There has been a lot coming up lately around the violence at Donald Trump’s rallies, and in the overall tone of his campaign, in which he frequently uses incendiary or aggressive language, makes bold claims, and then, instead of taking responsibility for them when he is scrutinized or challenged, he’ll often claim that he is just representing his base, and revert to some version of, “Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.” I’d like to examine this phrase, and what it means.
Basically everyone knows the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger”, meaning, don’t blame the bearer of bad news, or don’t attack or kill someone just because you don’t like what they’re saying. These days, we don’t equate this phrase with actually killing someone, but this used to be the case. In the days before we could directly write, call, or text someone, a messenger needed to be physically sent from one place to another to deliver news, information, or a message. This was often used in war, where one side would send a message to the opposing side, and it was agreed upon that the messenger would not be executed, as there was still a code of chivalry in battle. It was also used by the town crier who would make pronouncements of behalf of the king to his people. If you didn’t like what you heard, it wasn't the town crier’s fault - he’s just doing his job. This phrase, or at least the sentiment of it, has survived for hundreds of years now, and is so common in our language that people probably rarely stop to think about what it means.
The main question I’d like to pose is: are we responsible for delivering “bad news” to each other? Donald Trump would say no, “don’t shoot the messenger”. I would say yes (but still ask that you not shoot anybody). I can see that in certain situations it is unavoidable to deliver bad news to people, but to me that isn’t the real issue here. The core issue, as I see it, has to do with responsibility, or the lack thereof, in what we communicate and the ways in which we communicate with each other.
Donald Trump and his supporters think he is just “telling it like it is”, and that’s a large part of his appeal. However, this is overlooking one yuuuuge factor: that in truth, there is not one version of reality, but many, depending on who or what is experiencing it, and how they are interpreting that experience. And while there may be shared experiences, accepted facts or events that some or all of us can agree to, there are always going to be different points of view and interpretations as to what those experiences, facts, and events mean. There are many influencing factors that determine the way we interpret our reality, both individually and collectively, and at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own interpretations. Trump and his supporters claim he is “telling it like it is”, when it may be more accurate to say that they all have a shared point of view, or a shared interpretation of their experiences. When someone claims to be “telling it like it is”, they are often confusing subjectivity and objectivity, and then using this stance to avoid taking responsibility for how they have concluded “it is”.
Most of us are unaware of the extent that our perceptions color everything we experience, from the mundane day-to-day things we encounter, to big, world-shaping events. We are so used to being “ourselves”, and interpreting the external world from inside our own minds, that we often, if not always, overlook our own preferences, prejudices, biases, logical fallacies, conditioning (both familial and cultural), hopes, desires, hidden agendas, as well as the past experiences that we draw upon as reference points for how we interpret the present. So, for example, while one person may see a terrorist who beheads someone (this is the agreed-upon incident) as being barbaric, a threat to us all, and someone who should be killed (this is the interpretation), another person may pause to wonder what circumstances enabled the terrorist to act that way. They may not see an “enemy”, but rather someone who is lost, confused, and angry, reacting out of a deep emotional and psychological pain, for any number of reasons, such as the possibility that his family was killed in an air strike. So as you can see, there can be different interpretations of the same events, and because of this, there is seldom, if ever, a unanimous sense of what the truth might be in any given situation. We all have filters that affect our interpretations, and our interpretations are what make up the world we live in. When people argue, it’s not usually over facts, but the interpretation of facts.
There is another common phrase that people sometimes use to avoid taking responsibility and perpetuate the “don’t shoot the messenger” mentality, and that is the rationalization that “I’m just doing my job”, or you may have heard it as “everyone’s got bills to pay”. In one of my favorite all-time movies, Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman’s titular character is ordered to be locked up in solitary confinement by the warden who wants to break his rebellious spirit. The guard, who is somewhat sympathetic to Luke’s unfair treatment, locks him up while saying, “Sorry, Luke, I’m just doing my job.” to which Luke replies, “Calling it your job don’t make it right, boss.” This line always stuck with me, as we can look around the world and see all kinds of people who are going against their better judgment and doing terrible, immoral, or destructive things. It is all too easy to justify it as a part of their job, as though they have no real choice in the matter, or that they aren’t responsible for the duties contained within their job, as they’ve given away their personal authority to a higher power. But at some level, they chose their job, and therefore are responsible if and how they carry it out. Donald Trump has decided to run for the president of our country, and has found tremendous support in the disgruntled masses of America, and in representing the people he represents, he is responsible for what he says, how he says it, and the specific messages he chooses to focus on, even if he doesn’t think so.
In the end, we all have choice, and we are all responsible for our choices, whether we want to be or not. We can go to great lengths to avoid taking that responsibility, as is becoming increasingly clear with people like Trump and in places like corporate America, Wall Street, and Washington D.C., but as long as we do, we will only continue to create problems, and right now, the world desperately needs solutions. Step one is taking responsibility for the mess we’ve all made together. Only then can we move beyond our anger, frustration, and powerlessness, to begin to work on real solutions.
When people claim to only be the messenger, they are taking a powerless stance, denying themselves of their own sovereignty to choose. In addition, people that tend to do this habitually often end up relishing in the gossip-like aspect of sharing bad news, in getting reactions out of others, and are quick to excuse themselves of any responsibility for perpetuating this kind of harmful communication. They are often misunderstanding or completely overlooking their own ability to interpret things in a new, more constructive way.
We need to ask ourselves everyday: what kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of messages do we want to deliver to our neighbors? Where do we want to focus our attention and energy? We need to do this because we are choosing all these things all the time anyway. We only need to learn to do it more consciously. We need to understand our prejudices and biases and move back to a neutral place. We need to develop a mindful appreciation of the ways in which we communicate, and we need to understand the effects that our choices in communication have on ourselves, others, and help shape the world we live in. In short, we need to become conscious creators.
It is our inherent right and God-given ability to be able to place our attention ANYWHERE, and focus on absolutely ANYTHING we choose, and this is a very misunderstood, under-used, and under-appreciated aspect of operating in consciousness. Until we understand this, we will remain caught in a cycle of reactivity, looking out at the world and having emotional upsets, getting depressed or outraged at the latest news story, thinking it’s just how things are. But once we take responsibility for our view of the world, our lives can and will transform. As author and channel Barbara Marciniak says, “Everything changes when you start to emit your own frequency rather than absorbing the frequencies around you, when you start imprinting your intent on the universe rather than receiving an imprint from existence.”
We can choose to live life this way. We can choose to be proactive rather than reactive. We can choose a different interpretation of ourselves and the world around us. We can choose to see other people as a part of us. We can choose to see that we are one human family, one inter-connected Being, not just individual, separate meat-bags, walking around on this planet fighting over resources and ideologies. We can choose to look for solutions, not just sit in our anger at the problems. It’s all our choice. We have more power and authority over our lives than we we ever told, and it’s up to us to claim that power and create the world we want to live in. And whatever we do choose, we are responsible for. So let’s choose wisely.