Thomas Merton wrote (emphasis mine):
If we really sought truth we would begin slowly and laboriously to divest ourselves one by one of all our coverings of fiction and delusion: or at least we would desire to do so, for mere willing cannot enable us to effect it. On the contrary, the one who can best point out our error, and help us to see it, is the adversary whom we wish to destroy. This is perhaps why we wish to destroy him. So, too, we can help him to see his error, and that is why he wants to destroy us.
In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth. As long as we do not have this love, as long as this love is not active and effective in our lives (for words and good wishes will never suffice) we have no real access to the truth. At least not to moral truth.
I understand that I, and we, must actually listen — really hear — those who voted for Donald Trump before we can have any realistic hope of changing their future votes. I also understand, from texts like the above, that this requires a personal change and commitment from me.
I’m not there yet. I understand the need, I understand how the process works. I am simply unable to take that first step of actually loving these men and women who in my view have done such harm. I confess that this is a failing on my part, and I hope that in time I’m able to change. Nevertheless, that’s where I am today.
More importantly, though, is another reality that I suggest we all need to face — the fundamental and revolutionary changes we need to make are personal, not political.
This is a personal process, and I am convinced that we will fail so long as we try to skip over the hard and painful interior personal work we must do in order to jump to the much easier exterior political work that so lures many of us.
Politics is a lagging, not leading, indicator. We have been reminded that we must reach out to all working-class people. I suggest that this outreach begins with personal, rather than political, changes within ourselves.
I suggest that this is the truly revolutionary act that must be done by each of us, alone, one at time and one day at a time. I suspect that there are no shortcuts. In fact, I suspect that at least some of our current political malaise is a result of our eagerness to avoid this hard work.
To the extent that all politics is local, I strongly suspect it is also the case that all politics is personal.