When Dorothy and Toto first arrive in the Land of Oz (The Wizard of Oz (1939)), squishing the Wicked Witch of the East as they do, they are received by the Good Witch, Glinda, and the Munchkins. Immediately they are confronted by the enraged Wicked Witch of the West, commanding intimidation with her aggressive behavior and dominant presence, threatening Dorothy and causing the Munchkins to hide in fear. Her very appearance, the strong features, unnatural green skin, and dark clothing, suggests to us what sort of character she is.
We intuitively sense that everyone is safe while Glinda is there to protect them. This is apparently true, but we don’t see Glinda battle with the Wicked Witch. She doesn’t even go so far as to return the Witch’s hostility – in fact, she laughs. Ha ha, rubbish. You have no power here. Now be gone, before someone drops a house on you too.
We aren’t exactly told the rules of magic in Oz or how the Wicked Witch can’t “have power” in Munchkinland, but I suspect it has less to do with Glinda’s superior magic and more to do with Glinda’s attitude. From Dorothy’s initial, naïve perspective, the Wicked Witch seems to be a powerful and dangerous enemy who could kill her with a word. Knowing what we know from the end of the film, however, we understand that the Wicked Witch is actually very unimpressive and plain. Her magic seems to be limited to flying, skywriting, starting small fires, and enchanting flowers. Her mutinous army betrays her in a heartbeat, and her one weakness is literally the most abundant natural resource on the planet besides air: water.
The point is that the substance of the Witch’s power over Dorothy is an illusion: it is limited to the fear she is able to command in her. As she agitates and scares Dorothy, as she stays a step ahead in causing Dorothy to react to her, she is able to manipulate her. Glinda is immune to this fearmongering. Her magic, for all we know, is as pathetic as the Wicked Witch (that bubble she travels around in sure doesn’t inspire much awe) but the Wicked Witch has no power over her because Glinda is not subject to her own reactions: she is not afraid, intimidated, or even angered. She just dismisses the nonsense with a laugh and carries on.
This of course is true for all of us. When I allow something or someone to agitate me, anger me, upset me, strike fear in me, etc., I make myself a victim of that thing. I give the thing power over me by allowing it to control my behavior through my reactions. We all have ways of making ourselves victims: of our relationships or our singleness, our jobs or unemployment, our politics, our religion, our finances, and of other people. Actors and actions always have the power over reactors and reactions.
There’s a line to be walked here naturally. Real victims exist and are everywhere, victims not just of crime but of injustice and inequality including all forms of prejudice. I understand that. But it is one thing to be a victim in a descriptive, physical sense of powerlessness and quite another to identify with powerlessness by succumbing to it. In Man’s Search for Meaning the famous Jewish psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl puts it this way:
We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer ample evidence that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
It is important to remember this now more than ever, in times that seem to be filled with great change, uncertainty, and yes, fear. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they felt that the greatest mistake of the most recent election cycle was not taking Donald Trump seriously enough in the early days of his candidacy. I think just the opposite: I think we all took, and are still taking, Donald Trump a little too seriously.
Donny is a lot like the Wicked Witch of the West, and not just because he is ugly and has a thing for bad hats. Even as a businessman, the person of Trump has never been about facts, truth, or results. “Trump” is an idea, an illusion of wealth, grandeur, and negotiation that is fueled by the reactions it generates. Beneath the façade of the tough-guy businessman is an unimpressive opportunist who knows how to manipulate people. Like the Witch, whose aggression is driven by her own secret fear of a house dropping on her, Donny is motivated by his own fears, a garden-variety insecurity that orbits masculinity, success, and self-worth.
We created “Trump” when we surrendered our reactions to him, when with the aid of a profit-driven media we made ourselves victims to the idea of Trumpism. To be clear: there is much to fear from the present administration. But we do not react out of our fear. It would be foolishness to fight a gossipmonger with gossip, lunacy to reward a hatemonger with hatred. Violence only ever begets violence. It makes no more sense to seek an end to fearmongering by reacting with fear. We fight fearmongering with empathy for the fearful, courageous love, and the meditative clarity of the present moment, not with more fear.
I know this is not easy to swallow. I watched today as a number of coworkers heard a joke about Trump and became immediately transformed, reacting with instantaneous hostility and anger. It’s an understandable reaction. But at the same time I was struck by how willing they were to give someone else that kind of power over them, the power to manipulate their very behavior. In their volatile reaction to the joke they revealed that, thinking they were standing for justice, they had really just made “Trump” a sacred thing — giving it immense power. What good old Donny needs is the very thing the fear of which causes him to act out: for someone to laugh off and dismiss him.
What then do we do? As Glinda and Frankl understand, it’s in our attitude. We do not subject ourselves to the garbage that comes our way. We do not bristle, fear, or retaliate. We stand on and in truth. When a response is appropriate we respond on our own terms, with our own goals and virtues in mind. We oppose his actions without legitimizing his presence in discourse. Faced with utter nonsense or “alternative facts” we do not argue with them or battle them, we laugh and dismiss them. We remain committed to love, to empathy, to justice. And perhaps most importantly, we do not let anyone or anything rob us of our joy.
The recent global women’s march was not powerful because it was an act of political warfare or because it leveled some kind of hard and fast “f*ck you” at the new President. What made it powerful was that it was more action than reaction. It was an enormous coming-together in the midst of enormous division. It was a celebration of women, and our love and support for women, independent of Donny’s second-rate opinions. It was a collective Ha ha, rubbish. You have no power here. Now be gone, before someone grabs you by the pussy too.