By Duncan Maru
“Non-violence is the highest spirituality” Mahavir, Jain Spiritual Leader
“Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love.” St. Francis of Assisi
As a physician, it is my calling to heal. Healing goes far deeper than knowing the right science and prescribing the right medication. It involves a deep and uncompromising feeling of compassion and love towards our patients.
How might a clinician think about the results of last week? President-elect Trump rose to power with a rhetoric of hate, division, and otherness. Our country suffers deep income inequality and lack of opportunity. Our citizens suffer from the concentration of power and wealth and the resulting lack of education and opportunity. Mr. Trump understood people’s anger and channeled it towards hate. Yet hate is incapable of solving problems. Believing this election was a referendum on America overcoming hate and fear, my family and I had supported and campaigned for Secretary Clinton…
The results engendered in me deep personal loss and disappointment. Fear and hate had seemingly won. We would not elect America’s first woman president in time to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Ammendment in 2020. Whatever his faults on foreign and domestic policy, we would sorely miss President Obama’s grace, his family values, his convictions rooted in spirituality, his commitment to science and rationality, and his ability to provide calm, firm, and compassionate solace in times of national tragedy and uncertainty. In my heart, I had come to have feelings of hatred towards Mr. Trump. I had come to hate him for his promises to use our tax dollars and the powers we have now vested him to use force against our brothers and sisters. Compassion and non-violence and grace are core principles, especially when we are talking about immense powers of the federal government over our lives. Immigration is a challenging problem, but it will not be solved by more federal agents with guns in our communities. Terrorism is a challenging problem, but it will not be solved by our president making bellicose statements and antagonizing citizens of other countries or certain religious traditions. Homicide is a challenging problem, but the death penalty does not give victims solace nor make society safer. Income inequality is a challenging problem, and it will be solved by rational, evidence-based policies, not through casting hate upon immigrants. The election result has shocked and terrified me about the specter of massive increases in federal power against vulnerable and marginalized. President-elect Trump will not be able to deliver on his campaign jobs promises, based in pseudo-science; yet he will have the power to terrorize people with federal institutions. This moment has given me cause for deep pause and reflection and has confronted in me – rightly or wrongly—a spiritual crisis. What did the election say about my own embrace of hatred, my own impoverished understanding of inequality, my own ignorance of the fears and suffering of my fellow Americans? I had allowed hate to enter my heart, and that hate would preclude a search for solutions to injustice.
In the aftermath of the election, I was blessed to be at a leadership retreat of a healthcare organization I am part of in Nepal, surrounded by twenty-five colleagues whose collective calling is compassion, social justice, and community. They helped me to understand the hateful feelings in my own soul that I had harbored towards now president-elect Trump. At the end of our four-day retreat, per our usual ritual, we make commitments to each other. My commitment was: to refactoring my mental approach to confronting inequality and injustice. To embrace that we must fight breaches of and threats to human rights even as we ourselves not hate the perpetrators or promoters of those violations. To hold perpetrators accountable for violence and hate via the law and via protest, even as we ensure that our own hearts are not polluted by hatred.
It is a steep internal spiritual task that I face with deep humility and ask for the support of my family, community, and colleagues. I have seen the weakness of my moral compass, towards that false comfort of hate fighting hate. Hatred cannot be the basis of a true solidarity movement that fights for economic justice and civil liberties for all. I am reminded of the words of the remarkable Jesuit Priest Daniel Joseph Berrigan: “One is called to live nonviolently even if the change one works for seems impossible.” It is our faith in humanity, our belief in justice, that gives us the strength to continue to imagine and fight for the possible. That possibility is grounded in inclusiveness, in equity, in the firm conviction that it is within our control to love and organize within our communities, to rise up and protect our communities from powerful forces that seem, incorrectly, so much larger than ourselves.
Duncan Maru, MD, PhD, is a husband, father, son, epidemiologist, and physician. He is a faculty member in the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and a co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Possible.