What You Don’t Speak Out Against You Co-sign?

I don’t usually look at people’s reactions on Facebook to my blog. But today when I thought I was clicking on something I else, I saw what a friend had said about my post, “What Buddha Said We Shouldn’t Talk About.” 

He said, “Brad is full of shit. Morality and ethics matter. What you don’t speak out against you co-sign. It is long past the time good people can remain silent.”

Let’s take this step-by-step.

He says, I am full of shit. I agree. 

He says that morality and ethics matter. I also agree. A huge portion of every book I’ve written has been dedicated to the idea that morality and ethics matter.

Then he says, “What you don’t speak out against you co-sign.” For those of you who are not native speakers of English, a clearer way to state this would be, “If you don’t speak out against something you support, aid, facilitate and even encourage it.”

This is a very common way of thinking. It’s an idea that we hear so often that many of us never question it. 

But I’m not sure that it’s true.

I told you in my previous blog post that I wouldn’t get political. But I feel like the best way for me to explain my feelings on this matter requires me to state at least some of my political stance. 

As most regular readers know, I’m not a fan or supporter of President Donald Trump. I know that some of my readers are, but they’re already well-aware of my leanings, so I’m sure they won’t take offense.

I’d prefer not see Trump re-elected in 2020. I’m not going to say why because I have no interest in trying to change anyone’s mind on this subject.

A lot of other people also don’t want Trump to be re-elected. And they speak out. Very loudly. Yet I feel like many of them are actually encouraging people to vote for Trump.

This is because many of them take the same attitude as my friend. They characterize Trump as pure evil. Of course, anyone who supports Trump is also, in their eyes, pure evil. And now anyone who prefers not to speak out against Trump is also evil, or at least full of shit.

If someone characterizes you as evil, do you want to be friends with them? Do you want to support the things they support? Do you want to listen to their reasons for calling you evil?

Or are you more likely to say, “Well screw you!” and deliberately support whatever it is they’re against?

A lot of folks in the American Buddhist community have embraced the political far left because they feel this is the way to defeat Mr. Trump in 2020. The San Francisco Zen Center, which my friend belongs to, has done this in a big way, as have the Brooklyn Zen Center and Upaya Zen Center. I’m sure there are others, too, but I stopped watching because it was too painful. 

I believe they are completely wrong. The stance that these Zen centers are taking will only drive more people to support the candidate they hate. 

They might as well all buy MAGA hats and pose in front of their centers wearing them. In fact, that would probably be more effective in defeating Trump. Who wants to align themselves with a bunch of shaven-headed religious cultists in funny robes?

You probably think I’m joking. I am not.

There is also an assumption in my friend’s statement that there is one, and only one way to speak out against something. I don’t think that’s true at all.

My friend says, “It is long past the time good people can remain silent.” 

I cannot agree. I think that at least some people — good or otherwise —must choose to remain silent, or at least choose to refrain from joining in with the noise everyone else is making.

Loudly proclaiming your position is rarely an effective way of convincing anyone to support it. It might fire up those who already agree with you. But to the rest of us it’s annoying and obnoxious. Even if we’re inclined to agree with you, we’re still going to plug our ears and go somewhere else. 

For myself, I feel like the best way I can move the political situation in a positive direction is to stay out of the shouting matches.

I don’t have any significant skills in political rhetoric. I’m not good at convincing people to believe things or to support causes. Whatever I might want to say politically has already been expressed much better by other people.

I feel like I have a far more important job.

Political currents come and go. They’re like fashions or musical styles. One day everyone’s wearing bell-bottoms and listening to The Electric Prunes. Ten years later the cuffs of their pants are tight and they’re listening to Talking Heads.

But Buddhism is not a fashion. Buddhism has lasted 2,500 years in a large part because it has generally avoided aligning itself with political factions and fashions. 

As I said, I’d rather not see Trump re-elected next year. But the 2020 US presidential race is not my major concern in life. The election will go the way it goes, no matter what I say about it. The current border crisis will be resolved or fail to be resolved, no matter what I say about it. There will be a war with Iran or there will be no war with Iran, no matter what I say about it.

I’m not saying that no one should say anything about these matters. I’m not even saying that no Buddhists should say anything about these matters.

I don’t think there’s any danger of large numbers of people — even Buddhist people — failing to speak out about this stuff if I don’t make my opinions known. There are already plenty of vigorous debates raging in the media and in many other public and private forums.

Maybe it’s more useful for a few of us to provide spaces where other matters can be discussed, and where other forms of action can be pursued.

If I can provide a space where a staunch supporter of Donald Trump can sit in silence next to someone who thinks Ilhan Omar ought to be leading our country, I think that would be a very good thing. If I can write articles that get people who support very different political movements to look at things that are deeper and more universal than any politics, then I will feel I’ve contributed something positive and useful.


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