tmba_wtaraNewtA driving motivator in the work that I do is to cultivate my thinking. Psychotherapy often emphasizes working on our  emotions or changing our thoughts. But I believe more emphasis should be placed on fulfilling our potential for expansive, comprehensive, logical thought — or wisdom. Wisdom is one of the potentials of the heart; it is part of what the universe intends us to be; it is part of our natural blueprint, an archetype of our human nature; what Aristotle called our entelechy.

The main reason that we don’t fulfill our potentials is that we are wounded in our upbringing and in life. We are not only wounded by our parents, but we are wounded by the pernicious influences of our culture and the existent power structures of our society, which aim to keep us in muddled mind, so that we do not challenge the status quo.

The need to overcome these wounds and develop my capacity for wisdom became strikingly clear to me when the Bush administration began selling the Iraq war. I saw then the need for all of us to think clearly about that decision because people’s lives were at stake. In order to challenge the clever, manipulative arguments made by the right wing, I knew I had to think well. I returned to my studies of the wise who have come before us with a renewed vigor. Unfortunately, my fears about this were realized. All too many people were bamboozled by the right’s arguments, and we began an unnecessary, tragic war. Only a few public voices showed wisdom at the time. Obama’s was one of them. That is one powerful reason why he is president today. The terrible results of that war only provides more evidence of the importance of cultivating wisdom, so that we can all do our part in countering the bullshit we are all too often being sold.

So, here’s the present situation that requires our deep consideration and effective thinking. Members of the right wing have combed every last word of Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to undermine this historic and important nomination.  Out of a public lifetime and 4,000 judicial decision they have found 32 words they can attack.  Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and the Fox Network pundits of the right have accused her, of “reverse racism” for saying “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” The argument they use against her is to claim that if a white male candidate had said this, he would be forced to withdraw his nomination.  Well, if presumed racist statements are disqualifying, now we know that at least Rush, Newt and Glenn Beck will never be on the Supreme Court!

So let us think carefully about what Sotomayor said. First of all, it is important to read her words in context. Here is the full speech. I heartily disagree with President Obama who said that she chose words poorly. I think this is a beautiful speech, and the sentence in context expresses a profound sentiment.

What Limbaugh and Gingrich indicate in their comments is that they have not fully penetrated the problems of prejuidice. Anyone who has explored this question in depth has come to recognize that we are all biased in our views of others. We all carry unexamined assumptions. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on. All of us, white, black, latino, priviledged or not, are limited by our human condition and by the wounds we have suffered.  All we can do is to devote ourselves to becoming increasingly aware of our limiting presuppositions, and do all that we can to transcend them. That is the work of a committed lifetime.

Sotomayor implies in her speech that coming from a wounding, underpriviledged background, where one is the victim of excessive prejuidice is no guarantee of wisdom. We can see this everywhere we look. There is no group that does not have its venal members, or when in power does not abuse it. White men do not hold the exclusive capacity to make unwise decisions. Even a black woman is capable of participating in war crimes by falsely promoting an unjust war and rationalizing torture: see Condoleeza Rice. Sotomayor also agrees that white men are capable of being wise. So priviledge or prejuidice are not sufficient factors in determining our capacity for wise decision making.

What Sotomayor is saying is that we each have a choice of what to do with our wounding experiences. They can give us an excuse to become bitter and destructive, or they can inspire us to work toward becoming more compassionate and therefore, more wise. We can use our experience to hurt others, or we can aspire to be like the Bodhisattva of Compassion, that is, to be on the road to awakening. In order to be like the bodhisattvas, our compassion emerges from the inside of our suffering. We use our suffering to identify with the suffering of others. Our suffering provides us with an opportunity to have a deeper, richer compassion that can, if we cultivate it effectively, lead to better, wiser decisions. The experience of being a member of a group that in our culture suffers the effects of discrimination offers such an opportunity. She is saying that she hopes to use that opportunity for the good, rather than the bad.

Limbaugh, Gingrich and their ilk reveal a thinly veiled prejuidice in their claims. Underlying their statements is an assumption that if people of color get into power they will use this power to somehow hurt white people. This is clear, basic racism. Sotomayor is saying that she aspires to use her experience to make wise decisions that will benefit all people.

The danger in the sophistry of the right wing is that these incendiary views are accepted without critical evaluation by those who do not think so clearly. When I was campaigning for Obama I spoke to a woman in Pennsylvania who told me that Obama was a Muslim, that if he got elected the world would end, and that he would definitely be killed. By stoking this kind of thinking in order to promote a political agenda of bringing the right back in power, the right bear a terrible responsibility.

If any serious human being truly wants to do something about racism, they know that they must begin with themselves.