Once upon a sunny day I took my first ride away from the safety of the stable on a beautiful Arabian mare. I was both exhilarated and terrified and I had two friends on either side of me on their horses.
We made our way up a dirt road that winds along the Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins, and started up a steep trail. My mare loved to be ridden and climbed up eagerly; we reached a plateau and were riding through a stand of pine trees when we came to an unexpected obstacle– a small landslide had blocked the trail.
My friends opted to head the horses directly down hill over shale and scrub brush. I was terrified. I had overcome much agoraphobia by starting out on a very old horse, graduating to my mare, but this situation was completely outside my comfort zone.
My friend looked at me and said, “Take your feet out of the stirrups and loosen your reins. Trust your horse.”
I thought she was crazy, but I complied. My horse picked her way down and through a leg of the old trail that would take us back the way we’d come– all with the balance and delicacy of a cat. I was amazed.
That single good experience led to other great rides and the incremental growth of my confidence as a rider, and in my body. I had been in a body cast as a little girl and had a great phobia of falling and self-injury that followed me for many years, but my love of horses and of the West trumped my fear.
Four years ago, in the midst of some darker days, I determined that I needed to ride my then matron mare; I missed riding and the exhilaration it gave me. We had lost a mare and foal very tragically and dramatically in the spring of that year and somewhat impulsively I had adopted another horse; she was a veteran of nearly every kind of riding one can do, and very gentle and beautiful.
I simply wanted to re-accustom myself to being on a horse again, and the ride was fine; when we returned and I began to dismount, however, the saddle slipped toward me, the horse lost her balance and I ripped my right foot out of the stirrup and fell to the ground.
I had shattered my right leg. I was taken to a trauma center, where I had surgery and then spent six months in a nursing home in rehab. It will require rebuilding of my trust and faith in doctors to face a surgical repair and the prospect of another long recovery.
I thought of these experiences yesterday and today when I saw footage of the GOP’s reaction to two things. One was the statement President Obama made when he said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” in reference to the current nation-wide upset over the murder of a black teenager in Florida. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each interpreted this statement as a “politicizing” of a tragedy and making said tragedy about race and went so far as to call the statement despicable.
Democrats, on the other hand, responded to the Obama comment positively, crediting the President for showing his humanity and compassion.
Today, there was fall-out over another comment, this time that President Obama was overheard via a hot mic saying to the Russian ambassador, “When the election is over, I’ll be in a better position to talk about nuclear treaties..”
Once more, Romney seized on this as a further moment “in a pattern of deception” on the part of Obama. Democrats didn’t see it as much of a gaffe or an issue. Tonight the air waves are abuzz with the back and forth on these issues.
And this morning, in the Supreme Court hearing on the Health Care Act, response to the Solicitor General’s argument was clearly split along political lines with diverging opinions of whether things had gone poorly or well and for whom.
It seems to me that underlying the divergence of perceptions about Obama and the federal government, is the issue of trust.
What a fragile thing trust is– I trusted my horses and myself, with diverging outcomes and now am rebuilding the trust in my body, not to mention in medicine, that trauma took from me.
Similarly, it feels to me that the Conservatives suffer with a trust deficit. They seem to operate in a state of suspicion of malfeasance on every hand, interpreting everything Obama says and does in the worst possible light, in negative. Because they don’t trust him, they project their worst fears upon him and therefore are unable to view him as he really is, or, it often seems to me in the face of the litany of “I hate Big Government”, unable to see themselves with any degree of accuracy.
It is not unfair to speculate that underpinning the mistrust of the Far Right remains adherence to biblical Christianity and the need for absolute belief systems with which to explain the world. Whereas the open, educated mind questions dogma, the closed, indoctrinated mind depends upon it. Rick Santorum is a prime example of the narrow world view pervading conservatism. He is steeped in his faith tradition and the most extreme of its tenets– abortion and homosexuality are sins. He accepts the doctrine of original sin and his world view is reinforced by what he refers to as his value system, which scorns science, evolution and philosophical and humanistic inquiry in order to place the idea of God at the pinnacle of existence.
I recently watched a podcast featuring a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury. There was nowhere to take the discussion, after a wonderful explication of the evolutionary process by Dawkins, once the Bishop flatly stated, “God is not a process.” There could not be a meeting of open minds– certainly being the Archbishop of Canterbury depends upon wholesale belief in the trinitarian God and that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead.
All of us could use a more generous dose of “live and let live” regarding our prejudices, assumptions, and constricted sensibilities. But there would be no need to come to terms with the conservative mind and heart if the conservatives did not appear to have the current agenda, their distrust of anything unfamiliar entirely underpinned in fundamentalist Christianity, of taking away health care and women’s reproductive freedom and to take the country back in time. Again, symptomatic of the fundamentalist world view: Mitt Romney yesterday calling the Soviet Union “our greatest geopolitical foe” when the Soviet Union is no more and Russia is a de facto ally of the United States in a number of areas. Medyevev was right to call him on his anachronistic thinking and we should all be wary of the paranoiac tunnel-vision behind such thinking.
How to more fully explain the distrustful weltanschauung of the Right? I think it works this way: conservatives are early on introduced to the idea that the Self and in fact all of humanity is shameful, inherently flawed. When a child is indoctrinated into Christianity, even into its more liberal and ecumenical versions, he or she acquires an early sense of being of shameful, that being human is something that has fundamentally gone wrong.
The indoctrination pays off in reinforcing and sustaining the patriarchal hierarchy of the Church. It drives the Tea Party and older Conservatives who believe that they live in a state of humility as opposed to the wild liberals who appear godless to them, and dead wrong about everything.
Does it not then follow that if I am shameful, I cannot trust myself and moreover, I cannot trust you? Do I not then see you with the eyes of shame, scrutinizing your weaknesses and flaws? Do I not believe that I know the truth? And regarding how I see a brilliant, educated mixed-race president, if he and others like him are unlike me, how is it that I would not find them shameful and see them in terms of their weaknesses and flaws. For that is how I see myself.
Certainly there are liberal Christians. But take a look at the state of the Episcopal Church in my community; when the Episcopal Church of the United States began ordaining women, conservative Anglicans pitched a fit. When the liberal factions of Anglicanism embraced homosexuality, asserting that all people are children of God, there was a mass exodus, so that on one side of the town is a liberal Episcopal church with an openly lesbian priest, and on the other side, a “bible-based” congregation standing on the premise that the Good Book is the revealed word of God.
And, take a look at the offshoots of fundamentalism such as Twelve Step Programs. On any given day in any given AA meeting you will hear people maligning/shaming themselves. “I was such a screw up. I certainly didn’t deserve to be saved by my Higher Power.” Try stating in such a milieu that you believe in the inherent power, value and beauty of the individual. You’ll be lucky if the hardline AA laughs– it is more likely that you will be rebuked and told that your best thinking got you to the program, and that you need to “check your brain at the door.”
The subjugation of the individual to any given dogma the world over should concern us greatly. A person’s intellect is not a liability: it is what keeps one alive. The open, trusting mind embraces diversity and is not threatened by a pluralistic culture or people who are “different,” an adjective I despise because it says absolutely nothing. The open mind can question its own assumptions and confront the idea that it is shameful to be human and that therefore one cannot and must not trust oneself. It can embrace the more powerful and hopeful idea that we should celebrate being, not be ashamed of it.
Certainly the entire human community has a fragile heart. Over time we are changed and put off our feed by a host of experiences and disappointments and betrayals and losses.
But, do we not each need to work through our setbacks and to trust our horse–whatever gets us down the mountain? It is intensely painful to live in a state of distrust, fear and suspicion. And it keeps us all pointing the finger at one another.