essays on suffering and awakening

We should open our borders and our hearts

The Trump administration has issued a series of executive orders that severely restrict immigration to the United States. This includes banning all refugees from entering the country, along with citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries. The president has also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to build a wall along the Mexican-American border. 

This hurts all of us.

I know that the president and supporters of these actions believe this will make a safer America. The thing is, there are two ways to try and make ourselves safe: to resist and to surrender. 

The Trump administration is following the path of resistance. What this means is that they have identified a threat, and they are building defenses against it. They believe refugees and immigrants are a danger, and so they want to keep them from our shores. They want to build a fortress against the rest of the world.

This is what most of us do in our own lives too. If someone hurts our feelings, we harden our hearts to them and build an emotional wall. We call them names and gossip to our friends. It’s a natural human reaction.

The problem is that resistance doesn’t work on any scale.

It’s a basic truth that the more we try to push something away, the more it pushes back. If we fortify our hearts against those in our own lives, we end up with few friends and many complaints. If we look at people from beyond our borders as hostile and act accordingly, they will see us as hostile and act accordingly. If we look at many of our fellow countrymen that way, rest assured the feelings will be returned. 

Think about it—if someone makes it clear they don’t like you, you probably don’t feel too inclined to try and like them.

But we can make ourselves truly safe through surrender. This doesn’t mean letting someone stomp all over us, but rather standing down our inner defenses and approaching everyone we encounter with an open heart and a willingness to help. 

This works. The more we open up and act with love, kindness and generosity to all others, the more we receive that in return. We can see this easily enough in our own lives. If we are genuinely loving to the people around us, that love inevitably comes back around.

We can do the same thing as a country. We have so much land and money. Imagine the flood of goodwill that would pour towards us if we opened our borders and embraced those who need a safe place to live. 

That goodwill makes us safer, because people can’t help but respond to love with love.

I’ve gone to meetings of a twelve-step program for the last five years. They have a simple membership policy: anyone who wants to get free from addiction can join. No one gets left out. My sponsor likes to say, in her Texas drawl, “if you see a guy muttering to himself in the parking lot outside a meeting, go up to him and say ‘come on in!’”

This might seem strange, but the more we practice saying “come on in” to all aspects of our human experience, the safer we are. Picture two trees: a mighty hundred-year old oak and a young sapling. When a great storm comes, the hardened oak resists the wind, standing tall until it is uprooted. The young sapling, thin and vulnerable, bends with the wind and stays happily in the ground. 

Opening ourselves up is brave. We often don’t see the rewards of our doing so at first, but have faith. When we make ourselves vulnerable in the service of our brothers and sisters, both at home and abroad, we create a kinder, gentler and more peaceful world. 

That’s all any of us really want.

Ian Cooper