friend’s advice to stop thinking so much seriously, it wouldn’t have been good for me. Then again, there have certainly been times when my thinking turned toxic and clearing my mind was a needed survival mechanism. Things change, people change, seasons change and so it’s only natural that God’s leading in our lives will change as. Any teacher who doesn’t understand that basic fact is at high risk of leading anyone who listens to them astray.

Hate In a Time of Trump

In the last few years I’ve had numerous people confess to me that they were really struggling with hate towards Trump, his supporters, his enablers and the gang of conmen and criminals who have taken over our government. Given the behavior of these people, their open animosity, disdain and thinly veiled hatred for the rest of us and the harm being done to our government, our allies and some of the world’s most vulnerable people as the result of this administration, hatred is pretty justifiable. But a lot of us for reasons of personal morality, character or mental health have a commitment to rejecting hate. And yet, as many people are discovering, not hating in the face of extreme provocation and rank evil is easier said than done.

At this point, some of you are wondering why this is even a concern. Hate is a valid and one can argue even a morally appropriate response to some kinds of behaviors and harm done. And telling people not to hate is a fairly common way to minimize actual wrongdoing, threats and abuse. Besides, who are we to tell other people what they are and aren’t allowed to feel? And I agree with all of that. However . . . allowing yourself to hate comes at a cost.

First off, maintaining hate requires a lot of energy. Energy that you won’t always have control of, frankly. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with the bullshit that triggers the hate, but when you hate, you can be having a perfectly pleasant day turned sour by seeing or hearing the object of your hate or even just remembering them. Which is WAY too much power to give someone who’s worthy of hate over your life.

Further, when we hate, the part of our brain that primes us for action is activated. Which means we tend to be more impulsive than normal when we hate. Being impulsive leaves us vulnerable to making mistakes (here’s a quick guide for evaluating an outrageous story before you share it on social media, btw?). Maybe it’s me, but I generally try to avoid doing dumb stuff on impulse, so that’s a problem. And hatred tends to go hand in hand with anger which clouds our judgment and tends to prevent us from recognizing when we’re wrong and making appropriate corrections. Which means we end up being both wrong and an asshole at the same time more often and, thanks, I don’t need help with that.

Probably most insidiously, because how you use your brain becomes how your brain works, allowing yourself to hate means that hate becomes a baseline normal state for you which you will compulsively return to over and over again until it’s so ingrained in your wiring that it can take many years and therapy to undo. As a former white supremacist told researchers investigating hate’s addictive qualities:

“I’ve said before that it took me less than two years to learn to hate and it took me nine
years to unlearn it. You don’t just stop hating just like that. There is still a lot of pollution in there.”

Hate’s a dangerous thing. Even if you are completely justified in your hate, your brain can easily become habituated to hating in ways that are hard to undo. Which, again, is WAY too much power for someone worthy of hating to have over you.

Now, there are lots of esoteric and spiritual arguments to be made against hate, but when you really get down to brass tack for me refusing to hate is a matter of being kind to myself and refusing to allow terrible people more power than I have to in my life. I don’t like the way hate feels in my body, I don’t need help making more mistakes and misjudgments in my life, I have worked hard to master my mind and I’m not risking that to indulge hate and I refuse to allow myself to turn into a hateful person over terrible people. So that’s my personal take on why I don’t allow myself to just hate anyone. Including Trump.

Of course, like I said earlier, easier said than done. If want to share how you avoid falling into hate in the comments, maybe you can help out someone who is struggling with it. For me, it’s been a two-part process. First, I refuse to live in denial so I will make time to have a good look at my hate. I have to let myself feel it so I know what it feels like, how it works, what happens when I add self-righteous or empathy into it, I make myself face the truth about when my thoughts, attitudes, and words are driven by hate posing as reason, righteousness or some other excuse. Then once I had a good feel for it, I just started rejecting it mentally every time I experienced it. The feeling didn’t automatically go away when I rejected it, but I set my will over and over against allowing myself to hate. As soon as I recognize it’s presence in me, I pray: “God, please take this hate from me, I do not want it in my life.” Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. So I don’t particularly have a magic bullet to take hate away (it is at root, a natural, God-given emotion, after all). Just a practice of disciplining my heart and my mind to refuse to hate. Terrible people don’t get to infect me and my mind like that.

Who Are You Calling a Liar? Parkland Shooting Edition

Image result for parkland shootingProbably the most pervasive problem that trauma survivors deal with is not being believed on account of not sounding, looking, acting or thinking how people think a victim should in the aftermath of the trauma.

If we smile or laugh, we’re lying because we should be grief stricken.

If we cry hysterically, we’re acting because we’re over the top.

If we stumble over our words, we’re having a hard time keeping our lies straight.

If we speak eloquently, we’re lying because we’re too composed.

If we throw ourselves into another dangerous situation, we’re lying because we should be seeking safety.

If we hide away, we’re lying and can’t withstand people asking questions.

If we don’t tell anyone, we’re lying because if it happened, we’d tell people.

If we shout what happened from the rooftops, we’re lying to get attention.

If we become an activist, we’re lying for personal gain.

If we never want to speak of the subject again, we’re lying because we should want to fix it.

If our traumatized brains have a hard time remembering details or maintaining focus, that’s evidence we’re lying.

If we are calm, cool, collected and on point, then we’re lying because we should be struggling to hold ourselves together.

It literally doesn’t matter what trauma victims do or how we react, there are people who will use it as evidence against us. Why? Because some people are evil, pure and simple. Remember this as you watch the way some people are talking about the kids and parents speaking out after the Parkland shooting. Those who have partnered with evil are exposing themselves. Pay attention to these people and don’t forget who they are. Not everyone is a good person.

Sadly, Being Nice Rarely Changes Things

While I’m usually pretty nice and well behaved here on my blog, it has happened a time or two in real life and on social media that I have been criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic and too provocative. The way I communicate has been called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. More than one person has tried to plead with me (or shame me) to tone it down. Typically they claim that no one will listen to me because I’m alienating people. Clearly, I have not found these arguments or criticisms particularly persuasive.

To demonstrate why, take a look at these fascinating charts:

Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of white people claiming that we have done enough to give blacks equal rights vs those who say that more needs to be done remained stable. Most white people had declared mission accomplished. But by 2015, the positions had completely reversed with most white people suddenly deciding that we needed to do more to give blacks equal rights. What happened? Well, Black Lives Matters happened. Conflict happened. Protests happened. Arguments happened. Roads were blocked, events were disrupted, people shouted and refused to back down. A few even set shit on fire.

Much like me, BLM was criticized for being too harsh, too dramatic, too provocative. They were called vulgar, bombastic, hateful, angry and divisive. They were told that all they were doing was alienating people. Right wing media engage in a demonic smear campaign against them to make J. Edgar Hoover do a jig in his grave. The leaders of BLM, however, had studied the history of non-violent social change and they knew better than to give the calls to simmer down and be nice any credence. And for all the criticism and complaints, people’s eyes started to open and their minds began to change. Their denial became less sustainable. In a very short amount of time, opinions flipped quite dramatically.

You see, the idea that we can get people to change their minds about important issues, come out of denial and recognize the error of their ways through civility and dialogue sounds high minded and reasonable. Except reality doesn’t actually work like that. It could, if people were better at listening, less defensive and less invested in victim blaming. But they’re not.

Which is why it is both good and necessary that we have some people who are willing to be obnoxious, piss everyone off and refuse to back down. People who are willing to have people think that they’re a jerk and talk shit about them and say nasty things to them. And while not everyone can or should be that sort of person, I am quite happy to be one of those people at this moment in history. I get that at any given moment. I have a fair number of people mad at, disgusted by or appalled at me. That’s OK. I’m a mom; it’s not a novel experience for me.

Dark Ooze and Webs of Light

Image result for web of lightYears ago while in prayer, I saw the earth in my mind’s eye and there was this thick darkness oozing over the planet like crude oil. It had spread in a solid mass across much of the northern hemisphere and blotches of it popped up and began oozing all around the world. And then I saw spots of light begin to pop up in areas not yet covered under the dark ooze. Threads of light began connecting these spots of light, creating a web of light. It reminded me of those maps of flight paths with connecting nodes. As more and more spots of light and connecting threads formed, they reached around and across the planet. Eventually, the web branched to the places which the dark ooze had covered. In the places where the dark ooze was, the webs of light were not visible at first. But as I watched, the webs of light began to burn through the dark ooze, dissolving it completely. At the end, the planet was covered in a dense web of light.

This is one of those visions that probably doesn’t require too much explanation. But I wanted to share my basic take on it. In my mind’s eye, the dark ooze started around Great Britain and spread out from there. I believe that this represents the powerful old money and corporate interests which rule the world and have spread a sociopathic, amoral ideology across the planet. The dark ooze carries with it the forces of slavery, oppression, the worship of money, a mentality of entitlement for the rich and a disregard for the well-being of the poor. This is a force which has spread using the technology of the day. Ships, planes, machinery, trains. It has been powered by dirty fuels and degrades the planet and human beings alike in order to obtain resources it needs to feed itself. These technologies brought benefits, of course. But the technologies were expensive and those with money controlled them. Unfortunately those with money have often been quite evil.

The light, I believe, represents the internet, strangely enough. Like all new technology, it originated under the control of the darkness. And it has certainly brought darkness right into people’s world in many ways. However, it’s also allowed the good people to speak out and be heard, without having to have great wealth to do it. These would be the spots of light I saw. The lights connect and a whole web of goodness, freedom and truth has been created beyond the reach and control of the forces of the darkness. In fact those who are ensconced in the old, dark ways that have wrecked so much harm on the planet tend to shun the internet. They still make their plans and agreements by flying around the world, meeting face to face. Meanwhile, I have a good friend who is a minister in the slums around Bangalore who I talk to multiple times a week and support as I am able. Neither of us can afford a plane ticket, but with this new technology, we can exchange ideas, strategize and support each other.

In the end, it is this web of goodness which will defeat the darkness. In fact, I think we’re seeing it happen as we speak. We’re probably at the point where the web of light has started spreading under the dark ooze, but before it burns it away. God willing, that part will be happening shortly.

At any rate, I always hesitate to share these kinds of woo-woo signs and visions. Such things being the purvue of shysters and charlatans. And crazy people. But it is what it is. Let’s just hope that this one is true. Or better yet, let’s work hard to make it true.

Let’s Get This Thing Started

In any conflict, it’s important to keep up with what’s going on with the other side. But between social media and the extreme unpleasantness of dealing with the radical right, a lot of people are in a bubble where they aren’t hearing the conversations taking place among those who are on “the other side”. While I totally understand the impulse to cocoon and support it when necessary for peace of mind and mental health reasons, I do try to stay in contact with people who are on the other side of this conflict we’ve got going on between the radical right and the rest of us. Mostly so I can keep up with what they are saying and what rhetorical tools they are passing around.

Understanding the rhetoric coming from the other side is important. We are in a position in this country where a radicalized right wing minority of people who reject American values now wield enormous power and have taken over our government. One of the reasons they have been able to do this is they have mastered the art of rhetoric and manipulation in ways that decent people have a hard time responding to.

The problem, it seems to me, is that we all tend to have an unconscious assumption that other people are basically like us. So normal people assume that if we are discussing matters of politics, the person we’re talking with is concerned with facts, reason, morality, right and wrong and the like. We assume that it is normative to be seeking what is right, good, true and beneficial and that our ideas about what is right, good, true and beneficial will be supported by and adjust to reflect facts, logic and reality. Then we’re confused that we can’t get through to the radical right.

What most of us have failed to understand is that for people on the radical right, everything is based on power. The radical right is still dealing with the world through the lens of “us vs them”*. As such, for the radical right, principles, facts, reason and the like have their place, but are subordinate to the need to obtain power. For the “us vs them” mind, you either dominate or are dominated. The thinking is that as important as any particular principle involved may be, without power, those principles are just ideas and not lived reality. So obtaining power is the first, necessary precursor to securing a world in which matters of principle, morality and logic even matter. In this perspective, it is right and moral to do ensure that your people – your “us” – dominate instead of being dominated. That is how the good is secured and given room to be exercised.

To make matters worse, the radical right, like everyone else, is working from the assumption that everyone is like them. They assume that we are all attempting to gain power and dominate. Which is really, I believe, what has made conversation so impossible. We speak from the bottom of our hearts and all they hear is someone trying to establish the high ground for themselves. We point to things like research or the work of intellectuals and all they see is us attempting to leverage power against them. We’re trying to get through to someone and all they see is us trying to establish dominance over them. It makes engaging on the substance next to impossible and often incredibly painful for the person who is genuinely trying to share their heart, their concerns and their knowledge as a way of creating mutual understanding.

Obviously, I believe that we are better than simply playing games of dominance. I think that the “us vs them” mentality writ large is incredibly destructive and ultimately immoral. But let’s face it, right this moment, this is the radical right’s world. Despite holding ideas and pushing policies which by and large the majority of Americans do not support the radical right has been able to dictate our public discourse and is now in control of our government. So, while I believe that the “us vs them” mentality is inferior and destructive, that’s the game we’re playing now. And we’re going to have to learn to engage in their game, using their rules, before things get any further out of control.

Although it goes against our instincts and ideas about how things should work, once we understand this it becomes clear that engaging in their game using their rules puts us at a distinct advantage. The radical right is accustomed to their opponents taking the high road and refusing to stoop to their level, so these people aren’t used to being on the receiving end of the sort of garbage they heap out on everyone around them. They can dish it, but they can’t take it. They think that they are incredibly good at this game, and they are. But they’ve also been working without much opposition. They aren’t used to playing defense or matching wits with someone who is as good at the game as they are.

Further, the radical right is markedly dishonest. The world does not work the way they claim it does and reality does not back them up. It doesn’t matter much to them because they’ve been able to use their power games to create a pretty durable illusion of reality. Those of us who oppose them, however, don’t have to rely on illusions. We can be entirely honest while playing the power game and reality will back us up. We may need to stoop to their level in term of style – being rude, manipulative and unbending. But we do not need to stoop to their level in terms of actual issues of right and wrong, truth and lies and the like.

The thing is that the “us vs them” mentality has its basis in reality. Sometimes there are very real conflicts in which we find ourselves needing to stand in opposition to a hostile “they”. This is the situation we find ourselves in here with regards to the radical right. There are those who would criticize me for defaulting to the language and paradigm of “us vs them” while criticizing the radical right for their “us vs them” approach. However what I am proposing is that we play their game, according to the rules that they have established with the end goal of making it not work for them. Right now, the power game is working for them. But once we turn the power game against them, engaging according to our rules – the ones where reality, facts, logic, morality and the like determine our course – will become much more appealing. Because while they’re on top right this very moment, the power game isn’t actually one they can win once those of us who oppose them engage fully in it.

I’m going to be writing this afternoon about effective ways of turning some of the bullying language which the radical right has popularized against them. I’ll also be addressing various accusations that they use to marginalize, dismiss and dominate over the voices of decency going forward. And I’ll be looking at the narratives they use and explaining how to undermine and discredit them. If you have a particular tactic, narrative or issue that you’d like to see me address, you can leave a comment, send me a message on facebook or use the contact form under the About tab above to send an email and I will get to it as I am able.

* If you are interested in the topic, I published a deeper examination of the issue of “us vs them” mentality and it’s alternative – what I call “just us” – at A New Day Dawning last fall. The essay’s called The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: Us vs Them Or Just Us.

 

Trump’s Responsibility to Avoid the Appearance of All Kinds of Evil

16143192_1277634628970695_4412907211557642267_nA few years back, I looked out the window and saw my then 6 year old daughter riding her bike in the driveway while my tweenaged son ran after her, swinging a baseball bat at the back tire of her bike. My daughter was laughing while my son wore an angry scowl on his face as he just missed the back tire of her bike. Since this isn’t actually the sort of behavior we encourage in the Trotter household, I immediately called to my son to stop and come explain himself to me.

He came over and assured me that they were just playing and he was being very careful not to actually hit his sister or her bike. He explained the he had worked out the timing of his swings so that he could make his fake baseball bat attack look realistic without running the risk of actually hitting her. Being a tweenager, the possibility of error or accident hardly existed in his mind, of course. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing to worry about because he was actually being very careful as he staged his faux “I’m going to beat my sister with a baseball bat attack”.

Rather than focusing on the safety issue, I pointed out something rather obvious to him: if he is deliberately creating the false impression that he is trying to beat his sister with a baseball bat, how does he suppose anyone who sees him will react? Will they say, “hey, look at that kid with amazing timing and gross motor skills playing harmlessly with that little girl”? Or will they say, “oh my gosh, it looks like that kid’s trying to kill that little girl with a baseball bat!”

I could see a little light bulb going off in his head. I pointed out that his father, who has PTSD from growing up in a violent home where people actually had been hit with baseball bats from time to time, would have had an automatic, unthinking and extreme reaction to the sight of his son swinging at baseball bat at his sister. Which was unlikely to turn out well for any of us. More lightbulbs.

I pointed out to him that being safe is important, of course, but it’s not the only issue for him to concern himself with. He needed to be aware of how he appeared to people who may not even know him. You can’t expect people to see someone engaged in behavior which has every appearance of being dangerous, aggressive and violent and not react as if that person was dangerous, aggressive and violent. In fact, it would be irresponsible for someone who witnessed an adolescent kid swinging a baseball bat at a 6 year old to assume the best about the situation or wait to evaluate what’s going on before responding. It was his responsibility, I explained, not just to be safe, but also not to engage in behaviors which will cause alarm and panic in people who witness them.

Obviously this issue hadn’t been on his radar, but as I explained it to him, he caught on because even a tweenager can understand this pretty simple basic idea. Don’t create the impression that you are dangerous or people will respond to you as if you are dangerous and when they do, it will be your error, not theirs.

Unfortunately, it seems that many Trump supporters are no more aware of this concept than my son was prior to our conversation. They believe that the onus is on Trump’s critics to give him a chance and view those of us who are responding to Trump as if he is dangerous as paranoid and overreacting. They think it’s ridiculous that we won’t just wait and see what happens before jumping to the conclusion that Trump is dangerous. They are certain that Trump isn’t dangerous so, like my son who knew that he wasn’t actually going to hit my daughter or her bike with a baseball bat, it seems not to have occurred to them that this isn’t the only thing that matters about the situation.

There’s a reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil. People aren’t required to wait for definitive proof to respond to the appearance of evil. If you aren’t dangerous and evil, it shouldn’t be that hard to take some responsibility for not creating the impression that you are dangerous and evil. Unfortunately, Trump seems to be going out of his way to create the appearance of all kinds of evil while his supporters act incredulous that anyone would think the man is actually dangerous.

But of course, in the real world, if you’re not racist, you don’t choose the leader of a flagrantly racist white nationalist movement to be your closest adviser and you don’t appoint a man known for his racism and opposition to civil rights to run the department charged with enforcing civil rights. If you’re not a tyrant in the making, you don’t continually threaten to sue and shut down the press when their reporting doesn’t please you. If you’re not a wealthy leach looking to enrich himself, you don’t refuse to release your tax records or take appropriate measures to eliminate conflicts of interest. If you are ethical, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the ethics oversight or threaten the person in charge of ethics oversight with investigation if he criticizes you. If you’re not a conman you don’t deny saying things you literally just said and lie continually.

I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but I think you get the point. Even if Trump really and truly is a good guy who wants to do right by the country, the fact remains that at every step of the way, Trump has been behaving exactly the way a dangerous, racist, unethical, despot rising to power behaves. It is not the responsibility of the public to withhold judgment when they witness something which appears dangerous. It is the responsibility of Trump to avoid creating the impression that he is dangerous. And it is both wrong and ridiculous for Trump supporters to continue to insist otherwise. Just because they are fools doesn’t mean the rest of us are obliged to follow suit.