Dealing with shock

Having Donald Trump as president of the United States may be the most shocking political news story of my adult life.
November 10, 2016

Having Donald Trump as president of the United States may be the most shocking political news story of my adult life. I don’t care who you voted for. I don’t care if you’re far left or alt right, or if you’re Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or evangelical Christian, or if you’re Hispanic, Asian or Armenian.

Shock doesn’t know from culture or ideology. Shock is shock. And the notion of Donald Trump as the leader of the free world is worthy of shock.

Shock can be positive or negative. When my underdog Lakers beat the ferocious Warriors recently, I experienced a mild state of shock, followed by prolonged euphoria.

When I saw that first tower crumble on September 11, 2001, I was in a state of horrific shock. I couldn’t think straight. I saw something that was beyond my darkest imagination. 

Those who are happy about the shocking Trump victory must be in a state of lingering euphoria. Those who are crestfallen must be traumatized.

On the Web site of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it says that “immediately after a traumatic event, it is common for people to feel shocked, or numb, or unable to accept what has happened.”

It’s human nature to protect ourselves. A shocking event that traumatizes us brings out our most protective instincts.

Some people protect themselves through the comfort of analysis. We’ll read 100 expert commentaries about why Trump won and what it means to our future. We’ll study exit polls. We’ll speculate about what we did wrong and what we could have done differently to get another result.

Other people protect themselves by acting out. As we’re seeing now with demonstrations across the country, shocked protesters are carrying signs that say things like, “Not my president.” These protesters are not willing to accept a result that has traumatized them. Of course, they know that in a democracy we have no choice but to accept the choice of the electorate, but for now, they need to make a statement.

Spiritual people are more inclined to make statements of hope. They feel our shock, our trauma, our need to cope.

My friend Rabbi Zoe Klein posted a beautiful meditation on Facebook on the importance of having a “listening heart.” She reached all the way back to King Solomon, who asked God for one thing only: “Give me a listening heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

Prayer helps us cope with shock. Klein prayed that the new leader of the free world “be blessed with a heart that listens to the pain of a divided people…a heart that listens for the weeping at the margins… to the dreams of the poor, the hopes of the young, and the faint prayer of the dying…a heart that listens past language, dialects and differences to the very pulse of humanity.”

Activists like to take action. Aziza Hasan, leader of NewGround, an organization that brings Jews and Muslims together, invited me to an event that would “model deep listening, inclusion, and openness of heart.”

She wrote that “we need to be able to respect the voices of people with whom we may fundamentally disagree, as deserving to be heard, as much as our own.”

Cutting people out of your life who remind you of a trauma is another, albeit drastic, way of coping with shock. In my Modern Orthodox community of Pico-Robertson, the election of Donald Trump has put many people on edge.

In a courageous letter to the Shalhevet High School community, head of school Rabbi Ari Segal wrote about “a truly sinister tendency in so many of us.”

He gave an example of a Shabbat table conversation, in which he heard someone say: “Please don’t tell me who you are voting for. Depending on the answer, I may not be able to be friends with you.”

“No, no, a million times no,” was Segal’s response. His point was that there are red lines we should not cross. Cutting people out of your life because of how they voted is one of those lines.

How am I dealing with the shock of President Trump? My instinct on Day 2 is just to wallow and absorb the shock. I’ll have plenty of opportunities over the next few weeks and months to try to make sense of what happened and share my thoughts.

So I think I'll follow Rabbi Zoe and ask God for a listening heart.

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