“THANK YOU to our patrons. We look forward to a GREAT 2017” read the chalked sidewalk sign outside a small New England natural foods store near my home.
Do you see a hidden message in this sign? Some thought the word “GREAT” was a code word of support for Trump and began to boycott this small business owned by a hard-working young family.
A recent work stoppage by cab drivers at JFK airport in protest against Trump’s executive orders on immigration turned into a boycott of Uber, after Uber announced it would not institute surge pricing despite the absence of cabs at JFK. Uber’s customer friendly gesture was interpreted as “colluding with Trump.” The economically marginalized Uber drivers will feel the brunt of any boycott.
“He will not divide us,” is a refrain of some Trump protesters. An impartial observer would say that the anti-Trump zealots need little assistance in creating a climate of division.
Someone close to me observed, “Legitimate opposition to Trump’s policies is rapidly becoming hatred for half the country.” Is that an exaggeration? Perhaps not.
What is at the root of this hatred?
Those who boycott may be suffering from what Dennis Deaton, in his book The Ownership Spirit, calls the Othello Principle: “The eye sees what the mind looks for.”
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is in love with Desdemona. Iago plays on Othello’s jealous nature and convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Othello begins to see evidence that isn’t there. Enraged, Othello kills the innocent Desdemona.
Our reactions are colored by what we are feeling within. Were jealously and rage not in the mind of Othello, he would not have misinterpreted the actions of Desdemona. Author Anaïs Nin credits the Talmud with these words: “We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
How often we forget that truth about life, we assume that how we are interpreting life is an accurate, camera-like representation rather than an interpretation colored by our inner-state of mind.
To live a happy and responsible life is to understand that our moment-by-moment choice for love or hate is determined entirely from within.
Trump did not cause those who misinterpreted the sidewalk sign to hate their neighbors and wish them economic distress. For them, Trump may be a symbol of hate but make no mistake the hatred existed in them before Trump.
Hate sets in motion a less than virtuous cycle: A person’s choice to hate others produces feelings of guilt. Often the guilt is not consciously acknowledged; instead of guilt, feelings of anxiety and fear are experienced. In an attempt to relieve feelings of anxiety and fear, a person will look for evidence and find a “sign” that others are guilty and deserving of hate. Mistakenly, the guilty others deserve condemnation; the boycott is justified.
We never hate others for their mistakes, but only for our own.
There is one big problem with our clumsy attempts to get rid of our guilt: We cannot get rid of our hatred by accusing somebody else of being hateful. When we hate, we produce more hatred and even more guilt; which, once again, we try to rid ourselves of by falsely accusing others.
This is not to say that the only hatred that exists in the world is in our own mind. Of course not. However, the only hatred we can do anything about is our own. “There’s not enough time,” writes Ryan Holiday, author of The Daily Stoic, “to waste a second spying on other people.”
Those who are going merrily down their road of hate may want to make another choice. They, like all of us, will face the terrible consequences of a divided and hate-filled America. If this kind of lunacy is what we get when the Dow is at 20,000, imagine what we will get if the Dow returns to 10,000 during the next recession? Bull market bring feelings of inclusion and brotherhood. Bear markets bring economic hardships, which stoke fear and exacerbate feelings of exclusion.
We all have the opportunity to moment by moment reflect on our choice of love or hate.
[Image Credit: Peppercorn Natural Foods]
Barry Brownstein is professor emeritus of economics and leadership at the University of Baltimore. He is the author of The Inner-Work of Leadership. To receive Barry's essays subscribe at Mindset Shifts.