Yes, there is room for joyfulness under a Trump administration. We have just lived through the first one hundred days of President Trump with relentless attacks on communities of color, almost on a daily basis, not to mention attacks on our environment and the repeal of Obamacare by the House of Representatives. Then there is the recent firing by Trump of FBI Director James Comey after he requested more resources for expanding the investigation into Trump’s campaign relationship with Russian officials during the 2016 election.
The work for justice has never been more challenging and taxing for those of us who labor in the trenches daily. On the other hand, it has been inspiring to witness resistance not slowing down, but growing in many ways from local community and neighborhood projects to massive mobilization. One important way to continue sustaining this work is through joyfulness. By joyfulness, I am not talking about comparing our situation with others who are suffering, which is a way of looking at circumstances from our self-centeredness. What I am talking about is being joyful that today’s situation of crisis and adversity has provided us with an opportunity to use our talents and gifts as activists to help those in need.
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have been tested by great personal and national adversity, and they shared their personal stories of struggle and renewal.
In their recent book,The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu teach us why we need joyfulness during our times of struggle and adversity. The occasion for this book was the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. It inspired these two close friends to get together in Dharamsala for a full week of talk about something very important to them. The subject was joy. Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have been tested by great personal and national adversity, and they shared their personal stories of struggle and renewal. Now that they are both in their eighties, they especially wanted to spread the core message that to have joy yourself, you must bring joy to others.
Does this mean that we should not be feeling anger about all that is going on with the Trump administration? Absolutely not. Feelings of hate and anger are very normal for many of us who work for justice. What really matters is how we channel our feelings of hate and anger. Through joyfulness, we are able to transition feelings of anger towards Trump into what Archbishop Tutu refers to as “righteous anger.” During his decades in the struggle against the apartheid government of South Africa, he was able to transform personal anger into righteous anger against the acts of injustice. Righteous anger is an important ingredient of joyfulness in the work for justice. Throughout the country, many activists—young and old—are coming together to engage in dialogue and collective strategies on creating a sustainable movement to fight back in the long haul.
Throughout The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama refers to the emergence scientific research on how we are most joyful when we focus on others, not simply on ourselves. Bringing joy to others is the fastest way to experience joy oneself. It also becomes a way to address fatigue and burn out, which lead to a breakdown of our mind and body. According to the Dalai Lama, even ten minutes mindfully considering the well-being of others can help one to feel joyful for the whole day. When we close our hearts, we cannot be joyful. When we have the courage to live with an open heart, we are able to feel our pain and the pain of others, but we are also able to experience more joy.
The bigger and warmer our hearts, the stronger our sense of aliveness and resilience. This being of joyfulness is indispensable today when we find ourselves trying to achieve a strong measure of sustainability for what appears to be a long, four-year fight for justice ahead of us.
Victor Narro is Project Director for the UCLA Labor Center and Lecturer in Law at UCLA School of Law. He is the author of Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice.